Oscar Wilde and Eternal Life

Sam: “The world is divided into two classes, those who believe the incredible, and those who do the improbable.” ~ Oscar Wilde

William:
One might say that Oscar Wilde was SO smart that he outsmarted himself if one considers his biography. In his “Picture of Dorian Gray” he wrote: “Not ‘Forgive us our sins,’ but ‘Smite us for our iniquities’ should be the prayer of a man to a most just God.”

I found the above sentence very sobering. Pelagius’ views made more sense to me than Augustine’s which makes me a heretic in the eyes of most denominations. Gandhi explicitly states in his autobiography “Experiments in Truth” that he rejected Christianity because he did not desire SIMPLY to ESCAPE the consequences of his sins through forgiveness or substitutional atonement but if possible he desired to extinguish the very source of wrong-doing [paraphrasing in my own words.]

Pelagius argued that IF it were possible for the original sin of Adam to taint all future generations of humans including those who had never heard of Adam then in theory it should be possible for Christ’s crucifixion to save all future generations including those who have never heard of Christ and never confess some belief.

Jesus said somewhere “I come to give life and life more abundant.” [I realize I could google for the exact verse but then so may you.] Buddhism offers the exact opposite. We are permanently stuck on the great wheel of the cycle of rebirth unless we can somehow realize that desire is the source of all suffering and escape rebirth. Nirvana or “nibbana” is a Pali word which means “extinguishment” as in “snuffing out a candle.” When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, finally saw Mara (a satan figure) he exclaimed “I have discovered the architect of this house on fire which is my body and it shall not be built again” (my paraphrase.)

I see no merit in eternal torment with no possibly of reform. It is easy to understand how eternal torment and undying death requires some form of life or regeneration in the spirit with which the Qur’an tells us “each time your skin burns away you shall be given a fresh skin so you may taste the torment.” It is harder for us to see that eternal life or pleasure or bliss requires some form of death or dissolution. I personally yearn for the respite of non-existence (or non-being if you will.)

So, Sam, the Oscar Wilde quote is very motivational if it motivates us to try harder and overcome impossible odds to achieve something positive. But the fact remains that Oscar Wilde was a brilliant fellow who was most quotable but who lead a miserable life (which is O.K.; I am not criticizing; it is useful to take things out of context as long as we remember the original context.)

One of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes is “I can resist anything except temptation.” This resembles something Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) said about tobacco: I practice moderation in the sense that I never partake while I am asleep and I never abstain when I am awake.
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Sam: I’ve found this prayer helpful: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
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@Sam, thanks! You are a good man and I feel privileged to be among your FB 5,000 (seriously I mean that and am not being sarcastic.) I heard that prayer a long time ago but it does not help me. A very nice person whom I greatly respect once wrote me to inform me that “Jesus is my friend” but that did not help me. I think I do know what will one day help me but one is not free to speak of everything that is on one’s mind. We live in a society that values youth but develops technologies to extend human life further and further into old age.

Both Jesus and Moses said “the poor shall always be with you” and oddly they said it almost as an afterthought (Moses when he forbade the gleaning of fields and Jesus when the woman anointed his feet with precious ointment.)

Social activists, economists, politicians and religious leaders dream of eliminating poverty. Even the Pope wrote an encyclical a few years ago about ending world poverty.

Social activists dream of putting a permanent end to warfare and yet scripture tells us that “there shall always be wars and rumors of war” until the last times.

If there were a dignified and socially acceptable was for me to choose the time and manner of death as an organ donor I would give it serious consideration. I feel sympathy for organizations such as Dignitas in Switzerland.

