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GREG SHERIDAN’S “GOD IS GOOD FOR YOU”. A MAJOR BOOK WITH AN ODD FLAW

Greg Sheridan’s God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times is for multiple reasons a timely, important book easily recommended to believers and sceptics alike. Critical acclaim has immediately attached to it. I will however dwell chiefly on what I consider to be a hidden flaw that threatens its edifice and entails an error of understanding that ironically contributes to the kind of spiritual impasse for Christianity and the West that Sheridan is exercised about.

The book is the work of a successful Australian political journalist and it’s perhaps only his being well known and highly regarded that apologetic work of his kind could get past publishing within the current climate of opinion.  This climate is well evoked at the book’s outset and in conclusion. Sheridan even goes so far as to characterize Australia as effectively atheist or soon to be so. He regards the media today as almost the enemy (tending to ignore or misrepresent religion) and I won’t enlarge on quite how much I know that scandal to be true.

It is tempting to classify Sheridan’s offering with last year’s more secular bestseller, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe. Both authors push back against a crisis in western thought and direction, Sheridan being more concerned with the extent of the erosion in faith and the glib dismissals of Christianity by often intolerant elites whose dismissals additionally entail a contempt for western civilisation at a dangerous moment for it. Sheridan demonstrates that this civilisation and often the best in it too, is far more dependent upon the faith than the average reader is likely to have been aware. (Especially Christian readers may finish shocked at how much they haven’t been told, that their leaders haven’t defended and even religious schools haven’t taught).

For many, both with and without faith, God is Good for You could be an education in itself for its range. It’s readably about history, philosophy, theology (including how to enjoy and profit from reading the Old Testament and not just the New), along with  many facts about society and even science you may not know. And there are meetings and interviews with various leaders of Australian society vis- a-vis faith. (The author is Catholic but very fair and open around non Catholic Christianities).

PASSING ON A FAITH

…..But none of this is quite my concern here which is rather with one, almost hidden point. It’s nevertheless a crucial one that opens upon something that potentially undermines, or at least confuses, the apologetic thrust of the whole book and reaches into one of the chief reasons Christianity is insufficiently defended or proclaimed, (or is wrongly proclaimed), and either way loses power and adherents after the manner Sheridan regrets and would redress.

St Paul asks “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Rom 10:14). Sheridan would reasonably enough answer that a lot of belief is derived from family and school but for various reasons these are not currently vital sources for communicating Christianity and this must be faced. (It’s true many church schools may as well not be such!)

But despite his  quasi-evangelistic call to teach more and better, Sheridan has a surprise for us. Not only is his spouse a Sikh (I don’t wish to be personal but St Paul counsels believers should not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, 2 Cor 6:14) but more significantly since mixed marriages do inevitably occur,  in consequence it seems his three sons are of the religion too (p.90). This strikes a note more obviously counter to St Paul’s concern with raising one’s children in the instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

Under elements of neo-Catholicism Sheridan somehow justifies his position, which includes attending Sikh services, by assuming that there can be great divine wisdom in non Christian religions  – theoretically Sikhism is monotheistic. So for Sheridan, while it’s perfectly true that Jesus is the saviour and even saves from hell (which he believes in since there must be “justice”), at the same time other systems can be true.

However reasonable this may sound, the position would for a start ignore that Sikhism, though monotheistic unlike the Hinduism it broke from, still teaches auto-salvation through multiple incarnations. In short, it denies grace, which is so original and radical in Christianity it distinguishes it from all other faiths as C.S. Lewis, one of Sheridan’s influences, affirmed when questioned on world religions. Christianity maintains evil is too engrained in life, nature and humans for anyone to reach perfection by their own efforts alone – and there’s anyway a limitation on the time for even  the best of would-be compensatory good works since we die once only and then is the judgment (Heb 9:27)!

A DISHARMONY OF FAITHS

It may be trendy or multiculturally convenient to maintain all the higher religions are essentially the same,  namely ways to God that make for love and peace. But it’s a far from obvious fact upon honest examination. Insisting upon it  ends in a fair deal of intellectual dishonesty, and that flight from any objective truth (or just the plain obvious) which is a part of the West’s sickness as Sheridan otherwise maintains.

Buddhism is theoretically atheistic and again allows no room for salvation as per Christianity; and the Buddhism of Burma, supposedly the religion’s purest, nearest-to-original form, when it comes to peace and toleration is clearly no paragon. Islam explicitly denies the divinity of Christ and the Koran enjoins execution and/or subjugation of infidels in stark contrast to the original Christian outlook like that of Tertullian, whom Sheridan cites, that though the gods of the pagans are demons, Christians are still to tolerate them in their beliefs. Polytheistic Hinduism is always hailed as a model of inclusiveness, but in its contemporary nationalist form under President Modi is anything but; it is currently turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christianity, the burning down of churches and beating even elderly worshippers senseless. (It belongs to the atheism and decadence of the West that the persecution of Christians outside the West is little reported or protested and concern with feminism enjoys more attention).

Even supposing claims are correct that God has supplied some vision to the higher religions, practically it doesn’t get through. At the grassroots in Asia people will say they are Buddhist or whatever, but  really they are  animists, devotees of local spirit or ancestral cults or gurus and shamans revered as though God (this somewhat happens among the Sikhs with their ten holy gurus).

FINDING THE PRIMORDIAL FAITH

It should be apparent from St Paul’s approach to Athenian paganism (Acts 17)  that he was not so much looking like some modern Christians to “dialogue” with existing faiths as guardians of  supplementary truths, as to uncover the world’s primordial faith, “the unknown god”, the creator who in world myth withdrew from human evil. In my The Great Circle: Asia, David and God Consciousness  https://goo.gl/ZHYQPw  I look into whether Asia, like Greece and the ancient West, ever had or has an unknown god, and the answer is yes. In some cases like the mostly Christian ethnic Karens of Burma (hated and persecuted by Burmese Buddhists),they had heroically waited centuries for the fulfilment of tribal visions that one day some stranger would arrive to bring them news of the true God.

Christianity is not a faith like Islam with a major conquest theme, but it is a religion of mission. Christ’s parting command, the so-called Great Commission, is to go and preach the gospel and to teach (Matt 26:16-20). Teaching rather than just rite and ritual as in most religions, is crucial to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its notion of spiritual health. Otherwise it’s a case of “My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).

I would certainly agree with Sheridan that Christian religion is hardly being taught today, but would go further and maintain it has compromised its “evangelical” teaching task. It has done so to the point of substituting “the example” of charitable work alone to justify its existence, to cause least offence in a PC world and even perhaps to cover over what some may privately regard as the stigma of what the gospel message actually is, by emphasizing “unconditional love” to the exclusion of all else.

Undeniably Christianity is and teaches many things, but one still needs to be aware how at its core its message is one of deliverance from especially death and, by extension, hell’s destruction. Sheridan believes in hell while admitting to the difficulty most would feel as regards a perdition that’s eternal and/or apparently escaped from by an act of faith alone, two problems that receive astonishingly little treatment today given their controversial status within the whole.

A CORE DIFFICULTY

Actually, there is a perfectly simple, if nothing else logical reason to think of hell as eternal and it’s not, as per the Puritans, because God is so severe in righteous wrath against sinners he can never be appeased of their offence. It’s because, like heaven, hell stands outside of time in an intense eternal present (1).  God authored time which is a function of the (fallen, imperfect) material realm, and there will be a point at which God abolishes time along with the evil it permits. Where you are spiritually at that point fixes your essence into a single direction of will towards or against God.

It can seem reasonable enough to propose, and reassuring to believe, that evil souls will simply be annihilated (the sometimes chaotic contradictions of Pope Francis’ beliefs now countenance this along with atheists in heaven),( 2) , but to the extent God is “Lord/Author of Life” (Acts 3:15), divinity cannot destroy any immortal soul. Otherwise God becomes like Satan who Jesus says was “a murderer from the first” (Joh 8:44). God can only prevent and finish evil  through its exile and quarantine. It would follow the soul must, if need be, remain fixed in its (unregenerate) nature within the “eternity” which is outside time. This state, a very intense now, can well be portrayed as a sub-existence in tormenting “fire”, because everything exists through God and God is (spiritual) fire – albeit a lot more besides. But if God is rejected and separated from, there is only the divine fire left to subsist through, not the other elements which would render the fire creative and liveable rather than consuming and destructive.

Despite everything, Sheridan believes belief matters. It is important because no belief is exclusively rational but involves the will. It follows that for Christians to stress the importance of belief in Jesus is to stress that the will is and must be God-directed. This however allows Sheridan to argue that any talk about the claims of God upon us, or of deity being “jealous” around us, means we must be loyal and devoted to the Good. And this is something non Christians can unconsciously be, like the sheep in the parable of the sheep and the goats of Matt 25 where  the sheep are surprised to learn they had been serving Jesus by their actions all along.

TRUTH AND NAMING

There is truth in this perspective on the biblical picture of our destinies, but if taken too far it potentially undermines Christianity’s leading idea of any specifically “saving” belief and the obligation to  proclaim it.

