The Mystery of Belief

 

The difference between reality and mystery is very simple: one is everything we know, the other is everything we don’t know. We like to believe that the world we live in is reality, but we are never far from mystery.  Why do inexplicable and incomprehensible things happen?  Those things which we call mystery may simply be the unknown, or the not-yet-known. This is the scientific perspective.  Mystery may also represent elements of the supernatural realm breaking into the natural world. This is the religious perspective.  The list of debunked superstitions, false prophecies, and failed religions is long indeed. 

 

The great mysteries remain matters of faith.  How did the universe come into being? How was matter formed from pure energy? How did inert chemicals combine into self-replicating creatures?  How did creatures acquire consciousness?  The oldest answer – and still the most popular – is God. 

 

Is there a God? The vast majority of human beings in historical and modern times have answered YES.  Would it then be reasonable to claim that the question of God’s existence is settled? Not quite. The situation is analogous to finding a dead body in the middle of the town square. Most citizens reach the conclusion that the evidence points to murder, but they cannot agree how the murder was committed, why, or by whom.

 

Atheists, who hold the dissenting view that all mysteries (including this particular unsolved ‘murder’) will eventually prove to be the result of natural causes, have always formed a minority group. It is equally true that believers have never formed a majority. No matter what you believe, there are far more people who think your particular beliefs are wrong (or foolish or dangerous) than share them.  If you are rock solid in your beliefs, you may not care what anyone else thinks.

 

But most of us have questions and doubts. Somewhere in the back of your mind – and it doesn’t matter whether your minority faith is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist – you wonder why so many intelligent people examine the same ‘reality’ and draw different conclusions about what it is.  You may be troubled that many of the children raised in your particular belief system will join the ranks of doubters. They spend 15 or 20 years closely observing you and your co-believers, and then decide that your beliefs are, at least in part, inadequate. You may be a young person looking at the faith you have inherited and feeling that the better you understand it, the less sense it makes. You may be a young person looking at the faith you have inherited and feeling that the better you understand it, the less sense it makes.  

 

The world’s major belief systems are complex and contradictory. There is no better example of this than Christianity, which has been a driving force behind the best and worst of human behaviour. The European Empires which exploited Asia, Africa and the Americas for economic gain were nominally Christian. Followers of Jesus fought on both sides over slavery, opposing and defending it using different verses from the same Bible.  

 

Because belief systems are so complex and contradictory, few people have the time to study them in depth. At best we attain a thumbnail knowledge of other faiths, forming our views from a few key details and historical incidents. We know our own belief system much better and realize that it is quite possible for two people to share the same superficial label (Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, atheist) and yet hold dramatically different beliefs. 

 

For example, some versions of Christianity portray a God of love and mercy.  The Bible supports them in this belief. 2 Peter 3:9 ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ 1 Timothy 2:4 ‘This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved.’ Romans 5:18 ‘Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all men.’

 

Other versions of Christianity portray a God of judgement and wrath. The Bible supports them in this belief. John 3:24  ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath is upon him.’  Matthew 7:13-14  ‘For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter it. But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and only a few find it.’ Romans 9:18 ‘Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and hardens whom he wants to harden.’ 

 

It is confusing for outsiders that both groups call themselves Christians.  It is not so strange because most Christians identify themselves primarily by denominational labels such as Baptist or Presbyterian, in the way that people in Europe consider themselves French or German, rather than the generic ‘European’.  People from the hot Mediterranean south of France are not identical to people from the cold Celtic north.   Similarly, a Protestant, Conservative, evangelical, Bible-literalist, creationist is quite different from a Catholic, Liberal, non-literalist, evolutionist.  While Christians at times speak of their 'brothers and sisters' in Christ as if they are all a big happy family, in reality they are as diverse and divided as all families.  Difference in values and theology within the single faith group of ‘Christianity’ produce ‘cultural wars’ which can degenerate into sectarian violence.

 

In the past, Catholic Christians fought religious wars with Protestant Christians. In the present, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims are engaged in violent conflicts.  What is the source of this violence? Is it inherent in all religion, as radical atheists claim?  Does the problem lie in specific religions, or rogue denominations, or aberrant subsets within one or more of these religions populations? 

 

These essays will propose that there may be thousands of religions, denominations and sects, but there are just four main belief systems: Wrath, Anti-wrath, Atheism and Love.   

 

                                       LOVE

WRATH   ANTI-WRATH

                                     ATHEISM

 

The Christian Gospel of Wrath is identified with fundamentalism and Conservative evangelicals.   It is regarded as narrow, intolerant, angry, complicated, legalistic and dangerous.    