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I am reminded of Alan Watts, the first to in the West to popularize the ideas of Buddhism in the 1950s, a prolific writer and lecturer. He once characterized himself as “a spiritual entertainer.” I read Watts autobiographical “In My Own Way,” which was understandably flattering, and later I read a posthumous biography entitled “Zen Effects” which painted a more grim picture. Watts started out as an ordained Anglican with a wife. Watts had a bi-sexual side which was difficult for his wife and his bishop to deal with. In his final years Watts had to deal with the staggering alimony payments of several divorces and his only source of income was a back-breaking schedule of lectures, articles, books and radio broadcasts. Watts chose to find strength for all this by drinking a quart of vodka a day which is the average for end-stage alcoholism. I recently searched on the etymology of the word “alcohol” and it share the same Arabic root with ‘ghoul,’ namely, a fabled demon which steals the soul.

One sentence in Watts writings jumped out at me one day. From memory it said something like this: “Should you come to the point where you feel totally alienated from and despised by the very creator of the universe then you are alienated from yourself and the universe.” This may not be exactly what he said but it is how I remember it and how it impressed me. I had spent 20 years with a very conservative, reactionary group of ‘old calendar’ Greek Orthodox who rejected the mainstream ecumenical Greek and Russian churches. One of their key arguments was Paul’s verse warning that “Lucifer” means an angel of light and that this angel of light can and does take form as a false Christ to lull the multitudes into damnation by the false hope of “cheap grace” to borrow a phrase from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.”‘

I reflected upon what Watts said and decided that if it is the case that I am eternally damned already then if could not do much more harm to explore various churches and religions which I then proceeded to do.

What I want to say (but hesitate to day because it may seem hurtful and unkind) is something about how platitudes and maxims do not really help a whole lot but are rather like Hallmark Greeting Cards: its the thought that counts but the words are often empty and ineffectual.

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Gregory: William, my heart goes out to you. I pray you will continue to search until you find peace with God through Jesus Christ, His Son.

William:
@Gregory, thanks. I am a bit shocked that your post vaguely suggests that Christ is NOT God, but I think I know what you mean. Christianity became more vague and less rigorous as the centuries passed. It is a curious fact that the Gospels mention two people as “son of God;” the other of course being Adam in one of the genealogies. Insurance policies work better when you spend too much time reading the “fine print.”

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@Heather, Thanks! I am an old parrot whose cage has been in some interesting parlors and I have become adept and repeating what I have heard many times over. On those rare occasions where some number of us decide to be agreeable the best that we can manage is to agree to disagree.

When I was a kid I found a matchbook cover from The Billy Graham ministry with a mailing address and the promise that IF I were to fill it in declaring that I accept Jesus into my life as my personal savior (and of course mail it in) then I would be “saved.” I never mailed it in. I have often watched Charles Stanley’s “In Touch Ministries” on television. A few years ago he had his son, also a minister, give the sermon (I would have to google to find his son’s name.) His son told an anecdote about being age 7 and sitting upon his aunt’s (or was it grandma’s) knee. She said “Would you like to go to heaven?” His initial answer was “No.” After some coaxing he changed his mind and decided that he DID want to go to heaven after all. So granny had him repeat “the magic words” about accepting Jesus and of course then he was “born again” and he had what Charles Stanley terms “The Eternal Security of Salvation,” namely that nothing he could do or fail to do in his life would rob him of his salvation from “saying the magic words.”

Joel Osteen ends his show in a similar fashion by inviting his viewers to repeat a prayer after him and when he is done he explains that IF you repeated that prayer then he believes that you are “born again.”

Various Protestant denominations vigorously object to the doctrine of “the eternal security of salvation” which is sometimes abbreviated O.S.A.S. (once saved, always saved.) One parishioner was depressed and asked his pastor “will I go to hell if I commit suicide?” The pastor explained that since he had the eternal security of salvation there is nothing he could do or fail to do that would cause him to suffer eternal damnation. Afterwards the troubled parishioner went home and committed suicide.

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@Gregory, Well said. Good answer. There is one verse which the Greeks are fond of where Jesus says something like “no man has seen the Father at any time; he who sees me sees the Father” to which Paul adds (Hebrews 1:3.) “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person…”

http://bible.cc/hebrews/1-3.htm

and it is interesting to note:

The word rendered “brightness” – ἀπαύγασμα apaugasma – occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means properly “reflected splendor,” or the light which emanates from a luminous body.

