Past Quotes from In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason

July 26 - Aug 2, 2014:

An illuminated letter T he Bible begins with the words:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty,
and darkness was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw that the light was good… (Genesis 1:1–2)

The “Creation Hymn” from the Rig Veda uses some similar images:

Before the creation of this universe,
There was neither being nor not-being,
Neither sky nor the heavens beyond…
There was only water unfathomably deep.
There was neither death nor immortality,
Nor demarcation between night and day,
That One alone breathed in its own bliss,
And by its own power, in spite of the absolute vacuum.
Nothing else was there.
In the beginning there was darkness everywhere,
Enveloping the waters.
All that existed was void and formless.
Then, by the power of thought alone,
That One gave birth to itself.
The first born was the Creative Energy,
The primordial seed of the mind.
It is through this energy that seers,
After long searching in the inmost chambers of their hearts,
Discovered the Supreme Spirit
Which joins the seen with the unseen.
This self-shining Spirit was everywhere,
In and through the universe; above and below it.
Primal seeds were sprouting, mighty forces moving,
Pulsation below, pure energy above.
Who here knows? Who can say for sure?
When it began and from where it came — this creation?…
He who watches everything from the highest heaven,
Only He knows — or perhaps even He does not know![28]

It almost seems as if the Genesis account is a terse summary of the Vedic hymn. Could this, perhaps, be its origin?

28: This is the author's own rendition of the Creation Hymn, compiled from seven different translations from the Sanskrit. The sources of these are: Mahaul R. Copalacharya, The Heart of the Rigveda, pp. 409–418; Johnothan Star, Two Suns Rising, p 4.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Ch. 18, "One Shepherd, one Flock — Approaching Other Religions," pp. 278-279.

August 2 - 9, 2014:
. . .
An illuminated letter A s a man, Jesus was very modest. He said, "By myself I can do nothing." (John 5:30) And when addressed as "Good teacher," he answered, "Why do you call me good? No-one is good - except God alone." (Luke 18:19) But Jesus also embodied the eternal Christ, which Paul defined as "the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor 1:24) In reference to this eternal Christ, Jesus made very exalted claims, but we must remember they were not personal claims, nor anything he took personal pride in or credit for, but statements about the universal Christ through which God created the world, which is the "Word" itself, the very reflection of God in creation. This Christ he talked about always existed, and always will, as that part of the fabric of the universe which is the one and only direct link between people and God, referred to in the Bible as the "only begotten of God." Consequently whenever and wherever people seek God and find Him, whatever race or religion they come from, it is always this Christ which connects them with God. It was in this context that Jesus said,

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes
to the Father except through me."  (John 14:6)

The church has often used this claim to say only followers of Jesus can come to God, and all religions other than Christianity must be invalid. This is denying the universality of Christ, a universality that Paul was very aware of, stating that Christ was the spiritual strength of the children of Israel during the Exodus, over a thousand years before Jesus was even born:

"Our forefathers were all under the cloud and...they all passed
through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the
cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, and
drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the
spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ."
         (1 Cor 10:1-4)

Jesus affirmed this universality by saying "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born I am!" (John 8:58) And he stressed that it was not his historical flesh-and-blood body which mattered, but the spiritual essence of his teaching:

"The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words
I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."  (John 6:63)

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 5, "Jesus' Teachings — Living in the Kingdom of Heaven," pp. 82-83.

August 9 - 16, 2014:

An illuminated letter G od doesn’t follow us into our life apart from Him — He just waits patiently for us. He could, of course, see into our future if he wished, and know the exact moment we would return to Him. But I suspect He doesn’t do that: for one thing, it would be intruding into our freedom, but more importantly, it would rob Him of the joy of being surprised by our return, as the father of the Lost Son was surprised. In this respect God is like a husband who knows where his wife is hiding his birthday present, and could easily find out what it is if he wanted to, but who restrains himself so as not to spoil the shared joy of the surprise on his birthday. Deep down, I feel certain that each time you truly give your love to God, you surprise and delight Him.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 12, "Free Will or Fundamentalism," pp. 201-202.

August 16 -24, 2014:

An illuminated letter W hile this general reading of Genesis and Exodus lines up well with what is known of history and archaeology, certain specific statements do not. For instance, the book of Exodus claims the “sons of Israel” spent 430 years in Egypt, and that they were “about six hundred thousand on the march — all men — not counting their families” and that “people of various sorts joined them in great numbers.” (Ex 12:37–40 JB)[3] This adds up to at least two million people, almost equal to the whole population of ancient Egypt at the time! If there had been such a preponderance of Jewish slaves in Egypt, there would certainly have been extensive mention of them in the numerous and detailed written records the Egyptians left. Yet there is no mention at all of the children of Israel in Egypt. Also, if that many people, and their “flocks…and herds in immense droves” (Ex 12:38 JB), had spent forty years wandering in the deserts of the Sinai, there would be archaeological evidence of their journey in abundance. This is an area where the extremely dry climate has preserved tiny traces of 6,000-year-old Bedouin winter camps, including flint tools and arrow heads, and ash and bones.[4] Two million people would have meant a caravan 600 miles long, yet there is no trace of the Exodus left in the desert.[5]

The Bible’s statement of the size of the Exodus is not only challenged by lack of historical records and archaeological evidence, it is also brought into question by the Exodus story itself. On the basis of the story that the fall into slavery occurred not that long after Joseph died, “under a new king who did not know about Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), we can reasonably (though not certainly) estimate the length of the Israelites’ stay in Egypt to be just a few generations. Even assuming, as there is some scholarly basis for doing, that they were there eight generations,[6] and that their numbers doubled each generation, the seventy or so descendants of Jacob who entered Egypt could only have grown to twenty thousand, at most, by the time of the Exodus. Another suggestion is that there were really just six hundred men and their families, not six hundred thousand. This would have meant about five or six thousand people, about what the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived in Egypt, would have held.[7]

However, even if the numbers the Bible states are wrong, this is not to say the rest of the story is fictional, and the Israelites never were in Egypt — the intimate knowledge of Egypt revealed in the book of Exodus makes it virtually certain that some of the Israelites, at least, spent time there.[8] This is a Jewish history of the origin of their nation and their relationship with God, written many centuries later, and it seems likely that the number of people involved in the Exodus was exaggerated to mythical proportions to emphasize the vital importance to them of the event, and of the original tribes involved in it.[9] This sort of emphasis on the spirit of the truth about an event, at the expense of its letter, is a trend right through the Bible, and has to be taken into account if the Bible is to be properly understood.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 2, "Ancient Israel, the seeds of Christianity" pp. 21-22.

