Tag Archives: Theology

Heaven now or later?

moneySystematic Christian theology contains debates over when Jesus will return and if and when he will establish his Kingdom on earth to reign as the perfect ruler in a perfect kingdom. This is called “eschatology” and I have some cool diagrams here showing the various types schemes Christians have creatively generated. Also I posted here how various groups have used end-time thinking to deal with their lots in life.

Besides these systematic end-times speculations, Christians also debate on whether to be of-this-world (Christian activists, liberation theology …) or out-of-this world (Amish and others) [see here for some verses]. Of course most believers fall between these extremes if they even think about it at all since most believer are cultural, cafeteria Christians.  BTW, does anyone know of the systematic theological term for this issue?

Tom Rees reviews an interesting article that shows that Italian Catholics want the benefits of heaven now, while Dutch Calvinists would rather wait for a greater gain. The study uses Atheists as a control.   So my wonderings are: Did theology seeped into nominal Christians, or did the mood of the land seeped into their theology? Or, is it true that theology sneaks into culture over time and affects even nominal Christians?  For certainly all these Italians and Dutch folks aren’t conscious of their theology.

Question for readers: If you had to choose, would you be a Dutch Calvinist or a Catholic Italian? 🙂

triangle_end_tiny

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Motivations for Embracing Religion

In my recent post called “Rewriting our Religious History” I described how religious folks join their faith for fairly simple reasons, but later report their reasons for joining in lofty, complex theological terms.  Like the boy in this picture, after lots of reading or teaching by religious professionals, a person has a hard time remembering their actual past.

Below I offer an extensive list of those more basic needs for joining a religion and divide them into three groups of needs: Physical, Psychological and Social.  Of course these groups and reasons overlap, but I think this is a pretty good list.  Can you think of other motivations?

British science blogger Tom Reese, at Ephiphenom, published a post today called “Recollections of Childhood Religion” where he describes a study which shows how we may change our religious histories in order to build a more consistent view of self.  A basic foundation in correct thinking needs to be informed by this understanding of the foibles of memory and one of the adaptive benefits of inaccurate memory: building a stable image of self.

Religion can offer many benefits — that is why it persists.  We can not minimize these needs nor their solutions. To solve the down side of religion, we must therefore offer other ways to meet these needs or encourage modifications of the religion itself that neutralize the downsides.  Do you agree?

Basic Motivations for Embracing a Religion

1. Physical Needs

  • desire healing, improved health
  • need shelter, clothing, food, education, health care …
    for yourself or your loved ones
  • hope for better finances
  • to feel safe

2. Social Needs

  • preserve family tradition
  • to pursue/ secure/ preserve a lover or friend
  • need for supportive community: desperate times
  • need for sense of belonging
  • to offer children moral training and social belonging
  • to improve or preserve social status
  • to supply moral framework

3. Psychological Needs

  • to follow childhood tradition
  • to model an admired person
  • to follow a leader, a guide: secure guidance
  • to obtain order: a comprehensive worldview or answers
  • to avoid harassment from other children or adults
  • to resolve confusion – to find meaning, purpose, hope
  • to rebel against former alliances – leave old tradition;
  • to secure a sense of identity: personal, national …
  • to ease fear: of death, of hell, of social loss
  • to secure a niché:  given their temperament, skills, and conditions: a place where they can  prosper psychologically, socially and physically.
  • to help leave old undesired behavior or social circles

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God’s Secret Life & Movies

Imagine this scenario:

A 17 year-old girl discovers that years ago her father had been a terrible criminal.  The girl is horribly confused because her father has been nothing but loving, nurturing and a great role model for her.  So now she has the psychological dilemma of having two drastically different fathers: the one she personally experiences and the one she has only only heard of or read about.

