˜   Roads To Self Respect   ™

February 2003

By The Rev. Wells E. Behee

          This morning I speak to you of that which is historically Universalism. The following is the Universalist side of Unitarian Universalism. Universalism is a belief which goes back to the ancient Israel in the truth of a fable about Jonah. The point of the book of Jonah is not the great fish story. Jonah is a parable listed among the Wisdom as differentiated from the Historical literature of the Jewish sacred writings. Jonah was ordered by God to go to the city of Nineveh to warn the people that God is aware of this city's great wickedness. In Hebrews eyes, any foreign people outside the land of Palestine were not worthy of God's attention. Jonah boarded a ship to visit another city other than Nineveh to escape God's territorial control and therefore not to have to do as God commanded. This city of Tarsus was in opposite direction from Nineveh. To the Hebrews, God lived only in the land of Israel, the land of his Chosen people. Enroute, God demonstrated with the famous fish story that God had power outside the region of Israel by punishing Jonah for his attempt to escape what he believed to be God's control. Once Jonah escaped the great fish, he was convinced of God's universality. Who would want to be in the belly of a great fish again? God again commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah, knowing that these Ninevites were going to get their comeuppance for their sins, gleefully warned the people of Nineveh that God is going to destroy them. But the Ninevites reformed their evil ways. God saw their remorse and released them from any punishment. Jonah grew angry and prayed denouncing God for showing forgiveness and love to people other than the Jews. Jonah told God "You might as well kill me." And Jonah longed for death. God rebuked Jonah for his bigotry of the Ninevites and that he wept over a withered gourd plant.
          Jonah, a parable, is ended with God asking Jonah the question "Am I not to weep over a city of thousands of innocent babies while you weep over a dead gourd plant?
          This whole story conveys that God had power and love of the whole world and all its people. God is not territorial, but God and God's love is universally forgiving. A new belief and a great leap forward in the Hebrew concept of God. This is the importance of that fish story!-God is Universal

          A very early Christian who lived early in the 3rd century and died about 254 A.D. was the most distinguished of the early church fathers of Christianity. Origen was recognized as the greatest theologian and biblical scholar of the early Christian church. But two centuries later, he was declared a heretic, he advocated a kind of universalism. He also taught that God is absolute perfect love and ONLY love. In God there is no anger, revenge. Further, he taught that souls pre-existed, and that they are engaged in a process, the outcome of which will be such that even the Devil will be saved. So Origen believed in a hell, but that will be destroyed and all souls shall return unto God----a kind of gradual universal salvation. It was not the Universalism of John Murray and Hosea Ballou in early America who preached God's love is so forgiving and inexhaustible that whatever we do while living, that upon death we return immediately to God's love.
          But Origen led Christianity toward this direction, and it was the dominant belief for the first two hundred years of most of Christianity.

          Then with St. Augustine, the Christian world reversed itself into the belief that all men are, by nature, sinners and those unbelieving sinners are doomed to an eternal hell. Thus Origen and his beliefs were condemned as heresy. In effect, most of what was the current theological beliefs of Christianity were denounced. Rather than the universal love of and by God, SIN, not love, now ruled. The doctrine of the innate corruption of man now became the dominate cornerstone of Christianity and hence a new reason and purpose to the interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus. It was the rejection of universal Christianity that in 320 A.D. instigated the pressure for the doctrine of the Trinity, which gave birth to Christian Unitarianism. When Christianity denounced its universality and took on Roman legalism, it lost its heart and became narrow, pinched, argumentative, and even murderous as in the Crusades.

          The early church was generously broad and diverse. This diversity was accepted. It was to a measure somewhat like a UU church today. Early Christianity affirmed the innate goodness of Man which is now found in Liberal religion conserving a large share of the basic tenets of the first 200 years of Christianity.

