Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity   by Roger Wolsey

published January, 11 2011

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Chapter 7

Heaven & Hell 

& what about all those other religions?

Sheep go to heaven, goats...  Cake

”He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'  "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."  Jesus, Matthew 25:45-46

Oh, my God, I want to love you? Not that I might gain eternal heaven ?Nor escape eternal hell   But, Lord, to love you just because you are my God.?   Ignatius of Loyola

?"Many Christians ?believe that Christianity is the "right" religion. This is what some ?say. The reality is, it matters not what religion you confess. If it ?isn't helping the rest of us poor bastards, who cares what you call yourself."  Dr. T Marquis Ramsey


A man dies and goes to heaven and was being shown around by St. Peter.   As they went from cloud to cloud they came to various doors which St. Peter would open. One showed a large group rolling on the floor and talking in tongues.  "Our Pentecostals" he said.  Next was a serious ritual. "Our Jewish persuasion" he replied.  Then another ritualistic service, "Our Catholics."  At the next cloud, he didn't open the door but instead put his forefinger to his lips in the hush motion and they both tip toed past.  Once past, the man asked, “What was that was all about!?”  "Those are the Baptists,” Peter explained. "They think they are the only ones up here.”[1]   While perhaps overstated, that joke is funny because it is based on a certain degree of truth.


Many conservative Christians hold rather exclusive ideas about which of their fellow humans gets to go to heaven.  Allow me to briefly share the basic conservative take on this....


I close this chapter with a word about Mysticism.  Mysticism is an approach to spirituality that can be found in several of the major world religions.  Rather than primarily employing the intellect to try to know about God by writing about God, mysticism involves nurturing and fostering one’s direct consciousness and experience of the Divine rather than have it be mediated through prescribed corporate institutions and forms.   There are strands of mysticism and contemplative spirituality to be found within Christian tradition.   The Desert Fathers and Mothers emphasized practices similar to what are known today as centering prayer (Christian meditation/quality time with God) and Lectio Divina (a contemplative approach to pondering Scripture).  The Eastern Orthodox Church, Quaker, and Wesleyan traditions stress the importance of nurturing our inner lights, fostering direct experience with the Divine, and pursuing certain practices which foster deification and sanctification. Indeed, even the première scholastic theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, famed for his extensive Summa Theologica, experienced a mystical Communion with the Divine.  Immediately after, he ceased writing and simply said, “All that I have written is but straw.”   Most Christians aren’t aware of that, and those who are, don’t often mention this.

            Mystics and contemplatives from Judaism (Kabbalah), Islam (Sufism), Christianity (e.g., Quakerism, Taize, and various forms of contemplative Christianity), and Hinduism (Vedanta), share notable common ground, including values, practices, and perspectives.  These mystical traditions contend that humans can experience their true nature, the Divine within and/or outside of them, and feel a contented sense of oneness with all that is.  As Carl McColman puts it, "Mysticism is, ultimately, simply the art of going to heaven before you die—or, perhaps better said, the art of letting heaven emerge within you now.”

            Mystic approaches suggest that anybody can do this, regardless of previous religious background or education, by following certain practices, typically including: meditation/centering prayer; fasting; chanting/repetitive singing; intentional breathing; intentional silence; contemplative approaches to reading scripture, and various exercises which seek to expand the heart and our innate compassion.  Music and dancing often play a role in these paths.  Mystics from the world’s various religious traditions may in fact have more in common with each other than they do with the majority of the people from their own religions.

            While not being one and the same as mysticism, progressive Christianity celebrates and affirms it.  A bumper sticker that mystically-oriented progressive Christians might resonate with reads “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell.  Spirituality is for people who’ve already been there.”  Karl Rahner, one of the most renowned Catholic theologians of the 20th Century, once famously remarked, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.”  Progressive Christians are open to the possibility that he is right. 

[1] That joke unfairly paints all Baptists with the same broad brush.  The largest segment of Baptists is the Southern Baptist Convention and that denomination was hijacked by a fundamentalist take-over in the 1980’s – but there are many moderate and even liberal and progressive Baptists – especially in the American Baptist Convention.

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