Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Today in crazy

(From Early County News, whatever that is)

Is Billy Graham a believer? I think so. But it is remotely possible that a man like that could fake it for the sake of making money. Was Mother Theresa a Christian? I think so. But it could be possible that she was trusting in good works rather than genuine faith for her salvation. I don't mean in any way to disparage these great souls. My point is the kingdom of God is like the sea. We know there are people in there. We just cannot see exactly who they are.
This quote is really as good a pick from this... whatever it is... as anything else. As far as I can tell, there is no coherent point to this little gem. I do, however, have a few thoughts on the above statement. I was going to go on a rant on how you can't possibly compare these two people anyway. One is an fundamentalist nut-job partially responsible for George W. Bush, and one is a woman whose faith so moved her that she dedicated her life to serving the "poorest of the poor." I decided, however, that I'd better do a little bit of research (Wikipedia) before I went on that rant. If Wikipedia is to be believed, Graham is kind of an OK guy. No Mother Theresa, but someone who seems to have really studied the scripture before he went around preaching it. Even if I don't agree with some (read: most) of his interpretations, at least he knows what he's talking about. He also (apparently. Don't lie to me, Wikipedia) bailed Martin Luther Kind Jr. out of jail and was staunchly opposed to segregation. Again, no Mother Theresa, but I have to say that the existence of Billy Graham is no longer completely offensive to me.

Anyway, I do take issue with this idea pertaining to Mother Theresa that "it could be possible that she was trusting in good works rather than genuine faith for her salvation." This is one of the core differences between Christians, even from the same sects. The arguments for exclusivism usually come from verses like Mark 16:16, which says:
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Arguments for universalism are a bit trickier. The scriptural precedent is weaker, even as the logic and morality of the idea seems stronger (surprise! When does that ever happen?). But, just like with the creation story and the flood, people who do not interpret the Bible literally have the luxury of elevating the importance of passages like 1 John 4:7-12, which says:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This, to me, seems a more overwhelming truth than "follow me or perish." Not because there is more of it in the scripture, but because it makes more sense to me. And whether or not you agree that this passage has superior value to some others, the suggestion that Mother Theresa was not truly a Christian, however jokingly, is really not funny and is really offensive. She placed a high value on "good works" because that's what she believed Christ wanted her to do. I would never in a million years question this woman's faith. I will say, however, that several evangelical pastors in the world are more concerned with money and megachurches and eternal damnation than they are with being good people, and therefore I call them not truly Christian. There are people who every day do good things for each other, who reject or have never heard of Christianity. If they are not equal in God's eyes to the people who do believe in Christ, then I want nothing to do with God.

15 comments:

Christopher said...

Wasn't there some evidence found recently that showed Mother Theresa had a crisis of faith? I think this can show two things 1) identifying as a Christian and having "flawless" faith are two different things and 2) even the most venerated among us have these crises. In the context of the quote you started with, I think the point becomes that we can cannot presume to judge the faith of others, no matter how we feel about their actions, good or bad.

Jocelyn said...

Not only SHOULD we not presume to judge the faith of others (I took out the can because, well, of course we can), but what's the point anyway? As far as I'm concerned, faith is one of the least relevant factors in judging the quality of a person. Let them be defined by what they do, not by what they believe.

Also, I hadn't heard that she had a crisis of faith, but the idea that she may have makes her a much more believable person to me. Good for her.

Rose Connors said...

The letters of Mother Teresa to her confessor were released in book form last year. They revealed that she spent much of her life in a dark, lonely crisis of faith that most of us cannot even imagine. This made "Come Be My Light" immeasurably inspiring, considering that her good works didn't make her feel happy, she did it out of deep belief in her mission and true love for God. (Disclaimer: I'm not a believer.)

caitisplain said...

I totally agree with you that there are so many people that are more concerned with money and being the pastor of a megachurch then serving the people around them, and, while I will not judge their faith, I would guess that many people who are like that are not really following Christ.

There are people who do good works by human standards everyday, who are not christians, but when we are judged by God's standards, we come all come up disgustingly short -
Isaiah 64:6 says, "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment."
Romans 3:23 says, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

I definitely believe that people can do "good," that is, by human standards, but if it is not done to the glory of God, it is not "good" by God's standards. Romans 14:23 says "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

Hannah said...

I also recently read about Mother Teresa's (aka Bl. Teresa of Calcutta) crises of faith. How could you not question or even doubt the existence of God living in those surroundings? In my opinion, if you never question your faith you aren't thinking about it and what good is blind faith? I have always interpreted that line from Mark to mean that you can't be saved without faith. What good is faith in Jesus Christ if you spend your life treating people like shit? I don't want to spend eternity next to that guy. And doesn't that sort of nullify a lot of the remainder of the New Testament - you know that parts where Jesus tells us to be nice to each other and whatnot?

I absolutely agree that we should never presumed to judge another, that is for God to do. It's funny you should mention this, I recently had a huge argument with my Protestant husband about faith vs. faith + good works.

Jocelyn said...

Rose, I am going to have to read up on Mother Theresa. It never occurred to me that she would be particularly fascinating. I don't know why.

Anyway, the whole faith vs. good works thing is a pretty relevant debate within Christianity. I have to say I agree with you, Hannah, that having faith is irrelevant if you don't act like a decent person. That said, I actually think that faith is kind of irrelevant anyway.