          This doctrine of the innate corruption of man undermines the self-respect that is so necessary in the fulfillment of the second commandment of Jesus - Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Now, let us consider the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the four Gospels on this subject. Having often read the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to examine Jesus' teachings without a predetermined theology to support the Sin notion, a person will find that Jesus teaches that there are those people who are sinners; and there are those people who are not sinners.
          The parable of the lost sheep and the good shepherd, which is illustrated on the back window of our church, depicts the shepherd bringing his sheep into the fold at night. All sheep are present but one. The shepherd leaves these and goes to look for the one lost lamb. He finds it and returns to the fold with great joy. The parable concludes with this moral in Luke 15:7, "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.' Note the passage " just persons who need no repentance." One sinner and ninety-nine just persons - this sounds like pretty good odds to me---I would place my money on that such good odds anytime in almost any amount.

          In Luke 6:32-34, we find these words of Jesus, "For if you love them which love you, what thank is that to you for sinners also do the same? And if you lend to only to them who lend to you, what thank have you, for sinners also lend to sinners?" Here, too, we see a differentiation between people who do and live rightly, the people who have the right religious attitudes of brotherly love as against the greedy, pompous, and haughty people of the earth. Jesus teaches that if you live and act morally, with love in your heart for everyone, with kindness and understanding, he will not compare you with the sinners. Again, Jesus does not condemn all men as sinners. Remember the parable of Jesus; there are ninety-nine good men to one sinner. Awful good odds to me!!!!
          In John 9:1-3, Jesus was passing along the road when he saw a blind man. His disciples asked him, "Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents." "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents." Contrast this with "All men are sinners?" Jesus was a kind man!!!
          In John 5:29, Jesus says, "And they that have done good shall go into the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." Jesus, then, bases his view of the future life of a person upon what a person does and how he lives. In the prayer which traditional religion says that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, there is no indication that "I, a sinner" am praying this prayer and asking forgiveness as stated or implied in many traditional prayers. No! Jesus asks that only my wrongdoings and my trespasses be forgiven and if I do good I shall go into the resurrection of life. One of the most significant statements is that which appears three times in the gospels, Matthew" 9:13, Mark 2:17, and Luke 5:32, Jesus says, "I am not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance." Again and again and again, Jesus distinguishes between the righteous and the sinners, between the ninety-nine just people and the one sinner. Wow! That is pretty convincing! [I have a little money in my gambling pot. I am going back to the betting window and increase my bet on Jesus.
          Isn't it pretty clear now about that Jesus thought that there are the good people, the righteous, and there are those who are sinners. Where did this doctrine which clearly did not begin with Jesus, come? It came from Paul, the first Christian. While Jesus talks about the righteous people, Paul in Romans 3:10 says, "There is none righteous, no, not one." While Jesus says that neither the blind man nor his parents sinned, Paul says in Romans 3:23, "For we all have sinned," and in Romans 5:12, "For that all have sinned." Why these direct contradictions of Paul to Jesus' beliefs?----- lest we condemn Paul falsely, in defense of Paul, I must point out that he didn't reject the teachings of Jesus, as the gospels had not been written yet and he knew nothing about the teachings of Jesus nor did he care since Jesus changed from just any man to become the Christ on the Cross. The thirty years of Jesus' life that preceded the Cross were inconsequential. Paul uses the death and crucifixion of Jesus to create and develop this brand new religion which passes off as Christianity today. In truth, a book of Thomas, a collection of the sayings of Jesus with no stories or exposition existed for some years; then the book of Mark was written about 7 years before the death of Paul. The books of Thomas and Mark were of no concern to Paul as he limits Jesus only to those 3 hours on the cross and the ensuing resurrection stories.
          In Romans 5:12, Paul says, ". . . as by one man (Adam), sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all men have sinned." This sentence is momentous---here is the beginning of a new doctrine to all of any religions of the world and because of one deed of the sin of Adam and Eve, just two people, Sin has corrupted every baby born. The God of love in which I believe would do no such thing and as I read the teachings of Jesus neither would Jesus for as Jesus said as written in Matthew, and repeated in Mark 8:15, "There is nothing from without a man, that entering to him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man." Supposing Paul were right that the sin of Adam has been handed down to us from generation to generation through these 3 million years, according to the teachings of Jesus, this does not automatically make us sinners. According to Jesus, it is the things we do, our misdeeds, and our selfishness that makes us to be defiled. It is not the things which go into us or born into us that defile, but that which comes out.

