Thursday, December 12, 2013

Religion: The Love of God

John D. Caputo's Book: On Religion

The Final paper that was due for the World Religion class I just finished at HACC. It seems a shame to put so many hours into a paper, then only the professor gets to read I decided to post them on my blog. This assignment was based on the book by John D. Caputo: On Religion. Although my professor enjoyed the book, I found it very difficult to follow. To much rambling in my opinion.

Philosophy 200
December 9, 2013
Religion: The Love of God
In his book, “On Religion,” John D. Caputo poetically and redundantly expounds on the notion of the religious; those he distinguishes as being passionate people who love God. According to Caputo, to be religious, or unhinged, means living a life of love and hope and faith; a life more passionate and more worth living. Religion, he explains, is a covenant with the impossible and anticipates the hope and expectation of the uncertain future which God holds in his hand. Caputo’s query stems from Augustine of Hippo’s question from centuries earlier, “What do I love when I love my God?” Conversely, Caputo proposes that “religion may be found with or without religion.”
Saint Augustine, an early Christian theologian whose writings were influential in the development of Western Christianity and philosophy, believed that humans are driven by a deep desire to worship God, even if one does not realize it. He believed that lust and greed are behaviors performed as substitutes for a heartfelt need to know God. Likewise, Caputo asserts that all human beings have a religious nature, whether they acknowledge it or not. Some devote themselves to a religion, or God, or simply themselves. The selfish person who only contemplates his own visage, Caputo condemns as loveless, as incapable of loving others, and heartless. Therefore, his opinion is that those irreligious people whose only pleasure is to devote themselves to selfishness and self-interest, are essentially worthless, or “not worth their salt.”
Caputo defines religion as “something simple, open-ended, and old-fashioned, namely, the love of God.” He reflects deeply on Augustine’s question, “What do I love when I love my God?” and struggles even more with the concept of what “the love of God’ really means. Since love is the name or nature of God, Caputo reasons that humans cannot love unless God abides in them. Love is unconditional, it gives freely, endures, believes, and hopes; therefore, to love God, one must be born of God in order to be able to show love, or ‘do’ love. Those who love are “people who exceed their duty, who look around for ways to do more than is required of them.” To Caputo, that is the behavior of one who truly loves, whether it be toward a spouse, a child, a friend, or one’s God. Loving at all should be shown by doing-unconditionally, excessively, and with fire and passion.
Considering how ardently Caputo believes that those who are unhinged passionately love God, it is surprising that he suggests most of the religious do not know who they are or what their purpose for being created is. He further states that religious people do not know what they believe, in a cognitively or epistemologically way – we are religious by means of our faith alone, and evidenced by our love for others, since love is from God. Caputo emphatically believes that the religious should be prepared to give up their own desires, to die to selfish ambition and gain, to answer God with a resounding yes, no matter what the call on their life might be. Simply put, if you love God, you submit, step forward, volunteer, and obey; and be prepared to believe and experience amazing and impossible things, since with God all things are possible.
Caputo differentiates True Religion from Religious Truth as a truth without knowledge; “For a religion without religion requires a full charge of ‘religious truth’ where that is to be sharply distinguished from ‘true religion’ in the sense of ‘the one true religion’ (by which we always mean, invariably, mine-not-yours).”  Caputo goes on to say, much like John Hick’s belief, that the many unique religions are different paths to loving the same God, therefore; no particular “brand of religion can claim that theirs is the exclusive truth.” Furthermore, Caputo presses all religious people to completely drop the idea that there even is a ‘one true religion,’ since he defines religious truth as ‘being truly religious, truly loving God, loving God in spirit and in truth.
“We need to spare ourselves from the extremism and madness that are involved when the faithful get it into their heads that ‘we’ –Jews or Christians, Hindus or Muslims, whoever- have been granted a privileged access to God in a way that’s been denied to others, or that we are loved by God in a special way that God just cannot bring ‘Himself’ to feel for others, or that we have been given certain advantages that God just has not granted others.” He states that ‘we’ tend to believe that ‘our’ religion is the only one who has a special relationship with him, that has been granted certain advantages over others, and are loved in a privileged way. Even Augustine claimed that Scriptures have many true meanings, and conveys that to mean that many religions are also many sources of truth.
Largely, Caputo declares that God is too big for anyone to understand or claim that they have a special divine revelation in knowing him. His final declaration is simply that God is love, so if one abides in love, then God abides in him or her. Therefore, we see God in action when we ‘do love’ or ‘do truth;’ when we do something, we make truth happen. He summarizes Religious Truth as a truth without knowledge; a deed, not a thought.