Sheridan’s  universalist assumption is meaningful to the extent that many across history will never have known anything about Jesus and can hardly be condemned, especially not to hell, for that. As the apostle indicates at Athens, “the times of ignorance God overlooked but now he calls all people to repent”. (Acts 17:30). The statement is harmonious with another of the apostle’s claims that in the Last Judgement the thoughts of those outside the Law may condemn or excuse them before God (Rom 2:15). (And long before Paul Hebrew scripture has God declare: “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Ex 33:19)  – a statement incidentally counter to all post-Thomas Merton trendy Catholic notions that heaven and hell are things we simply choose, not what God chooses or predestines). So there isn’t and never should have been, as per some lunatic medieval teachings, notions of automatic damnation for all except those souls who are baptized and  consciously, deliberately Christian.

But Sheridan’s universalist take on doctrine is misleading to the extent that being loyal to what you fancy as good (and which may not even be so) can never automatically amount to the same as being unconsciously devoted to the Christ self-described as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Joh 14:6). The gospel position is that Truth and Goodness are ultimately a name, not ideas. If you have the opportunity to connect to Christ then you should do so and in disregard of the claims of history, tradition and family upon you, salvation being linked to specifically calling upon the Name and especially in self-critical “repentance” (it means “mind change”). The original teaching  was always “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13) and “there is no other name under heaven….by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

With this emphasis to its doctrines Christianity has always had an edge of urgency about it (which has perhaps affected the drive and engagement of western civilisation) where its “proclamation” is concerned. This is because there is understood to be a real struggle within the mortal time frame which is a theatre for our possible deception or injury by the forces of evil. These forces are seen as ruling this world and are the main source of human suffering and even what principally Christ incarnated to confront (1 Joh 3:8)  So there is this dramatic undercurrent “… night is coming when no one can work” (Joh 9:4) and “today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)… not your next incarnation or when you agnostically shuffle this mortal coil and find out what’s what!

SUFFERING, EVIL AND HADES

Though the supposedly definitive Nicene creed states, “we believe in all things visible and invisible”, plainly most Christians inhabit modern scientism’s materialist swamp alien to all mystery and don’t so believe. Sheridan rightly says if you can’t accept angels and demons you could have a hard time with Christianity and I agree. Certainly you’ll have a harder time explaining evil in the world (and a few miracles too) and Sheridan himself is weak in this area going little further than rather conventionally  to proclaim suffering a mystery and blaming the necessary existence of freewill which can’t be cancelled at every moment.

Reading him on the suffering theme I incidentally baulked at finding yet again the common error which has Jesus on the cross voicing doubt and despair at divine goodness in a sort of terribly human identification with us and human woes. Will even educated Christians never learn that Jesus was piously reciting from Israel’s death Psalm 22 (though now often seen as prophetic for his death)?  This  contains the forsaken cry, but any despair in Jesus’ case is part of the atonement sacrifice itself which involves temporary separation from the Father as he carries or becomes sin and  as such  undergoes what souls in hell must experience. This is “destruction” or  living death, severance from every source of the Good. Even atheists experience God indirectly in this life through whatever is good within it. Hell by contrast is Dante’s “Abandon hope”, the gospel’s “outer darkness”, final separation from the light – hence the sun itself is seen as dimming at the crucifixion.

Today, those who believe in an afterlife have decided most people just go to whatever or wherever heaven is (Sheridan quotes Australia’s former Prime Minister, the Catholic Tony Abbot, to the effect perhaps only Hitler and Stalin go to hell). But in the world of the New Testament,  the ancient West and arguably some other places like China, belief was that the soul, and just about everyone and everything including Lesbia’s sparrow, went to the prison of Hades and remained there. The gods did not spare or cure death though they might spare a few heroes to Elysian fields. Homer’s view of the afterlife in the Odyssey is particularly ghastly.  Blood alone brings  mournful ancestors to the surface and let’s them speak. Christianity arrived to confront this pessimism but Hades/Hell, though considerably challenged in their power  (Christ is seen as now having the keys to death and Hades) remain in place  and  I think if we are honest with the gospel  record, Hades/Hell is  seen as being – by and large – still the default fate of an unregenerate humanity….unless.

It is possible that if they even think about it at all,  deep down humanity even half believes and expects this negative outcome unless other influences from lively faith intervene. The last poems of D. H. Lawrence, for example, are surprisingly  depressing in this connection. He imagines his soul and that of others embarking for Hades,  but though he hopes “the oblivion god” may lead him to some kind of new dawn (reincarnate him?) it is hardly a strongly felt hope.

RESURRECTION FAITH

My father died some weeks ago and before this he had suddenly informed me as I put him to bed one evening, that this was the end and Jesus had told him he would soon take him to himself. The next day I couldn’t get him up  up or communicate with him, so he was taken to the hospital and passed away, faster than expected, within twenty four hours. Some people do have intimations of an end and some devout Christians might report an angelic message, but by any standards this experience and its claim, which took me off guard, could be considered a bit exceptional. But plainly it seemed downright extreme to those to whom I happened to mention it. I was impressed how much people couldn’t really deal with the subject of death, Jesus or the afterlife. It became clearer to me how little Australians (and probably many others in the West) believe or have any religious feeling. It’s the sort of thing should ring alarm bells for the churches;  but it doesn’t and it won’t because as Sheridan puts it, Christians seem to lack adequate “situational awareness” – some even imagining their society is somehow still Christian – leading to poor strategies(3).

Reading Sheridan, I was likewise impressed how little his Christians, even the devout, observant ones, seemed to have any clear notion of what form the afterlife might take and what mean and for whom, such as their relatives – the Christian afterlife is supposed to begin as a spirit in “paradise” such as Jesus promised to the penitent thief, which is a waiting place distinct from heaven and preceding the resurrection of the dead which entails the assumption of a new spiritual body akin to that of Christ after the resurrection.

I am not an evangelical, one of whose qualifications to be such would be belief in an inerrant as opposed to an inspired bible. However, when it comes to the afterlife I do sense that evangelicals are nearer to truth than the kind of hazy, confused modern Catholic and Anglican thinking represented by some of Sheridan’s interviewees like former PM  Tony Abbot. Beliefs like theirs neither quite help the self nor move the world, certainly represent no kind of gospel hope worth the proclaiming or like early Christians and  persecuted North Korean believers today, risking life and limb for. Abbot regrets that he doesn’t seem to hear from God. Again, I am not an evangelical to suggest such as Abbot should be hearing daily from Jesus (something surely reserved for the few, if any!),  but if he never has a few divine messages and intuitions there might be reasons. Belief should be clear, informed and committed if it is to work for you. There is such a thing as spiritual efficiency.

St Paul suggests that if you don’t believe in the resurrection your faith is futile (1 Cor 15:17); you might as well eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow die. I don’t like, and don’t think it’s quite possible, to go too far in deciding who is a “real” Christian by such standards as they’re highly orthodox, terribly “born again” , very prayerful or whatever. But I am coming to the conclusion that to possess some deep conviction of “the sure and certain hope of resurrection” could well be a litmus test for the definition. Unquestionably it was almost the central, original formula for Christian belief and identity:  “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).

If nothing else Sheridan’s book can make you think about many things and essential ones. I will always wonder whether his book doesn’t arise from a kind of half unconscious penitential compensation towards society for what the author doesn’t seem to have been convincing his own offspring about in what could be deemed a dereliction of Christian duty. But  this doesn’t detract from the objective importance of the book’s information, statements and remarkable honesty.

NOTES

(1)  Conventional depictions of hell and some NDE accounts (of whatever validity), do seem to include a sense of time along with the possible anachronism  of free roaming, tormenting demons. Time in this case, along with any demonic freedom, would be a property of the pre/ temporal hell which is ultimately thrown into “the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14),at the end of time,  the true hell which is existence through God as “fire” alone.

(2)  I evoke Francis’  contradictions in two satirical poems, Heaven for All  https://wp.me/p2v96G-8y  and Ichabod or Papal Glory Departing, https://wp.me/p4kNWg-6c  (These poems incidentally allow the possibility that some of the issues Sheridan raises are in fact end of era, “end of days” type matters, a fulfilment of Christ’s anticipation of a loss of faith towards the end (Luk 18:8).  

(3) The remarkable blindness of churches  to the spiritual, and even just social situation, is reflected in the way over recent decades they have relentlessly targeted the gay issue, first just opposing the gay minority’s right to exist, then opposing gay marriage as a threat to family and society.  Ironically, if they wanted to criticize and reform society towards more Christian lifestyles, it is the vast un marriage of heterosexuals which should have been their primary concern. It is precisely amid the loosened  or non family friendly structures of a permissive society that children are not raised to any religious beliefs and just pleasure or the convenient become central life values. Yet how often did clergy seriously preach against the drifting, the unattached or the serially divorced? Almost never. It was only gay marriage was unnatural and unholy; and this targeting  of a minority only further alienated society from the churches seen as bastions of arbitrarily undemocratic views. This feature of modern social history is a good illustration of Christ’s words that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light (Luk 16:8). (The previous article entered on this blog, Today’s Christian Image Problem is relevant to the question of lack of “situational awareness”).

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2018 in Mysteries, religion

 

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CAN ANY GOOD COME OUT OF AMERICAN RELIGION?

AMCH

CAN ANY GOOD COME OUT OF AMERICAN RELIGION?

