Christian Buddhist Chronicles – Episode 2

Hell has lost another one…I am free.

The biggest challenge I have at church is reconcicling how many constructs there are in Christianity that are largely made-up, and what makes it most frustrating is that most Christians don’t even know how made-up these ideas are.

The Theology of it all also makes little sense to me now. A “Good and gracious God”, should be able to forgive without having to kill his own son to protect us all from his own wrath. I just don’t understand the logic of it.

It’s especially tricky for me to be in church services where hell and heaven and salvation is such a huge focus, because I don’t believe in these things anymore. My “doctrine” doesn’t include heaven and hell anymore, and that’s pretty important to the Christian message. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus was actually about.

I actually don’t think Jesus believed in hell as Christianity has come to see it at all. That’s all Paul. Paul developed these doctrines. Jesus only used hell in terms of parables of people being in places of misery or suffering.

The New Testament Greek word “gehenna,” usually translated as “hell,” refers to the way God’s justice will deal with evil in the world. Gehenna comes from the Hebrew phrase “gey’ hinnom,” which means the “valley of wailing.” It’s an actual valley on the southwest side of Jerusalem. So it’s not eternal torment and judgement as most believe…but since the word is “hell” and that word is packed with all kinds of ideas…those ideas just get carried on. Like a snowball rolling down a hill picking up more snow and becoming bigger, these Christian constructs are very rarely examined as they grow and morph, then they become doctrine. They’re taught and drilled into the congregation so that the well-meaning people no longer have any understanding of what the original meaning even was. Instead, they have an understanding that is not the actual thing, but a facsimile of the original thing. That’s what Christianity is now….a facsimile of the original.

My problem isn’t with Jesus at all, but the religion that has sprung up around Him. It’s so full of these extraneous structure and “rules of life”. That would also be fine except these rules are often politically motivated and manipulated and used against people who don’t hold the same beliefs. Even holding the same values isn’t enough, you have to hold the same beliefs to be insiders. And remember, those beliefs are mere just bad copies of the original. Not the original thing.

I do think there are good people in the church; mostly good people in fact. But religious systems put significant pressure on people to accept things they might not otherwise. It’s all part of the “group think” dynamic.

So even if 98% of people in the church are really good, being part of a group of insiders makes it difficult to be an individual. Having ideas that are controversial or counter-cultural is an unwelcome notion in this type of community.

For example, when you don’t believe in hell, and the lyrics of a song on Sunday morning are “Hell has lost another one…I am free.” is off-putting to you, do you sing along? Because not doing so draws attention, and could be considered rude.

ON HELL: My belief, or lack of belief, in hell is not based in some crazy thing…it’s actually based on what I think Jesus believed. Because Jesus was a Jew, it’s unlikely he framed the idea of heaven and hell the way we do. Nor did he talk about it like this. I’ll write more about this in the future, but for now, let me establish that my position is that Paul is the one who established the writings that the doctrine of the church that is so strongly adhered to, especially by evangelical christians. I also think those are extrapolated from the original text to mean something entirely different than Paul intended, but I’ll elaborate later.

So here I am, singing along, but not believing, and feeling uncomfortable.

So worship is difficult.

And this is why I call myself a Buddhist Christian. I like Jesus. I have a fondness and familiarity with him and his teachings from childhood and truly think his ideas changed the world. But I also think Christians have developed theology and doctrines around him that are damaging and downright weird at times.

As I move away from this familiar life of Christianity, into a different life, I will chronicle that journey here.

I’m now trying to walk a different path. One that starts from the same place as Christianity. The cross. A symbol of suffering.

The 4 noble truths of buddhism.

  1. Life is suffering.
  2. Desire is the root of suffering.
  3. You can End Suffering
  4. The Eightfold Path
  • Right Views
  • Right Intention
  • Right Speech
  • Right conduct
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Thought
  • Right Concentration

So now I’ll spend my energy focusing on understanding these ideas. I will write more about these core concepts from a former Christian perspective as I move forward. What I’m most hopeful about right now is how versatile these principles are.

For now, Right Views is where it starts. That is, to understand that all of this is to be aware of what you’re doing, on a moment by moment basis. That we don’t do anything out of our automatic actions that perpetuate suffering. Many of the actions that are automatic to our human condition are from a place of low awareness…fear, scarcity, greed, etc. These are not our higher functions. The higher virtues are available to us, but we need to be aware of ourselves in order to reach them.