Friday, April 12, 2013

Threatened forgiveness

In March I wrote a reply to a column by Billy Graham concerning the Christan god's version of forgiveness. I also posted that blog as a comment to online newspaper listings of the came column. On one of those pages a discussion  began. I'll discuss that conversation here.
It began easy enough. A discussion on what is meant by forgiveness, Christian forgiveness, and conditional forgiveness. As you can see in my earlier blog, I argued that the Christian god practices conditional forgiveness. He is said to want to forgive, yet he doesn't... not unless you are a true believer. You must believe in him and accept him unconditionally. In short, you must give him something in order to be forgiven. I argued that it is a good thing that most people do not practice conditional forgiveness. When most of us are wronged, we typically do not require an offering to forgive people in everyday life, and that is a good thing.

He then went on to opine that he feels that God's forgiveness is not conditional. That the a relationship with God is the purpose of forgiveness. I went on to say that why one forgives is a separate issue than if we do. We can forgive for selfish, as well as selfless reasons. But selfless, non-conditional forgiveness is the truest form of forgiveness. Even then, whatever your motivation for granting forgiveness, you can still choose how to forgive. Selflessly, or by asking for compensation in return for forgiveness. So motivation is a null issue.

Eventually, the claim became that Christian forgiveness wasn't conditional because he isn't requiring anything. He wants to forgive us, and is only seeking a relationship with us. But if a simple relationship is all he asks, that raises issues that most Christians would cry foul about. Chiefly, that Christians wouldn't be the only ones eligible for forgiveness. Remember that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all worship the god of Abraham. They have differences on certain issues, but all worship variations of the same god. So if a truly willing relationship is what is required, all three faiths would be in the running. Heck, you could even try and make a case for Mormonism being in the running as well. Ask a random Christian if a Muslim could go to Heaven as a Muslim, and they'd most likely flatly quash such an idea. But is a relationship with the god of Abraham  really all that is asked?

The story of the Prodigal Son was offered as an explanation. The son leaves, comes back, is welcomed with open arms, is forgiven, and all is well. It was then argued that God is simply asking the same. Return to him and be welcomed with open arms. I countered that the father's forgiveness was non-conditional, where-as God's was. He stood fast that both were non-conditional, but is that so?

No, it's not. There is the requirement to worship in addition to the desired relationship. A relationship is all well and good, but a healthy relationship doesn't require the worship of one of the individuals. I have a good relationship with my parents. I look up to and respect them. But they don't require me to bow down before them. Where a relationship can be mutually beneficial, taking the additional step of requiring worship surely pushes over the line of requiring 'payment' in order to receive forgiveness. And only if that condition is met will that be granted. To me, a god that wants to forgive wouldn't require anything from you. After all, I can forgive without asking for anything in return. Yet here we are facing a deity that requires that he is worshiped. Requiring anything for forgiveness makes it conditional forgiveness.

Of course there was then the claim that God does not require forgiveness. It is just something you will naturally and willingly want to do when you know Him. "That's what Christians believe." Ah, but there lies the rub. On some issues there are things that are universal across Christianity. Like that Jesus is the risen Lord and savior. But remember, there are many denominations of Christianity. There are things that separate them and issues on which they differ from one another. His church (like so many of the newer reformed or informal churches) probably does teach that worship isn't required... That it's a spontaneous and willing praising of His glory. Meanwhile all the churches I was a member of taught a different tale. They all taught of a god that requires worship and submission to his rules. We can ignore the 'follow the rules bit though', since forgiveness is supposed to absolve you of those infractions anyway. So the worship bit is the more important of the two.

No surprise when the 'teaching bad theology' card is pulled next. But there's a problem there. The different denominations will all point toward scripture to justify their stance on an issue, and the other church will point to different scripture to justify their stance. This happens with any number of issues. Requirements for forgiveness, if Jesus was God or his actual son, to what degree to denounce homosexuals, stance on women in the church, etc. Each differing opinion on these issues will feel justified that they are the ones that are right and base it on a verse here or there. Church A will say that church B is wrong, citing verse, and church B will say that church A is wrong, citing verse.

That is where another problem sneaks in. The reason there are differences of opinion on some issues are usually one of two. Sometimes the difference of opinion is simply to be more open and appealing to a wider audience. This is typically a non-Biblical position. The other instances arise because the Bible is not clear. What God is supposedly claiming/asking/commanding is open to the interpretation of the reader. Because of this, and the fact that many of these differing interpretations contradict, why is to say who has it 'right' (if anyone)? Somehow, 'the perfect word of God' is awful gauge and indirect. If these rules and guidelines were so desperately important, surely it should just come right out and clearly say how it is. But it doesn't... not by a long shot.

But let's pretend that we grant the relationship angle and the worship angle. Are we out of the woods yet?
Sorry, it's swampy bog this. We're still stuck in the muck with another issue. Remember, forgiveness isn't the only issue. There's also damnation. You might say 'wait wait wait, forgiveness is to avoid damnation', but is it that simple. Remember, we've reduced it to a relationship that he wants. Forgiveness that he wants to give. He wants you, and wants you to want him.

Well, how do we treat prospective relationships? If I want someone to be in a relationship with me, yet they don't notice me, I don't then punish them for that non-act... but God does. I would simply consider it the other person's loss and we would go our separate ways. Even if the other person spurned my advances and told me to piss off, I wouldn't then seek revenge. I might be miffed at first, but I'd go on my way. Not hunt the person down, stash them away, beat them regularly, throw salt on their wounds, all whiles streaming it online because they had the 'audacity' to not be in a relationship with me.

That all sounds very bold and extreme, and it is. It is also exactly what the Christian 'offer' of forgiveness is. This is not an offer. It is a threat. Believe & worship or else. An odd demand for someone who loves up and wants so very much to be with us. That is unless you consider that amassing worshipers to praise him could be the true motivation. Also, what's with the black and white Heaven and Hell. Remember, he supposedly crafted this whole scheme for us. How terribly unjust is it that every so-called 'crime' is punished equally. We wouldn't put someone to death for stealing a pack of gum, the same as a serial killer. But this twisted construct would. All or nothing, black or white, and conveniently like every good scam artist, he who created the 'ill' also holds the 'cure'. This adds injustice. We wouldn't set a killer free because he sought and gained a heartfelt relationship with the judge. But that's what Christianity promises. It doesn't matter who you are, or what you did, just pay our membership fee and we'll look the other way.

Christianity's conditional forgiveness and threats are not attractive, ethical, or even a shadow of the wondrous offer so many are told it is. So join with me and be more moral than their god, more forgiving than their god, and more honestly caring than their god.


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