I haven’t made my Blasphemy Challenge video yet, but here’s the written version: “Hi. I’m Brian. I deny the Holy Spirit.”
According to Mark 3:29, my soul is now in deep hellish doo-doo.
“Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
On the plus side, if my video is among the first 1001 to be uploaded to YouTube, I’ll get a free DVD of The God Who Wasn’t There. That’s a $25 value, definitely enough for me to sell my soul.
Actually, I’d condemn myself to hell for a lot less. Like, for free, since I don’t believe that hell exists. Why, hell, I might as well condemn myself to Tartarus also while I’m at it. Along all the other mythical underworlds posited in the world’s religions.
If I’m wrong, the joke (and eternal damnation) is on me. But I’ll take my chances.
Bishop Carlton Pearson is on my side. He’s an evangelical minister of the United Church of Christ who preached fire and brimstone until he got a revelation from God. Which basically was: There isn’t any hell. All are saved. Christians and non-Christians alike. Everyone.
You’d think this positive, inclusive, non-judgmental message would be greeted by his congregation with a hearty “Praise the Lord!” But just the opposite occurred. His flock went from over 5,000 to just a few hundred.
Apparently hell sells. Which makes sense, in a sense.
If you’re a Christian believer, you damn well want to get some special benefit from all that believing. If hippies, drug dealers, homosexuals, and Buddhists are going to reach heaven along with you, what’s the point of going to church and filling the collection plate?
Nonetheless, it looks like Carlton Pearson now is doing fine. He has a snazzy web site and a nifty slogan: “The Friendliest, Trendiest, Most Radically Inclusive Worship Experience!”
Not surprisingly, Bishop Pearson is viewed as a heretic by fundamentalist Christians who aren’t into friendly, trendy, radical inclusiveness. This lengthy critique of Pearson’s hell-free theology calls him the charismatic bishop of heresy.
I suspect Pearson takes that as a compliment. As he should.
[Thanks to Church of the Churchless regular Randy for emailing me about Pearson, and to Newsweek for cluing me in to the Blasphemy Challenge.]
Did you see the episode of South Park where the boys are in the bathroom saying the name of an apparently fictional murderer into the bathroom mirror? They're trying to disprove a belief that if you say "Biggie Smalls" 3 times he will appear in all his homicidal glory. Now in cartoonland this turns out differently than it would in real life. Not only is this fantastic belief confirmed for the boys, they find out it's true instantly with that third "Biggie Smalls", at least whoever stuck around did. Life in cartoonland is as black and white as many people would like real life to be, escapists that we are.
Understanding in real life what there is to learn from religion is a different process. As a good scientist who tried to be empirical in all of my life, I kept my mind open for a long time about medical miracles. It's not open any more. There are no such miracles. Every case I've seen purported to be a miracle has some obvious flaw in the story, a missed diagnosis, a misinterpretation of how the patient did or didn't respond to treatment. Twice in the last 20 years I've seen purported miracles presented on TV and could see over the TV screen that someone had botched the reading of an MRI of the brain to turn the story into something miraculous. I saw James Robison on TV in the nineties presenting a case of a girl with a "brain tumor" that went away with prayer. When they flashed her MRI on the screen, I could see it's not a tumor. There's no mass. It looked like an MS plaque or other demyelination. Of course it went away. That's what it's expected to do naturally.
Sometime this decade I saw Pat Robertson make a similarly confused presentation of a woman with sarcoidosis who was mistakenly diagnosed with a tumor. It is the nature of contemporary American medicine that no one made it clear to the patient what is clear from seeing her MRI, that her brain abnormality was just one thing, the sarcoidosis, that talk of a tumor in addition was wrong. So it all got better when her sarcoidosis was treated with steroids, as it should.
It's not even as if I've seen a case where I wondered about a miracle. I hear stories about pus vanishing or something else as clearly miraculously, but where is any real documentation for that? If I saw one good miracle tomorrow, I'd change my mind. Of course if that happened, where have these miracles been? If miracles were as easy as the Bible says, amputated limbs would grow back, and we'd all know about it. They don't. So the Bible is wrong, whatever else is true.
Physical miracles in general are harder to dismiss confidently, but the process is the same. Time after time people claim miraculous events that don't stand up to scrutiny. So I understand the reaction that all of this is garbage. So throw out the Holy Spirit with that. Look, you can say whatever you want about the Holy Spirit, and lightning doesn't strike you. The ground doesn't open up and take you straight to hell. As an empiricist, I think anything like that is data. So are observations about the mistakes with any human beliefs, even atheism.