Like Pandora’s Box is John D Caputo’s book, On Religion. Although heartfelt and sincere, his rambling musings and contemplations of what religion is and what the love of God might be are not clearly answered. Admittedly, I’m not a theologian or a philosopher; I do not enjoy endless hours of contemplative thinking and rethinking on the same questions. In my mind, it is too redundant and doesn’t allow for real and necessary work to be accomplished. The type of work that keeps households running, kids fed, and workloads done. I am the first to admit I do not understand the ways of a philosopher.
Nevertheless, I press on. From Caputo’s perspective, orthodox religions work hard to swing open the doors for believers, but keep them shut to infidels, sounding as if the sinful or unbelieving are not welcome to places of religious worship, or to the knowledge of God’s Truth, with a big T, as in absolute truth. Additionally, Caputo tells us that religious or faithful people need to remember that others in different times and places do not know God in the same way that westerners do. He suggests that all individuals should begin to delineate religion as a sort of virtue that is defined as loving others and promoting goodwill.
I have begun to perceive from where Caputo may have started his inquiry. I suspect he is coming from a traditional catholic background and has witnessed the abuses and sinfulness of people who call themselves lovers of God and followers of Christ, yet they don’t measure up to the Biblical picture of a devoted disciple. This contradiction of living one’s faith happens in all denominations of the Christian church. People sin, are selfish, and ‘fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23). Caputo has also witnessed loving and kind people of other faiths, far removed and alien to Christianity, and is not convinced that what his Bible says, stands true for other cultures, especially if the God of the Bible is not known to them. Perhaps he should scrutinize the following verses; “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile,” (Romans 1:16) and “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47) These scriptures clearly instruct believers, religious people of faith that their mission and purpose is to convey God’s truth and plan of redemption to all nations.
It seems to me that Caputo is removed from intimately knowing his God through Christ, even though his writings are layered with New Testament scripture, mostly scripture used in defining love. Caputo muses that “There is no way to know The Way, no way that I know, anyway.” He confesses his belief that there is no truth, and even Scriptural truth is subject to hermeneutics and interpretation.  He seems to be focused on having “to do” or “to love” as being something one must do within their own power (with God in them). Caputo quotes many verses from New Testament scripture, but only as that scripture fits what he wants it to say, and how he applies it. Others basic Christian truths which Jesus taught, he simply does not acknowledge. He concludes that God is too big and infinite to be understood by our mortal minds.
However, this is why God gave us his Word. As Rick Warren of Saddleback church says, God gave us the Bible to transform us, not simply inform us. It should give us a bigger heart, not a bigger head. In the Book of James, we're told, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) Maybe that is similar to what Caputo is implying when he tells us that the religious should ‘do love.’ However, the application needs to be taken further, beyond just doing love to obeying and living according to God’s commands – all of them, not just those that appeal to us. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The Bible is essential to our lives because it gives us life. In fact, the Bible also talks about Jesus as the Word of God. “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.” (John 1:14) God gave humanity the Living Word -- Jesus -- to be the author and finisher of our faith; He gave believers the Written Word to prepare them to live out their faith. The purpose of the Bible is more than just showing us what is wrong in our lives or how we should live; God gave us His Word to radically transform our lives. Doing love and good deeds, as Caputo suggests the religious do, is only one facet of loving God.
Although Caputo profusely thanks Jesus, especially in chapter five, he doesn’t take the opportunity to share his faith’s primary doctrine with those who succeeded in reading his book through the bitter end. He neglected this truth; “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10) and “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
Finally, I leave you with this thought. I don’t state that ‘my religion’ is the only absolute truth; God’s way is absolute truth. Believers in God should seek His plan however that might look. Whether Catholic or protestant, Methodist or Baptist, Pentecostal or non-denominational. Those people who claim to be religious should seek truth according to the creator of the world, who gave us His Word in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Believers should read it and allow His spirit of truth to transform our hearts, souls, minds, and lives.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Ethics and Morality within Buddhism and Christianity

        My second Philosophy paper, a comparative essay between an Eastern and Western Religion, from this past fall semester. I did keep learning things I hadn't known before. 
I earned a 95% on this one, too.

