Theological QUESTIONS

I was talking to my Jehovah’s Witness buddy on the bus the other day. Frankly, I agree with him a lot more than not, and he certainly knows his Bible. So I was surprised that he thought that we were in the end times, that the things that are happening NOW suggest the Armageddon foretold in Revelation.

Having read the Epistles, I believe people have predicting the Lord was coming back at least since Saint Paul was on the earth (which, not incidentally, predates the writing of Revelation), that these particular circumstances (Israel as a nation, the United Nations as an entity that will try to create a one-world secular government in violation of God’s will, and all the earthquakes, floods, etc. worldwide) are the signs of the End Times. Well, maybe. I’m of the school that “No one knows the day or time when the Lord comes”, so you might as well live your lives loving each other, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and the like.

Meanwhile, the sermon at church on Sunday was useful in another way. I know there is evil in the world, but haven’t attributed it to a personified devil, Satan, Lucifer, the accuser since I was a teenager. Apparently, most people don’t; how else could we make devil’s food cake, deviled eggs and buy Underwood deviled ham, with a little red devil character right on the can?

So, a couple of lighthearted questions for Good Friday:
1. How do you think the world ends? With a bang or a whimper? In lack certainty, so I don’t really worry about it. I DO doubt that the UN will be the vehicle through which a one-government body will arise, if it ever does; it’d much more likely be via the multinational corporations pulling the strings than the US, Iran, Israel, China, and Russia all ceding authority to a controlling government.

2. Do you believe in a personified Devil? I don’t. As a monotheist, which I am, if there is one God, then making “the Devil” like unto God seems wrong.

But what do YOU think?
***
And all he asks of us is we give each other love
Marvin Gaye (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984)
God is Love, from the What’s Goin’ On album
Album version
Extended mix

ROG

Was Jesus Homely?

There was a piece in a Times Union blog written by high school student Allison Moss a few weeks ago, addressing the question “Was Jesus Gay?” This was based on something singer Elton John reportedly said. Well, Jesus Christ Superstar suggests that he (or He) was bisexual. Of course, as much as I adore JCSS, I never considered it theologically authoritative.

It was that question that prompted me to revisit the notion, “Was Jesus homely?” As I understand it, we really have no idea about the physical characteristics of Jesus. He was not depicted in art until decades after walking the earth. Looking in the Bible, there appears to be no description whatsoever, except an interpretation of Isaiah 53:2, which says, “He has no form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him”. If this is in fact referring to Jesus, and the subsequent verses of the chapter are used in Messiah (Handel) as Jesus verses, then this Jesus fellow was rather plain-looking.

There’s a lengthy Wikipedia description about the depictions of Jesus, which I don’t treat as gospel either, but it IS interesting. My favorite section is on this point: “But when the pagan Celsus ridiculed the Christian religion for having an ugly God in about 180, Origen (d. 248) cited Psalm 45:3: ‘Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, mighty one, with thy beauty and fairness.’ Later the emphasis of leading Christian thinkers changed; Jerome (d. 420) and Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) argued that Jesus must have been ideally beautiful in face and body. For Augustine he was ‘beautiful as a child, beautiful on earth, beautiful in heaven’.” So humans, using their own sensibilities, created the appearance of Jesus in their own image of what he (or He) must have looked like. The beard and long hair was copped, ironically, from the image of competing “gods”.

In other words, early depictions of Jesus suggested that He was plain-looking, but other religionists stuck their thumbs in their ears, wiggled their fingers, and chimed in a sing-songy voice, “Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah, nyah, nyah, your God is ugly!” So Christians made THEIR manifestation of God look more like OTHER people’s manifestation of the gods. Given the Biblical directive way back in Genesis that God made humans in God’s image, it seems as though people feel compelled to return the favor.

Moreover, He was probably short. How else does he evade the madding crowd that wants to throw him over a cliff?

So eventually, Jesus started looking, more or less, like this guy:

Theologically, it would make more sense to me if Jesus was less than handsome. It is now well documented that tall, handsome people fare better in social interactions than others. What would be the theological point if Jesus were physically appealing? One might ask if people were following Him for shallow reasons based on His countenance rather than for his message.

When images of “black Jesus” became popular four or five decades ago in some households, people were shocked, SHOCKED. “THAT’S not what Jesus looked like!” Maybe, maybe not. He probably looked more like that than this, given the geography:

I think this Time magazine cover is a fairly accurate representation of what Christ, and indeed Christianity, looks like; it depends on the point of view.

***
Yes, this is a rewrite of a post from six months ago. It just felt like a Holy week piece.

ROG

Roger Answers Your Questions, Lynn

I have a strong idea who Lynn is, but I’m not positive.

Why do you believe in god (assuming you do)?

Yes, I do. Part of it is faith. Part of it is the sense of the wonder and beauty of the world – for me, particularly music – that God seems self-evident. And part of is that, in a much more enlightened, scientific world, is the otherwise unexplanable, which I attribute to God.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Yes, probably, maybe, perhaps, but other than being closer to God, not clear what that means. In any case, it is not the focus of my life.

Do you think that non-believers are doomed in the afterlife?

Non-believers of what? Most religions suggest some type of life after this one. I’m a Christian; do I believe that a devout Jew, Hindu, Muslim is going to hell? Well, no, I don’t, if there is one, which I’m sure some would consider sacrilege, but there it is. In any case, it’s not my call, and again frankly where I’m concentrating.