August 24 -31, 2014:

An illuminated letter A “Alas!” Emperor Vespasian, destroyer of Judaea, jested on his death bed, “I think I am turning into a god.”[1] It had long been supposed that Roman emperors became gods when they died, but later Roman emperors, starting with Aurelian, took the inevitable further step of declaring themselves gods while they were still alive. The emperor Diocletian, for instance, went to considerable lengths to use his “divinity” to impose order on his unruly empire. He split his empire into two halves, each under an emperor, and further subdivided it into administrative dioecese, named after himself, governed by officials called vicarii. Diocletian outlawed Christianity, and ordered its clergy to submit to the imperial cult, its churches to be shut, and its sacred books to be destroyed. He was the god, a personification and emanation of the chief god of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter.[2] His palace included a vast hall designed for his subjects to worship him in. Subsequently, churches and cathedrals were modelled on this hall of worship, with its rows of Roman arches high on Corinthian columns leading to a facade based on a triumphal arch. Diocletian sat on a throne underneath the semi-circular triumphal arch, where the Bible on its altar was later placed; the silks and gold, pearls and precious stones which decked out the emperor, were later used to cover and decorate imperial altar Bibles. Incense was censed around the throne.[3]

Despite the grandeur, Diocletian wasn’t a very convincing god. He abdicated as emperor well before he died, after suffering a kind of nervous breakdown, and went back to his palace in the country to grow vegetables.[4] In a letter to his friend and former co-emperor Maximian, who had tried to draw him into leadership again to help establish his son in the succession to the imperial throne, Diocletian said that if he could only see the splendid cabbages he had planted in the palace gardens with his own hands, he would no longer urge him to give up his enjoyment of happiness for the pursuit of power.[5] At the same time he continued to hold court as a god. But a god growing cabbages as a hobby can’t have been very convincing.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 7, "The Church Becomes Mistress of the State" pp. 105-106.

August 31 - September 7, 2014

An illuminated letter t wo years later, however, only a few months after the Council of Nicaea, where he helped lay down the guidelines for a united imperial Christianity, Constantine went on a killing spree. He put Licinius to death on a charge of treasonable intrigue, then went on to kill his own son Crispus, who had ably and loyally served him as a general, and the younger Licinius, his sister’s son, who was, at the most, twelve years old. Next he put to death his wife Fausta, reputedly by boiling her alive in her own bath, and went on to kill a number of his friends.[14] By determination, ruthlessness, and military genius, Constantine had made himself the most powerful man in the world, but he was obviously anxious about his grip on power, and prepared to do anything to ensure it. His giant ego is testified to by the colossal statue he had made of himself in Rome. Judging by the huge marble head, the entire statue must have been at least fifty feet tall. An even greater monument to himself was the city of Constantinople, which was extravagantly adorned at the expense of a looted empire. Constantine was certainly no humble follower of Jesus — there were other reasons for his courting of Christianity. Almost immediately after uniting the empire under himself, Constantine had convened the first general council of the Christian church at Nicaea. Having seen human “gods” like Diocletian fail as a binding force for the empire, and noting the wide appeal of Christianity, and the futility of Diocletian’s attempts to persecute it, Constantine was determined to use Christianity as the “glue” to hold his empire together. At this council of Nicaea (in 325 A.D.) the precise nature of Christian faith was negotiated, and its relationship to Constantine and his successors established.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 7, "The Church Becomes Mistress of the State" p. 110.

September 7 to September 14:

An illuminated letter t he most important results of the Council of Nicaea were twenty statements containing rules of behavior for clergy, and the famous creed of faith known ever since as the Nicene Creed. Here is an early form of it from Rome at about 340 A.D.:

I believe in God almighty.
And in Christ Jesus, his only son, our Lord
Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried,
And the third day rose from the dead
Who ascended into heaven
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father
Whence he cometh to judge the living and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost
The holy church
The remission of sins
The resurrection of the flesh
The life everlasting.[17]

Most Christians, even today, see it as being profoundly true and beautiful. It is, however, a limited statement, as notable for what it doesn’t say, as for what it does. It is far from being a balanced statement of Christian belief, let alone a comprehensive one.

Missing from the Nicene Creed is any reference at all to Jesus’ teachings, especially his all-important teachings on the kingdom of heaven. Missing is any suggestion that we can all, individually, come into God’s presence in prayer, and know Him during this life. Missing is Jesus’ teaching that you can’t serve both God and worldly ambition. The very practical basis of the spiritual life, which Jesus taught, is totally missing from this creed. This was, of course, necessary for the creed to be acceptable to Constantine, who was a worldly and ambitious man, and who didn’t want Christianity to be a practical teaching which could guide people’s lives, but rather a romantic, other-worldly faith. Constantine wanted to be the absolute ruler on earth, and have God far away in heaven, fully accessible only after death, and in the meanwhile only in a limited way through an hierarchy of priests and bishops. And most bishops wanted the same thing as Constantine, because they were a part of the power structure which was emerging. Any suggestion that people could attain salvation directly from God, without the help of the church as an intermediary, would undermine their importance, privilege and power. So the bishops forgot Jesus’ teachings, and were willing collaborators with Constantine in molding Christianity into an instrument to serve the ambitions of the power hungry.
The church took over the forms of worship created by Diocletian for himself, and Sunday, the day of the god Sol Invictus, became confirmed as the official day of worship at the expense of Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. The date and form of the celebration of Christmas were also adopted from the cult of Sol Invictus. Up until the middle of the fourth century Christ’s birthday was observed, though not much celebrated, on Epiphany, the 6th of January. On the 25th of December pagan celebrations were held in honor of Sol Invictus. A day or two after the winter solstice, when the sun’s warmth had waned to a minimum, and had just begun to grow again, the rebirth of the sun’s power was celebrated, accompanied by a profusion of lights and torches, the decoration of branches and small trees, and the giving of gifts. So popular was this festival, that even after being converted to Christianity, Romans continued to celebrate it. The Church Fathers of the fourth century saw this as a danger, so they shifted the celebration of the birth of Christ to that day, and informed the people that from then on it would be held in honor of the true Sun God, who had created the world and everything in it.[19]