Philosophy 200
November 21, 2013

Ethics and Morality within Eastern and Western Religions

When comparing and contrasting Eastern and Western Religions, in this case Buddhism and Christianity, ethics and morality play a vital role, albeit those virtues originate from different sources. Ethics are commonly defined as a set of principles of right conduct or a system of moral values. Morality is defined as the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. The concepts of ethics and morality are knit very closely together. It leads one to ask, ultimately,
where does good and upright moral conduct originate and how does it affect society?
A Buddhist is taught to develop good conduct or ethics by training in the "Five Moral Precepts." According to Buddhist teachings, each action performed must be studied to determine whether it would be harmful to oneself or to another, with all actions considered harmful to be avoided. Buddhists begin teaching these five concepts to their children at a young age, allowing them to begin practicing ethical living while still growing into adulthood.
The Five Precepts, which are also called trainings, are as follows:
“1. I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness (Insight)
These are training rules, which, if broken, the Buddhist should become aware of the offense, leading to an examination of how to avoid such an offense in the future. The practicing Buddhist would emphasize the use of a skillful mind that would enable him to avoid any situation or action that might cause any type of suffering or remorse to himself or others.  Buddhism places a great emphasis on 'mind' and tries to cultivate a calm and peaceful awareness; therefore, feelings of remorse, anxiety, and guilt are considered mental anguish and are to be avoided.
Additionally, Buddhists follow the Eightfold Path, also called the Middle Path or Middle Way. It is the system of following eight divisions of the path to achieve spiritual enlightenment and cease suffering:
1.       “Right understanding: Understanding that the Four Noble Truths are noble and true.
2.       Right thought: Determining and resolving to practice Buddhist faith.
3.       Right speech: Avoiding slander, gossip, lying, and all forms of untrue and abusive speech.
4.       Right conduct: Adhering to the idea of nonviolence (ahimsa), as well as refraining from any form of stealing or sexual impropriety.
5.       Right means of making a living: Not slaughtering animals or working at jobs that force you to violate others.
6.       Right mental attitude or effort: Avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
7.       Right mindfulness: Having a clear sense of one’s mental state and bodily health and feelings.
8.       Right concentration: Using meditation to reach the highest level of enlightenment (Gellman and Hartman).”
Furthermore, Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and is grounded in a fundamental belief in the inherent dignity of all life. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities whereas in the monotheistic western religion of Christianity, spiritual development is considered something that one cannot do by his or her own will, but can only be accomplished through the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s internal work.
For example, The Ten Commandments were set forth so as to show what holiness is, since purity, rightness and goodness are attributes of God. “The point of the Ten Commandments is to show us how bad we are and how desperately in need of a Savior we are. The Ten Commandments were never given as a set of guidelines to live by. They were given to show us our utter failure in the eyes of God. The Ten Commandments then, by virtue of the fact that they expose our sins to our minds, lead us to hope in someone other than ourselves for our salvation (Rick Walston),”  that being Christ Jesus.
 As a Christian, the standard is perfection: “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Bible Matt 5:48)” A Christian believes that the sanctification process continues as he lives his life to God’s glory, studying scripture in order to know truth, and denying sinful fleshly desires. Although a Christian will not reach perfection on this side of heaven, he strives to do the best he can each day, which honors and brings glory to God, with the hope that his witness will draw others toward Christ. Since no human is perfect and will fall into sin or unintentionally hurt another, Jesus spoke frequently about forgiveness of sins in the context of asking others to forgive us when we cause a hurt in their life and freely forgiving those who have caused us pain or suffering. Although both Christians and Buddhists strive to not cause harm to others, a Buddhist is careful to be peaceful and not cause strife for anyone else, whereas a Christian realizes that unintended sins against others will occur, but one can find redemption and forgiveness through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. However, both religions agree that it is best not cause anyone suffering in the first place.