 

The Christian Gospel of Anti-wrath, as its name suggests, is a reaction against the Gospel of Wrath.  It is identified with liberal denominations, New Agers, Neo-Pagan spiritualists, and a religion of Good Works. The Gospel of Anti-wrath is regarded as open-minded, tolerant, welcoming, non-traditional, non-Biblical, inoffensive and ill-defined.

 

Atheism is often a reaction against both the Gospel of Wrath and the Gospel of Anti-wrath.

 

The Gospel of Love is what most Christians like to think they practice, but disciples of Wrath combine love with strict judgement, while disciples of Anti-wrath combine love with tolerant permissiveness.   These essays will outline the histories of these belief systems and their chief characteristics. They will suggest that the current state of Christianity resembles a human brain in which the two halves have been separated and disconnected. 

 

These Wrath and Anti-wrath forms of Christianity can be compared to contractors who share an aspiration to do good work, on time, and on budget, but in practice are forced to compromise on one priority in order to deliver the other two.  If love and mercy are prioritized, then justice must be sacrificed and criminals will escape punishment. If justice and love (for victims) are prioritized, then mercy is sacrificed and every crime must be punished to the utmost.  

 

People who embrace a violent belief system share characteristics of cancer. They are dangerous to the healthy body.  The Gospel of Wrath is worse than cancer. It is more like a contagious virus.  If an individual pretends he has no cancer, he will die alone. If a virus carrier pretends he is not sick, many will suffer. It is not surprising that neighbours will take strong measures to prevent a virus carrier from spreading the disease.

 

The full-strength Gospel of Wrath provokes hostility wherever it goes. It declares that all non-Christians are under the wrath of God and the worst zealots have a long list of types of sins that God particularly hates. When the inevitable backlash occurs, the zealots who have provoked it run to their co-religionists and scream: They hate us, they hate our values and our God. This is absolutely false. The Gospel of Wrath has nothing to do with the Gospel of Love. The great tragedy of religion is that healthy believers will rush to the defence of the disease-carrying ‘brother’ and get caught up in a ‘cultural war’ with the wrong people for the wrong reasons.  A ‘war mentality’ makes it impossible to engage in rational dialogue with the ‘enemy.’ When the disease and the ‘enemies’ are misdiagnosed, a great deal of truly senseless suffering will ensue. 

 

The Christian Gospel of Wrath is based on the doctrine of Original Sin. No aspect of Christianity is so poorly understood because original sin can mean many things and can be interpreted in many ways. The doctrine of Original Sin has a precise meaning as defined by Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.  These essays will explain why the doctrine of Original Sin was developed and how it leads directly to the Gospel of Wrath and the Gospel of Anti-wrath. It is impossible to understand Christianity without understanding how the doctrine of Original Sin has shaped its beliefs. 

 

The full-strength Gospel of Wrath proclaims eternal torment for everyone who has not accepted Jesus as personal saviour. This includes all atheists, all non-Christians, and many Christians who believe the wrong things for the wrong reasons. It does not matter that these ‘unsaved’ are moral, law-abiding human beings. It does not matter if these ‘unsaved sinners’ are demonstratably more compassionate than disciples of Wrath. 

 

Where does this strange 'Christian' idea come from that good people, sincerely seeking to understand the reality of the universe and their place in it, will be cast into hell for all eternity? The Book of Revelation says that hell will be inhabited by ‘dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and make a lie.’ These are wicked people who love to do evil.  If the wilfully wicked are the only people condemned to hell, then who is not in hell?  The entire human race, minus the willfully wicked, must end up in heaven.  

 

The heaven and hell you will hear about in the Gospel of Wrath is very different. Ghandi might have been a non-violent advocate of human rights but he was not a ‘saved’ Christian. Buddha may have been a great moral teacher but he did not accept Jesus as his personal Saviour. Socrates and Plato? Unsaved.  Einstein may have been a genius but he was either ‘an atheist or a Jew’ or both. Many Protestants sincerely believe that Catholics will be cast into hell because they do not have ‘saving faith’ in Jesus. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Saint Francis or Mother Theresa.  And Roman Catholics reciprocate by proclaiming that ‘outside the Church’ – which means the Church of Rome –  ‘there is no salvation’.