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There is one huge problem with saying that something is “Biblical.” We are fairly certain (as certain as one can be) that the very first part of the New Testament was Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians which was written around 51 C.E. The first Gospel, Mark (which is also the shortest,) probably did not reach its final form until around 100 C.E. (what we used to call A.D.) What this means is that for 10 or 15 years there were Christians who had NO “bible” as we know it. They were lucky if they had access to some of the Old Testament. They had to depend upon the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament which was commissioned by Jews in the diaspora around 70 B.C.E. (what we used to call B.C.) because they could not understand Hebrew. The earliest known copy of the complete Bible with Old Testament Apocrypha and New Testament in the approximate current canonical order is the Sinai Codex which dates to around 300 C.E. It is far more accurate to say that the Bible is the redacted and edited product of decades or centuries of oral tradition rather than to say that “the church” (if indeed it is meaningful to say “church” in the singular) is the product of the Bible.

You see, Gregory, you initially wrote “my heart goes out to you” which of course we know is not literal but simply figurative and basically meaningless though well intentioned. But you CANNOT and I dare say SHOULD NOT let your mind go out to me and experience what I have experienced and read what I have read or quite possibly you would lose the serenity and composure of your faith and find yourself in the same predicament that I am in.

Actually the first Sufi martyr, Hallaj (martyred by orthodox Sunni Muslims,) said it best as they were leading him to the gallows: (paraphrased) “If I had had YOUR experiences I could do none other than execute me as a heretic and blasphemer and if YOU had had MY experiences you could do no other than exclaim what I exclaim and what you see as blasphemy.”

I am suddenly reminded of Martin Luther’s words at the cathedral gates: “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

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Gregory:
William, when I say something is “Biblical”, I mean it is taught in the Bible. We can debate and probably disagree about the formation and transmission of the Scriptures we call the Bible, but Christians base their religion upon the contents of the Bible. If I say something is “unBiblical”, as I did concerning a certain evangelistic technique to which you referred, I mean it is not found in the Bible. It is “extra-Biblical” and as such, has no claim upon the practice of Christians who derive their religion from the Bible.

You are correct that “my heart goes out to you” is a sentiment. It is one way of expressing sympathy and concern. If Biblically understood, it would be close to saying “my mind goes out to you,” if we understood the Biblical use of the terms “heart” and “mind.” However, as most Americans understand a strong dichotomy between these terms, I used the expression according to American idiom, “heart” usually denoting emotions, and “mind” rational thought.

I don’t doubt that you have thought deeply about the Christian faith, and have, for whatever reason, chosen not to believe it. I have also thought deeply about it, and have become increasingly convinced of it’s truth. I am expressing a sincere sentiment when I say my desire for you would be to find the peace and satisfaction I have found in Christ and the Bible.
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William:
Yes, if wishes were horses then beggars would ride.

If we juggle our words properly and with just the right spin then we are always infallible.

I am reminded of Bill Clinton’s famous: “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

@Gregory I am sure you are sincere and mean well. Solomon said somewhere “There are ways that seem good unto a man but the end thereof is death.”

II Peter Ch. 3 verse 16 says: As also in all his [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

A verse like this flies in the face of what former Rev. Huckabee said to a Newsweek reports (paraphrased): “Biblical in-errancy simply means that if you follow the Bible’s advice you can’t go wrong.” (And if Huckabee had any faith to begin with he would have stuck with the power of prayer and the ministry and felt no need to seek public office… and one can say the same concerning Pat Robertson who publicly signed away his ministry so that he might run for president.)

Yet here is Apostle Peter saying that there are some who twist and distort passages of the Bible to their own destruction. This also flies in the face of Martin Luther’s teaching that every person may interpret scripture.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_scriptura

Luther said, “a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it”.