The title could seem overstated, even impertinent directed upon such a large phenomenon as a nation’s predominant religion, but especially in its more conservative and evangelical wing American Christianity can itself be remarkably given to the overblown, aggressive or emotionally intrusive statement. Thus it’s not possible for some to maintain Obama has been wrong  or misguided about, say, marriage equality, rather it has to be he has “blasphemed God!”! Even for a believer (or even the Pope) to be just concerned with welfare and poverty issues could cause him or her to be judged and dismissed as “a Marxist”.

Because despite everything I believe American Christianity does represent and preserve a few beliefs and ideas in danger of being forgotten or overlooked elsewhere, I shall first define what I mean by “American Christianity” and before pointing to some good things catalogue the  real, sometimes major blemishes. This is needed because one notices how inside and outside America, most admirers of the positives seem in their enthusiasm to find it too easy uncritically to absorb, even cheerfully export, the negatives. (Asian and African churches particularly have not been helped by that tendency).

Granted if one is to generalize, American Christianity is highly diverse. Its Catholicism alone is of a unique, sometimes quasi-Protestant or very protesting variety. However, my main concern is what is covered by what broadly descends and from the first from Calvinism and Presbytery or else is close in its “evangelical” belief system to the widespread Bible-believing Baptist tradition still much represented in the South. Together these streams often combine in what gets labelled “the Religious Right”. Both these traditions, though increasingly questioned or abandoned by the young, remain widespread in terms of influence and to the extent both have things too unexamined about them, for a toxic influence.

SOME NEGATIVES:

THE CALVINISTIC ELEMENT

Together Calvin and Calvinism are almost what was most controversial about Reformation Protestantism. Calvin instituted a mini inquisition in Geneva teaching people to spy on one another. Calvinist Americans (originally from Scotland where Calvinism took strong root) retain a questionable habit of labelling, judging and testing fellow believers ( and wider society) while themselves chasing respectability and success to the point they are St Paul’s men-pleasers (Eph 6:6). But worse, overturning the beliefs of centuries and ignoring that Christ taught riches could be a stumbling block to attaining the Kingdom, Calvin taught that prosperity and success were the mark you belonged to the righteous elect and enjoyed divine favour.

The consequent emphasis upon material success has sown the seeds which would flower in contemporary prosperity gospel, a kind of legitimized religious materialism and even greed recently obscenely symbolized by preacher Creflo Dollar’s 69 million dollar private jet to help him bring people the gospel. There is something in all this that recalls the condemned Church of Laodicea which declares, “I am rich, I have prospered and I have need of nothing” (Rev 3:17). In reality, however, even Calvin’s prosperous children need something and it’s to support or to be supported by the traditional party of the wealthy in politics, the Republicans, in order to impress their beliefs and agendas upon the masses. The irony of this is just not seen.

THE BAPTIST INPUT

Despite some liberal policies – support of separation of church and state, women preachers, some reasonable scope for divorce – the Baptist/evangelical strain which in modern times has produced the archetypal Billy Graham, has been hamstrung upon its Koranic style treatment of “God’s Word”. Here the Bible becomes an inerrant authority, an authority which can assume the role of a Paper Pope and almost more infallibly. Any human quirks or weaknesses in the record are simply not seen. St Paul and others don’t write inspired documents, they simply repeat what God says much as Mohammed claimed to receive the Koran. References to “God’s Word” at least implies complete direct dictation.

It follows that the mainstream of Baptist/Evangelical churches read the bible at face value literally. Poetry and ambiguity, cultural and historical filtering don’t count (who cares about poetry in America and a day means 24 hours only doesn’t it?)…..unless and until by selective reading it suddenly does count. Thus today there are evangelicals of the plain sense school prepared to preach that “as in the days of Noah they were marrying and giving in marriage” (Luk 17:27) has to mean Noah’s contemporaries were pushing gay marriage. How? Why? Remind  these same people that the “covenant” David and Jonathan had was a berith which can mean marriage or inform them that one of the ancient meanings of “eunuch” that Jesus said some are naturally born, was the nearest thing to the modern “gay”, and you would be accused of special pleading or worse.

Biblical literalism excused or justified the South’s slavery historically, but selective reading still abounds. Paul gets suitably ignored about women covering their heads or men obeying political authority (American independence was born of ignoring St Paul!); but whatever the apostle may have meant in Romans 1 about Roman morals it’s living proof “homosexuality”, (though the bible knows no such word), is the final barometer of morality and national life. Tolerate marriage equality and you go the way of Rome and divine judgement falls! Making your gay offspring homeless is perfectly OK. The long history of bullying and violence directed against gays or those thought not masculine enough everywhere from schoolyard to high street  has never been protested but even been deemed inevitable by those same literalists who will scream like stuck pigs about persecution and diminution of their rights under secularism.

Hawthorn’s Scarlet Letter might as well to be attached to every gay or seeming gay in those corners of the land where heteronormative Christianity rules and regards the disposition not as an inspiration for the likes of Michelangelo but a living curse. (Gay is envisaged as nothing but drug and alcohol fuelled sex addiction around bars or perhaps a demonic  possession). Besides which, sinners have no real rights in democracies, only conservative Christians should own democracy…or just rule the land. But that’s only one issue.

Despite Jesus’ relative pacifism and “put down your sword”, religious rights for literalists include carrying guns according to the constitution. (You might need to fight an evil government or the  forces of Antichrist!). The connection between gun laws and America’s internationally exceptionally elevated crime and murder rates is just not seen; such connections are only made by evil unbelievers! Disciples of Jesus are as good as gun-toting soldiers. Again the irony, even eccentricity of all this is not seen.

THE RULE OF “GOD’S WORD”, A WEAKNESS OPPOSED TO THE SPIRIT

Even given a less face value, more consistent reading of scriptures which educated conservatives do allow, should the Bible ever assume the almost Paper Pope authority evangelicals give it to the point they will almost hit people over the head and dismiss them and any contrary  argument with what the inerrant “Word of God” declares? Even for those of us who consider scripture precious, we must say, no.

I always cite how the apostle Peter denies vision itself to protest to God what he is shown is against scripture (Acts 10). Long before him the daughters of Zelophehad successfully petition against what they deemed unjust to them in details relating to the (revealed) Law (Num 27). The fact is one cannot adequately read and apply scriptures to absolutely all people, situations and times always, especially not without some illumination. Try it and you may finish up with policies like the most rigid rulings of conservative Catholicism whose guide is less scripture than philosophical formulae according to Thomas Aquinas and scholasticism.

It is hardly surprising that in recent ecumenical decades evangelicalism has become almost Catholic on abortion. It used to be some exceptions like rape were deemed permissible. Now for pro-lifers every women is supposed to preserve life at all costs as though before modern times the number of women and foetuses who died in childbirth was not truly enormous in the course of just nature. If God could allow so much infant mortality that medicine alone has diminished, God is surely capable of excusing termination of life in the case of the traumatized, the life threatened, or those who feel contaminated by sexual abuse whose effects may well be lasting for the future child anyway. Is it Christian charity to want to jail doctors or victims for doing the practical or merciful?

This irrational absolutism has prevented true and just laws being instituted because the whole subject becomes polarized into  either/or, “murder” against life alternatives rather than a matter of proper exceptions. (I accept that abortion on demand and for convenience is against life but that’s another matter).

Given that the Spirit (who is said to lead into all truth, Joh 16:13) is not a vivid part of the evangelical’s Trinity, it follows that we will often find conservative believers absent from common sense or charity not to say any exalted Truth. Many conservatives would even deny the Spirit any place in the life of the church and are vehemently opposed to charismatic trends of whatever sort. It can even be heresy to assume the Spirit is present beyond the times of the apostles.

And so we have the contradiction of “born again” Christians dubiously claiming colourful conversations with Jesus yet without aid from the Spirit or hearing God’s voice (memorization of bible influences the substance of many “conversations”). I, like many, was (unnecessarily given his background) surprised to learn that even Billy Graham denies having ever heard God’s voice. While I don’t believe anyone, short maybe of extreme saints, will hear from any member of the Trinity on a frequent basis, as per my Cosmic Father (https://goo.gl/o7YqtJ), I do believe one can and even should hear from God….now and again and with real communication, not just repeating a believer’s remembered scripture verses.

So here one touches on the blindspots, contradictions and even cruelties which American Christianity can manifest. But rather than continue as one could, to change the subject, what about the positives?

SOME POSITIVES:

EVANGELISM

America of the adverts is also  the America of evangelism. Beyond all the potential abuses, caring enough about people and beliefs to go out and preach to strangers and argue for one’s convictions is to a degree commendable. It’s because some churches like The Church of England seem incapable of persuasion, apologetics, dynamic preaching that they cannot recoup their massive losses and confront indifference. Even a former Archbishop of Canterbury has recently opined his church will be extinct in around a generation. This isn’t good enough, including because to preach the gospel, to make disciples, is part of Christ’s own parting commission to followers (Matt 28:19 ). Not everyone can evangelize any more than they have a voice to sing a hymn (St Paul calls evangelization a gift) but many could and can reach out and they should make some effort if they are to call themselves Christians.

A SENSE OF SALVATION

It may be expressed and described in different ways, but what is preached by many American churches, especially the more traditionally revivalist, is a form of “salvation” which involves a deliverance from potential damnation. This means that if persons aren’t sidetracked into prosperity gospels and even if and when believers need to recall a few social and political issues, still the religious issues will remain primarily spiritual and visionary. They need to be that whether to make a real impression or to be at all close to the gospel as originally preached. Social and political gospels may satisfy for a while, but ultimately people want and expect to deal in ultimate issues, life, death and the beyond.