In this new packaging of Christianity for the Roman Empire, Jesus was reduced to a figurehead, a mere sacrificial lamb of the past, and his reforms were reversed and his teachings ignored.
Diocletian may have fed a few individual Christians to the lions, but Constantine, with the cooperation of the bishops, threw Christianity itself to the lions of the decaying Roman Empire, and put the dismembered pieces back together into an instrument of conquest and control which bore little resemblance to the gentle, visionary, peace-loving Jesus. This was a syncretism which surpassed even Aurelian’s creation of Deus Sol Invictus. The metamorphosis of the church into a monster passed the point of no return at Nicaea. The medieval Christian church was born.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 7, "The Church Becomes Mistress of the State" pp. 111-114.

September 14 to September 21:

An illuminated letter t heodora was the second of three daughters of a bear-keeper at the hippodrome. She was sent into child prostitution and on to the stage by her widowed mother to help keep the family, and, as she grew up, her beauty, intelligence and wit soon charmed and scandalized Constantinople. She became famous for the follies of her entertainment, the boldness of her manner, and the large number of her lovers. Later she served as a concubine to the governor of Africa. After this, however, she returned to Constantinople, determined to better herself. She earned a quiet living spinning wool, and set herself the incredible goal of becoming empress. Amazingly, she captured the attention of Justinian, then heir to the throne and effective ruler of the empire, became his mistress, and soon had him charmed and in love. To please Justinian, the emperor conferred on Theodora the high title of Patrician, and then, to allow a marriage to take place, abrogated the law by which alliances between senators or high officials and actresses were forbidden. Justinian married Theodora shortly before he ascended the throne, and Theodora was crowned with him on Easter day (in 527 A.D.). When Justinian became emperor later in the year, on the death of his uncle, he made Theodora an independent and equal co-ruler, to the point of inserting her name with his own in the oath of allegiance taken by provincial governors.

Justinian’s harsh and corrupt administration led within five years to a dangerous uprising against his rule called the Nika Riot. Fires raged in Constantinople while Justinian shut himself up in his palace in despair, panicked, and thought to save himself by fleeing from the capital. At this point, when Justinian had ordered the imperial treasure to be loaded into ships, Theodora took charge. She rose in the council and said, “When safety only remains in flight still I will not flee. Those who have worn the crown should not survive its fall. I will never live to see the day when I shall no longer be saluted as Empress. Flee if you wish, Caesar; you have money, the ships await you, the sea is unguarded. As for me, I stay. I hold with the old proverb which says that the purple is a good winding sheet.”[5] This display of courage and leadership roused the generals to stand and fight for the capital. A frightful battle ensued, in which a crowd of at least 30,000 rioters in the hippodrome were killed. Order was restored, and Justinian returned to an even more absolute rule than before, but it was Theodora who had achieved it.
After Theodora died (in 548), Justinian’s position hardened even further; he became very intent on establishing the theological position favored by his late wife. The fight between the pope and Justinian heated up, and when the pope sent an encyclical letter to all Christians portraying his side of the argument, Justinian responded by ordering his arrest. The pope took refuge in a church, and clung to the columns of the altar to prevent the arresting officers from carrying him away. In the scuffle the altar was actually pulled over! At this the officials withdrew in disarray and the people rescued the pope.

The standoff continued until Justinian convoked the Second Council of Constantinople (of 553), to resolve the issue. When equal representation of Western and Eastern bishops was not allowed, the pope boycotted the council, suspecting, along with most Western bishops, that it would be used to weaken the stated faith of Chalcedon in the interests of political unity. He decided to submit his judgment in writing instead.
The council condemned the Nestorian writings [that the pope had supported, and] ...also pronounced anathemas against Origenism. Justinian had previously condemned Origen, in a letter, accusing him of believing in metempsychosis (reincarnation), and saying “Whoever teaches the fantastic pre-existence of the soul, and its monstrous restoration shall be damned.”
Just why Justinian should have objected to Origen, and in particular to his belief in reincarnation, is not clear. It could well be, as with his stand against Nestorianism, a case of him fighting for Theodora’s theological beliefs. In support of this is a claim that Theodora didn’t like the concept of reincarnation, as she felt that under it she would have to return in another life to pay the price for the immorality of her youth, and the cruelty to the many people she had ordered killed, and that she consequently set about having it abolished.[7]

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 8, "Doctrinal Bickering: Preparing the Way for Islam" pp. 118-121.

October 25 to November 7, 2014

An illuminated letter A nother quite astounding, but little heard of, consequence of this doctrinal bickering in the sixth century [within Christianity], was that it paved the way for the rise of Islam, which has ever since been the Christian world’s greatest enemy, and fiercest competitor. The western Arabs in Syria had long been Monophysite Christians, and as such had been greatly persecuted by those favoring a dual-nature Christology, including Justinian himself, before he met Theodora. Mundhir, a late sixth century leader of the Syrian Arabs, like his father before him, proudly protected the Arab Christians from the Persian Arabs, who were pagans. He twice defeated the Persians, who were also the enemies of Constantinople and the Christian Empire, breaking their power. Conscious of the service he had rendered Constantinople, Mundhir wrote to one of Justinian’s successors asking for money to pay his tribes for their military service. Not only did he receive back an insulting refusal from the emperor, but by mistake he also received a letter intended for the imperial commander, who had also been fighting the Persians, ordering him to invite Mundhir to a conference and kill him! Not surprisingly, this treachery caused Mundhir to withdraw his support, and this in turn allowed the Persians to regain their strength, regroup, and defeat the weak Greek forces. Mundhir was not, however, about to allow the Persians to plunder Christian Syria, so he once again fought on the side of the Greeks, and achieved a great victory over the Persians. This time he brought home huge amounts of booty, and was finally able to handsomely reward the tribes the emperor had refused to supply money to pay. After this Mundhir did his best to heal the rift in Christianity which kept his countrymen fighting each other, and had long been a cause of their persecution by the Greeks. He traveled to Constantinople (in 580 A.D.) to plead with the emperor to put a stop to the theological disputes which were ruining Arab Christianity, and to beg for tolerance of the Monophysite position. The emperor received him with honor, pledged his support, and called the disputing bishops together, getting them to agree to live in peace with each other. Unfortunately the disputing factions did not keep their promises, and were soon persecuting each other again.