This cognitive dissonance dilemma can be found in many movies and novels: a child [or adult] must decide what to do with the secret life of her father [or a loved one]. This literary trope usually ends in two main solutions:  (A) the child rejects her father [example 1] or (B) the child accepts her father [examples 2-6].  Below I list some of the classic responses with a name and a brief explanation. The parallels to Christianity should be clear by now, so I also offer examples of Christians [“Who“] who may take this position as they learn about Yahweh – the iron-age, tribal god of the Hebrew scriptures.  Finally, with help from commentors, I will offer examples of movies illustrating the type of response (warning! spoilers). Thanx to commentors.

0. Rejects the Father: She rejects the father with great pain and strong emotion (sad, angry…)

  • Who: Atheists, Those moving to another faith
  • Golden Compass (2007): Lyra discover that the enemy, Mrs. Coulter, is her mother.

1. Ignore the Evidence: She just ignores the evidence (or never really listened/read).

  •  WhoMany cultural Christians
  • The Godfather (1972): Kay asks Michael (her husband) if he killed Carlo, Michael denies it, Kay is satisfied with the answer despite all the evidence to the contrary.

2. Justifies the Father: She feels the evidence is true but feels her father must have justifiable reasons for his actions.

  • WhoMost conservative Christians
  • Hot Fuzz (2007): Sgt. Butterman finds out his father is a serial killer, he tries to justify him.
  • Let The Right One In (2008): Oskar realizes Eli is a vampire but accepts that she needs to kill in order to live.

3. Feels the Father has Changed:  She feels the evidence is true but trusts that her father has repented. (See how Yahweh repented after the flood.)

  • Who: Some “Dispensational Christians
  • Old School (2003): Marissa knows her husband is a drunk but pretends he has changed (for the majority of the film).
  • Halloween (2007) by Rob Zombie: Ismael knows Michael is a psychopath but he wants to believe he’s changed and he’ll take their friendship in consideration and not murder him.

4.  Joins the Father: She understands the evidence, she doesn’t care, she turns off her moral judgements and just embraces her father.

  • Who: few violent Fundamental Christians, Inquisitionists
  • Kick Ass (2010): Hit Girl finds out his dad was never a cop, she doesn’t care and keeps her original vision of him.
  • Green Hornet (2011): Britt finds out his dad wasn’t always the ethical man he thought him to be, he understands but strives to become what he symbolized and keeps his original vision of him.

5. Claims Misidentity: She may decide that the stories are about a completely different man and that all the witnesses are making an identity mistake: there is an evil man, but it is not her father

6. Refutes the Evidence: The daughter discredits the accounts of the witnesses or realizes their blinding biases and goes with her own personal experiences with her father.

  • Who: Many liberal Christians
  • Oldboy (2003): Dae-su finds out the woman he’s been sleeping with is actually his long-lost daughter, he goes to a hypnotist to make him forget that fact so he can keep being with her.
  • The Forgotten (2004): Telly ignores people telling her she never had a child and keeps her instinct until she finds out she did.

7. Uses the Father: She recognizes that her father is a horrible person, but she still needs someone to pay her impending college tuition, and so stay on his good side.

  • Who: Heaven-Seeking Christians: A Christian who thinks God maybe horribly cruel to nonbelievers, but I wants herself and her loved ones to go to heaven.
  • Breaking Bad (2008-13): Father(Walt) turns drug-dealer, wife (Skyler) first rejects, then helps her husband laundry his illegal money for the sake of the family.

Hopefully I have shown how the original scenario is a good analogy to the profound dilemma Christians experience when or if they carefully read about their God of the Old Testament — Yahweh.  It is a dilemma because the Christians haven’t experienced a cruel god, instead, they have experienced ‘God’ as loving, forgiving and supportive.  None of my Christian friends or acquaintances have experienced their God to be anything like the horrible Jewish Iron-Age-tribal-god Yahweh who would drown all their loved ones (Gen 8), or have a pregnant woman’s abdomen slashed open just because she didn’t believe in him (Hosea 13:16).  So after reading all the Old Testament atrocities  Christians, just like the girl in our real life story above, must reconcile these two different fathers: a good one and an apparently bad one.  The 8 options above are some of the common solutions.

