The first big chunk of my childhood belief-system that got blasted away when I rejected a psychopathic God was the bit about God torturing people (or ordering them to be tortured, which I felt was the same thing) for all eternity.
That's what I meant in that last post when I referred to a massive can of worms. See, I was trained to believe that Penal Substitutionary Atonement was the lynch-pin of the entire Christian faith. As in, if they could pin a rejection of it on me, I'd be lynched.
For the uninitiated, Penal Substitutionary Atonement goes something like this:
God is perfect, and can't come into contact with imperfection (spatially? causally? huh?) or a black hole will form and the universe will implode. So all imperfection (a.k.a. "sin") has to be atoned for with violence (again... huh?).
This principle was established in the "Old Testament," wherein God informed the Israelites of the virtue of killing babies; and also of chopping up and burning sheep, goats, oxen, and doves, as a way of paying for the rotten things they kept doing, on account of they were so wicked and depraved.
This was expensive, gory, and time-consuming, so God sent... himself, in the person of Jesus, and took all that violence onto himself, once and for all. BAM! Done. No more bloody sacrifices. No more smashing babies onto rocks. Now all you had to do was "accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior" (and really, really mean it) and, PRESTO-BANGO! that Divine Blood would wash all over you in a (sorta-kinda) metaphorical way.
God would be able to look at you without feeling his unchanging, undying fury building up in your direction, and when you died you had a free pass into heaven, where everything was awesome and you got to eat as much lemon-meringue pie as you wanted.
That was pretty much what I was taught, growing up (except maybe the bit about the pie).
But once I'd rejected the existence of the capricious, unjust God I'd come to view as a psychopath, there were certain aspects of this bible-interpretation with which I began to take umbrage. Like, say, all those people who were precluded from saying the Magic Salvation-Words by the fact that they were born and died before Jesus even got the chance to do his thing on the cross. Or all the people who lived after that but still couldn't say them because they'd never heard of Jesus. Or the ones who had only ever encountered a caricature-Jesus painted onto a crusade-banner, or etched onto the side of a machine gun.
What about all those people, I wondered?
I'm kind of a turd-bucket, but even I would never treat my own child the way this God apparently treats his kids (which is to say, us humans). Where's the love? Would a non-psychopathic God set up preconditions making it nearly impossible for someone to "ask Jesus into their heart" and then torture them forever because of it -- all while giving ME pretty much a free pass for having been born into a loving, Christian family?
Don't get me wrong: I'm as pissed as anybody by the injustices of this world. I would love for all the donkey-dimples out there who seem to be "getting away with it" to get what's coming to them, and for the decent, loving, amazing people (those more like myself, of course) to win the Divine Lottery.
But the more I looked at the villains and at myself, the more we seemed a lot alike; and the less this talk of a Divine Torturer / Capricious Lemon-Meringue-Pie-Distributor seemed to make any sense.
I should point out that what I've been describing here is a parody of what I truly believe Jesus was really all about. Nonetheless, it is a parody espoused by many, many people; and although a lot of Christians are careful to avoid or ignore the Hell-question inherent in such a worldview, I had to address it if I wanted to stay in the Jesus-camp.
So I started asking what it really meant to believe that Jesus came to save us all, and I learned that the whole "ask Jesus into your heart" thing was a recent fabrication -- gibberish invented by people who were more interested in a good marketing strategy than what the Bible actually said. Did I really exist merely for the purpose of offering my ongoing intellectual
assent to the principles that'd nab me a "Get-Out-of-Jail-Free" Card? I didn't think so.
I needed a new interpretation. A more creative one. A more beautiful one.
I went looking. Along the way, I learned that there were a lot of people out there who, like me, found that the picture of God we'd been handed was not just nonsensical, but also morally repugnant. I learned that there were those who, like me, loved Jesus; but thought that an interpretation of the Bible so obviously at odds with Love just had to be misguided. These people wrote books. They blogged. They were smart, and didn't sound like the Evil-Crazies I'd always heard them made out to be.
This was not just an intellectual exercise for me, though. I was reading theology to try and understand how thinking people were reconciling a biblical God with their intellect, but I was coming at it from a holistic place -- a place that refused to accept any narrative that didn't jive with Love, regardless of how sweetly it was spoken.
Thus far in my search, I've landed (as much as I'll ever "land" anywhere) on the continuing belief that Jesus is the MAN (slash God). I'm not entirely sure why I believe this, but I do.
I believe he came to explain/embody/reveal the upside-down kingdom that (as he himself said) is already here, among us.
I believe that God was/is at work as an inconceivable Master-Artist, shaping all-new, beautiful things out of the atomic-dust we keep making of God's beautiful creation.
I believe that to enter into that kingdom all I have to do is shut up, humble myself, and listen to the still, small voice of Love.
I don't need to go around inventing a hell out of three-or-four ambiguous clobber-verses -- there's plenty enough hell right now to go around. But there is also plenty enough Grace and Love in the world to heal that hell. If I'm willing, I can be the instrument of that Grace and Love. I hope for some sort of ultimate justice to be meted out (with, y'know, the stipulation that the punishment oughtta fit the temporal, finite crime), but I don't think it does me much good to worry about that.
I don't have to wait for pie-in-the-sky-when-I-die-bye-and-bye. I can work for justice in the here-and-now.
Suddenly, I realized that I'd quit being scared for my soul and the souls of everybody else, because I'd stopped believing that God was gonna fry most of us forever. Or any of us. Heck, I didn't really even know what a soul was, so why was I spending so much time being afraid for it?
And sure, yeah... this is the kind of thinking that got me fired from a teaching job I loved at a school still pretty dedicated to smashed babies and eternal torture. But I got to live! I got to make stuff! I've written a short story collection (Coming soon to an internets near you!), four feature-length film scripts, two more feature-length film treatments, a bunch of poems, and this blog post! I've got two short films in pre-production for sometime this year, and I'm "guardedly optimistic" about my prospects as a long-term, professional writer. Oh, and my son really, really loves me, and called me in the middle of writing this thing to tell me that his doctor visit went well, but that he gave a really good yell when they poked him with needles.
My call to you, then, is to quit accepting psychopathy as normal.
Let's stop fearing and start living.
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