Secondly, In the Eastern religions there is noticeable amount of moral reverence shown when it comes to how parents, family, and elders are respected and treated. Children are taught these concepts early in life. Proof of this can be seen in Buddhist teachings. The Itivuttaka, a collection of 112 short discourses of sayings of the Buddha, offers the following example: “This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Living with Brahma are those families where, in the home, mother & father are revered by the children. 'Brahma' is a designation for mother & father. 'The first devas' is a designation for mother & father. 'The first teachers' is a designation for mother & father. 'Those worthy of gifts' is a designation for mother & father. Why is that? Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, nourish them, introduce them to this world. So the wise should pay them homage, honor with food & drink, clothing & bedding, anointing & bathing & washing their feet. Performing these services to their parents, the wise are praised right here and after death rejoice in heaven. (Windisch 106)."
In the Sigalovada Sutta, a Buddhist code of discipline, the following suggestion is given. “In five ways a child should minister to his parents as the eastern quarter [i.e., the direction of the rising sun or birth]: 'Once supported by them, I will now be their support; I will perform duties incumbent on them; I will keep up the lineage and tradition of my family; I will make myself worthy of my heritage; I will give alms on their behalf when they are dead.' In five ways do the parents, thus ministered to as the eastern quarter by their child, act in sympathy with him: they restrain him from vice, they exhort him to virtue, they train hum to a profession, they contract a suitable marriage for him, and in due time they hand over his inheritance (Thero III, 189). “
In the Path of Purification one reads, “Consequently he should think about that person thus: This person, it seems as my mother in the past carried me in her womb for ten months and removed from me without disgust as if it were yellow sandalwood my urine, excrement, spittle, snot, etc., and played with me in her lap, and nourished me, carrying me about at her hip. And this person as my father went by great paths and paths set on piles, etc., to pursue the trade of merchant, and he risked his life for me by going into battle in double array, by sailing on the great ocean in shops and doing other difficult things and he nourished me by bringing back wealth by one means or another thinking to feed his children (Nanamoli and Buddhaghosa IX, 36).”
It is clear that the moral code of revering our elders is carried out in a very serious manner in the Buddhist religion and culture. Educating children to recognize the love and sacrifice made by caring parents is key in building an ethical and moral generation. The entire society benefits as children are taught to respect and care for their parents and elders, since these children will one day grow old also, and will need their children to care for them.
Likewise, God instructs Christian parents to teach their children discipline and respect.  The Bible offers as guidance to parents the following three verses: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Bible Eph. 6:4),”  “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (Bible Prov. 29:15),” and “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Bible Prov. 22:6).” To the young Christians God instructs, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Bible Eph. 6:1),”
Respect and caring for one’s parents is also a Christian moral responsibility.  "Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise—"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Ephesians 6:2-3). When Christians honor and care for their parents, they are serving God as well. The Bible says, “The church should care for any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show Godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much....But those who won't care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied what we believe. Such people are worse than unbelievers (Bible 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8).”
It is clearly seen that Buddhists look to their internal self to do the morally right thing by employing the Buddha’s teachings of the Five Precepts and the Noble Eight –Fold path, whereas Christians derive their moral and ethical code from what God has written in His Holy Word, the Bible. The morals and ethics that result are amazingly quite similar and can be summed up in the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. The British academic philosopher Simon Blackburn states, “The Golden Rule can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition (Blackburn 101),” in both Eastern and Western Religions. If this Golden Rule is followed, the result is a peaceful and kinder society who cares for the needs of their fellow man. When a nation drifts from practicing some form of religion, we see that society lose respect and consideration for their elders and one another. Thereafter, a moral decline begins as the society becomes more corrupt and inflicts endless kinds of harm and suffering upon one another. It is no wonder that Buddha is quoted as saying he didn’t start the philosophy, he was simply bringing the old ways back. A similar cry is heard in America today, encouraging people to return to the faith of our forefathers, that morality might return to our land.