Jesus said that we don’t know know the time the Lord will come again. Some people seem to have taken that as an excuse to sit by the door, waiting for the Resurrection. I happen to believe that kind of thinking is blasphemy. We should be busy feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and otherwise loving one’s brothers and sisters, our primary tasks.

And what IS hell? Separation from God. I was watching the soon-to-be-canceled TV series Life on Mars, and a couple cops on a stakeout got into a conversation about life after this one. One cop decided heaven, and I’m paraphrasing here, had to do with having all the pizza and sex one could want. And hell is being on the other side looking at all those people in heaven eating pizza and having sex. Don’t know that I’d subscribe exactly to that notion, but the apartness from God would be hell.

What do you think of the theory of evolution in relation to religion?

Ah, the easy question. I find them totally compatible. Some people, and a lot of them are Christians, seem to have confused physical truth and metaphysical truth. The Bible is not a history book; it’s allegory and poetry. Is it true? Sure, the same way a good movie or poem or song can true, not factually but at its core.

Let’s take the Creation. Do I think the earth was literally built in six days, as we now understand the concept of “day”? I do not. But that there was an evolution of the world, where humans arrive fairly late in the game is pretty consistent with most science. My Jehovah’s Witness buddy said just this week that the notion of earth literally being put together in six days is “silly”.

More important is the notion of resting on the Sabbath, which is far more consistently stated in the Bible. In the 10 Commandments. In the story about manna from heaven that was supposed to be collected only six days, with a double portion on that sixth day and none on the seventh. The message of setting aside time for reflection makes sense, even in a secular world, does it not?
***
Neil Gaiman is not a Scientologist.


ROG

Roger Answers Your Questions, Uthaclena

Uthaclena, who is one of the few people reading this blog I know personally:

Asking Anything?

Okay, it’s Sunday, and the header of your blog refers to “pondering… God.”

Do you believe in “God” as a supernatural Personality actively creating, shaping, judging, intervening, with whom one can have a “relationship?” And, as a follow-up question, do you believe in personal survival after bodily death? Some awareness that will recognize I am/was “Roger?”

OK, U., interesting questions. And I waited until Sunday to answer them.

I don’t think God made the world then went away. I believe that God is an active entity. I believe in the power of prayer. But I don’t believe that prayer is like some sort of cosmic Santa Claus where you get to pray for a pony and ZING!, a pony arrives. Intercessionary prayer I believe in. And sometimes the answer is no. Three examples immediately come to mind.

There was a woman I knew named Rus who had a rare, incurable disease. About 20 years ago, while she was dying in a Boston hospital, a bunch of her friends, including me, were in the chapel of Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany, praying for Rus. And she was cured. There is no other logical explanation for it.

People were praying for my father in 2000 and my brother-in-law John in 2002, too, but they both died. And in each case, someone who was praying probably the hardest for them got pretty damn angry with God.

God may talk to people through earthly tools, such as movies. I found this website that discusses the theological ramification of movies. Theological ramifications of “Natural Born Killers”? The site also has a thematic directory where topics from alienation to trust are referenced to specific movies.

I think that often God sends a sign. I am reminded of the joke here (Dumb Faith) that suggests that sometimes the message is given but we are just not hearing it.

As for the second question, I believe in an afterlife. Whether it’ll contain my Rogerness, I simply don’t know. People often talk about the deceased watching over them from heaven; I don’t know if it’s true or not, though I suspect it’s true for them, and that may be enough.
***
Meanwhile someone suggested that I become “friends” with Stan Lee on his Facebook page. So I did, and he accepted on Friday, as he did with Laurence Fishburne and doubtless thousands of others. Probably not worth mentioning, except that it’s Stan Lee’s 86th birthday today.

ROG

One Nation Under God

On vacation, I was reading an old Newsweek from early May. The cover story was about military chaplains, and how they balance serving God in a time of war. I thought the Editor’s Desk piece by Jon Meacham, who has a background covering religious issues, was particularly interesting:

Historically, the most fervent of believers have often been the most bloodthirsty of warriors. [The Newsweek writers] note that religion can be a dangerous element in the lives of nations. From Saint Augustine to Shakespeare to Lincoln, some of history’s most searching thinkers and politicians have wrestled with the question of God and war, of how we can know for certain that the blood we are spilling is being shed in a just cause.

Which brings me to our national anthem. One of the verses of the Star-Spangled Banner that has long brought me pause is the fourth and final verse. (I know by heart the first and the last; the second and third in part.) It goes:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our Trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Again from Newsweek’s Meacham:

How can we tell when religion is playing too great a role in our politics, or in the decisions made by our leaders? Lincoln offers a useful test… He prayed…that he might see “the right as God gives to see the right”…He resisted seeing any political course of action as divinely ordained…Are [current and future leaders] curious and probing, believing, as Lincoln did, that “probably it is to be my lot to go on in a twilight, feeling and reasoning my way through life, as questioning, doubting Thomas did?”

Perhaps it is that discomfort, that questioning, that Abraham Lincoln felt in the midst of war that we ought to embrace. It is that thoughtfulness, that wariness, I believe, that best serves God and country.
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Roger Ebert remembers his friend, and fellow movie critic, the late Joel Siegel

ROG