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Religion - Comfort Or Courage?


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Guest billmc

Religion – Comfort or Courage?

 

The recent topic here at TPCP on Don Piper’s book “90 Minutes in Heaven” made me ask myself, what is my spirituality about – comfort or courage?

 

Don’s book is about his “near death experience” (although having actually heard Don speak, it is more appropriate to call his experience an “after death experience”) and how that experience brought him comfort about the afterlife. But while I enjoyed hearing Don’s testimony, I couldn’t help but think – is religion really about comfort (having our beliefs affirmed and our anxieties allayed) or is it more about courage (finding the encouragement to go where we have not gone before)?

 

What do you think, do your beliefs/experiences serve more to comfort you where you are or do they call you to go beyond? Or is there a balance to be found?

 

Would you describe your journey as one that has calmed your fears/anxieties concerning life and the afterlife? Or would you describe your journey as one that has provided more mystery than answers? Is your relationship with the Divine more a comfort to be who you are or more a calling to become more?

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For me, religion is about being called to serve and in my case provides me with a community that supports and encourages those efforts. It does also provide a caring community that does make life a bit easier. But as far as an afterlife is concerned, I don't really look to religion for help. I call myself, mostly, a Christian agnostic or a heterodox Protestant, so that may help to explain my position. I also have described myself as "spiritually tone deaf," but perhaps that is off topic.

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Guest billmc

I also have described myself as "spiritually tone deaf," but perhaps that is off topic.

 

I don't think it is off-topic, Grampa. What do you mean by the term "spiritually tone deaf"?

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Billmc, this is a very good question that I've thought about from time to time. There probably is not a simple answer to this, because religion itself is not simple. Ultimately I think it can be said that religion is a comfort - it would be difficult to otherwise explain why people are so attracted to it, myself included. But that doesn’t mean it is an escape or that it’s an easy path. It means for me that religion integrates my life in a way that no other means does. It helps me to find my center, to find wholeness and completion, to not be overwhelmed by anxiety or depression at the thought of change and death, by finding something greater, or deeper, to identify with. Science and philosophy may ask big questions but with no necessary connection to life as it is lived, no definite link to our deepest concerns (or ultimate concern, as Tillich has said). I see that religion finds a place where life’s big questions and our existential conditions meet. As such, my faith implores me to go deeper and beyond, not to be stagnant...or too comfortable.

Edited by Mike
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Courage to face death without fear. I didn’t gain much comfort from my fundamentalist teaching and traditions. God was routinely presented as a tyrant ready to zap anyone who failed to fully please him. And pleasing him was no easy task. One slip up and you’re toast.

 

That is probably why I’ve so strongly embraced Paul’s gospel of grace. If I could rationalize away a few scriptures I could easily embrace the concept of universalism.

 

I choose to believe that Paul was right and all my sins have been taken care of on the cross. I also choose to believe that my eternal destination is a faith only issue. I know for certain that I’m incapable of earning my way to heaven, so I’m counting on Jesus sacrifice and resurrection to make me vicariously righteous.

 

If Paul was wrong, then I’m without hope…and so is everybody else (assuming God & Jesus exist of course).

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[For me, religion is about being called to serve and in my case provides me with a community that supports and encourages those efforts. It does also provide a caring community that does make life a bit easier. ... I also have described myself as "spiritually tone deaf," but perhaps that is off topic.

 

spiritually tone deaf - grampawombat, this is a great phrase. You have the courage to say it. I know others wish they could. AND I would claim your description of religion in action is profoundly spiritual.

 

To be honest I am floundering. One of my projects here is to find words for my journey so that I have non-clinging expectancy about the next moment and not a clinging anxiety about the last. And step by step to find rituals and practices - such as the beads to calm my self in Bible and book discussions, to keep me centered. Sure could have used one this weekend in the hospital.

 

So I find comfort in the companions and courage for the journey.

 

If Paul was wrong, then I’m without hope…and so is everybody else (assuming God & Jesus exist of course).

Javelin, this scares the be-jeebers out of me. A friend has stated, with the same rigidity, that if every word in the Bible isn't literally true, then Jesus didn't exist. (He's a New Earth Creationist and thinks Old Earth Creationists are apostate.) I hope his Bible has no typos. :D

 

Matthew 18:16 suggests that one needs two or more witnesses so that "every word may be confirmed", at least for "reproving" someone.