If a simple profession of faith were all that is necessary to be saved then surely Paul would not have said “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” and the 2nd and 3rd century would not have been filled with celibate desert fathers who fled the temptations of the city.

If ignorance is bliss then one may ask if bliss is worth that price.

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(from a different thread on Buddhism)

@Michael, actually if one examines the Mahayana schools of Buddhism which developed in the first 400 years after Siddhartha Gautama and compares them with the more fundamentalist and conservative Theravadin (Way of the Elders) schools (e.g. Sri Lanka) then one may clearly see a distinction or clash similar to faith vs works of the Protestant Reformation. Mahayana schools take their name from Maha=great + yana=vehicle (or ark of salvation) and they assign “hinayaha” or lesser vehicle as a pejorative term for the Theravadins. The Theravadins maintain that each individual by their own efforts and SOLELY by their own efforts can achieve Buddhahood and escape from the cycle of birth and death. The Mahayana schools stress the notion of the Bodhisattvas who are actually able to enter Nibbana (Nirvana) but out of compassion for all sentient beings retain some flaws so that they may be reborn again and again vowing never to enter Nirvana until all sentient beings have been saved. Mahayanists see the Theravadins as selfish in laboring to achieve only their own liberation. By contrast the Theravadins do not believe that “transfer of merit” is possible and do not believe that an actual Buddha now exists somewhere awaiting their supplications.

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@Gregory but then you must in some fashion disagree with the Book of Job and the writings of Solomon which clearly indicate that chance and happenstance affect all things so that at times the wicked prosper and spread their reach “like the green bay tree” while the righteous often suffer in poverty and affliction since you seem to be saying that your health and prosperity and that of your father are causally related to your faith. You certainly don’t offend me, Gregory, and I know you mean well. The road to hell is paved with good intentions or, as Socrates said, every person by nature desires what is good.

Martin Luther of the Reformation had no notion about cholesterol or cancer any more than anyone else of his century and to the extent that they were ignorant of such things to that extent they had peace of mind. In fact, Martin Luther practiced what he called “negative fasting.” When Luther experienced stomach distress he assumed it was a demon tormenting him so he would force himself to eat and drink even more simply to spite the demon.

I am reminded of that parable where one group comes up before the Judgment seat and says “Lord, lord! We did miracles in your name.. etc.” And they are told “Go away. I never knew you (and remember this is the omniscient God, the only “knower of the heart” who is saying “I never knew you.” Then a second group comes and hears “Welcome! I was hungry and you fed me… etc.” Now if you were standing before a judge in a court and you heard him say “Innocent! Case dismissed!” would you ACTUALLY stand there and argue with him or her and say “Oh but there must be some mistake? When did we do all these things?” And yet that is exactly what the righteous do in that parable. John Climacus (of the ladder) around the 6th century said “You will recognize the righteous at the judgment because their heads will hang low and they will say ‘We have done nothing worthy.”

Yet surely the first group who are sent away must have paid some lip-service during their lives to faith in Jesus. Yet oddly the parable makes no mention of creed or profession or confession.

Ignorance is bliss but I am not sure that peace of mind is worth paying the price of being ignorant.
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@Heather, thanks for your kind words. Reading and blogging on comparative world religions is my avocation. I have a small library of books such as:
Jaroslav Pelikan’s 5 volume “History and Development of Christian Doctrine”
Hans Kung’s “On Being Christian” and “Religion for the 3rd Millennium”
Huston Smith’s “World Religions”
and a collection of books on aspects of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Jain, Zoroastrian, etc.

Plus I spent some years around Greek Orthodox monasteries and read from books like “The Philokalia.” I was practicing Greek Orthodox (a convert) from age 23 to 43 (appx.)

Of course so much of this is available on-line in the search engines if one only knows what to search on and where to look.

I am not sorry that I spent my life reading and writing on these things but obviously I did not gain some kind of peace of mind or freedom from suffering from these studies.