Like it or not,Jesus referred to loss of soul and the threat of hell quite frequently (45 gospel verses refer to it). Not of course in the style of the hell fire sermon of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist which is morbid/obsessive, but nonetheless succinctly and firmly. Quite how and why hell could and should exist at all and if and how it belongs to justice is a major issue. I explore it in my Cosmic Father (https://goo.gl/o7YqtJ ) not always supplying regular answers and not Calvinistic ones; the subject is beyond present scope but I would say this much here. Ideas and attitudes essential to Christianity begin to weaken outside of a view to an eternal loss. It is for example more possible and just reasonable to forgive to the uttermost if absolute hell is the prospect of your worst enemy. It is at the time that American Christianity is beginning to weaken and youth abandoning it that you will read books like “evangelical” Rob Bell’s Love Wins which preaches a certain universalism and disposes of more dire possibilities around the soul.

A SYMPATHY FOR ISRAEL

Far from universal among American churches though it is, and sometimes exaggerated into a kind of Zionism where it appears, nonetheless few national churches have as much feeling as America’s whether for the Jewish origins of Christianity or the importance of modern Israel in the larger spiritual picture of things. It is as though American Christianity had to make up for the history of western Christian anti-Semitism. Certainly somebody needed to make up for it because it was never acceptable and was a serious heresy when it swerved with Augustine and others into what is called supersessionism or replacement theology. This makes out that OT prophecies regarding Israel are either invalid or apply to the Church instead.

Surely nothing could be further from the intended truth. If replacement were the case Jesus would have rejected more than date setting when, for example, he is reported in Acts 1:6 as refusing the disciples’ question about when he would see to the re-establishment of Israel, i.e. political Israel, the messianic kingdom, the Millennial reign he had not set up during his ministry.

Christians are not obliged to agree with everything modern Israel says and does, but they should perceive history and providence, prophecy and the turning of the ages in the establishment of modern Israel. Anything else risks becoming, as it has done among some Eastern Orthodox Christians and others, a kind of unacceptable anti-Semitism with refusal of a proper witness to God’s purposes in history.

In certain respects some traditional churches are closer to the Muslims (whose Koran is strongly against all Jews) than Christian doctrine and it may be their fate is to be swallowed up by Islam if they can’t distinguish themselves more in some areas of belief. (Let’s not forget that Pope John Paul 11 astonishingly, perhaps just ignorantly, kissed the same Koran which often declares against the Jews with whom, like Christians, one should never be friends and [according to Surah IX, v. 30] Jews are simply “perverse” so that Allah is opposed to them.

A SENSE OF IMMEDIACY AND APOCALYPSE

Americans have little sense of history, but less anchored to tradition and the past they are more open to the possibilities of the future. This includes embracing the much misunderstood, too little considered issue of apocalypse and Second Advent. Again it is anyway supposed to be only Christian to be awaiting the Advent which is awaited two ways, first archetypally in a state of general readiness (because there is a sense in which the divine is always coming to us and we are to be ready for it) but, more literally, there is a point in time in which God absolutely intervenes in history and returns.

Although liberal scepticism has it Jesus wrongly expected to return within a generation this is not really so likely, especially not if he told his disciples on leaving he would be with them till the end of the aion (era). What era? For American Christians it is the end of “the Church age”, but for some of us (inevitably charged with heresy, divination or whatever!) this could plausibly alternatively or additionally be the end of the age of the current age of Pisces with whose beginning the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi (astrologers) corresponded. Accordingly, though plainly some people keep date setting, dreaming Second Advent and rapture (itself a rather American obsession but with surely some basis in otherwise incomprehensible or ignored claims of Jesus and Paul about a sudden disappearance), it is not wrong per se to look at world events and ask questions about where we may stand in terms of history and possible last things…. Which leads me to a related point which is re “prophetic” perspective.

A “PROPHETIC” OUTLOOK

There are always two kinds of prophecy, the prophecy which seriously foretells (this tends to be rare and is a gift and vocation) and the prophecy which is more like commentary on events from the religious/biblical standpoint and there is not enough of that in the churches. Whether one agrees with what was said or not, an interesting recent example has proceeded from Billy Graham’s daughter Ann Lotz Graham who has been saying that God “allows” – not the same as positively wishes and wills – terrorist attacks and natural disasters because they are also wake-up calls for people.

The point is an important one, (again reaching into theology beyond present scope) but believers and even the world do need to be told, and in a way that voices for the traditional and liturgical churches rarely if ever do, that spiritual forces are at work in events and must be engaged. In an evil world God’s so-called “wrath” is more like his withdrawal of a degree of protection that must always be prayed for and sometimes earned by suitable personal and social reform (repentance). “Ah Assyria, rod of my anger” (Is 10:5) says Isaiah about what is to occur for a faithless Israel. This kind of discernment needs to have a greater part in contemporary religious discourse.

It is of course something that risks misuse and ironically Ann Lotz’s less imaginative brother Franklin Graham can be a leading abuser. He works a bully pulpit which doesn’t seem to have understood the kind of principles his sister refers to. For example, instead of being open to the possibility that Obama is a rod of God’s anger and that the shocking Christian American history of violence and discrimination against gays is being allowed, judged or repaid when Christians defending their business rights against gays now get (unjustly) treated in the courts, nothing is ever seen except insults to God and Christians who are being or who will be shortly persecuted.

But supposing God will be deaf to conservative prayers until real repentance and changed outlooks are evinced? Franklin G’s perspective has been shockingly, inexcusably wrong when he can even praise Putin of Russia’s treatment of the gay issue (fascist gangs freely roam the streets attacking and torturing those who might be gay). Could God possibly approve Graham’s wrong minded, ill informed bully pulpit nonsense? Addressing every issue, hurling threats in all directions, his poorly disguised egotism should relent and let others prophetically speak about any judgement God might intend upon America.

EXPERIMENT AND DEMOCRACY

Not all experiment works and not every novelty is valuable, but we should be open to the new or at least not be stuck in a rut. The gospels constantly challenge to new and radical perspectives, to ongoing self and social criticism. One would hardly imagine so to judge from the appearance, style and practices of much Christianity, some of which is even stuck into the Catholic motto, semper idem (always the same). It is the American churches which are really prepared to experiment, change and adapt, and not just to obtain more funds but at least sometimes to discover what spiritually works, what occasions success, influence, a change to lives, a healing of mind or body. Such things matter or they should do to churches. Religion is not just about eternal security but a few temporal risks and what I would call “spiritual efficiency” and letting faith work.

In certain respects tradition, so valued in some churches, is almost religion’s greatest enemy preventing the church from hearing “what the Spirit is saying to the churches”, that refrain in the early chapters in Revelation, and meaning. what the Spirit is saying now and into the future, saying without only quoting previous scriptures or repeating familiar prayers and chants of the centuries. While main traditions of the faith may not be wholly disregarded or excluded just as the bible cannot be denied in the general direction and essence of its meaning, some variation on a theme and development is also required. The openness of America religion can be risky but is meaningful. Of course it needs to be part of and interact with a degree of democracy too, and here we come back to a potential American weakness.

Yes, the people and culture are democratic but not quite so much as they imagine. There is something polarizing and polarized about American society as in its history of race relations and there is something which seems to encourage situations in which, as the wife of someone in politics in America once said to me, “everyone persecutes everyone else in the end”.

So, I admit the possibility that such as the new secularism and emphasis upon gay rights may create a situation of discrimination for Christians (who once reckoned to discriminate against all and any sexual variation). I touched on this in McCleary’s Additions and the article, Something Wrong with American LGBT http://wp.me/p4kNWg-8a . True democracy must always go a fair way to tolerating what it doesn’t particularly like, want or approve. Otherwise it’s not democracy but sharia or fascism under another name. But to the extent American Christianity is able to find the grace to tolerate, then, as against the increasing cynicism and dismissal that American religion is generating around the world, I do think it still has some lessons to teach us.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2015 in religion

 

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THE HELL PASSAGE: INFERNO CANTOS FOR TODAY

Since the performance on the ABC of a poetic drama of mine a quarter of a century ago I hadn’t written any poetry…until last Easter. The following two Cantos of Inferno poetry were composed entirely over the last Easter Weekend recalling that Dante descends to hell on Good Friday. (Actually I started the Thursday night).