Deuteronomy 18:6 (Referred to by Jesus in John 8:17) Says that there must be two witnesses before anyone can be put to death.

 

Paul is only one witness.

 

Comfort and Courage for the Journey

Dutch

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To be honest I am floundering. One of my projects here is to find words for my journey so that I have non-clinging expectancy about the next moment and not a clinging anxiety about the last. And step by step to find rituals and practices - such as the beads to calm my self in Bible and book discussions, to keep me centered. Sure could have used one this weekend in the hospital.

 

So I find comfort in the companions and courage for the journey.

 

I’m always floundering, myself. But I think it's vital to have a practice to return to when we do get off track, to keep to the center, as you said. You mention the hospital. Not knowing (and not needing to know) what the circumstances are, my thoughts are with you and I hope you are doing ok.

 

 

 

Mike

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For me, it is comfort AND courage. And I'm not sure it is always "religion" that brings me comfort, but rather a sense of God's presence. I am not looking for the comfort of knowing the after life will be better, but rather the comfort that comes with knowing I am not alone in the trials of life.

 

I seek out friends who challenge me to be more than I am. Jesus is the best friend of all at that :-)

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Thank you for your kind words, Dutch. And as to Bill's question, let me elaborate a bit. I can sing, and melody is something I just hear. I know it is there and I experience it. Sometimes I can even pick out the tenor part, but I'm not to good at that. But I have friends who don't appear to have a clue as to what a melody is. At least they are not able to reproduce one. We often refer to folks like that as "tone deaf." Now in my case, having a spiritual experience seems analogous to hearing the melody. And I just don't hear it. I've had people tell me that ideas and experiences I've had that I have related to them were spiritual, but I somehow am not able to see that or sense it.

 

I've been retired now for about eleven years, but for almost forty years I was an engineer, and if you count school and so on it's almost fifty. That experience has affected every aspect of my life, personal, social, religious, and so on. So to me, the afterlife is an engineering problem, and not directly related to God. If there is an afterlife, there has to be consciousness. So it has to be either durable or capable of being replicated. If it is durable, maybe it is composed of dark matter, dark energy, or something like it. Then an afterlife perhaps just happens. But it doesn't seem to me that it has to do with sin, salvation, or any of those notions. If it isn't durable (and I suspect it isn't) then it will have to be replicated. And that is, to me, and engineering problem. Now God may be involved, who knows. But in any event, I think it may take a long time before we "regain consciousness." As far as God is concerned, I said someplace the "God is coming into being." What I mean is that the God that most people seem to believe in is somewhere in the future. Anyway, I relate to the idea that religion is what urges me to do the right thing, and I tend to think of an afterlife in what looks to me like non-religious ways.

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grampawombat,

 

I don't want to beat you over the head about spirituality :lol: but I have to share a favorite. There is a Myers-Briggs breakout of different kinds of Spirituality which describes, in the words of this website http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-3/personalitytypeprayers.html, the Franciscan Spirituality:

Franciscan Spirituality is characterized by its application. It is very popular among ordinary people [as opposed to Catholic clergy], those men and women of action who want and need to do things for others. Acts of loving service can be a most effective form of prayer. Franciscan Spirituality is very optimistic and sees the beauty, goodness, and love of God everywhere. When you consider that a Sensing-Perceiving person like Francis of Assisi makes contact with God primarily through their sense impressions … what we see, smell, touch, hear and taste … it would follow that since the Incarnation is the visible, audible, tangible presence of God upon earth, the Sensing-Perceiving personality could relate quite well to Jesus' life and teachings through the parables.

 

 

Dutch

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spiritually tone deaf - grampawombat, this is a great phrase. You have the courage to say it. I know others wish they could. AND I would claim your description of religion in action is profoundly spiritual.

 

To be honest I am floundering. One of my projects here is to find words for my journey so that I have non-clinging expectancy about the next moment and not a clinging anxiety about the last. And step by step to find rituals and practices - such as the beads to calm my self in Bible and book discussions, to keep me centered. Sure could have used one this weekend in the hospital.

 

So I find comfort in the companions and courage for the journey.