So if everyone is equal in making mistakes, some more equal than others, doesn't that mean there is no Holy Spirit? Well, I'd probably go for that except for most of my adult life the Holy Spirit has been giving me direction, strength and comfort through prayer and other spiritual experiences. Those things didn't happen in the physical world. They happened in my consciousness. Maybe they were mental miracles, but they weren't physical miracles. I had an eye out for those. I'm sure there's some connection between mental and physical, but maybe it's not as simple as my colleagues in neuroscience say it is, as they say that consciousness is a trivial product of the physical world. Is that a claim to be trusted or are neuroscientists just people, too, and their claims need scrutiny just as much as the claims of evangelists do? Obviously I go for the latter. Trust no one, until you realize you have to trust someone. It's a long story why that led me to trust the Holy Spirit. No one has to trust me should they listen to it. No one has to trust the Holy Spirit or even allow the possibility that any sort of God exists. I don't know the consequences of such a denial beyond shutting off a potential resource. One can always ask God about such uncertainty and see what kind of answer one gets. I did that a lot. God convinced me. I've never seen God make the silly mistakes in arguments that all manner of human beings do. God is not the absolute perfection traditionalists say He is, so He has told me, but He's not stupid. Even if atheists are right, and He's somehow my brain's invention, which would be amazing to me, God is neither stupid nor meaningless.
Posted by: DavidD | January 09, 2007 at 11:16 AM
Let's assume, in a friendly sort of way, that the message of Mark 3:29 is sincere. What would a holy spirit be? What would it take to blaspheme such a thing?
Seems to me that regardless of the definition, if I were to give a holy spirit credence, and then deny that credence out of "irreverence," then my standing vis-a-vis the spirit would be damaged, perhaps irreparably. Not something a true blasphemer would worry about.
So let's see if there is such a beastie: in a world with no provable god, is there a proven blasphemer?
Oh, prob'ly not.
Posted by: Edward | January 09, 2007 at 01:14 PM
Thanks for the link and for at least being honest about where you stand!
It's ironic to me that on the one hand folks dismiss God because of the so-called "problem of evil." (That being: An all-powerful, all-loving God would not permit evil to exist. Evil exists. Therefore, God is either not all-powerful or all-loving or he does not exist.) And on the other hand they reject him because the doctrine of Hell deals with the problem of evil.
In terms of theology there's one thing you might consider getting right in describing the doctrine of Hell: believers are not saved from Hell. They are saved from God's wrath against sin and evil.
Posted by: Rich Tatum | January 10, 2007 at 03:56 PM
Rich, So says YOU... not God.
Posted by: tao | January 10, 2007 at 10:31 PM
I was in hell(sheol)like everyone else. I also denied Holy Spirit with my lifestyle. That was denying the Holy Spirit with a condition born. He was even there in hell (sheol) Now I am in heaven with Him. I did not do it, He did it and I experienced it. He is the saviour of all especially those who believe.I did also challenge God and did meet Him.(pray and say to Him not to people!)
Regards Niel Botes (ask me what His like!)
Posted by: Niel Botes | January 21, 2007 at 10:59 AM
@Tao, thank you for your brilliant, thoughtful, and well-thought response. I just may be forced to rethink everything I ever believed about God's self-revelation.
Posted by: Rich Tatum | February 04, 2007 at 03:11 AM
Are you serious? You have clearly never thought deeply about that passage in Mark. This is a childish post with childish thoughts from start to finish.
Posted by: Daniel | May 26, 2007 at 08:21 PM
Daniel, I'll bounce your comment back on you: are you serious?
Pray tell, enlighten me (if you're serious). How should I think deeply about Mark 3:29? How should I think deeply about what is just a hilariously ridiculously statement?
How do I think deeply about a joke? How can I do anything else but laugh and get a free DVD?
Yes, this is a childish post. But I got a free DVD out of it! Yay! And I've watched it! And enjoyed it! I smiled when I saw how there is no evidence that Jesus is what Christians believe he is--the Son of God.
I felt happy! Because that's what I think too. Yay! Yes, I'm a happy child when I see Santa Claus, Jesus, and the Bible for what they are--myths.
I'm growing up!
Posted by: Brian | May 27, 2007 at 09:58 AM