Consideration of the political and military machinations of church leaders in those days shows why “bishops” are among the title pieces in the game of chess, along with knights, castles, kings and queens. Mundhir’s appeal to the emperor obviously created resentment amongst some of the bishops, for the upshot of it was that a plot was laid against him. A false friend asked him to visit him to discuss a religious matter, and while Mundhir was away from his guards, accused him of treachery, seized him, and sent him in chains to Constantinople. He ended up in permanent forced exile in Sicily. This outrage, on top of all the persecution they had received from the empire, greatly angered the Arab Christians, and this anger soon hardened into an implacable hatred of the Greeks. From this time on the Syrian Arabs joined forces with the Persians, their former enemies, and the supremacy of the Christian Arabs ended. Although Christianity persisted amongst them, it became less popular, as it was seen to be associated with their loathsome enemies, the Greeks. This end of the predominance of Christianity amongst the Arabs, and their seeking instead unity amongst themselves, was a direct consequence of the treachery and intolerance of the Imperial Christian Church. The church would pay dearly for this treachery, and for its long history of shameful treatment of Arab Christians: Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was just at this time approaching manhood.[10]

Within two centuries Muhammad’s powerful and united Islamic empire would advance as far as France, and threaten the very existence of Christian Europe. Constantinople itself, the capital of the early Christian empire, later fell to the Muslims, and remains Islamic to this day, as the city of Istanbul. Justinian’s exquisitely beautiful church of Haghia Sophia, in this city, has been a Muslim Mosque since the fifteenth century. If the sixth century Christian establishment had been able to be even reasonably tolerant of Monophysite Christianity, and had been able to avoid even just the grossest of their treachery, then Muhammad would not have had fertile ground in which to plant his new religion, which was, in the beginning, only very reluctantly accepted by the Arabs, and it is highly likely the Arab world would be Christian today. Instead, the policy of the Imperial Christians was, in the words of one modern scholar, “as foolish as it was wicked. Henceforth they stood for tyranny and injustice in the eyes of the Arabs, and through them Christianity was associated with perfidy.”[11] [And, quite clearly, this view of the Christian West by the Arab world persists in many places to the present day!]

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 8, "Doctrinal Bickering: Preparing the Way for Islam" pp. 121-124.

November 7 to November 17, 2014

An illuminated letter A fter Augustine, the church weathered the dark ages in Europe, while the Goths, Vandals, Vikings and other marauders laid waste to the former Roman Empire and caused it to revert to feudalism. The beginning of a dawn after this long night of wars, feudalism and illiteracy, was the rise to power of Charlemagne, whom the pope crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor — emperor of the West — on Christmas Day 800 A.D. As the marauders settled down in their new lands, and the advance of the Islamic empire was finally halted by the military genius of Charles Martel, Charlemagne’s grandfather, at the battle of Tours, eventually the stage was set where Charlemagne was able to inherit a large kingdom, extend it, and rule it in a stable and enlightened way.[9] The papacy of the time, a refuge of culture, found a strong supporter in Charlemagne. Most of Charlemagne’s nobles were illiterate, as was the pattern in that brutal age, but Charlemagne himself valued learning highly, and wanted to educate his realm. He founded public schools in which, for the first time in centuries, learning and literacy were cherished. Anyone, even a peasant, who wanted to learn could attend these schools. He also established scriptoria, where Bibles and other books were copied and decorated. At the start of Charlemagne’s reign there were not enough books in the whole of Western Europe to fill a modern local library, but this began to change. The beginnings of modern free education can be traced back to Charlemagne’s schools, and a new sense of the worth of people arose, irrespective of their station in life, and in this can be seen the seeds of modern democracy.[10]

Although the Papacy had been a shelter for culture, the only place where a strong literary tradition had been preserved was in certain Irish monasteries. Only in them was Greek still taught. Charlemagne’s minister, Alcuin, who was given the major literary task of overseeing the revision and copying of the Latin Vulgate Bible, was an Englishman educated in Ireland. By this time Irish monks had been to Egypt and measured the pyramids, which they called “the granaries of St Joseph,” and in their written account of the journey they cited more than thirty classical authors. Irish scholars in that age were known to travel a lot, and one of the reasons was the presence of Danish longboats sailing the north seas, plundering the area, and often making even those in monasteries feel unsettled:

Bitter and wild is the wind tonight
Tossing the tresses of the sea to white.
On such a night as this I feel at ease
Fierce Northmen only course the quiet seas.[11]

At around this time, it is said two Irish monks landed at a French seaport and went into the streets offering knowledge for sale. They were quickly taken to Charlemagne, who for a time kept them at his court and set them to work as teachers. After a while Charlemagne sent one to Italy to collect books and manuscripts, while retaining the other to help establish his first public school.[12]

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 9, "Power Games of the Western Church" pp. 131-133.

November 17 to December 8, 2014

An illuminated letter T The Holy Inquisition was a special court with power to judge intentions as well as actions. It consisted of one very powerful official called an inquisitor, who was prosecutor, judge and jury all in one, and a number of other officials including delegates, who handled preliminary investigations and formalities, familiars, who were guards, prison visitors and secret agents, and notaries, who carefully collected evidence, and filed it for future use. Mere suspicion was enough to be summoned to appear before the Inquisition, so those being tried were classified as lightly suspect, vehemently suspect, or violently suspect. The web was carefully woven to trap suspects, and it was often simpler for people to confess than to try to defend themselves. Typically, an inquisitor would suddenly arrive in a town and deliver a sermon to the people calling for reports of anyone who might be suspected of heresy, and for all who felt heresy within themselves to come forward and confess within a period of grace. When this “general inquisition” was over, the “special inquisition” began with summonses to suspected heretics, who were then imprisoned until trial.