 

 

Javelin, this scares the be-jeebers out of me. A friend has stated, with the same rigidity, that if every word in the Bible isn't literally true, then Jesus didn't exist. (He's a New Earth Creationist and thinks Old Earth Creationists are apostate.) I hope his Bible has no typos. :D

 

Matthew 18:16 suggests that one needs two or more witnesses so that "every word may be confirmed", at least for "reproving" someone.

Deuteronomy 18:6 (Referred to by Jesus in John 8:17) Says that there must be two witnesses before anyone can be put to death.

 

Paul is only one witness.

 

Comfort and Courage for the Journey

Dutch

 

Paul is recognized as the father of present day Christianity. In the book of Acts Paul was recognized, by the original Apostles, as a fellow Apostle and an inspired messenger of God. In other words, the original Apostles authenticated Paul’s credentials and teaching.

 

If Paul wasn’t an inspired Apostle of God, teaching an inspired message from God, then Christianity would be seem to qualify as nothing more than a man made religion.

 

It seems to me the validity of Christianity is dependent on Paul authenticity. If Paul’s teaching is true then the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement must also be true because that’s the foundational basis of Christianity.

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Guest billmc

Paul is recognized as the father of present day Christianity. In the book of Acts Paul was recognized, by the original Apostles, as a fellow Apostle and an inspired messenger of God. In other words, the original Apostles authenticated Paul’s credentials and teaching.

 

If Paul wasn’t an inspired Apostle of God, teaching an inspired message from God, then Christianity would be seem to qualify as nothing more than a man made religion.

 

It seems to me the validity of Christianity is dependent on Paul authenticity. If Paul’s teaching is true then the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement must also be true because that’s the foundational basis of Christianity.

 

Javelin, I think that you are correct in saying that modern Christianity is built upon the apostle Paul. After all, the heart of modern Christianity is believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. And this entails the theory of substitutionary atonement found in the Romans Road and the Four Spiritual Laws. These things are all part and parcel of Paul's gospel, a gospel which Paul claimed to have come to him, not from the teachings of Jesus, but from a revelation(s) of Christ throughout Paul's ministry.

 

Therein lies the rub, Javelin. As I've said in the thread on "Jesus versus Paul", Paul's gospel doesn't have much to do with Jesus' gospel or message. I hope I'm not being too crass about it, but for Paul Jesus could have been a deaf-mute and as long as Jesus died as an atonement for sins, a sacrificial offering, that was all that was necessary. This is one of the reasons that I am no longer a Christian; I find in Jesus, not in Paul's "Christ", a pathway to experiencing GOD. Of course, most Christians, including the some of the progressive kind, would disagree with me. They would say that it is only Paul's gospel or the "Christ-experience" that matters. To each his or her own.

 

But I, for one, cannot accept the doctrine of substitutionary atonement that, at its center, supports Divine child-abuse, the notion that God had to kill Jesus before God could truly forgive sins. IMO, GOD has always been a forgiving GOD and the death of Jesus doesn't "buy" GOD's love or satisfy GOD's wrath; it simply shows us that people who are truly living in union with GOD are capable of giving their lives in love and service to others. I don't believe that GOD ever required a human sacrifice in order to satisfy a supposed "blood thirst". It is humans, not GOD, that require blood.

 

Paul was, in many ways, a good man. But he had, like many people, his own understanding of GOD and of Jesus. Modern Christianity has removed Jesus as "the way, the truth, and the life" and put ol' brother Paul there. And I think we've lost something in doing so. Christians don't follow Jesus, they follow Paul's Christ. This is why I'm not convinced that "Progressive Christianity" is a good title for this movement/community. Christianity is built on Paul. Many of us don't consider Paul's teachings to be the inerrant, infallible last words of GOD for mankind.

Edited by billmc
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Bill, I enjoy reading your thoughts and opinions and I often find myself agreeing with your conclusions, but not this time.

 

Honest people can come to different conclusions. Neither of our viewpoints, or interpretations, can be conclusively validated. I assume we can both agree that biblical interpretation is subjective, with culture and tradition often playing a significant role in the process.

 

Personally, I am quite comfortable with Paul and his teaching. I see no conflict between Paul & Jesus message. I see Jesus mission as fulfilling the law, so that mankind might be reconciled to God. I see Paul’s teaching as confirmation of Jesus mission.

 

It seems we have taken the same information and come to a different conclusion because we’ve interpreted the words differently. As a moderate believer I have no problem agreeing to disagree with anyone who sees issues of interpretation differently from me.

