A Christmas Thought

Written by:  Hank Hasse

Too many folks have forgotten that America was first settled by people who escaped the tyranny of religion. (Church of England) They not only believed in freedom of religion but also in freedom from religion.

That belief found its way into our Constitution – we enjoy the right to believe as we please. And we have the right to share that belief publicly with anyone willing to listen and consider what we believe.

But that privilege does not give us the right to threaten and eventually punish those who do not accept our beliefs. That would be tyranny again, the very thing the first settlers escaped from.

Unfortunately, the very nature of any religion carries with it the need to threaten and finally punish outsiders. Study any of them and their histories. Notice their demands. And learn their methods of punishment. At least they are no longer allowed to publicly whip, burn, drown, stone, hang, behead, etc. in America. But they have more subtle methods of punishment.

Heretics, unbelievers, outsiders and their like are barred from membership, ridiculed, generally ostracized, and threatened with a judgment and a hellish payback punishment in the end.  Fundamentalist, Orthodox, Radical, and Extremist religions, even GLAAD groups, are especially outspoken concerning their beliefs, and they are always ready to demand some sort of punishment for anyone who disagrees with them.

The Duck Dynasty father and founder, Phil Robinson, recently pushed his brand of Christianity and its threats of a hellish punishment for unbelief in the Christ’s salvation payment for sin, including homosexuality and other sinful behaviors. To his credit, he also spoke of love and forgiveness, but the threats of punishment in hell were already out of the bag. He claimed to make no judgment, but added that God would judge in the end. Typical sidestep – like passing judgment off to God makes it OK. Some comfort that was with the threat of hell still hanging in the air!

Love and forgiveness and acceptance are non-judgmental. God is non-judgmental. Retaliation and punishment would not even enter God’s mind. God’s thoughts are purely humane thoughts. He patiently waits for humans to begin thinking like him. What people think governs what people do. When people think more like God, they will do more like God.

Retaliation is the opposite of God’s way.  When will people learn that tyranny does not work when trying to establish and maintain human relationships? Threats of punishment will never build anything!

Under freedom, human interactions always leave room for growth and development through mutual acceptance of each other’s right to own their personal beliefs, beliefs which may be temporary as they learn more and more along life’s journey.

Of course, under freedom, humans also need to accept responsibility for their retaliation thinking which harms another human. Hate is not the opposite of love. Fear is the opposite of love. Choosing to love means choosing not to instill fear into another human. Generating fear is the real secret behind creating hatred and class warfare. using our “religious” beliefs to threaten and to punish others, as if it makes it right because of what we happen to believe. “An eye for an eye” punishment is not right just because it appeared in the Jewish scriptures. And the threat of damnation in hell is not right just because it appears in the NT scriptures.

I stayed away from using the term tolerant, as if it would include acceptance or loving what may actually be harmful. Being non-judgmental, however, invites further learning, growth, development, and perhaps being open to a mutual change in thinking, especially when a change to something better is warranted.

The Galilean peasant was murdered for saying the things he said about the Jewish standard of justice, “an eye for an eye” and was accused of starting another rebellion. He had implied that that scripture was wrong when he taught instead to love and accept one another, even our enemies. I dare say that he would say the same today about many acts of punishment found in the NT scriptures, especially the one which claims that his loving Father punished him for our sins. Compare that with his story of the Prodigal Son. And he would really be upset with the one that threatens his return to punish his enemies by damning them to hell for not believing a salvation claim in the NT, a claim that is exactly the opposite of his teaching and example while sitting down to eat and party with publicans and sinners or forgiving the ignorance of those who crucified him.

To shut someone up with a threat is being judgmental. Speak your mind, but do so with kindness and grace. Be non-judgmental. Allow for growth and development. I am not saying to be tolerant with wrongful acts. Instead, offer loving alternatives that encourage loving acts. It’s what our loving and patient Father has done from the beginning. Let’s practice being like him. We are all participating in our Father’s school room, learning as we go, and the banner in front of the room reads, “Remember that my love for all is unconditional. Love cannot generate fear.”

God is the ultimate good, the unconditional which humanity can image somewhat through forgiveness without conditions. Jesus told people about such unconditional love. He spoke of the “kingdom of God,” which is here and now. Our struggle to enter God’s unconditional realm in this life is a daily one. But we can begin. Offering unconditional forgiveness to all is a real challenge. It is living by paying forward, not asking for anything in return, no payback, no expectations to have the favor returned.

Unconditional forgiveness and unconditional love come from the same source. Unconditional forgiveness makes it possible to forgive ourselves and then forgive others here and now. But unconditional love is not entirely realized or even possible in this life. It is only practiced. Some are better at it than others. But all improve as they practice. This is God’s dream for all of humanity. It is like the “kingdom of God” is here, but the “kingdom of God” is also coming. 

God has promised to never leave us, not even as we pass through death. There is more love coming, more than we can even imagine right now.