I know that in terms of Christianity, I am not in the majority in this belief, but it just makes logical sense to me that God would be more concerned with the way we live our lives (and allow others to do the same) than the particular belief systems to which we subscribe. All religions come with a moral code, the cores of which are inherently similar: don't kill; treat others with respect... in short, to quote Bill & Ted, "be excellent to each other." The pervasiveness of these ideas throughout the world, even in those who do not practice religion, makes Christianity wholly not unique.

We believe in Christ because He means more to us than these other gods do, but that doesn't make Him inherently superior. Those who have beliefs that are entirely dissimilar to ours are just as convinced as we are. Who's to say they are wrong and we are right? All any of us have to go by is faith. There is no way to objectively prove religion.

As such, I believe that God would not be so cruel as to assign all His Truth to one religion. I also believe that the anger and insecurities God displays in the Bible are the product of the storytellers, not God Himself. If I ruled an entire universe, I wouldn't be too concerned with whether or not sentient beings were worshiping me all the time. I'd be more into how they are living their lives, and how they are enabling others to live theirs. In short, I believe in the inherent superiority of good works.

Is there scriptural precedence for this? Not enough (at least not in the Judeo-Christian Bible). Really, it's an idea that comes more from Hinduism. That said, I find it to be extremely logical, and where logic and the Bible do not agree, I tend to side with logic. It just seems like the logical thing to do.

Hannah said...

I'm with you, Jocelyn. I, personally operate under the belief that most of us who worship a god are all worshiping the same God in the way that makes the most sense to us. It seems pretty arrogant to think that the majority of people on the planet got it wrong - particularly when you consider that Christians, Jews and Muslims all worhsip "the God of Abraham".

My freshman year in high school at a Catholic school when we were studying the Bible my religion teacher, a Jesuit priest, taught us that the stories in the first 5 books were an ancient peoples' way of explaining the horrible things that happened to them. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Hannah said...

I'm with you, Jocelyn. I, personally operate under the belief that most of us who worship a god are all worshiping the same God in the way that makes the most sense to us. It seems pretty arrogant to think that the majority of people on the planet got it wrong - particularly when you consider that Christians, Jews and Muslims all worhsip "the God of Abraham".

My freshman year in high school at a Catholic school when we were studying the Bible my religion teacher, a Jesuit priest, taught us that the stories in the first 5 books were an ancient peoples' way of explaining the horrible things that happened to them. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Hannah said...

Sorry for the double post. I'm having computer issued today.

Anonymous said...

1 John 4:13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 17Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 19We love him, because he first loved us. 20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Just thought I would quote the rest of the chapter to say it's hard to use this passage to conclude universalism when it seems to say not everyone loves his brother. If everyone was saved, we wouldn't need the assurance of salvation John gives. If we don't love our brother, John is saying we ought to have doubts about are relationship with god, this leading up to John 5:12 "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life."

Some people DON'T have the sun, and they don't have life. We can be reassured as Christians by our love...or we can be discouraged when we realize we really DON'T love God's people, and therefore DON'T love God...don't have eternal life etc.

Emily said...

Hmm. Not sure why you're getting worked up over this. The quote seems perfectly reasonable to me. I read it as a comment on the inadvisability of judging others based on their outward appearance of faith. Just because Mother Theresa is Mother Theresa doesn't mean she should be held to a different standard than the rest of us. It IS perfectly all right to use her or anyone else as an example.

Jocelyn said...

To be honest, Anonymous, I don't really conclude universalism from the Bible. That verse was a bad example, but whether or not there is scriptural precedent for universalism is pretty irrelevant to me. Like I said, I believe it to be true because it makes sense to me.

Emily - it's not the idea of questioning Mother There's faith that got me particularly worked up. I know it's just an example. But the suggestion that she may have placed more weight on good works than faith is just ridiculous. I find the concept that people who do nothing significant for anyone else ever in their lives, but believe fervently in Jesus Christ, are going to be saved instead of people who work their entire lives for the benefit of humanity to be really (for lack of a better word) retarded.

All this emphasis on faith and salvation takes people's focus away from making a better world for ourselves and each other. I don't understand how people can believe God to be so petty that He would want that.

Plus the whole article (or whatever it is) is just completely incoherent and nuts.

aki said...

"There are people who every day do good things for each other, who reject or have never heard of Christianity. If they are not equal in God's eyes to the people who do believe in Christ, then I want nothing to do with God."

what you wrote right here is the very basis of why my lutheran fioncee and i broke up. i believe being a good person to the world should come above all else. he believed that if i didn't accept jesus christ as my savior, it didn't matter.

tztver said...

Didn't Mother Teresa die in a posh hospital in California instead of being treated in one of her own hospitals?

You know, the poor hospitals.
The ones she wouldn't allow to be equipped with modern facilities cause she preferred to use the donation money to open new missions that would also be poor and ill-equipped.

Forget crisis of faith, I'd go with charlatan.

Dunno who Billy Graham is, but having "No Mother Teresa" attached to your name is something one can take pride in.

Jocelyn said...

I don't know, tztver. I'm open to the possibility of all this being true, but you're going to have to cite your sources.

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