Continued from the previous post
I set ground rules for my religious quest: First, anything I discovered had to pass the gut check; the whole reason for the quest was my visceral rejection of the story as I understood it. Second, it had to make sense intellectually; it had to result in something I could understand and use in my daily life, or else what was the point? I also decided to start with all the basic schools of Christianity I could find, in case it was just the church I had been raised in that was the problem, not Christianity per se. I was in a good position to do this, as the Indianapolis suburb I lived in- Irvington- had more churches per capita than most any place on Earth. It had been the home of Butler University, and within a five minute walk of my front door were five giant Gothic Cathedral type churches, from Catholic to Christian Scientist, (to this day, on a Sunday morning one can hear dueling carillons); the international HQ of a Christian mission, the home convent of an order of nuns, and another half dozen storefront churches.
Two in particular caught my interest. First was Calvinism, which taught that belief itself was impossible for flawed humans, and was the gift of God. What you had to do was to behave as if you believed, and prepare yourself for when the gift was given to you.* It would certainly explain why I couldn't believe. But upon closer examination, it didn't make sense either- how could belief be the test if you had no control over your belief? Under this doctrine, the only part in your control was your behavior, which made it salvation by acts, rather than by belief- a direct contradiction to John 3:16 and 18.
The second to catch my interest was Universalism, the doctrine that Jesus' sacrifice paid for all of mankind's sins, and so salvation was universal.** This was on all fours with John 3:17, and at least the first clause of 3:16, although a contradiction of 3:18. Nobody goes to Hell.*** This seemed better at first, but it still required belief in the rest of the story, if not in damnation; could I do that? No. Universalism didn't make sense either... yes, it's nice that everyone gets saved, but it did nothing to address the issue of why we needed salvation in the first place.
We needed salvation because one must be perfect to enter Heaven, and no human being is capable of achieving perfection; the Bible makes that abundantly clear. The effective result is that we're born damned; we are going to be judged by a standard that we cannot meet. That is so patently unfair as to be irrational; you cannot condemn a quart jar for not holding a gallon- especially if you're the potter that cast the quart jar! God knew full well the risks of giving his creations free will when he made Adam and Eve- he'd gone through that scenario before with the angels... But okay, let's assume for a moment that it makes sense; after all, the story isn't all that well told, and maybe I'm missing something. What's next?
*16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. I don't get it. If God loved us that much, why didn't he just change the rules? I actually asked that one; I learned the meaning of "doubletalk" that day. But okay, we've got to be purified, and that takes a blood sacrifice. Says who? Didn't God make the rules? Never mind... So he gave his only begotten Son... "Only"?? So, what, is the rest of the human race chopped liver? We're all his creations; are some methods of creation more precious than others?
Sorry; I digress. To make a long story short (Too late!), I could not believe that we needed to be saved; I could not believe that salvation required a blood sacrifice; I could not believe that Jesus was the only son of God- and I could not believe in the Trinity. I could not be a Christian Universalist, by the standards commonly understood forty years ago. There are newer versions, like the Christian Universalist Association that I could live comfortably with- but I'm already a Pagan; why change names?
*Yes, I know this is an oversimplified and somewhat flawed explanation. This is a memoir, not a doctoral thesis; I'm relating what I took from how it was explained to a young person.
**See the first footnote.
***I had problems with Hell as a concept, aside from the question of who deserved to go there. Reread John 3:16- do you see any mention of Heaven or Hell in it? The choice was not between Heaven and Hell, but between eternal life and eternal death. It is stated that way very explicitly in quite a few places in the Bible. "I am the resurrection and the life." But if you do not believe, well, "...let the dead bury their dead." So how can you suffer eternal damnation if you don't have eternal life? At what point did God decide that stripping you of eternal life was not punishment enough, that he had to resurrect you and punish you again?