The proceedings of the trial were not public, usually only the general nature of the charges was revealed, and evidence from two witnesses, even if they were of the most questionable character, was enough to bring a conviction. Suspects could not obtain defense lawyers, as lawyers quickly discovered that defending a suspected heretic could result in them being summoned for heresy themselves. Trials often continued for years, while the suspects languished in prison. Torture was often used to secure repentance, and though it could not be repeated, it could be continued. Torture of children and old people had to be relatively light, but only pregnant women were exempt, and then only until after the delivery. There were three levels, or degrees, of torture. In the first degree a lot of people got through without confessing. In the second degree nearly everyone confessed, as the torture was monstrous. In the third degree of torture, if they didn’t die in the process, everyone ended up confessing. This is where the expression of giving someone the “third degree” comes from. The penance required following confession was light for some heretics, but for others, the “unreconciled,” who were classified as insubordinate, impenitent or relapsed, the fate was far worse. The first two categories could still save themselves from the flames by confessing, and secure a lesser punishment, but for the “relapsed,” along with those found to be witches, there was only one possible punishment: being burned at the stake. The Inquisition handed offenders over to the secular authorities for burning, as canon law prevented the church from shedding blood.[19]

Three main categories of people were targeted by the Inquisition during its centuries-long reign of terror. The original targets were religious heretics. These included groups such as the Cathars and Waldensians.
. . .
The second category of people persecuted by the Inquisition were scientists. The burning of Bruno at the stake, and the famous trial of Galileo, are amongst the most remembered acts of the Inquisition. The scientific community has, quite rightly, never allowed the church to forget its persecution of scientists and its obstruction of scientific progress. The church stuck obstinately to the world view of Aristotle which it had adopted through Thomas Aquinas. In its pride it thought it should be able to dictate the nature of the truth about God’s universe. It never had the modesty and discernment to see that Aristotle’s cosmology, useful though it was, should have been seen merely as a starting point, which scientists could modify and add to in the process of discovering the way God’s universe actually works. The church alienated large numbers of educated people through its obstruction of science, and is still, to some extent, doing so today.

So successful has been the scientific community’s highlighting of the atrocities it suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, that it is easy to form the impression that this was the main evil of this barbaric institution. This is far from being the truth, though. The third, and by far the largest, group of people to suffer under the Inquisition were women. Only now, in the late twentieth century, are historians coming to realize the extent of the holocaust perpetrated by the church through the Inquisition and Protestant courts. Some have estimated that as many as nine million people were tortured and executed for witchcraft, over three centuries, and that eighty-five percent of them were women.[22] Others claim the figure should be much lower, on the basis that only about 200,000 people in western Europe between 1450 and 1700 were killed as a result of formal investigations that we know about.[23] Considering, however, that only a minority of the people persecuted as witches were formally tried,[24] accurate records were often not kept,[25] and that over the centuries many, if not most, of the records of trials and executions are likely to have been lost, it is reasonable to suppose that the 200,000 documented cases are just the tip of the iceberg, and that the real figure must run into the millions. Both the Inquisition and the Protestant churches were guilty of this slaughter — in fact the Protestant church in Germany was the most vehement burner of witches, and persisted for the longest in doing so.[26] Both Luther and Calvin fully supported the burning of witches,[27] and just about everywhere their Protestant theology spread, this hideous practice went with it.[28] Any woman who claimed a degree of independence or influence, or who was at all unusual or mysterious, was in danger of being declared a witch, and the punishment for being a witch was to be burned to death at the stake.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 9, "Power Games of the Western Church" pp. 136-138, 140-142.

December 8 to January 30, 2015

An illuminated letter E ver since Frederick II, European princes had dreamed of extricating themselves from the sway of Rome, and recovering the great wealth the church had accumulated in their lands. Now they began to feel confident about doing so. The church was corrupt enough, confused enough, and had alienated enough of its support, to open it up to a successful attack.

In Germany the attack gathered around an ex-monk called Martin Luther. Luther provided the theological justification for breaking with Rome; the princes took advantage of this by supporting him, and making sure Hus’s fate didn’t befall him; the printing presses did the rest. In many European countries, and in England, the church split from Rome and was brought under the control of secular government. In each case there was some genuine reform of the way religion was practiced, as this was required as a justification for the split. Apart from this, though, the reform of the church during the Reformation was quite limited; only the most blatant corruptions were addressed. The basic worldliness of the church, as revealed in its doctrines from Augustine to Aquinas, remained unchanged in the new Protestant churches. One of the major problems was that both Luther and Calvin still believed in the predestination of a fixed elect, and all this entails. Bound up with predestination is the doctrine of man’s lack of free will, and inherent helplessness. As pointed out by Pelagius in Augustine’s time, this doctrine leads to moral weakness and is destructive of human responsibility. Consequently, the major Protestant churches introduced very few changes in belief on how people should behave toward each other; if anything their attitude was even more self-centered and selfish than that promoted by the Catholic church, as salvation was seen as being by “faith alone,” and the value of good works was discounted. Nor was there any real spiritual renewal. Protestants saw the spirit as being directed through the Bible, rather than through the pope and bishops. There was even less scope in Protestantism than in Catholicism for direct personal experience of God.

