Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beasts of pray

It sounded like a novel form of animal abuse, worshippers taking their dogs to church with them, but then I read that the four-legged friends get treats and beds and aren’t required to hear a sermon or attend Sunday school.
The Covenant Presbyterian Church in California has instituted a weekly service for dogs, our town’s daily dog-bed liner has reported. The pastor takes canine prayer requests from his flock for the infirm and afflicted and the dearly departed denizens of dogdom, and then intones the Lord’s Prayer. Wouldn’t the 23rd Psalm be more appropriate (“The Lord is my Shepherd…”)?
The idea, in part, is to accommodate slackers who are more devoted to their pets than to their faith. And don’t all preachers fervently pray for a congregation that will sit up and take notice?
Wonder if, at some point during the services, attendees turn backwards and offer up a hymn to doG?
Do dogs have souls in need of redemption? The Bible is vague on the question, except to say that man was meant to have dominion over the beasts, who are too dumb, presumably, to apprehend the weighty subjects of death and original sin and grace and eternal life. But plenty of simple God-fearing Christians fully expect to be reunited with their beloved bow-wows in heaven. And, if our pooches can’t be as immortal as us, how to account for Cerberus, the hound who guards the gates of Hell?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

God bless, and help, us all

“God Bless America” should be the national anthem of our country, someone (probably more than some one) has said. Certainly that phrase, God bless America, is a favorite of speakers striving for a surefire rousing signoff. What is it about those three words that stirs the heart and raises the temperature of red-blooded Amurricans?

Do the citizens of Uruguay, Burkina Faso, or Belgium, for example, exhort God to bless their countries? Do they imagine that God already has blessed their countries, and beseech Him to continue to do so? In their appeals to God, do they put in a word for a neighboring country, or maybe even a country far away but particularly in need of being blessed? Or is their wish only for God to bless theirs?

When God hears these requests, how does He judge which ones to grant? In parceling out blessings, does He favor the largest countries, or the ones with the most supplicants, or those with the most ardent or eloquent?

When we say “God bless America,” are we including South America? If just North America, do we include all 23 countries involved? To be precise, shouldn’t we say “God bless the United States of America”? And even then, are we including all the territories? Just where do the boundaries begin and end? And what about Americans who happen to be living elsewhere?
Thorny questions, all.

Surely, when we say “God Bless America,” we mean, God bless the idea of our country. For surely, the idea of America must be the apple of God’s eye.

And the song is catchy, too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A novel enterprise

It’s been a year since I finished writing a novel. (Shameless self-promotion: It’s available at Amazon; title is The Misforgotten.)

There wasn’t any reason or logic, especially, behind this undertaking. I wrote my 340-page magnum opus to purge myself of accumulated random thoughts and a narrative that’s been nagging at me for years. It was an act, you could say, of pure self-indulgence. Beyond that, if there is a beyond that, it was an effort to make sense of things.

And, for better or worse, that’s what religion is. Dawkins and Hitchens and Maher and all the other shrill and strident atheists want everyone to come to their senses and start using their heads on the question of God. But if everyone used their heads all the time then no novels would get written (also for better or worse, people will argue), no music would get composed (except the sterile kind of music), no paintings would get painted (ditto on the last parentheses). Literature and music and art are what help a lot of us get through life, and the same goes for religion.

The utterances of Jesus are as beautiful and mysterious and startling as the works of Michelangelo or Bach or Keats, and to ask that we abandon our “belief” in any of them is to say we should close our hearts – while using our heads – to the ineffable.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hell's bells

A megastar pastor and author of a best-selling book about hell was in Music City last week to deliver a sermon on his view of God and His fiery furnace.

Hell, says Rob Bell, whose Love Wins has won him fame and fortune (it’s second on the New York Times bestseller list), but also the wrath of the fire-and-brimstone set, may not be irrevocable. God can give people a second chance, in Bell’s eschatology, although He does fell the need to punish them for a spell, for purification’s sake.

But “a God who tortures people in hell forever can’t be trusted and is not good,” Bell says.

The argument raises some interesting and pressing questions: Can a part-time torturer be called “good”? What conduct should one strive for in hell, in order to earn a reprieve? If we can spring ourselves from hell, can we also fumble our way out of heaven? And, more to the point:

Has everyone lost their mind?

Here we are, a decade into the 21st century, and still the idiotic and monstrous notion of hell, which has made life a hell on earth for so many millions, has not relinquished its hold on our imaginations. Like babies, we conjure demons in our dreams and boogeymen under our beds, and then try to explicate such infantile fancies.

Our speculations about hell—its design, its curriculum—are as senseless as the visions of a lunatic. And our debates—so earnest, so learned—about just what species of ogre God is, must set the Almighty, if He’s listening, to either roaring with laughter or trembling with rage. Sometimes He must think that a really big bonfire wouldn’t be a bad idea.