Works Cited

Bible, Holy. The Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 2001. Print.
Blackburn, Simon. Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Book.
Gellman, Rabbi Mark and Monsignor Thomas Hartman. Religion for Dummies. New York: Wiley Publishing Inc., 2002. Print.
Insight, Access to. "The Five Precepts: pañca-sila", edited by Access to Insight. 5 November 2013. We. 19 November 2013.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa. The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Onalaska: Pariyatti Publishing, 1975, 1991. Print.
Rick Walston, Ph.D. Coffee Talk with Professor Walston. 30 April 2001. web. 20 November 2013.
Thero, Pandit. P. Pemaratana. Sigalovada Sutta: The Code of Discipline for Layman. Penang Buddhist Association, 1968. Print.
Windisch, Editor E. Itivuttaka. Pali Text Society, 1975. Print.

Salvific Religion and Pluralism

I took a World Religions course at HACC as part of fulfilling my associates degree in Business Studies. This was my first paper due of the semester. I found it quite challenging, as my brain does not work like a philosopher...there is simply too much to do in a day, rather than spending hours reading masses of other people's opinions and contemplating maybes and what-ifs. For what it is worth, the following is a crack at evaluating pluralism according to John Hick. I did receive a 95% though, which made the effort worthwhile...along with the knowledge I gained.