The similarity of the position and methods of the Protestants and Catholics is shown by their joint reaction to the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptists believed the Christian’s relationship with Christ must go beyond inner experience and acceptance of doctrines, and must involve a daily walk with God, where Jesus’ teachings and example shape a transformed life. They believed the principle of love should guide their lives in a practical way. As a result, they were pacifists in dealing with their persecutors, rather like Gandhi and Martin Luther King in modern times, and would not take part in coercion by the state. As in the church of the book of Acts, they helped each other, and redistributed wealth within their own communities. Decisions were made by the entire membership on a consensus basis. Separation of church and state was called for. They considered Christians to be “free, unforced, uncompelled people,” that faith is the free gift of God, and that authorities exceed their competence when they “champion the Word of God with a fist.” The Anabaptists believed the church to be distinct from society, even a so-called Christian society. These beliefs alarmed the established leaders of Protestant and Catholic Europe alike. Protestants were additionally concerned that the Anabaptist’s emphasis on life as well as belief was a challenge to the basic Reformation principle of salvation by “faith alone.” The Anabaptists protested that their ethical teachings were not a means of gaining salvation, but rather a necessary expression of the new life in Christ which resulted from it. Their protests were in vain, though, which is not surprising, as they served to point out the bankruptcy of the standard Protestant position, and this merely made the Protestants hostile. The Reformers determined to use all necessary means to root out Anabaptism. The Catholic authorities took the same line. Both Catholics and Protestants considered the Anabaptists dangerous heretics who threatened the religious and social stability of Christian Europe. Over the next twenty-five years thousands of Anabaptists were put to death, by burning in Catholic areas, and by drowning or the sword under Protestant regimes. Many more Anabaptists were forced to recant. Remnants of the Anabaptists survive today as certain groups of European “brethren,” the Hutterites and the Mennonites. In order to survive, these groups shed many of their Anabaptist characteristics, and became legalistic and isolationist. With the safety of recent times, though, the Mennonites are experiencing revival, and their numbers have more than trebled to nearly a million over the last forty years. It will be interesting to see if they can play a significant role in the transformation of the church in our time.[5]

The basic lack of change in Protestantism is reflected in the fact that the same bad old fruits kept being produced by the new churches. The way the Anabaptists were treated is just one example of this. Another is that the burning of witches went on just as relentlessly in Protestant areas as it did under the Catholic Inquisition. Indeed, as we have seen, the competition between Protestants and Catholics resulting from the Reformation led to a renewal of intensity of witch burning on both sides, when it had looked like it might otherwise have died out.[6] The real reform, a return to Jesus’ teachings of toleration, love and living in “the Kingdom of Heaven,” quite simply just didn’t take place in the main-stream Protestant Reformation, or in the Catholic Counter Reformation. And, arguably, genuine reform couldn’t yet take place, as the conditions in Europe were still so superstitious and brutal. But at least the break-up of the church started to bring it under the control of governments. Eventually, as governments became more democratic and enlightened, this would cause the church’s more barbaric excesses to be curbed. Within two hundred years the witch burnings ceased, and the time finally arrived when scientists were able to get on with their work without living in fear of their lives.

Although the Reformation was politically significant, in starting the process of bringing the church under secular control, it was very much a non-event in spiritual terms. Perhaps the biggest single misapprehension holding the Protestant church back in our time, is the notion that it has already gone through all the major reform it needs, in the Reformation, and that all it needs to do now is get around and “witness” to as many people as possible, and tell them how wonderful it is. Most of the reform the church needs, both Catholic and Protestant, is yet to come, and their witness will be unimpressive until after this real reform takes place.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 10, "The Church is Brought Under Control" pp. 156-159.

January 30 to February 14, 2015

An illuminated letter F undamentalism usually attracts the Christian spotlight, with its high political profile and tele-evangelists, but for every fundamentalist in the church there is also another caring, loving, tolerant Christian with a more liberal outlook. By and large this liberal outlook is reflected in the World Council of Churches. In this liberal Christianity, the separation of church and state is accepted, and energy is not spent trying to reverse it. Instead there is a concentration on helping the poor and dispossessed, properly caring for the world God entrusted to us, and trying to find common ground between believers of different denominations and faiths. Unfortunately, the historical problems of church and society have often caused these liberals to react to more conservative religion by being very rationalistic, often to the point of not believing in the miraculous, or the power of the Spirit in individual lives. At the same time Pentecostal Christians, with their personal faith in the saving power of the Spirit, often lean toward fundamentalism. This is the strange dilemma of modern Christianity, and it is tearing it apart. If only the concern for spirituality of the Pentecostal movement could be combined with the social concern, love and tolerance of the liberals, then Christianity could really begin to meet the needs of spiritual seekers in our society. I believe the tacit acceptance of many false doctrines and attitudes from the medieval church is preventing such a joining of the best with the best in the church. A cleansing must take place first, before healing is possible. Then the conservatives will be able to see that much that is traditional in the church is actually holding it back, and the liberals will be able to see that the corrupt and the miraculous aren’t at all just one package, and can be separated. Until this cleansing takes place, the church in western countries will continue to stagnate, because it will keep on failing to meet the needs of discriminating people, and will keep on leading more emotional people down a path of selfishness.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 10, "The Church is Brought Under Control" pp. 165-166.

February 14 to March 15, 2015

An illuminated letter I

n looking to purge itself of the corruption and worldliness of its past, the church’s greatest asset will be the Bible. Many critics of Christianity have assumed the flaws of the church are a reflection of flaws in the Bible. They have made the mistake of assuming Christianity is, as it claims to be, squarely based on the Bible. Christianity has, in fact, nearly always been out of step with its own Scriptures in important ways. In particular, it has never really understood the teachings of Jesus. This is, of course, deplorable, but looked at in another way, it is also a great blessing: it means the church has the Bible there to be its guide during any process of renewal it may undertake. If the church can bring itself into step with what its own Scriptures really are saying, rather than with what it imagines they are saying, then it can be transformed.

It is not always easy to interpret the Bible consistently and reasonably — to lift truth and wisdom from its pages. Nor is it, for many people, easy to be convinced that the highest truth is even to be consistently found in it, and that it is not full of errors, or punctuated by vital omissions. In attempting to assess the integrity of the Bible, we first have to be clear about what the Bible really is. There is no use in pretending it is something which it is not. What has emerged from our look into Ancient Judaism is that the Bible is not a complete or reliable history. What has also emerged, though, is that it was never primarily intended to be history. In the Bible, religious truths take precedence over historical facts, and it is reasonable that they should.[1] An historical novelist is not criticized for embellishing the facts of history if it enables the author to better convey the mood and feel of the story. Nor should the Bible authors be criticized for historical embellishments or inaccuracies, even though much of it is loosely based on Jewish history. Attempts to portray the Bible as accurate history are bound to fail, and bring it into unnecessary disrepute when it conflicts with archaeological and historical evidence.

