Posts Tagged ‘hell’

The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgement.
~ J. Krishnamurti

This quote resonated strongly with me when I read it recently. I realize that it is a very Buddhist statement that can apply to ’emptying your mind,’ enlightenment, higher states of consciousness, etc., but it says something more to me. Much of my life has been consumed by judgement from the church, my family, my peers, but mostly myself. I have been my own worst critic without a doubt, and it was only made worse by neurotic guilt over ‘sin’ and the desire to be accepted by God. For a time I found a tremendous source of release in embracing the grace of God, discovering that I was already accepted based upon the sacrificial atoning death of Christ on the cross. While that brought more peace than I had known up to that point, all of my failures and shortcomings continued to plague me because although they were forgiven, they remained a disappointment to God and ultimately myself. I could not live up to the ridiculous standard I set for myself, a standard I never expected of anyone else.

 Only in these later years when I took the blasphemous step of concluding that hell and sin are the constructs of a religious system and not reality, did I begin to find the kind of freedom that the church had been selling for years. (see To Sin or Not to Sin, Is It Even Possible?) Ironically, I was listening to a Michael Tolcher song this morning, “Sooner or Later,” which talks about all of the rules we are given as kids. We grow up only to discover that the grown ups didn’t know what they were talking about anymore than we do now.

Somethings you have to learn them all on your own
You can’t rely on anybody else
Or the point of view of a source unknown
If it feels good and sounds nice
Then it’s your choice don’t doubt yourself
Don’t even think twice

I know that the Christians reading this would say it sounds like hedonism, a “if it feels good, do it” mentality, but I’ve come to believe that each of us have an internal compass pointing us in the direction that we were meant to go. No amount of religious browbeating can deter you from who you are. In the end it is more important to be accepted by yourself than by others. Again, many Christians I know would say that my conscience has been “seared by a hot iron,” that I’ve lost spiritual sensitivity to conviction and to God Himself. Honestly, I disagree. I’ve never felt more connected to the divine source than I do right now.

There is something to be said for clearing your mind, living in the present moment, and just being, especially in this crazy rat race we live in, but there is even more to be said for clearing your soul of a lifetime of religious clutter. While it may be impossible to observe yourself with absolutely no judgement, I know that I have much less of it now. While it may be regarded as the “highest form of human intelligence,” I believe it is the highest form of human freedom to live at peace with yourself and with others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin lately. No, I don’t have a guilty conscience. Quite the opposite. My conscience has never been clearer, although I think my fundy friends would say that it’s been “seared with a hot iron.” I consider it liberated from guilt theology. The big question of the day: is it even possible to sin? My short answer: no.

At a recent Interfaith Dialogue I was struck by how Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are so dominated by sin consciousness. The primary thrust of each religion appeared to be an attempt to find atonement for sin and be reconciled to God. My favorite college professor delievered the guest sermon at church yesterday. His teaching, along with Brennan Manning’s books, helped me to overcome the narcissistic guilt I inherited in the church growing up. True to form he preached about God’s forgiveness and willful forgetfulness of our sins. That is a very necessary message to help people come out of the trap that is fundamentalism. It’s like opening the prison doors and setting people free. I don’t want to play off the Matrix too much, but at this stage of the journey I’ve come to realize that there is no prison to begin with. We are imprisoned only by the smallness of our minds.

To tell guilt-ridden believers that there is no sin would probably do more harm than good. If they didn’t write you off as blasphemous but actually considered the possibility, it might well throw them into a theological tailspin. I read yesterday in Deepak Chopra’s book Quantum Healing that researchers proved that if newborn kittens are blindfolded within the first few days before their eyes are opened that they will be blind for life. Although they have perfectly healthy eyes, something gets crosswired in their brains permanently blinding them. Conditioning, especially in our formative years, is so powerful that it can cripple a person for life.

One of the statements that resonated with me so strongly months ago regarding the reality of sinfulness was made by Micael Ledwith in What the Bleep Do We Know!?:

The single greatest obstacle to our evolution is the way our culture often views God – as a God sitting up somewhere “registering the scores on his laptop as to whether we perform according to his designs or whether we’re offending him, as it’s put, an absolutely outrageous idea. How could we offend God? How could it matter so much to him? How could it, above all, matter that he would find it so serious a situation that he could conform us to an eternity of suffering? These are bizarre ideas.And they are bizarre ideas: that in this vast universe, where there are more galaxies than grains of sand in all the oceans, that in that vastness, a group of people – well, men actually – on a small planet got the exclusive franchise for the pearly gate arches of heaven. And every other being in the universe will spend an eternity of suffering in hell. It’s hard to imagine a more bizarre idea. And if that’s the sort of God you believe in, you just have to wonder: How does that affect your view of the world?

The more you think about it sin appears to be nothing more than a means of control. We’ve seen repeatedly in history how the dangers of hellfire can be a useful tool for the church to keep even Kings in line. It was just such a mockery that prompted Martin Luther to nail the 95 Thesis to the Wittenburg door, “As the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from pergatory springs.”

Is sin real? Is it possible to sin? Does our sinfulness really offend God? You couldn’t tell by looking around. If God is offended by our sinfulness or brokenhearted over our suffering, He doesn’t seem to do a hell of a lot about it. Does He? You cannot convince me that God or the Supreme Being or the Unified Field or the Force is offended by you lusting after a girl, failing to pay your tithes, or skipping out on church. So what is sin?

I think the word “sin” is damaged goods and loaded with baggage. I don’t think you can sin against God, but you can “sin” against your neighbor. As humans we have enormous potential for cruelty, as well as for good. Our pain and anger over the imbalance of justice in the world feeds the need for religions of atonement and damnation. We have this innate need to have our consciences cleared and believe that those who do evil will be punished in the next life to make the scales balance out again. When injury is done to another, the real consequence is that the whole of life is somehow diminished and robbed of joy, not that someone will burn in hellfire for all time.

It is a cold hard fact to grasp that the rich and poor, the kind and the cruel alike, will all die and turn to dust. There is evil and suffering in the world, and much of it has never been made right. I’ve learned that it is a common misconception that many people believe that one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is that “life is suffering.” That is not true. Apparently the appropriate translation reads that “life contains suffering.” No amount of labeling and fear-mongering is going to change that. It’s been tried for the last few thousand years and look where it’s gotten us. Why not try a radically different approach? Instead of telling people how worthless, how no good, and how sinful they are, why don’t we try showing people the incredible potential they have as persons and as a collective whole? Now there’s a novel idea.

Maybe enlightenment is as elusive as chasing after the wind, but if we spent our energies pursuing nobler ideals, we would not waste so much time hurting each other and seeking to have control over anyone or anything else. Just my opinion.

I found Larry Vaughan’s blog on RLP this afternoon. This is a great post you have to read:

I was in a pickle. Hell sounded miserable, so I didn’t want to go there. My family and I had gone occasionally to a Methodist church, and THAT was miserable too. I didn’t want to go there either. In fact, on the misery scale in my 10-year-old head, church and hell were a dead heat. Church won because the misery lasted only a half a day, whereas hell was supposedly a lot longer. On the other hand, hell was a long way off and church was coming up in a few days. (read the rest here)