Question for readers:

  1. Can you think of other solutions with Christian parallels?
  2. If you are/were a Christian, which technique did/do you use?
  3. Any movie buffs out there who can you supply more movie titles that examplify  any of the solutions I list above?

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Would you stay in Heaven if …

Below are two thought experiments to probe possible clitches in your opinion about God, heaven and hell. Please only answer the appropriate polls. The first poll is for atheists, agnostics, non-theists or skeptics … — you get what I mean. The second poll is for theists (Christians, Jews, Muslims , theistic Hindus …).  Don’t think too hard — my point in this thought experiment should be pretty obvious.  Or, if you feel I am making horrendous assumptions, let me know.

Atheist Scenario:
Imagine that after you die, you surprisingly find out that there is indeed a heaven and a hell and a god. You are given a trial ride in heaven. But for you to stay forever if you willingly agree to honor this god during your eternal stay there. You must show respect and listen to his commands. If you won’t, you go to hell.  You find out he is very different from the Old Testament god you have read of and that god shows you convincingly that he is really good and loving [He can even convincingly explain why suffering happens in the mortal realm in a way that he is still good]. So, would you stay?  In the comments tell us what conditions you would add to the story to make your answer work.  But for fun, I am keeping the poll questions simple.

Theist Scenario:
Imagine that after you die, you were happy to see you were correct — there is indeed a heaven and a hell and you are in heaven.  The atheists were wrong. But wait!  You are disappointedly surprised to find out that God is not as you imagined.  He is not all knowing, and is mean and egotistical. In fact, he will happily send Christians to hell who won’t worship him. But if you worship him he will keep you in heaven. If you aren’t willing to to worship this selfish, angry, mean, very powerful eternal being, you will be tortured forever in hell. Would you stay in Heaven or go to Hell? If you need to add caveats to your answer, tell us in the comments.

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New Bibles: VB vs. CEB

Yet another new Bible translation has been published: “The Voice Bible” (2012) [HT: VJack].  New translations keep coming out.  A while ago, I received a different new translation: “The Common English Bible” (2010).  To illustrate a few interesting principles, rather than discuss the truth or falsity of Christian scriptures, I will discuss translation issues below.

Most Christians have not read the whole Bible yet alone know the controversies behind translations.  And probably most Atheists aren’t familiar with Bible translation issues either — nor should they be.   But the issues are fascinating for those interested.  As a former translator (Japanese-English), I was aware of some of the issues — and even more since I have been blogging on religion.  Presently, for instance, I see the same difficulties as I explore various translations of the Hindu Ramayana — another ancient text.  Both Hindu and Christian translators face the issues I discuss below but in this post I will illustrate them using the two new translations: “The Voice” (VB) & “The Common English Bible” (CEB).

Here are two things important issues to understand about translations:

(1) Translation Sources

Here is a diagram I did illustrating sources of NT translations. VB is from the Byzantine Text Types via the Textus Receptus which is same source for the KJV. However, the CEB is from the Alexandrian text-type which is the source of the RSV and the NIV. Perhaps you may know, the Alexandrian translations and the Byzantine translations are not the best of friends in Christian circles.

(2) Translation Types

The VB & the CEB are both dynamic equivalence translation which seek to express the supposed original intent of the authors rather than word-for-word translations with some feeling that the original phrasings are important even if difficult to understand.   Of course most translations contain some mix of both types but one intent usually predominates a given translation. I made a diagram here illustrating these choices and how bias inevitably enters both methods.

So below are four side-by-side translations part of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-12 for your comparative reading pleasure.   If readers know better verses to illustrate their differences, let me know. Remember, The RSV & CEB are the same family (Alexandrian) and the KJV & the VB are the same family (Byzantine). Also note, this wiki article explains the history of some variations in the Lord’s Prayer.