I am attempting a religious and aesthetic experiment, imagining Dante updated and basing myself on a modern account of perdition. The source used (Una Revelacion del Cielo y el Infierno a 7 Jovenes – official website www.minluznaciones.org/) is not mine. So I have questions, as will likely readers, about certain truth claims involved. There was, though,  always one clincher convinced me the story was never pure fabrication but that something was experienced however debateable its articulation in places. Pros and cons as regards truth claims are given after the poem’s notes while Canto 2 itself includes an attempt to supply some meaning and explanation – if that’s possible! – around what’s most difficult in the alleged experience and hell doctrine more generally. Reasons to work poetically with the confronting Colombian Inferno journey (of 11th April 1995) and not other revelations today, some of which by contrast can be dismissed outright, are:

a) It’s more inclusive. It’s uncommon to claim, or just like Dante to portray, a journey to both hell and heaven (albeit I don’t tackle the vision’s paradise here), to give names and stress choices as opposed to just seeing relatives or celestial vistas or being rescued from hell if more rarely one claimed to have gone there. And this “revelation” lays claim to be some kind of OBE (Out Of Body Experience), not NDE or vision.

b) It feels a little closer to Dante’s intention. Even without reading Dan Brown’s Inferno one knows his treatment will not incorporate belief in hell or have “evangelical” purpose towards it such as Dante had – he wanted to warn and correct those gone astray. So any modern vision with that purpose seems a closer model for “update”. Not that one can hope to update the great Dante, one merely tries a little approximation!……That includes no terza rima juggling acts. Not even an adroit translator like Dorothy Sayers quite managed it without cheating words or distorting sense. Rhyme is very Italian whereas English is rhyme poor by comparison. Much poetry, not least Latin, doesn’t use it. I have kept nearer to the style of the Kirkpatrick translation as a good compromise for a form, three line stanzas, which though again fine for Italian I don’t like for English – it’s constricting for strong emotion and special effects. I didn’t use anything like it in my Puer Poems collection of verse. I’ve merely done my best here within constraints of the medium and time.

THE HELL PASSAGE

CANTO ONE

Of those great things by grace we would be shown
For us there was no warning nor no word;
Predestined paths are rarely known before.

Our little faith and new could not have guessed
At how pure revelation would transform
Our lives, guide all our thoughts and where we go.

Consider this. Where terror and where bliss
Outside of time are absolute, there soul alone
Can penetrate and spirit recognize its truth.

So, hearing you might understand
All suddenly – or slowly only as God
Wills – how justice by the Lord is done,

What is his “wrath” and is not so, and why
No self not holy can see God, nor deeply
Feel his love and mercy shed abroad.

It was one morning, ten o clock; we prayed
Before the outing that was planned. It was an
April morning, ordinary, but all at once,

Transfixing us, light through one window
Burst, its orb and brilliance soon outshone
Our earthly sun and in it angels gathered.

These all were glorious but more glorious still
Within their encircling radiance stood the Lord.
Human yet not of here his presence was. He was

Enrobed in white and gleaming golden
From his head as from the sandals of his feet.
Upon a sash we glimpsed the title, “King of Kings”,

But “Jesus of Nazareth I am”, he said.
He then declared that we must go with him,
A mystery for all the world would be revealed.

This was, he said, because his people at this
End of age had failed both him and all mankind.
Truth no longer is believed nor is proclaimed.

Truth is of other worlds, this world is relative;
Each soul must know, believe and understand
That hell and heaven alone make human destiny.

Of this we had no time to ask. Amid the room
A shallow rock appeared on which we stood,
The angels left as earth and darkness opened up.

As though from body soul was stripped, we fell
Into earth’s centre, the abyss, with speed
And force beyond all comprehension.

Before we even knew the place, blind terror
And dismay seized every thought. We trembled
In each limb and clung to Him who led the way.

I, Lupe, who had held his hand began to scream
“Not this O Lord, Forgive my sins, Is now already
Judgement day? Why bring me here? Take me away!”

I could not bear to look, I closed my eyes
Yet even closed I saw the same, my terror grew[1]
The Lord replied, “Lupita this you need to know”.

Great evil dark enfolded every place
Though through its night eyes still can penetrate
And now and then there burst out fire and flame,

Sometimes from even skeletons round which
Crawl loathsome worms. And in these carcasses
Of bones there live and cry what looks like mist.

This mist, all grey, the Lord explained were actual souls
What still remains to think and feel inside hell’s realm,
In bodies turned to death, not resurrection.

Even in paradise itself which Jesus
Promised to the thief,[2] are spirits who
Cloud-like await celestial bodies new,

Though their appearance may assume a form
Akin to that once owned on earth before
When looks were marred by illness or by age.

Outside of time all souls feel far more
Keenly than they do on earth. Each joy
Like every pain is magnified and thus

For sinners never sanctified, the soul holds
Record and recall indelible of
Every thought and crime they once engaged.

It’s felt as weight by bodies in perdition
And what soul vainly would cast off plays through
Its cage, much like an instrument, as torment.

Hell sees no sky or sun, there hunger dwells
Because no substance thrives, and thirst torments
Because no water is, but fire all spiritual alone.

Yet for some shades hope beckons still within
The flames so that they chase mirage and lie
Running to river and fruit that always fail

Amid those wastelands of lost mind and place
Where souls, even crowded in a moat of fire,
Can share no torment or communicate.

We passed deep caverns where dark chambers loomed
All prison-like, some sites of torture and
Of woe though passage walls were not unlike.

Misshapen monsters lurked near others shackled
To the sides above where still roamed demons,
Those not fled as many had at our descent.

Then earth was moved and hell’s shades shook
At sight of Him who bore keys to the infernal pit
Of choking breath, of stench and unrelenting heat

And screams. Sounds wrung of pain and of despair
Beat down like hailstones on our ears though soon
Exchanged for cries of mercy to the present Lord.

He, though through his hand I sensed and knew
The pity that he sometimes felt, did not delay
Towards those regions where our steps were bent.

We reached a valley, vast, filled with more souls
Than mind could grasp, millions from out each
Age and clime, each soul aware of self and God,

And they beseeching mercy for their lot. The
Ground was lava hot and on the valley’s floor
Were like deep cauldrons where a soul was caught.

We saw one man, all know his name, lodged there
Within a towering flame, his face half burned
Away, his body had been upside down.

He’d breathed his last one winter’s night, a madman
Murdered him, he bled to death, his soul like
Lightning left its mortal home for here.

Like many more he saw us and called out
And to the Lord most earnestly expressed desire,
Not for forgiveness but one final chance.

The Lord refused to answer him. We wondered why,
All unaware this person claimed he’d sold
His soul, yet had been saved by Jesus too –

Though, soon returned to pagan faith, he’d wished
Christ crucified again and had denied that heaven
Exists while hoping still for lives on earth.[3]

As we passed on, though only now he’d begged
More chance, this man changed tone and cursed the Lord.
And why? In truth because no soul that’s once

In hell can quite repent, much as the rich man
In the parable who thirsts and who cries out
For just one single drop to bring relief,

Requests the poor man Lazarus be sent.[4] He fails
To see the same wronged beggar God rewards
No longer can be servant at his call.

Beyond the valley and more nearly like
At home or club whole crowds of people danced
As though to party though they were in pain.

They leaped while mocked and goaded by dark fiends
Who yelled “praise Satan” and who whipped them on
While by the scalding earth their feet were torn.

Yet always healed again. All souls tormented
Any way experience injury and pain but just
As quickly heal to suffer every blow anew.

And every blow the fiends delight to give;
It is their sole revenge upon the God
Within whose image human kind was made.

Thus selfish pleasures found reward and yet
Through work of demons who were free. We learned
They have this liberty till Judgement Day

When Satan’s doom and his destruction they
Must share and all the damned fall with this
Hades into second death of the eternal fire.[5]

CANTO TWO

Upon the mountain of the Lord it’s said
That God’s own Cherub near the throne,
Once walked unscathed amid the stones of fire.

His born perfection shone more splendid still
By his adornment with each precious gem.
But then, through love of this, corruption came.[6]

From love of self, from vanity, ambition grew
To rise above the throne of God and for
That aim he was cast out and ever falls.

Accuser is the Satan’s name and all
His thought is accusation of the elect
Destroying who and what God still protects[7]

The devil is, so says the Lord, a murderer
From the first (and most of souls), a liar
And a thief[8]. Such persons you will find in hell.

Still led by Christ, we screaming passed so
Many scenes of loss and woe, but suddenly
Stopped by one soul in prison, Magdalene.

A deceiver now deceived she neither knew
Nor saw the reason for her fearful plight.
Those necklaces she tried to place were

Only black, devouring worms; the precious
Perfume that she dabbed was fire burned into her
With acid force and yet she could not cease

Her rituals. For all her luxuries she’d
Steal so that her name engraved was thief,
But she in pride stole love, time and attention

Too. She craved an audience, looked everywhere
For that, including for one former friend
Who spoke to her of God and themes she little

Cared to hear. She now asked where that woman
Was. “With me, in heaven” replied the Lord
And saying which he turned and we continued on.

Elsewhere and not from fiends but at the hands
Of false friends or relentless foes, damned souls
May always and again endure their loss.

Christ showed us where a violent man, six
Murdered people to his name, by those same men
Was cursed unceasingly he’d brought them there.

Yet others live and live again addicted selves.
We met one, Luis, who in youth believed the Lord
But not, Christ said, who had obeyed or served.

His world, his life was drink and in a
Drunken brawl he’d died. He stood before
Refreshment though no part of it could

Slake his thirst, what seemed like liquid burned with
Fire. He screamed Christ mercy all the while he seized
At drink again only to burn the worse for that.

One named Bianca, practiced in seductive ways,
Had lived with several lovers and cheated
On the last before she died of dread disease.

God she forgot but now this woman knew
Of love and pleasure’s dire reverse: a foul
And thorny serpent forced congress with

Her helpless form that suffers only ceaseless
Pain. Like others she called out. The Lord would
Only say it was too late and judgement set.

All these and more were sinners in our world
Some were blackslidden from their faith in God
And yet are not some saved whose tales are worse?

Was there idolatry of self and deed that
Set apart those damned souls that we just had met?
Why on the drunkard’s brow stood triple six?