 

The Gospel of Wrath’s vision of heaven is equally surprising. There are no ‘good people’ in heaven.  Theologians of Wrath have gone to great pains to stress that not a single human being ‘deserves’ to be in heaven. Salvation is determined by the grace of God.  You might find in heaven any number of notorious sinners who accepted Jesus and repented, and criminals who made a death-bed confession. The only thing the inhabitants of heaven have in common is that they are sinners saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Instead of portraying hell as a place for evil-doers and heaven as a place for the righteous, the Gospel of Wrath makes heaven a place for ‘saved’ Christians, and casts all ‘unsaved’ non-Christians into hell.

 

GHANDI  Buddha      Nun  Einstein  

 

It is hardly surprising that atheists are appalled by these beliefs, and reject the God who inspired them.  It is surprising that disciples of Anti-wrath reject much of the Gospel of Wrath, but do so privately, rarely repudiating the official theology of Wrath.  

 

Islam has become the most violent and feared religion in the world. Many non-Muslims are confused about the source of the violence. Is it inherent in the Koran? Is it a legitimate expression of Islamic traditions? Or is it a deadly cancer? If violent Jihad is a perversion of true Islamic beliefs then true Muslims must denounce it and take a stand against it.  

 

The same is true of Christianity. The Christian Gospel of Wrath declares that God hates non-Christians.  Augustine threatened Pagans with eternal damnation if they did not submit to baptism.  Luther and Calvin revived Augustine’s Gospel of Wrath in a Protestant version that extended God’s wrath to Catholics.  The contemporary Gospel of Wrath combines Young Earth Creationism and homophobia to rally the troops of wrath.  A large number of Christians have adopted a tolerant, compassionate version of the Gospel of Anti-wrath but they have quietly allowed zealots of Wrath to control Christian theology and proclaim that God hates non-Christians. Then they wonder why Christianity is the second most unpopular religion in the world (and still number 1 in the hearts and minds of those who can remember when Christianity was dominant and Islam was dormant).

 

These essays will examine the history of the Christian Gospel of Wrath and will show why disciples of Love have made a terrible mistake

by defending or ignoring this malignant perversion of faith.

 

 

2 – The Original Gospel of Wrath:  Augustine

 

3 – The Reformed Gospel of Wrath:  Luther and Calvin

 

4 – The Creationist Gospel of Wrath 

 

Questions or Comments?

 

Note.  An enormous amount of Church history is condensed into these essays. The tree diagram of Christian denominations on the next page will help keep the major traditions in perspective. 

 

 

Christian Churches Tree

 

GOD.  No discussion of religious faith is possible without first establishing a definition of what God is and isn’t.  Monotheists agree that God is the ‘self-existent and eternal creator of the universe.’  This definition does not explain how God came to exist (what does ‘self-existent’ mean?) and does not specify whether God’s creative powers operate through direct intervention or general laws of nature (such as evolution). 

 

As well as being eternal and infinite, the great Creator God is also described as omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.  These qualities are exceedingly difficult to reconcile with a world plagued by suffering, evil and death. Religions try, and fail, to reconcile the perfect God they proclaim with the imperfect world we experience.

 

These essays take the position that God is knowable via three forms of revelation. The principle way in which God is known is the ‘book of nature’ which reveals extraordinary beauty, complexity, order, and elegance in the universe as well as terrifying chaos and violence. God is also revealed through ‘books of scripture’  but every religion has different revelations.  This is why many people place more faith in the book of nature, which is also known as science. Individuals can also receive personal revelations, which require great discernment to distinguish from hallucinations and psychotic episodes.  

 

SIN.  The literal meaning of sin is ‘to miss the mark,’ with the mark being a standard of behaviour defined by God. Personal sin is a personal failure.  Most Christian theology since Augustine (5th century) has traced sinful imperfection to the ‘Original Sin’ of Adam and Eve, a catastrophic event which is alleged to have brought suffering, evil and death into the world. This explanation for the origin of sin has remained popular because it allows God to remain omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent by transferring the blame for this imperfect world to human failure. While offering a solution to the thorny problem of evil, the doctrine of Original Sin creates numerous theological and philosophical problems.

 

How could an omniscient God not have anticipated human failure? How could an omnipotent God not have prevented it? How could an omnibenevolent God have condemned the entire human race for the personal failure of two individuals? The Gospel of Wrath has no answers.  

 

If an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God responded to the failure of Eden with a universal plan of salvation, why did it take thousands of years to implement? If Jesus Christ is the sole Saviour of the human race, why was he unknown to people who lived between Eden and his incarnation?  What is the fate of multitudes who continue to live and die without ever hearing of Jesus as Saviour?     

 

2. The Original Gospel of Wrath: Augustine

 

3. The Reformed Gospel of Wrath: Luther and Calvin

 

4. The Creationist Gospel of Wrath