          As a Liberal and a unitarian Universalist, I maintain that Jesus was correct. It took 250 years of Paul's teachings to finally sink in and reshape Christianity. It is deeply regretful that the teachings of Paul came to dominate the Christian religion. Paul and the God in which he believed was like a teacher who gave zeroes on test papers because a student made one error---all correct or all wrong. Paul and his God believed that a person was all perfect or all evil. None of us are perfect; so we are all evil, and God judges us accordingly. As a student would fight diligently for a just grade should the teacher flunk him simply because he misses one question on a test paper, so Liberals uphold justice from an unjust God. Also, I know of no man who would not fight for his rights to obtain his just pay should the employer refuse to pay him because the man made one error.
          This is the task of Liberal Religion - to elevate the rights of human dignity. The Gospel of Jesus is still the good news of the worth of human dignity and the supreme worth of every human personality. Our task must be to bring the gospel teachings of Jesus to the world.
          Also, a student and an employee know that they do not do good work when their teacher or employer talks with the persons only when they do wrong. A person succeeds best when encouraged and elevated. In Dale Carnegie's book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," he continually instructs the reader not to condemn people, "Let's try to understand them. Let's try to figure out why they do what they do. That's a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance, and kindness."
          Recently, while tutoring in the Darke County Council on Rural Affairs, I was assigned a 6th grade boy who was suffering through math with "Fs" on his report card. At each tutoring session, just one hour once a week, I praised Jeff. When he did wrong, I told him how well he did, but let's try it this way. When he erred in adding, I praised him for coming close to the right answer, but there is a better way that will work. I praised Jeff for everything he did, no matter how wrong, but I showed him the right procedures. After three sessions, I went to the Council office to tutor, and I was told that I will no longer have Jeff. I was shocked-"What did I do wrong?" The teacher had reported to the parent that Jeff was now doing A work, and he no longer needed tutoring. F to an A in just 3 Weeks? Wow! What happened? I got the full cooperation of Jeff. He no longer felt intimidated to receive instruction. I made him feel that he could do well. During those 3 sessions, he needed his self confidence reconstructed; and he readily changed. ?Would I have succeeded if I repeatedly told him he was a failure---a sinner? A student does his best work when he is encouraged. Dale Carnegie was too late to instruct Paul in human relations, but if only Paul could have taken lessons from Jesus. In John 3:17" Jesus is reported to have said, "For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." YEAH-RIGHT ON---through love, encouragement, elevation!!!!
          In conclusion, I dislike, in fear of being negatively critical, of pointing out the fact that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and I don't know how many other religions, horrifically subjugates each person as such inferior creatures who must bow and scrape (kowtow) as peons before a majestic God. This Medieval mentality of driving down the worth of the individual in the great scheme of life still permeates religions today. Our Christian culture continues to infuse us with feelings of weakness, inabilities, and lack of self sufficiencies (I am weak and you are strong) of the Medieval and Dark ages.

          How much better our world might be today if only the teachings and the spirit of the life of Jesus had prevailed. We are partners in the web of life, of me, of you and each of our personal beliefs about God. This is the task of the Liberal Church - to bring the gospel of love and self-respect, this gospel of good news to the world. How much better our world could be if religion were not submission, fear, and damnation driven, but rather to be like the great teacher who elevates the student with joy, praise, and commendation in the partnership of learning. This is the message of hope and well being. Our faith promotes the dignity and a healthy and confident self-respect which reaches into our real inner strengths as in the song "I Am a Rock." Then this enhanced self respect becomes love for others. This is what our world needs---everyone to have a healthy love of self and love of others. In this light the Bible has much to say to us. Also, our faith, Universalism, has the spiritual value of a message for which the world is still searching, not just a mundane inherent worth of every person, for even a rock has inherent worth,[a rock has inherent worth to be a part of a majestic mountain, to be in the construction of buildings, to be a gem, to be wealth in gold]. Except for our own religiously imposed limitations, we have within us to be giants of unlimited potential with the inner power and strength to endure all life's greatest disasters and to be partners in building a world of our dreams.

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