A Santa Claus God

I strongly believe that good theology has two important tasks:to keep all people free for God and to keep God free for all people. In my opinion, most churches do not allow God much freedom. God is always so much bigger than the theological and churchy boxes we build for “him.” Without recognizing it, many people have an operative image of God as Santa Claus. He’s “making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.” He rewards the good kids with toys (heaven) and punishes the bad kids with lumps of coal (hell).

.. That’s not the great Good News!

.. Empires cannot afford too much mercy or forgiveness. Soon the Church created equations: this much sin results in this many years in purgatory or hell; this much penance results in this much time released from purgatory.

.. Disobedience or disloyalty were seen as much more sinful than any failure to love or serve or show mercy.

A Toxic Image of God

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to organize people around fear and hatred than around love. Most people who want to hold onto power view God as vindictive and punitive. Powerful people actually prefer this worldview, because it validates their use of intimidation.

..  Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but this “cultural” god sure doesn’t. Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven” times, but this god doesn’t. Instead, this god burns people for all eternity.

.. Most humans are more loving and forgiving than such a god. We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust.

.. The words Sheol and Gehenna are used in Matthew, but they have nothing to do with our later medieval notion of eternal punishment. Sheol is simply the place of the dead, a sort of limbo place where humans await the final judgment when God will finally win.

.. Gehenna was both the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem–the Valley of Hinnom–and an early Jewish metaphor for evil (Isaiah 66:24). The idea of hell as we most commonly view it came much more from Dante’s Divine Comedy than the Bible.

Donald Trump Is Not the Moral Leader We Need

In 2009, the Manhattan Declaration, led by Chuck Colson and Robert P. George, reaffirmed the three primary goals of religious conservatives: to protect all human life, including that of the unborn; to reinforce the sanctity of marriage and the family; and to conserve the religious freedom of all persons. All three goals would be in jeopardy under a Trump presidency.

.. Beyond that, Trump’s vitriolic — and often racist and sexist — language about immigrants, women, the disabled, and others ought to concern anyone who believes that all persons, not just the “winners” of the moment, are created in God’s image.

.. Trump can win only in the sort of celebrity-focused mobocracy that Neil Postman warned us about years ago, in which sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power combined with promises of “winning” for the masses. Social and religious conservatives have always seen this tendency as decadent and deviant. For them to view it any other way now would be for them to lose their soul.