Religions, philosophies and history come to life when we read engaging accounts.

The first page of Hans Kung’s “On Being Christian” asks a profound question (paraphrased) – “Why is Christ necessary. Why is it not simply sufficient to lead a good life in the humanist sense?” Kung then proceeds for hundreds of pages (and he is a brilliant mind) to attempt to answer his question. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to the question which jumps off the page at us in the same fashion as Kung’s question.

Hans Kung and Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) were two of the brightest theological minds present at Vatican II in the 1960s. Kung went on to question the soundness of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility which resulted ultimately in the loss of his license to teach Catholic doctrine (though he is still a priest and remains in communion with the church.)

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And yet, Paul warns that Lucifer (an angel of light or light bearer) CAN and DOES assume the form of a FALSE Christ. In Gesthemene Jesus basically prays “Father, all those whom thou has given me; may they be ONE even as you and I are one.” But that unity never comes to pass. Rome and Constantinople mutually anathematize one another in 1054 and there were many controversies and splits before that (Arian, Monophysite, Monothelite, etc) and then with Luther’s Reformation we see Christianity splittling like a marving nuclear war-head so that on one side of Rockford Illinois one will find “The Church of Christ WITH MUSIC” (organ and piano is ok) and on the other side of Rockford is “The Church of Christ WITHOUT MUSIC” (a capella only). And yet, for whatever it is worth, out of 7 billion human inhabitants of this planet, ONE BILLION are Roman Catholic with the greatest dogmatic and liturgical unity while 300 million are Eastern Orthodox and the remainder are split into over 1500 denominations (including snake handlers in the Ozarks, who are actually rather inspiring in the Youtube videos available.)

We see that when Satan tempts Christ he does so with Biblical verses. Satan knows the Bible and uses it to his advantage.

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When Evelyn Waugh, author of “Brideshead Revisited” converted to Roman Catholicism he explain that “it is simply a choice between order and chaos.” Protestants are shocked that Catholic have someone to tell them what to believe and Catholics are shocked that Protestants have no one to tell them what to believe. C.S. Lewis rejected Catholicism saying “It is not that I do not believe what you believe. It is simply that I cannot agree to believe whatever you come to believe in the future [regarding Papal Infallibility.]” William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote “Nearer My God” to explain why he chose to remain a Catholic all his life.

I remember as a child watching John F. Kennedy on “Meet the Press” (or some similar show, explaining why he would not take orders from the Pope if elected President. In recent years Jeb Bush converted to Catholicism, NOT because he married a Catholic Hispanic woman years ago (or he would have converted years ago) and not necessarily out of conviction (because, frankly, what person of deep conviction would seek out public office) but possibly because it is more convenient nowadays to be a Catholic politician rather than an Episcopalian. Now a surprising majority of senate and congress are Catholic. Bobby Jindal’s parents came to America as Hindus from India. Jindal converted to Catholicism in high school. I feel certain that if his parents had immigrated to Indonesia or Malaysia then he would have converted to Islam and had they immigrated to Sri Lanka then he would have converted to Theravadin Buddhism. In recent years for some reason female candidates and people of color have become more popular in the Republican Party.

The ONLY President who REFUSED to have Billy Graham hold a “White House Prayer Breakfast” is Jimmy Carter who explains that Graham is a fine man but the White House is “not the place for that sort of thing.” Carter is probably the most devout Christian president of the 20th century. Billy Graham began courting the White House for power with Harry S. Truman. Truman granted him a brief audience but was FURIOUS to learn that Graham and his associates posed for photo shots on the White House lawn, kneeling in prayer. Graham was embarrassed when the secret Nixon tapes revealed that Graham joined with Nixon in some anti-Semitic statements. Graham publicly stated that he had “no recollection” of saying such things, and yet there they were on the tape. I am certain that Graham HAS NO recollection for the simple reason that in the present of power Graham was simply a “yes man” hoping that a little of that power would lean towards Graham’s agendas.

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