We knew the measure given out we must
And always have from God again – the Lord
Had preached this on the Mount – but was it possible,

Should we believe, that hell’s great torments
God himself devised and that their nature
Was decreed from out of endless wrath?

The Wisdom of the Lord says no. The wrath of
God is separation from his life and place
Such as Christ knew as sin when on the cross.[9]

It is no more or less; hell was for angels who
Rebelled, not weaker man. God loves the world,
Does not intend one soul should die[10], still less

Responds as though to injury of honour.
This said, all evil outside God belongs
To powers infernal which yet stake their claim.

Within their place the separated then receive
From out their nature devil’s payment
At his whim or else of fiendish followers

For each attachment willed or otherwise to
Satan’s kingdom of this world, which is the
Source of all disease, dissension and deceit

We suffer still. This to combat and overthrow
The Lord was once made manifest on earth
And must again at era’s end return.

Hell’s torment is eternal for this cause:
As Lord of life the Lord can never in entirety
Annihilate one single soul or he is death.

Nor, since the Lord is love and of itself love
Must be free, can he compel but only warn or
Else appeal against what is opposed to life.

Unless by framework of the whole, by natural
Law and cycles which divide up time, divine
Omnipotence has limit through perfection.

For this, unless in part and through the
World-indwelling Son,[11] God does not see, cannot
Accept, the shapes and forms that evil takes

Outside first plan[12]. Upon creation’s second day
God would not say all things were good[13]
For through existence, though upheld by him,

Death runs, and on this earth the Satan reigns.
As all things are through God, no thing outside,
Hell’s realm is simple quarantine. It’s God

Withdrawn, or God, who’s fire, as fire alone
No other elements of life, the state
Most far from justice, love and the divine.

An infinite fall, its pit is bottomless
It is the great negation of all good
Whose root in Satan was self-love,

A love turned inward, not outgoing,
Ever vain, at last all parasite upon
Infinity, dynamic only to depart

Still further into nothingness. The Satan
Rules in hell yet to it Jesus holds the keys.[14]
This is because outside of time the Lord

Has power beyond materiality and time.
In these alone is evil fully free
To work, and inside them alone can it

Be caught, on some occasions now but
Fully only at the end of time when all’s
Resolved with heart and essence shown.

Each Soul that lives can only ever
Mirror God from whose own image it derives
So that, if what shines out is not divine,

No more protected and in a state of loss,
Soul must and only ever can be formed into
An image of God’s “wrath”. This image is

The Accuser within whom resides
An unrelenting will to obtain himself
As for his prey, eternal separation.

Recall the case of thieving Magdalene
Who had been branded for a thief
And yet whose motive will was vanity.

Likewise it is soul’s sin, not sins, that hell
Repays in endless repetition. Yet the effect
Must be expressed through one sin summary

Of all the rest in its self-will, or say
The one idolatry that once most lured the
Soul away from God. Its motion shapes the

Satanic self always replayed as role and
Name. Just as the redeemed have new
And secret names inscribed for God, [15] in hell

Thieves, Murderers, Drunkards and the like
Are branded such or else with Triple Six;
This way our God self shows as God reversed.

And this the soul becomes and must remain
When time has ceased. Its woe is not duration
Of an earthly kind, but one eternal present.

As even here a violent pain can cancel time,
So one day or a million days or none
Of agony, like heaven’s bliss, will be but “now”.

Lift us oh Christ from all despair and sin
From unbelief and pain. Such was our prayer.
We longed to see his paradise and only that.


[1] Seeing the same evil with eyes both open and shut strikes me as one of several authentic details. I note such an experience in my Cosmic Father and it is seriously alarming. I take it the occurrence indicates the person is seeing through the function of the second body or soul transcendent of normal bodily function. The group do feel soul has been torn from body as they descended.

[2] Reference is to Luk 23:43. It is believed to envisage an abode or waiting place of redeemed spirits, a “paradise” that is not the heaven of the Father/Creator that Jesus himself only enters after the resurrection. It is this place, peopled by souls able to appear in a form akin to that of earth, which NDE visions of a blissful afterlife if authentic presumably encompass. By contrast, as regards souls in hell, the Seven maintain that upon entry to hell each one assumes a skeleton-like “body of death“. Though one could suspect the legacy of some ex-Catholic, Latin American obsessions in the Seven’s imagery, in fairness the Bible does speak of “the body” being thrown into hell (Matt 5:29) and also to devouring worms and fire there (Mk: 9:48). The dead represented by skeletons as in the Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones (Ezek 37) is as much biblical as anything medieval.

[3] All this is highly problematic and books such as The Gospel According to the Beatles and The Lennon Prophecy open up many questions which colour the poem here more than the comments of the Colombians. Lennon told his friend Tony Sheridan, “I’ve sold my soul to the devil”. Did he mean it literally? His childhood was haunted by spirits; he once told his stepmother he’s seen God. He was early on so irreverent he was banned from church. His student art was disturbingly profane. While living in America he claimed at one point to be “born again” to Jesus. Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth film was a factor towards this, but later he reneged on it, fast forwarding the film to jeer at the crucifixion and proclaim himself “a born again pagan”. In the song God Lennon says he doesn’t believe in either Hitler or Jesus. His Serve Yourself lyric denies Jesus or anyone can save us. Though unlike the Colombians I wouldn’t call the Beatles “Satanic”, we must reckon it was Beatle George Harrison’s money funded what would otherwise have been the rejected Life of Brian comedy related to the gospels. Its distribution with its “Look on the bright side of life” could be considered spiritual pollution. Also Lennon’s Helter Skelter was seen as Satanic and an inspiration to Charles Manson as such.

[4] Luk 16:24

[5] Satan and demons inhabit hell but are not imprisoned there. Satan is even described as “Prince of the powers of air” (Eph 2:2). These work against mankind until aion’s (era’s) end. For dramatic purposes Milton’s Paradise Lost has them against the record exiled and imprisoned around the time of the Edenic Fall. Granted it’s said there are imprisoned spirits in hell rebellious against God (1 Pet 3:19) rather like the Titans of world myth, but they are not active or linked to punishment of souls in perdition. The future destruction of hell/Hades is indicated at Rev 20:14. The relative freedom of the demons is a point on which Christians seem to want to deny all or near universal NDE witness regarding features of hell, what the bible at very least implies about it and what the evidence of exorcism seems to be: demons will scream loudest at the command to be banished to hell since otherwise they enjoy some light and freedom on earth while they oppress souls. Note that demons scream at Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt 8:29).

[6] Reference is to the account of Lucifer in Ezek 28. Traditional commentary like Augustine’s has it the devil fell through pride. Here I am suggesting before pride there was self-love or vanity. This seems more in harmony with what the biblical texts imply. “Your heart was proud because of your beauty, you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendour” (v.17). Lucifer seeking to ascend above God is from Is. 14:13,14).

[7] Rev 12:10 maintains even the elect are accused by the Satan continually. No one and nothing is protected by God except by special favour because evil does not belong to God’s realm or direct consideration. Popular notions of divine omnipotence expect that Providence should intervene and rule whereas until era’s end God is not understood to do so unless exceptionally. Hence the importance of prayer even though it might seem to be only about what God wants or knows. God is as it were given pretexts to intervene through obligation to the righteous on earth. In Jewish tradition the world is virtually upheld by the existence of the praying righteous.

[8] Joh 10:10

[9] Christ’s cry of desolation “why have you forsaken me?” itself derived from words of Ps 22, is commonly but controversially interpreted today in an era of doubt as indicating a doubt in Christ’s mind never accepted in traditional readings. The belief was Christ became “sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21) and the penalty was to be cut off from his natural connection with the Father and thus to experience the pains of death and hell which is complete abandonment from all sensation of love, good, justice, in short, the world of Dante’s “Abandon all hope all you who enter here”.

[10] 2 Pet 3:9

[11] The doctrine of the Cosmic Christ as in Col 1:17. Little taught or understood but a clue to much Christian doctrine in its more “occult” aspect involving extended body or divine womb.

[12] That the creator is too perfect to look upon sin is asserted by the prophet Habbakuk, Hab 1:13.

[13] The Hebrew version of the Bible (Masoretic text) commonly used today omits God’s approval of this day .

[14] Rev 1:18

[15] Rev 2:17


FOR AND AGAINST THE VISION

Composing this poetry doesn’t mean I uncritically accept the Colombians’ report – I am conflicted about it as anyone would be. It’s just that I can’t reject the Colombian vision outright either for reasons given presently. But even if it were wholly false it still provides a pretext to look again at Dante and reflect on God, hell and evil more generally.

It’s possible to argue the Seven are the deluded victims of a collective hallucination, that they are inventing or misinterpreting an experience, a dream or vision rather than any true OBE (Out of Body Experience) of spirit journeys beyond this world. There are many OBEs and also NDEs (Near Death Experiences) in circulation. Many one could dismiss as delusional or possibly even as demonic deceptions. (My current prize for negative vision would be the doubtless sincere neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven bestseller record of an NDE which I have more light heartedly poetized in the previous blog).