The King James Version:

  • Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
  • Thy kingdom come,  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
  • Give us this day our daily bread.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
  • And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
  • For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
The Voice Bible:

  • Our Father in heaven, let Your name remain holy.
  • Bring about Your kingdom. Manifest Your will here on earth, as it is manifest in heaven.
  • Give us each day that day’s bread—no more, no less—
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something.
  • Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
  • [But let Your kingdom be, and let it be powerful and glorious forever. Amen.]
The Revised Standard Version:

  • Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
  • Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
  • Give us this day our daily bread;
  • And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
  • And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
The Common English Bible:

  • Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name.
  • Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
  • Give us the bread we need for today.
  • Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
  • And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

Questions to Reader:

  • What is your favorite translation of the Bible and why? If you include the issues I discuss above, you get extra points for your comment! 🙂
  • Do you have any favorite texts from another language where you have seen the importance of these translations issues?  Again, extra points if you tell us which text, what issues and your favorite translation.

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God-Man Issues: Jesus & Rama

From my Ramayana Series!

Christian theology has a long history of debate over Jesus’ divinity. In my diagram above I playfully experimented with locating some of the common “Christologies” in relationship to each other.

More human-ish: Marks’ Gospel, Ebionism, Mormonism, Arianism

More god-ish: John’s Gospel, Doceticism, Apollinarianism

Please feel free to correct my placements but please remember that the point of this post is to illustrate that a similar debate exists about a Hindu god-man — Rama.

Hindus consider Rama to be an incarnation of the God Vishnu but it may not have always been so.  Exactly how god-ish Rama is considered nowadays is also debated similar to the same debate among Christians. Hindus, like Christians, have a wide variety of opinions on the issue.  In the diagram you can see two types of Rama – one much more human than the other.  Both of these Ramas can be found in the different versions of the Ramayana.

The Ramayana’s earliest versions were written in Sanskrit — between 700s and 100s BC (see my diagram).  The author is reported to be the poet/saint Valmiki whose text claims that he was a contemporary of Rama.   But Valmiki’s Ramayana, like the Bible, has gone through many oral tellings and redactions since Valmiki’s composition.  Most extant Sanskrit versions are composed of seven books/cantos but modern literary criticism (similar to that applied critically to the Bible) has shown that the first and last book are most probably later additions. And without those two books and their influence on later redactions, Valmiki’s tale shows a much more human Rama.   “Rama’s character is that not of a god but of a god-man who has to live within the limits of a human form with all its vicissitudes.” Rama is an inspirational filial son and valiant warrior but very human.  It was only later additions to Valmiki’s tale that pulled Rama far closer to being 100% god — sort of like John’s Gospel did to Jesus.

Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana is popular in North India whereas the most popular version of the Ramayana in South India is written in Tamil by the famous 12th century poet Kampan where he tells us that Rama was clearly god — 100% god. In Kampan’s version, Rama’s “mission [is] to root out evil, sustain the good, and bring release to all living beings…. Rama is a savior of all beings, from the lowly grass to the great gods.”  The South Indians possessively love Kampan’s version of the Ramayana, for as I wrote here, the tension between North and South India is long-standing.

I think it is helpful for Christians to realize that they are not the only ones who wrestled with god-man issues — several cultures wrestle with this theme.

Notes:

  • The quotes above are from an essay by A.K. Ramanujan entitled  Three_Hundred_Ramayanas which is presently causing a large controversy in India — more on that in the future.
  • See my post on “My Favorite Type of Christian” to see the variety of theologies Christians have to chose from

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Radio Theology


The average religious consumer does not get their theology from a library of theology texts. Very few religious folks even think out a half-way consistent theology. Many people just get their religion from the equivalent of various inspiring AM radio stations.

Questions:

Notes:  My drawing was inspired by the Naked Pastor’s drawing called “two theological libraries“.

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