Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The following is a compilation of an ongoing email dialogue I had with a woman who claims to be a follower of Wicca (witchcraft).

“I apparently try to see too much of the positive, I used to argue with those preaching at my door that I don't believe in a god which would throw you into a fire and brimstone hell”

Could I use this approach to change the government?

I don't believe John Howard is the Prime minister of Australia
I don't believe John Howard is the Prime minister of Australia
I don't believe John Howard is the Prime minister of Australia

But enough flippancy…

Perhaps you are taking the wrong approach. You are making assumptions about
the nature and motivation of your hypothetical God by expecting him to act in a way that is acceptable to a particular human way of thinking.
Suppose this God thinks and acts differently to us, even in a way that we could find objectionable. What could we do about it? Does refusing to believe really make a difference?

Why would this God want or need to throw anyone into a fire and brimstone hell? And what right would he have to do so?

What if this God was responsible for our origins? Was the one who created us in the first place? Would that give this god any kind of ownership over us, giving the right to reward or dispose of us as he sees fit? What would this god be entitled to do with any part of its creation that didn't come up to the required "quality control" standard?

What if this God had done everything in his power to enable us to achieve the required standard and avoid the abhorrent outcome of hell, but we were too focussed on other things to take notice, or too proud of our self-perceived good qualities? What if it wasn't this God’s desire to send people to "hell", but they refused to accept the way out he had provided?

“I wanted to know why the Vatican with all it's vast fortune didn't do more to help the poor, such as soup kitchens, temporary housing etc, the answer from the Sister on that one was, "there will always be the poor", would get terribly angry looks from certain people for bringing a homeless person into the canteen for a cup of coffee and a feed,”

It should not be ignored that Jesus said that many of those who would find themselves condemned to "hell" were people who claimed to be his followers but who did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty or clothe the naked; in other words, those who claim adherence to religion, but don't LIVE it.

“Of course, the problem as I see it is that we receive all Christian messages second-hand - at least - via the Bible, which was written by a range of different people, each with their own thoughts and ideas and locations and eras. Which would be the same problem with any religious book - it's not directly from God, but filtered through humans. We learned in film school that as soon as you put your eye to the viewfinder and press record, you are unconsciously tainting the picture with your choice of framing, exposure, etc so that it is subjective - there's no such thing as a completely objective film shot - and therefore, documentary, or movie, or etc etc. Same thing with writing - by its very nature, it's tainted by the choice of wording, by omissions or additions...”

This is why the New Testament begins with four gospels. They give the perspective of different witnesses to the life of Jesus. This is also why there are more than three versions of creation told in the Bible, and why the two books of Chronicles and the two books of Kings tell of some of the same basic events from different perspectives. It seems like God was a Post-modernist even prior to Modernism.
The fact that the bible was written by so many different people over so many different eras is often pointed out as evidence of the divine influence over its content - because DESPITE OF these wide ranging origins, it remains consistent. Yes, there are minor discrepancies as can be seen in the gospel accounts but there is no discrepancy in overall theme. While some critics try to use these differences to discredit the gospels, these differences in fact provide convincing evidence of their authenticity. This is EXACTLY how the genuine accounts of different witnesses would appear, as each writes according to their own perception and memory of events.

As for the bible being filtered through humans, I think you are quite correct as can be seen with the above mentioned gospel discrepancies. While some insist the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God, I see it as a collaborative effort. It details the relationship between God and mankind throughout early history, and the bible is itself is a literary illustration of that relationship. The God revealed in the bible is one who WANTS to be known by mankind. Therefore I see no problem with this God, the creator of all things, having “editorial influence” over the book that tells the world about Him, and thereby preventing any "tainting" of His message.

I have come to see the Bible as being an “authorised biography” of God rather than an autobiography. By this I mean that it was not written or dictated word for word by God Himself. It was written by men under God’s inspiration and authority.

Despite the importance Christians give to the bible it would be a mistake to assume that its content is the sole source of their knowledge and relationship with God. While many churches stick with their rituals and historical tradition, there are others who recognise that God is not trapped between the covers of a 2000 year and older book. They believe in a living and active God who continues to relate to his followers today.

“ People are afraid to think for themselves and reinterpret, because they've been told that questioning and interpreting is not for them... it denies faith and all that. So I guess what upsets me is not religion, but dogma. And denial of the intellect and of common sense. If only there were a greater part of the Christian community that could have as open and enquiring a mind as you do! Although you acknowledge that the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of Christian knowledge - I wonder how many everyday people who identify themselves as Christians agree, or have even thought about looking beyond the Bible?”

To put things into the correct perspective, while I think the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of Christian knowledge, it is the foundation that all Christian knowledge and understanding are built upon. Any further understanding can not be in contradiction to it. Acceptable teaching or inspiration from "beyond the bible" would always be compatible with the written word. However, Jesus spoke out against those who tried to enforce the "letter of the law" but ignored the spirit of the law. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

On the other hand, Jesus also made it known that the spirit of the law was harsher than the letter. He equated wrongful anger against another as being equal to murder in God's eyes and lustful thought was equal to adultery. The spirit of the law goes deeper than judging actions; it also takes into account the attitude of the heart.

Valid interpretation of a belief system has to be done with respect for the foundations of what is being interpreted. Move away from the foundation and you have something totally different. Following Christ requires a recognition that mankind has fallen from the standard required by God, resulting in spiritual death. But God has made a way for us to regain a relationship with him through faith in Jesus Christ. Without these basic (simplified) foundations there is no Christianity. Any religious system or spiritual belief that tries to adopt or borrow Christ to further a different agenda is way off track. For example, I wish those syncretists who speak of "Christ Consciousness" and being "Christed" would discover enough integrity to change their terminology.

I have no problem respecting the right of other people to hold their own beliefs. We are all responsible for our own search for truth and have to be willing to face whatever consequences come out of the decisions we make. However, I do get annoyed when people try to merge Christ into a pick and mix “spirituality” that denies the very teaching that Christ gave. We can't water him down and take only the “palatable” parts of his life and teaching.
Likewise I do not tolerate the beliefs of those who claim to be Christians but are selectively blind regarding Christ's life and teachings, although I do recognise there is always room for growth in understanding and maturity.

People have every right to investigate different religious and spiritual beliefs for themselves as they seek for truth, but the SERIOUS seeker can't select a bit from here and a bit from there to create their own personally tailored spirituality. If the source beliefs from which those selections were taken are mutually exclusive, there can be no integrity in the patchwork that's created. It might be comfortable, it might make them feel good, but it has no logical, intellectual, or spiritual integrity. Without that internal integrity within the belief system itself, how can it give a relevant and valid view of the external world?
Those adopting Syncretism of this type are not genuine in the pursuit of spiritual reality. They are more concerned with personal comfort and good feelings than in seeking truth - which will often challenge and confront.