It may be interesting to try and match the Bible with history, in order to determine the sorts of ways in which it is, and isn’t, historically reliable. This knowledge makes the Bible a more useful historical source document than it would otherwise be. The Bible’s authority, however, is not undermined by its shortcomings as history; it is a collection of spiritual books, written for a spiritual purpose, and its authority can only be judged by its spiritual integrity and power. Likewise, the Bible can’t be taken as being scientifically authoritative, although it is remarkable how much sound science it contains, considering the scientific illiteracy of the ancient world.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 11, "Confidence in the Bible" pp. 171-172.

March 15 to April 4, 2015

An illuminated letter I

n recent years, much attention has been given to the “Gnostic gospels” found among the texts unearthed at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. They challenge Christianity with a number of concepts the orthodox consider heretical. Yet many of these concepts are present in the canonical New Testament as well, though perhaps not so prominently. Take the concept of gnosis itself: it means knowing through observation or experience, and the Gnostics claimed people could know God through deep inner intuitive experience.[18] Orthodox Christianity through the ages may not have liked this idea, nevertheless Jesus and Paul both taught it, and the record of these teachings is in the Bible. Jesus said,

“The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will the people say, Here is is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20–21)
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16–17)
Paul wrote:
…God…made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:6) And the “knowledge” mentioned is the word gnosis in the Greek.
Another Gnostic concept long repugnant to orthodox Christianity was that they possessed a secret teaching, consisting of the same mysteries Jesus shared with his disciples but didn’t reveal to outsiders. That Jesus had such teachings is clear from Mark’s gospel:
“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:11)
That Paul was also in possession of secret teachings not to be revealed to all, is equally clear:
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Cor 2:6–7)
Gnostics also claimed that following the crucifixion Christ continued to reveal himself to some disciples, giving them, through visions, new knowledge of divine mysteries.[19] Though orthodox Christianity denied this, Paul himself described such an experience. So as not to boast too much about himself (2 Cor 12–5), Paul put the experience into the third person, but there seems little doubt he is referring to himself. But even if he isn’t, he still clearly approves of the vision. He said,
I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know — God knows. And I know that this man…was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. (2 Cor 12:2–4)
Many orthodox Biblical scholars, from Rudolph Bultmann onward, have insisted Paul does not mean what he says in this passage, and argue that Paul does not claim to have a secret tradition. Apparently such a claim would make Paul sound too “gnostic.” Professor Robin Scroggs and Elaine Pagels take the opposite view, pointing out, as I just have, that Paul clearly does say he has secret wisdom (1 Cor 2:6–7). Gnostic Christians in the early church also knew this...

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 11, "Confidence in the Bible" pp. 180-182.

April 4 to August 4, 2015

An illuminated letter A

Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.”
      Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
      He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
The woman came up and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
      He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
      “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
      Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”
      And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matt 15:21–28)
What are we to make of Jesus’ response in this incident? To call people dogs is a highly offensive insult in the East. Could Jesus really have insulted this poor woman who had asked for his help, knowing she would take it without a word, in return for the mere chance of him healing her daughter? It seems a cruel and demeaning thing for him to have done. The answer to this dilemma is, however, not in any shortcoming of Jesus’ character, but in our own preconceived notions about his character. We never think of Jesus having a sense of humor, or of him being quite so human as to make a joke at his disciples’ expense as a gentle way of correcting their poor behavior. Yet if we look at this passage with the possibility that Jesus is “taking the Mickey out of” his disciples for snubbing this poor woman so cruelly, and doing it in such a way as to show the woman he rejects the snub, and is siding with her, then we can see Jesus responding in the kindest possible way. Jesus can’t seriously be saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” as this directly contradicts his saying, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.” (John 10:16). Jesus is actually being facetious, saying, “So, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel!” in order to point out to his disciples both their error and his disapproval of their snub. When the woman came and knelt at his feet, Jesus would have exchanged a look with her which said something like, “We know what they are thinking!” He then spelt out what their thoughts were: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs!” With a quick wit, the woman replied in like humor, though very humbly and poignantly: “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” By this time, I think the disciples would have been thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Jesus, having made this woman feel good about her request, of course went on to heal her daughter. Read in this light, the story becomes one of the most touching illustrations of Jesus’ kindness and understanding. Once this story is understood for what it is, it can of course be better translated: no Bible I have seen has it right.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 11, "Confidence in the Bible" pp. 191-193.

Quote of the Month May 2016:

An illuminated letter T he whole drama of creation emerges from God making us in His image and giving us free will, so we can choose between the fascination of the material universe He gave us, and the bliss of being with Him. God’s greatest joy comes when we choose Him, for there is only one thing He lacks, and only one thing we can give Him — our love. For God to find real joy in having the creatures He created choose to love Him, it has to be a real choice, free and uncoerced, with the alternative being attractive in its own right. God doesn’t want us to choose Him by default, which we would do if the physical universe were a totally unattractive place. God provides us with a world with many good things in it, in much the same way as parents provide books, musical instruments, toys, and other good things for their children. Parents are content to let children be amused by these things in their leisure time, if that is their wish, but gain their greatest joy in parenthood when a child comes and says, “I like my train set, but right now I really just want to be with you.” Parents all hope their children will want them more than the play things they have provided them with. And God, our heavenly Father — the ultimate parent — is just the same: He’ll never ask for it, nor coerce us into it, but when we come to Him and say, “Thank you for this wonderful world you put me in, but these days, whenever I see its beauty, it just reminds me of You, and I long to be with You,” we melt His heart. And when we prove we mean this, by patiently sitting there, meditating, waiting on Him, loving Him with all our heart by not wanting anything else nearly so much, loving Him with all our soul by identifying with Him only, loving Him with all our strength by directing all our attention to Him, and loving Him with all our mind by not thinking of anything else, then He will come to us as a deep peace and a great joy that will float us away to paradise.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9 (Isaiah 64:4))

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 12, "Free Will or Fundamentalism" pp. 199-200.

