On mercy and conversion

7 11 2019

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One theme that has been persistent in my years of writing is how much I hate the modern idea of conversion. Especially in the digital age, everyone thinks their conversion to or from one thing to the other is some Earth-shaking event pregnant with metaphysical meaning. It’s as if their change of heart redefines the cosmos. I for one think that very few people’s conversions are as meaningful or edifying as what was documented in St. Augustine’s Confessions, or even of the caliber what was documented in John Henry Newman’s (not calling him “Saint” sorry) Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Most people who loudly proclaim their conversion have a long way to go in my opinion, and it shows. I don’t have anyone particular in mind; it’s more a general observation. Read the rest of this entry »





Holy violence

17 10 2019

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As a supplement to my review of his book, I also present a reflection on a response that Hart himself made to another critical review of That All Shall Be Saved. In reviewing Hart’s book, Peter Leithart referred to all of the atrocities that God asked His chosen people to perform in His name, namely, annihilating entire cities and towns, including the children and animals. Leithart asks how one could reconcile this Biblical history to the idea of a good God. Hart states bluntly in Good God? A Response:

You ask if I think the YHVH of the Old Testament was “good.”  First of all, there is no single YHVH in the Hebrew corpus.  The various texts that the Second Temple redactors collated into the Torah and Tanakh emanate from various epochs in the development of Canaanite and Israelitic religion, and reflect the spiritual sensibilities of very different moments in the evolution of what would in time become Judaism.  Most of the Hebrew Bible is a polytheistic gallimaufry, and YHVH is a figure in a shifting pantheon of elohim or deities.  In the later prophets, he is for the most part a very good god, yes, and even appears to have become something like God in the fullest sense.  But in most of the Old Testament he is of course presented as quite evil: a blood-drenched, cruel, war-making, genocidal, irascible, murderous, jealous storm-god.  Neither he nor his rival or king or father or equal or alter ego (depending on which era of Cannanite and Israelitic religion we are talking about) El (or El Elyon or Elohim) is a good god.  Each is a psychologically limited mythic figure from a rich but violent ancient Near Eastern culture—or, more accurately, two cultures that progressively amalgamated over many centuries. Read the rest of this entry »





The anti-transfiguration

5 10 2019

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In one of the most dramatic episodes of the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna’s friend Arjuna asks to see Krsna’s universal form, the visva-rupa. The universal form is how Krsna, who is Bhagavan or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, interacts with the world. The original form of Krsna, the source of all of His expansions and avatars, is just as Arjuna sees Him on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra: blueish-black, two handed, and appearing no older than a sixteen year old boy (even though by then Krsna had been on the Earth well over 100 years). Having been instructed by Krsna, and knowing Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he asks to see the visva-rupa to know better who his friend is. Srila Prabhupada translates the manifestation of the universal form as follows:

Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths, unlimited eyes, unlimited wonderful visions. The form was decorated with many celestial ornaments and bore many divine upraised weapons. He wore celestial garlands and garments, and many divine scents were smeared over His body. All was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, all-expanding.

If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form.

At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands. Read the rest of this entry »





Do universalists want to make the Church into ISKCON?

28 09 2019

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I hate to keep writing things about a book I haven’t read, but as I listen to a lot of podcasts online, recently I listened to Pentecostal theologians discussing David Bentley Hart’s latest book on universal salvation. They were very positive about the book and Hart in general, and one of the theologians stated that the idea of people being tortured in Hell for all eternity was a heresy, full stop. In their view, the rejection of Hell is based on the idea of a loving God. The very meaning of who God is excludes the idea of souls being tortured for all eternity. Universalists are now coining the pejorative term “infernalists” to define those who hold the Christian orthodox position on Hell. Read the rest of this entry »





On universalism again

13 09 2019

The summer has been busy so keeping up with blog posts has been difficult. In June, the Church Life Journal published Taylor Ross’s reflection on Origen’s doctrine of salvation in The Severity of Universal Salvation. Here the premise is that the doctrine of universal salvation is far from a “walk in the park,” that the process of purification by which a soul is ready to go back to God is difficult and, more often than not, very long. Ross writes:

It should not require a theological treatise, much less the anxious methods of psychoanalysis, to recognize that the human will is capable of a seemingly endless charade of avoidance. Origen infamously entertained a seemingly endless proliferation of ages because he knew, presumably firsthand, that very often the soul would rather journey on with its false attachments than be transfigured. So, if he countenanced the idea of a God patient enough to make time for fallen creatures to willingly repent, it is because Origen knew, presumably firsthand, that there is no shortcut to reformed desire. Read the rest of this entry »