I think the Seven underwent some kind of experience. The following coincidences are too exact and too many to dismiss the story outright. I use an Event chart for the experience and apply the very revealing name, place and concept asteroids of modern astrology. The result is striking and much more so than for the details of, for example, the best selling Bill Weise’s alleged 23 Minutes in Hell (whose account is not unreasonably charged with containing certain embellishments and contradictions, not least for the time of the onset of vision. (Astrologers might however be interested in the detail that Pluto is at 0 degrees Sagittarius – religion and the far journey – when the Seven go to hell and the Sun is on the same degree when Wiese reports the same). No doubt both the Colombians and Wiese would, like Dante, have me damned to the Inferno’s Circle of the Soothsayers with Guido Bonatti for the means of confirmation. It nevertheless offers the main support they or anyone will ever have, and all Christian conservatives judgemental in this area should remember astrologers came to Christ’s birth. The pattern which I cannot reproduce on this page even with professional assistance (WordPress do better than this!) can be viewed at: bit.ly/187i5jH

PRO:

  • At the time of vision the LENNON asteroid was conjunct the CHRIST asteroid in the heavens in the “hell” zone of the pattern, the 8th….and The Part of Revelation falls within the same sector as though this was some kind of revelation and the Part is degree exact on an axis with the asteroid VERITAS (Truth)…. so did Christ and Lennon truly meet?
  • At “around” 10 am 22 degrees of Gemini rose, (coincidentally the same degree of asteroid DANTE in the inferno-visiting poet’s natus). This ascendant stands at the midpoint of asteroids ALETHEIA (Truth) and WISDOM at 20 and 24 degrees respectively, which while not conclusive is at least suggestive for some truth of the moment and its vision. The ascendant itself is more or less fortunately trined to asteroid CHRISTIAN in the ninth sector of religion and beliefs – the vision is one delivered to Christians. In the first house asteroid ANGEL at 3 Cancer rises and for a descriptively accurate event chart that’s appropriate. It is angels are first seen when the light appears in the room.
  • Indicative of a journey from hell to heaven with Jesus, the Jesus asteroid ISA at 6.58 Sagittarius is in tension axis with PARADISE at 6.02 Gemini in the hidden, otherworldly 12th house. HELL(a) then by favourable trine and sextile respectively aspects both PARADISE and ISA. HELL(a) at 8.02 Libra (sign of judgements) is itself in the fourth sector of the earth – the vision’s hell, a temporary one that awaits the Last Judgement, is said to be located deep within earth. This HELL(a) at 8 degrees is also suitably aspected to MALIN (devil) at 8 Leo.
  • The nearest eclipse shadowing events was a lunar eclipse on 15th April at 25 Libra, the degree of asteroid ISA (Jesus) in my birth data for Christ (see my Testament of the Magi) and variously important for themes of endings and apocalypse, a subject the vision treats, in The Pentecost chart for Christianity (see Christianity’s Destiny).
  • The alleged experience seriously is a Dantesque style journey of the soul and its choices. PSYCHE (soul) at 15 Aries fortunately trines religious Jupiter in its own sign, “religious” Sagittarius at 15 degrees with CHRISONSON (an asteroid I find works by “astrospeak” for Christendom) at its midpoint on 15 of shocking Aquarius deemed a world point. And in effect it is Christendom is shockingly addressed by Jesus in this vision.
  • JESUS/ISA is conjunct asteroid CHURCH on 7.26 Sagittarius. This 7 degrees is itself identical at Jesus birth with his PART OF WISDOM AND ALLEGIANCE which is what in effect he arrives to give and demand of his allegedly wrong minded Church at the time of the vision. Seven is the Bible’s sacred messianic number. Jesus on 7 degrees comes to meet a representative seven persons?
  • ORCUS (a name for hell) is closely conjunct a Mars at 14.58 Leo i.e. on almost one of the worldpoints, the most difficult of these, at 15 Leo. The group was called to share the vision of hell with the world. Astrologers are discovering ORCUS has a lot to do with situations of torture and it is certainly hell as a torture zone that the Seven see and witness to.
  • Opposition to Vanity is a theme of the vision and the Part of Vanity conjuncts this Mars. Mars itself like Jupiter is fortunately trine PSYCHE (soul) and the message to the world the church is said to have forgotten is there is a soul to save. Mars is on an opposition axis to CHRISONSOM, the mentioned Christendom asteroid and it is the Christian world that the vision’s Jesus seeks to correct.
  • Astrologers know there must be agreement of patterns. The intervention of specifically Jesus and now in judgement seems indicated by a destiny Midheaven at 19. 25 Pisces, conjunct Saturn at 19.21 Pisces. This exchanges fate and Saturn for the grace and mercy of the Jupiter which I maintain (see my Testament of the Magi) was at 19.23 Pisces at Jesus’ birth.
  • There are two asteroids that register for anything to do with God, the Greek THEOTES (Godhead) and the Sanskrit, BHAGWAT, (Lord). That this vision could actually be a God event is hinted at by the moon (timer and trigger of events) at 0 Virgo (natal sign of Jesus) on an axis with THEOTES at 0 Pisces. Meanwhile BHAGWAT at 19.59 just borders Jesus’s natal 20.02 Aquarius Midheaven, a religious power point.
  • The moon’s close square to Pluto belongs with the extremely painful elements of the initial experience while Pluto’s close aspect to Uranus bespeaks its highly unusual, exceptional nature. It is incidentally the case that this same Pluto at the time was crossing John Lennon’s natal LENNON asteroid. Pluto here is like blowing his cover, transforming his reputation, disclosing secrets about him.
  • The encounter with the beer addicted murdered alcoholic is suggested by asteroid BEER at 20.55 Virgo conjunct wounded CHIRON at 21.12 Virgo. 20 Virgo is the degree of Jesus’ natal sun so it may be relevant it is this backslidden, once believing Christian that most engages Jesus’ attention and pity (Lupe said she felt the blood come to his hand) in a hell scene he walks through mostly refusing interaction.
  • More cheerfully, when the group reach the Paradise I haven’t described, Jesus permits the seven to meet King David. I note that the chart whose sun is at 21 Aries, shows a Christ at 21 degrees and at powerful midpoint of these two DAVIDA(a) at 21 of Aquarius. And conjunct DAVIDA(a) at 20 Aquarius is SETTE (It. Seven). SETTE is an important asteroid which works. The mystic number seven as SETTE even turns up conjunct the conjunction with the names and titles of Christ at his birth. Here it’s seven people meet David at Christ’s behest.

CON

There is something uneven about the reports (as with many visions), but there is insufficient acknowledgement of that  by the Seven so one may suspect at least some embroidery of facts to round out the picture. One needs to recall even Dante’s words – and lesser visionaries have said the same – to the effect the vision fades, details get lost, one forgets and words don’t anyway suffice .

As one who sees in dream, remains aware
When the dream’s gone, of all it made him feel
While all he saw is lost beyond repair
Even such am I; my vision fades, until
It all but ceases… Paradiso. Canto 33:58-62 (tr. Bickertseth)

Admitting that he had glimpsed paradise, Dante doesn’t hide that he has also forgotten and filled in the details from other sources for purposes of the cantos. The Seven don’t admit to anything like this, but neither are we assured they did what God would tell the prophets to do, namely write down what they received (Hab 2:2). Failure to do this and quickly can lead to forgetting and then embroidery or contamination of the original message by personal or cultural factors – the Colombian delivery is very Latin American and, one senses a whole legacy of Catholicism and Inquisition imagery colouring it.

While I don’t think the Colombians have aimed to deceive, I believe they were people strongly under certain American influences from missionaries in Latin America whose ideas coloured or filled in gaps for whatever precisely they experienced and forgot. I suspect influence from especially religion writer Mary Baxter whose A Divine Revelation of Hell of 1993 wrote of her surely too many visits to or dreams of heaven and hell back in 1976 (St Paul and others never had so many!) Baxter’s bestselling works starting with the A Divine Revelation of Hell were translated into Spanish from 1993 onwards so that they could have been imbibed by the converts. (Baxter has subsequently had “divine revelations” on many subjects, each one a book and it looks like she could be another of the American Christians making a mint. I see various possible borrowings from Baxter there’s no need to detail here however….In fairness to Baxter, however, her Jesus does promise others will be granted similar revelations in coming years so that one could say the Colombians were her spiritual offspring.