Quote of the Month June 2016:

An illuminated letter These fundamentalists want to take away the freedom of choice God gave human beings, and force their own children, at least, and everyone, if possible, to do things their way. This is totally against the true spirit of Christianity. Jesus never suggested his teachings should be made compulsory by giving them legal sanction, and punishing those who disobey them. On the contrary, he told us to keep the state and the things of God separate, when he said,

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt 22:21)
Jesus also said we should not interfere in judgment, because it is not our place. In the Parable of the Weeds, the man who had planted the good seed didn’t allow his servants to pull out the weeds the enemy had sown amongst the crop. His reason was:
“‘…while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.’” (Matt 13:29–30)
And Jesus’ example, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3–11), and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4–42), was not to punish moral offenders, nor even to judge them, but rather to treat them with the respect and dignity all deserve. Paul was also clearly opposed to the church interfering in society. He said,
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? (1 Cor 5:12)

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 12, "Free Will or Fundamentalism" p. 204.

Quote of the Month July 2016:

An illuminated letter The main way fundamentalist and other churches get wealthy is through tithing. In ancient Israel, those who could afford it gave one tenth of their income to the Levites for the support of this priestly tribe of men who served God and had no other source of income, and for them, in turn, to look after the poor (Dt 26:12). In addition to being an income for the priests and their assistants, it was also, in effect, a welfare scheme, as taxes levied by governments were for capital works, administrative and military expenses — not for caring for the poor. The tithe and taxes in those days would have added up to about the amount of tax we pay now. And, of course, most welfare programs are now funded from tax revenue. This means that much of what was then the tithe is now included in taxes, and those who evade tax, or use loopholes to “legally” avoid a large part of their tax, are, in effect, failing to tithe, and, as well as not doing their duty as citizens, are failing to do their part to help those in need. In the words of Isaiah, “the plunder from the poor is in [their] houses.”

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 13, "Money Changers in the Temple," p. 213.

Quote of the Month for August 2016:

An illuminated letter It is, as Jesus said, “more blessed to give than to receive.” Great blessings come from generous and thoughtful giving. Generous people rarely find they are in want themselves, and if they are a little poor, they usually have much greater blessings than mere material prosperity. And there are things other than money people can give generously of: time, expertise, consideration, care, love, patience, thoughtfulness, understanding, tolerance and forgiveness — to name just a few. Indeed, when money is given, much of the value of the gift is lost if thought isn’t given to where the money will go. If the virtue of giving were just in sacrificing money, rather than in the good the gift can do, we could gain blessings from throwing hundred-dollar bills into a fire. Giving to an organization which is going to spend your money in an unworthy way is just as useless. When people entrust the gift of their tithe to a church which is itself grasping and un-giving, and isn’t using the money unselfishly for the benefit of others, and the needy in particular, this is a waste of a holy opportunity to give, and the blessings will turn to dust. Jesus said of the Pharisees’ tithing:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Matt 23:23)
To help us assess the attitude toward giving a particular church has, we could well use the wider context of the “law of giving”:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)
Fundamentalist churches are good at judging society and condemning many of its groups, and maintain a very unforgiving attitude toward moral offenders. At the same time they give little to society, choosing instead to spend their money on promoting their own causes. Consequently they leave themselves open to being judged and condemned, receiving few blessings, and stewing in their own unforgiveness. This is one reason why these churches don’t show much real growth, despite their high public profiles. Many people join these churches, but almost as many leave them again. Tithing to such churches is more than just a waste of money; it actually contributes to their evil: financial scandals involving fundamentalist churches are frequently reported in the news, and such scandals are just the tip of the iceberg of a malaise which runs much deeper.

Most real churches present a mixture of good and bad, a measure of fundamentalism moderated by a measure of genuine giving, which varies from church to church across the whole spectrum from good to bad. We can encourage the church we belong to not to become worldly by not giving to it in excess of its legitimate needs unless we are very sure the extra money is being used to help the poor. Instead there is the opportunity to give directly of our time and money to organizations like Oxfam, World Vision, and Community Aid Abroad, which specialize in efficiently and lovingly helping the poorest and most neglected people in the world get on their feet again.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 13, "Money Changers in the Temple," p. 214-215.

Quote of the Month for September 2016:

An illuminated letter While getting to know a neighbor of mine, we came to realize we had an interest in yoga and meditation in common. But when I used the word “God,” as I frequently do, she became quite hostile. “I don’t believe in God,” she said. I asked her what she did believe in, and she responded with a sublime description of a cosmic power of love which she was aware of when she meditated, when she sat on the top of a hill at sunset, taking in the stillness and beauty around her. It was a personal power to her, and it made her joyful and inspired when she took the time to inwardly commune with it. I don’t remember the exact words she used, but I do remember thinking it was an excellent description of God. I told her this, but she wasn’t impressed. She explained that God was someone who made you feel guilty about sex, and who threatened to send you to burn forever in hell if you didn’t do what He wanted. She said she was afraid of God until she realized He didn’t exist. She’d spent years getting over her Christian upbringing, and wasn’t going to get involved with all that again. She was even suspicious of my enthusiasm for God. Although she seemed to like me, she also appeared to be on guard against some hidden “nasty” which might pop up out of the woodwork as a consequence of my belief in God. I tried to explain that the church had given her a very unfortunate view of God, and that in reality the cosmic love she experienced was the essence of God, and was how I experienced Him. I may have sown some seeds, but they were not about to sprout in a hurry. I gained the distinct impression she resented having her very special and important cosmic power of love compared to something she loathed as much as “God.”

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 15, "Defaming the Name of God — Eternal Hell," p. 236.

An illuminated letter For a long time the church has presented a yawning credibility gap to the world. People simply do not believe God can commit people to everlasting punishment and also be merciful, just and loving. It doesn’t make sense, and as long as Christians continue to insist it is so, discriminating people will increasingly reject the church. This issue has also divided the church from within, by making it difficult, if not impossible, for Christians to understand the nature of God’s justice and love. Christians have had to say something like: “I know it sounds harsh, but it says there is everlasting punishment in the Bible, so we’ve just got to accept it; God’s ways are beyond our understanding.” I believe the vast majority of Christians are not sadists, and will be hugely relieved to know that everlasting punishment has just been read and translated into the Bible, and simply isn’t there in the original Greek.

— From In Search of the Loving God, Chapter 15, "Defaming the Name of God — Eternal Hell," p. 250.

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