Philosophy 200
October 10, 2013
Salvific Religion and Pluralism
Religious pluralism is a concept deliberated in great detail by John Hick, a 20th century philosopher of religion and theology. Wikipedia defines religious pluralism as “an attitude or policy regarding the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society (Wikipedia).” Furthermore, each cultural religion, such as Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Ahmadiyya, Bahá'í, and Islam has their own separate and lengthy views on the topic, making the ideologies endless. Many people from many faiths agree, as Hick ascribes, that religious pluralism reveals that all faiths are responding to the same Ultimate Reality, or “the Real”, as John Hick coins it.
Hick insists that a pluralistic attitude is the most reasonable stance to take, since each religion is a response to the Divine, within the context of each respective culture, religious traditions, code of ethics, and even art forms. He adds that such beliefs do bring up even more questions about the Divine Reality, such as: is the Real “personal or non-personal; if personal, is it unitary or triune; is the universe created or emanated, or itself eternal; do we live only once on this earth or are we repeatedly reborn? (Hick)” These are questions that are not easily answered, and are frequently disputed amongst the world’s many religious groups.
Additionally, Hick assumes that all faiths are ultimately seeking some form of salvation, by defining that term differently, depending upon the culture. He believes that all religions offer a means to salvation or enlightenment as they progress from self-centeredness to reality centeredness. For example, Hick encourages his readers to “see them as different forms of the more fundamental conception of a radical change from an unsatisfactory state to one that is limitlessly better because rightly related to the Real (Hick).” He adds that salvation “is the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to a new orientation, centered in the Divine Reality…Each tradition sets forth the way to attain this great good (Hick).”
Since the salvific idea of mankind changing from a self-centered position to a Reality centered state is found in all religions, Hick determines that a person’s behavior and ethos will change in an honorable way in response to the Real. For example: Hick points out that all of the great religions express compassion, and love for others; all have the concept of doing good, as treating others as you would want to be treated. He determines that if everyone were to follow such truths, injustice and suffering would be cease to exist, and our world would live in a peaceful state. Since that is not the case, Hick concludes that none of the world’s religious traditions are superior or more salvifically effective than another.
Hick asserts that all people can experience the Real through whatever method and religious tradition that one devote themselves to; therefore, different religious beliefs and doctrines should be able to co-exist within a community, and on a greater scale, within nations.  He proposes that the Divine may be experienced differently in each culture, yet it is all a part of the Real. He also tells us that the Real is beyond our human conception; it transcends above what our human intellect is capable of perceiving, and cannot be grasped.
Some might question Hick as to how he can unite all religions as a Divine response to the Real, especially when views are so different concerning their metaphysical beliefs. On this topic, he points us in the direction of Buddhism and asks his readers to “accept that we do not know whether, e.g., the universe was created ex nihilo, nor whether human beings are reincarnated; and, further that it is not necessary for salvation to hold a correct opinion on either matter (Hick)”. He goes on to declare that “whilst we have theories, preferences, hunches, inherited convictions, we cannot honestly claim to have secure knowledge (Hick)” concerning the different religious beliefs about the big bang theory, creation, or even the possibilities of reincarnation. He concludes that ultimately, the answers to these questions are not important, nor are they vital to salvation.
Hick dismisses the authenticity of any pertinent historical facts as being “so remote in time, and the evidence so slight or uncertain, that the question cannot be definitively settled (Hick)”. He reiterates his belief that having correct and truthful historical or scientific information is not a requirement for one’s salvation.
The final message which Hick leaves us with is his supposition that all religions are simply different cultures responding to the Divine. He explains that “our human religious experience, variously shaped as it is by our sets of religious concepts, is a cognitive response to the universal presence of the Ultimate Divine Reality, that, in itself, exceeds human conceptuality (Hick)”. So how can one indisputably know the answers to these questions that have been troubling mankind for generations? Hick would have us accept that the Real is abiding in all places, through all times, and freely offers salvation to those who commit their lives to the pursuit of ethical living, and affirm their belief in that higher power. He suggests that salvation can come through many different religious means, and there is no concrete proof or reason to think otherwise. The flaws in this outlook are many.
The most obvious problem that arises with Hick’s reasoning is the fact that all the world’s religions do not have the same end goal. It seems clear that Hick’s intent was to make a way to settle his own mind on how moral and upright faith-seeking people from other cultures might attain salvation without coming to Christ. Although it makes Hick feel good to include all religions that proclaim faith in a deity(s) or Divine presence who holds the key to salvation; Buddhists, for example, are not even looking to be saved. They may be trying to achieve personal goodness and high ethical standards towards the final goal of enlightenment or Nirvana, but Buddhists clearly state that they do not know what happens after death, or if there is an afterlife. Their goal is not to obtain salvation.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines religion as “1. The belief in a god or in a group of gods, 2. An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods, 3. The service and worship of God or the supernatural, 4. A commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance, 5. A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith, 6. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, 7. An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group (Merriam-Webster)”.  Religion has also been defined as “Man’s attempt to reach God.”  This concept is seen in many of our world’s religious faiths. For example, a Jew following the law by keeping all 613 commandments (Rich). A Muslim living in a way that is pleasing to Allah with the goal of earning salvation, “The Muslim doctrine of salvation is that unbelievers …and sinners will be condemned, but genuine repentance results in Allah's forgiveness and entrance into Paradise upon death (Anonymous).” A Sikh lives his life in the pursuit to “overcome the self, align life with will of God, and become a "saint soldier," fighting for good (Anonymous)”, resulting in being reincarnated until he resolves karma and can merge with God.
However, it is better not to look to man to answer our questions about God. We have access to the only Holy book written by men through the inspiration of God Himself, the Creator of mankind and the world. The Bible is clear that there is one God, " I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” (Is.45:5a) (Holy Bible).  He has already given us His Word, and has explained how we might have a salvific relationship with Him, resulting in an eternity of bliss and perfection in His presence. Although Hick rejected God’s sole plan of redemption because in his mind, it didn’t seem right or fair. The truth is that God made a way to redeem mankind, and has given us His Holy Word which clearly directs us on this matter of salvation. At the beginning of the Old Testament, God tells us how and why He created us.  He also included prophecies of the coming Messiah; “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”(Gen.3:15). The  New Testament fulfills the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, explains God’s free gift of salvation, and how he justified mankind through his atoning death: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) (Holy Bible) and "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:15-18) (Holy Bible).
God has provided the perfect way of salvation. We need not ask mankind his opinion on the matter, we need only listen to our Creator and Father in Heaven. This is not exclusivism, the idea that “I believe my religion is the only way,” this is our Triune God making a way for his creation to attain salvation by his grace and mercy alone. Yes, it’s His rules, His way, His design. As his creation, we simply need to accept His plan and come into a right relationship with Him, not create our own salvific ideology that might suit our finite minds better.