  • Surely the clearest mark of the Seven’s borrowing (or unconscious assimilation) from Baxter is in the absurd suggestion that in heaven there are flasks that have collected the tears of the saints. Not only is this to literalize a metaphor borrowed from the Psalms and itself only employed because it refers to an historical oddity of Semitic cultures as regards tear bottles, but some of the deepest grief is numb and beyond any tears. Accordingly a lot of people stand not to have their record of earthly misery recalled and cured in heaven! But we do find this preposterous imagery there in Mary Baxter. It’s there like the Seven’s horned tunnel down to hell which I don’t find in other hell reports, though I suppose on that point we have to say there can be agreement of experiences, confirmation of eternal verities. But it’s suspicious because it’s hard to accept that Baxter is any reliable enough witness for anyone to be agreeing with!…..
  • Also Baxter’s entry to hell (perhaps more a vision than an OBE such as the Seven maintain) is not duplicated in, for example, an arresting, graphic account of hell by B.W. Melvin: A Land Unknown: Hell’s Dominion (2005) In this Jesus has the keys to hell and opens something in the misty door to his left. “As he inserted this key into the doorway that was arched like a gate, the mist parted, unrolling as a scroll, exposing a greenish-black narrow hole. In this hole appeared a tunnel that led neither down, up, sideways, this way, or that. It was just there: a vortex”. The spinning vortex then operates “like a roller coaster” gathering ever more speed as Melvin approaches his destination. Likewise Bill Wiese’s bestselling hell account has no horned entry or exit tunnel to his hell. It’s a Baxter speciality.
  • In a way it’s questionable that Baxter, the Seven or anyone at all should go to at any rate the heaven I have not poetized in the way described. In 2 Cor 12:3,4, St Paul speaks of once being in paradise where he heard things not to be told and that no mortal is permitted to repeat. This doesn’t make things sound as though access to the Christian heaven is too easy or details concerning it are readily available, they are mostly too ineffable! It’s true that Revelation which isn’t by St Paul describes heaven somewhat, but it’s unlikely someone like Baxter should know and see such minor and improbable details as tear bottles. An element of doubt attaches to many NDEs of paradise from any Christian standpoint. Might they be the biblical “lying visions”,(Jer 13:14, Zech 10:2), a false comfort?
  • .The best one can say is that if this is era’s end as the Jesus of the Seven maintains (it’s certainly the end of the Age of Pisces), then vision could be allowed to increase towards to its end. Visions are an expected feature of the last times
  • There is then the Seven’s understandably much criticized reference to hell pains for those who haven’t paid what American Christianity thrives on, namely tithes. This we are told Jesus supposedly demands as “his word”. In order to support the claim the Seven have to refer to a text in Malachi (Mal 3:9) rather than the gospels because obviously neither Jesus nor Paul made such explicit demand (though it is taken for granted of believers, that offerings will be made and that the rich must be rich towards God). As opposed to insisting on the need for offerings for the poor and for the church’s mission, if Jesus had said exactly as reported in the vision, he would be in self-contradiction and need to reinstitute the full Hebrew laws he is seen as fulfilling in their essentials by his life so as to pass beyond them. Whatever form of Protestantism the Colombians represent, (and some of their attitudes suggest residual Catholic beliefs and attitudes and the confusion of converts) it is a fact that American Pentecostalism has too often been a money greedy, tithes and more obsessed movement and I think the report is shadowed by that obsession.

If Jesus really did choose this group for a revelation he surely did so not least because they are so open to experience, so “there”, so totally unselfconscious in what they do and say whether in hell or heaven. But by the same token while they live the vision, they are extraverts unphilosophical with it. They leave too many questions unanswered, (they even fail to recognize the uniqueness that could recommend them and their difference from other visionaries (see below re Choo) feeling if they can cite a biblical text that’s even only partially relevant it will justify everything. This isn’t the case. Now and again they can sound rather unfair or just poorly informed in the way evangelicals with issues outside their scope or  biblical reference.

This unawareness is especially applies to their Lennon encounter. They make it seem he is being punished for his “bigger than Jesus” talk which he himself later repudiated and admitted was rather silly. I was never a fan of Lennon but he seems to have been a pleasant enough person though with a very dark and sometimes violent side. My poetry (and its notes) includes details from material more recent than the Colombian vision, which suggest why, if Jesus ever met Lennon, he might well ignore him. Moreover in his private life Lennon was plainly no saint and his song Imagine would become something of an atheist anthem. So, confronted with Jesus there would be problems, yet it’s not these very obvious issues the Colombians register.

The story of fornicating Bianca has to be problematic for non Latin moderns. It’s true there seems to be some subtext the woman is a natural liar and cheat who may well have spread AIDS besides, but her actual fornication extends to six lovers. In the era of sexual revolution much due to contraception, like it or not, that’s not so many by certain permissive standards. With payback like hers, just how are the seriously permissive going to be punished by comparison? An orgy or gang rape by foul snakes?! Interestingly I can least associate Bianca with the pattern. Bianca is in the 12th house of loss but is not related to asteroids suggesting either lovers or serpents. (She may represent the most embroidered part of the record and be there again with help from Mary Baxter). There is a slight justification for the imagery from Deut 32:22-24 where a fiery Sheol is source of animals biting and snakes attacking condemned persons, but it is uncertain how much the majority of Deut 32 is being referred to Sheol as hell as opposed to future conditions of life on earth. On the whole, modern hell visionaries like especially Bill Wiese tend to exaggerate how many references the OT has to hell as Jesus taught it.

These are the kind of issues the Colombians don’t address, they only report. For their readers it’s no answer re Bianca to imagine they have completely answered things by, for example, noting that St Paul declared fornicators (he probably had the orgies of Roman decadents in mind) won’t enter the kingdom of heaven. Without suggesting God and Bible approve fornication (occultly all fully consummated affairs could be expected to be recorded upon and have entered into the substance of the spirit body), at the same time it’s impossible a just God would not take time, place and background into some account in judgement of a life. Values and societies for better or worse do change taking people with them. Intention or motivation and situation count for something beyond the number of times whatever is involved has occurred. But then again, perhaps it’s less God’s judgement we are even looking at than the sort of torture fiends are supposedly able to impose. (The notion of torture from their hands is not expressly biblical but it’s not denied and it could be considered as certified by most reported visions/experiences of hell across the centuries).

Quite a lot of even those evangelicals who might be expected to welcome the Colombians’ alarming vision in fact don’t. They protest it doesn’t confirm a widespread  “once saved always saved” belief but seems to teach, almost Catholic/Latin style, a more “earned” salvation. That is perhaps the weakest of the purely religious objections because there is surely too much in the Bible to challenge it including the rather notorious, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), the fear being precisely that despite grace one might not make the grade but be thrown out like the salt that loses its savour (Matt 5:13), fall into the unbelief, hypocrisy or whatever that obtains final rejection (Heb 4: 6-8).

Where hell is concerned I am inclined to think like C.S. Lewis that if a thousand chances would be any use, a thousand chances would be given. Something of the kind is even suggested by stories one can find everywhere from books to You Tubes of people living wildly iniquitous lives and even suiciding and supposedly seeing hell and being delivered from it by Jesus. On that basis there has to be something behind the spiritual and psychological mindset of the damned that cannot be reached, though I do think, as per the section “Damned Unbelief and Damned in Time”, in my The Great Circle: Asia David and God Consciousness, there can be a complicating time factor in the judgement/salvation theme to which theology and philosophy have not paid sufficient attention.

The Colombian vision swerves between the genuinely ghastly and the distinctly controversial. I feel it’s regrettable this vision has always obtained the kind of instant, uncritical acceptance – or rejection – that it has done. The Colombians should have been asked, and perhaps asked themselves, more questions long ago. They are not theological; they are even “naïve” in a way that could be positive except that they seem to lack some discernment. In their lack of it and/or perhaps their insecurity about their relative uniqueness, one sees websites devoted to their claims cite a few other hell visionaries not in quite the same category as themselves. Chief of these I would count an author, Choo Thomas.

This Korean American woman has written a Pentecostal bestseller (over a million copies in many languages since 2003), Heaven is so Real, that no Pentecostal or indeed any Christian should ever have published if truth and justice concerned them and which probably only got through in the wake of the dubious phenomena of the Toronto Blessing which Choo’s odd physical reactions to her experiences duplicate. Ignoring that Choo falsely predicted the Rapture for 2007 and the Tribulation for 2009, she is between heretical, as with the nonsense about Christ’s blood made dirty by human sins, and cruel enough for a Korean gulag when observing her saintly often ill mother   screaming in agonies of hell for no other reason than that she had never heard of Jesus with whom Choo drifts straight off to further joys. This is nonsense or why did St Paul (1 Cor 15:9) refer to Corinthian believers who evidently claimed dead forebears for Christ? Or indeed why did the apostle mention those he seemed to think performed the Law in their hearts amid ignorance and who are justified by their thoughts (Rom 2:15)? Obviously being in the wrong time and place and ignorance alone do not damn, and no one should be teaching it. Visions like Choo’s lie if they teach otherwise.

Choo visits paradise at least seventeen times. By comparison we should hold it in their favour that the Colombians went once, and if they are for real and not just voices of another lying vision, they should be satisfied with the fact they did only go once, forget Choo and stand on their own feet. And though they may not have realized it, in fact their witness contradicts Choo’s not least in the peculiar matter of fish. Whereas one youth of the Seven plucks a fish out of a heavenly river and expects it to die but is told by Jesus it cannot die because nothing in heaven ever will – which is surely theologically correct! – Choo has Jesus going fishing with her and dead, caught fish being consumed in heaven. So really, for this and all sorts of things, the Seven should never have anything to do with  Choo, nor should anyone including for her nonsense about Jesus celebrating his birthday in heaven on Christmas Eve. Punish Choo by making her read my Testament of the Magi and understand for all time when Jesus was born! However, such is the madness of some branches of post Toronto Blessing Pentecostalism they would sooner listen to Choo’s fantasies and heresies than the evidence of the astrology that accompanied Christ’s birth and solves mysteries surrounding it that they should know but which they would call damnable.

FURTHER THOUGHTS AND READING

For those who might want it, these two Cantos will be included in a book I am issuing, New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas https://goo.gl/uz7m95 .

For those who might think I am merely obsessed with hell or have in comparison no distinct ideas and opinions about heaven, see my recently released Where From, Why Us, Where To?: Visiting Tahiti and Life Itself, an extended essay which has much to say about popular and religious notions of heaven and paradise.https://goo.gl/9Wpfiw

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in aesthetics, astrology, Poetry, religion

 

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