Escaping the material world

28 08 2019

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Materialism is mistaking your own limited ideas of reality gathered from the senses for reality itself. In reading the Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada comments the following concerning contemplating the Universal Form of the Lord (virat rupa):

Some of them think that to hear about the pastimes of the Lord means to hear about His activities with the gopīs or about His pastimes like lifting the Govardhana Hill, and they have nothing to do with the Lord’s plenary expansions as the puruṣāvatāras and Their pastimes of the creation, maintenance or annihilation of the material worlds. But a pure devotee knows that there is no difference between the pastimes of the Lord, either in rāsa-līlā or in creation, maintenance or destruction of the material world. Rather, the descriptions of such activities of the Lord as the puruṣāvatāras are specifically meant for persons who are in the clutches of the external energy. Topics like the rāsa-līlā are meant for the liberated souls and not for the conditioned souls. The conditioned souls, therefore, must hear with appreciation and devotion the Lord’s pastimes in relationship with the external energy, and such acts are as good as the hearing of rāsa-līlā in the liberated stage. A conditioned soul should not imitate the activities of liberated souls. Lord Śrī Caitanya never indulged in hearing the rāsa-līlā with ordinary men.

In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the science of God, the first nine cantos prepare the ground for hearing the Tenth Canto. This will be further explained in the last chapter of this canto. In the Third Canto it will be more explicit. A pure devotee of the Lord, therefore, must begin reading or hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from the very beginning, and not from the Tenth Canto. We have several times been requested by some so-called devotees to take up the Tenth Canto immediately, but we have refrained from such an action because we wish to present Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the science of Godhead and not as a sensuous understanding for the conditioned souls. This is forbidden by such authorities as Śrī Brahmājī. By reading and hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as a scientific presentation, the conditioned souls will gradually be promoted to the higher status of transcendental knowledge after being freed from the illusory energy based on sense enjoyment. Read the rest of this entry »





Hellish thoughts – Part II

4 06 2019

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The Srimad Bhagavatam is the 18,000 verse story of Krishna, or rather, the story of all reality in relation to Krishna. The fifth of the twelve cantos is noted for its mathematical outline of the material universe, and the last part of that canto describes the lower planets, or what would be considered Hell in the Western monotheistic religions. Here is an example of the punishments described in this canto:

By the arrangement of the Supreme Lord, low-grade living beings like bugs and mosquitoes suck the blood of human beings and other animals. Such insignificant creatures are unaware that their bites are painful to the human being. However, first-class human beings — brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas and vaiśyas — are developed in consciousness, and therefore they know how painful it is to be killed. A human being endowed with knowledge certainly commits sin if he kills or torments insignificant creatures, who have no discrimination. The Supreme Lord punishes such a man by putting him into the hell known as Andhakūpa, where he is attacked by all the birds and beasts, reptiles, mosquitoes, lice, worms, flies, and any other creatures he tormented during his life. They attack him from all sides, robbing him of the pleasure of sleep. Unable to rest, he constantly wanders about in the darkness. Thus in Andhakūpa his suffering is just like that of a creature in the lower species. Read the rest of this entry »





Hellish thoughts – Part 1

20 05 2019

The above video is of yet another intelligent Catholic thinker fumbling through the idea of the eternity of Hell for condemned souls. Admittedly, she is very honest in stating that she doesn’t really know how a soul can condemn itself to the worst pain and loss imaginable for all eternity, and how a merciful God can allow this. She does give the standard answers of how hell is a necessary implication of love and free will. If we are to come to love the supreme good definitively, it must be of our own accord, which means we can choose not to love. That this failure to love is accompanied by unspeakable loss and suffering remains a mystery in this line of thinking. Read the rest of this entry »





On the spiritual body

14 05 2019
Narada Muni Transcendental Spaceman

Narada Muni (source)

A reader left a comment with a link to an article by David Bentley Hart entitled The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients. Here I will offer a few comments, specifically on the main themes of the corporeal vs. the spiritual body. Read the rest of this entry »





On the cycle of the yugas

3 05 2019

A reader pointed out two essays in First Things by Russian author, Eugene Vodolazkin, more or less on the themes of time and historical truth. For the most part, these essays suffer from the tendency of literary scholars to divide the world into a series of just-so stories: observations from limited sources that seem to flawlessly explain the long arc of history. So needless to say, I don’t agree with much in these articles. But I do want to draw from them two themes to discuss here, namely, the repetitive nature of past narratives, as well as the progressive concept of time. Read the rest of this entry »