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But I, for one, cannot accept the doctrine of substitutionary atonement that, at its center, supports Divine child-abuse, the notion that God had to kill Jesus before God could truly forgive sins. IMO, GOD has always been a forgiving GOD and the death of Jesus doesn't "buy" GOD's love or satisfy GOD's wrath; it simply shows us that people who are truly living in union with GOD are capable of giving their lives in love and service to others. I don't believe that GOD ever required a human sacrifice in order to satisfy a supposed "blood thirst". It is humans, not GOD, that require blood.

 

I hate to further derail this topic, but I really don't think that's what Paul was teaching. There are other ways of seeing the atonement that I think make more sense of Paul's writings and non-Pauline epistles also. Note that I don't have much at stake here, my faith is not in any way dependent on Paul's theology. I just don't consider the theory of penal substitution to be the only and necessarily the best way to read Paul. If we're truly interested in discussing this, though, perhaps we can start a new topic, as I don't want to continue to deviate from your original topic.

Edited by Mike
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Guest billmc

To Javelin,

 

Thanks for the push-back. I was simply trying to say that your statement that Christianity stands upon Paul's doctrine is probably true...but that not all Christians nor all progressives would feel that way. There is a growing movement of "Red Letter Christians" out there that still believe that what Jesus had to say is important.

 

To Mike,

 

I admit that I think Paul corrupted Jesus' message. That's just my opinion...but not mine alone. I find it difficult to respect someone that says, "God gave me the TRUE gospel and anyone who doesn't believe me is cursed." But you're right, it is off-topic and I really don't want to discuss substitutionary atonement further. It is like arguing about the doctrine of substantiation -- some scriptures seem to point to it, but people are going to find and believe in what they think they need anyway.

Edited by billmc
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To Mike,

 

I admit that I think Paul corrupted Jesus' message. That's just my opinion...but not mine alone. I find it difficult to respect someone that says, "God gave me the TRUE gospel and anyone who doesn't believe me is cursed." But you're right, it is off-topic and I really don't want to discuss substitutionary atonement further. It is like arguing about the doctrine of substantiation -- some scriptures seem to point to it, but people are going to find and believe in what they think they need anyway.

 

I think we probably basically agree more than disagree. It’s obvious to me that Paul’s message and Jesus’ message were quite different in character. This happens with many religions, though: some Buddhist schools worship the Buddha like a deity, when that was clearly not what he originally taught his followers to do. As I said, my faith does not at all rely on Paul, I was simply disagreeing that penal substitution is the best way to read him.

I find it difficult to respect someone that says, "God gave me the TRUE gospel and anyone who doesn't believe me is cursed."

 

Yes, I doubt also that this sentiment was unique to Paul, though. It seems quite a prominent attitude throughout most Christian history up to today. The letters of 2nd Peter, Jude, and the book of Revelation are also quite vehement and polemical in their content.

 

Anyway, that's all I'll say about it on this topic, as I've already trespassed enough on the original intent of your topic.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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Getting back to the origin of this topic....

For me, it's not so much "religion" that gives me comfort or courage, as God himself seems to give me both in an alternating pattern. He gives me courage to go beyond what or who I am now, and comfort when the task seems overwhelming. Although seeing one as one and not the other can be a bit confusing sometimes. But hey, we need them both.

Comfort and courage can sometimes be the same thing in the right situation. For instance: A child is learning how to ride a bike, but is having trouble staying upright. He calls out for help when he falls, and the parent runs over to the child first to give comfort: "I'm here." Then to give courage: "Go on." The child feels both comfort and courage: "I'm here, go on." And continues to learn with a new strength. Courage can be comforting and comfort can be encouraging. They work best hand in hand.

I'm not sure if I've overstated my point, or if I've misunderstood the question. If I've done one, the other, or both, please let me know.

 

Kyler.

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Guest billmc

Courage can be comforting and comfort can be encouraging. They work best hand in hand.

 

I enjoyed your response and your metaphor, Kyler. In some religions, people want God to do everything for them, they want him to "ride the bike." In others, God is thought to be off on Alpha Centauri or someplace, leaving us alone to learn to ride all by ourselves. So I like your metaphor of GOD with us, comforting us to be who we are but calling us to have the courage to grow up and be all that we can be.

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