Works Cited

Anonymous. n.d. Website. 9 October 2013. <>.
Hick, John. "Religious Pluralism and Salvation." Hick, John. Faith and Philosophy 5. 1988. 365-377. Book.
"Holy Bible." Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011. Book.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 9 October 2013. <>.
Rich, Tracey. Judaism 101. n.d. Website. 9 October 2013. <>.
Wikipedia. Religious Pluralism. n.d. Online Encyclopedia. 7 October 2013. <>.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cianna: A Million Words or Less

My homework assignment from Cianna's teacher; Describe your child in a million words or less, so her teacher can know her better. I don't like the extra work, but it does give me the opportunity to record Cianna's life, since I have been pretty poor at journaling!

Dear Mrs. Sutton,
Cianna...12th Bday at Hot Topic in the Camp Hill Mall.
 I am glad Cianna is in your 7th Grade Honors Language Arts class this year. I have high expectations for Cianna’s success, especially since she spends much of her time writing and role-playing online for fun. She is also into theatre, acting, and drama; therefore, I believe she will work hard to do well on her assignments and bring some liveliness and cheer to your classroom.

As for Cianna’s background: Although my husband and I were both raised in central Pennsylvania, we moved to North Carolina in 1994 for work reasons. Cianna was born in Raleigh, NC, June 7th, 2000. Her 2 sisters and 1 brother enjoyed passing her around for their entertainment. Cianna’s oldest sister,  Lacee , was 9 at the time, and would document Cianna’s firsts: steps, words, etc. Her second sister, Serenity, loved to care for her, and her brother CJ, who was 4, well that is a funny story worth sharing:
Lacee and Cianna: 6 weeks old

Of course the girls were hoping for another girl, and little CJ wanted a brother, badly. When I came home from the ultrasound and showed them the picture, as they were gathered around in excitement, I said “It’s a girl!” and CJ busted out into tears, he was so very sad to not get his brother.

After Cianna was born, 2 weeks late and weighing 9# and 15oz, CJ took to her well, as she was an easy going, sweet natured baby who rarely cried. She was always up to doing something new and continually did her firsts earlier than other babies; such as pushing herself around in her walker by the end of her 3rd month, and walking at 7 months. Cianna brought sheer joy to our home!

Cianna in Upwards Basketball

As she grew, we noticed that Cianna had a sunny disposition, was very charismatic, and made friends very easily. Her Sunday School teachers loved having her in their class, and always had nice things to say about her. She was bright from a young age, and was reading by 4 years old.

Christmas 2003

We started Cianna in T-Ball at 4 and found she was very athletic. By age 7, she was playing first base on the boy’s team, and was the only girl who made it to a-All-Stars. At age 10 we reluctantly switched her to softball because we knew she had a better shot there in getting a college scholarship. She has done exceptionally well in softball, and continues to play first base. Cianna is a natural leader, especially when it comes to rallying her team or raising spirits.
4 years old
Dressed as Mary for Awana

Christmas 2005

Thanksgiving 2005

Flower Girl ~ 7 years old
Christmas 2004
Tae Kwon Do Champion

Cianna also has an interest in theatre, drama, and singing. She has taken a few years of dance; her favorite being hip-hop and jazz, but also ballet as it was required. Cianna desperately would like to sing, but does not have natural talent in that area; however, she does not give up, but continually practices in order to get better –and I have seen an improvement.

8 years old

At our previous church in NC, which was a body of about 2000 people, Cianna was a part of the Kid’s Praise and Worship Team. She did an exceptional job of learning all the lyrics and hand motions in order to lead the kids from the stage. She would also act in the dramas from time to time, and had acting parts during our church’s Halloween alternative production, Anchor Soul. This was a progressive urban theatre, with 8 scenes, where people would move from scene to scene, which meant actors did their 8 minute scene repeatedly each night for several nights. Cianna was a trooper, and served well throughout the production.

The Girls in 2008
Summer 2007

Cianna was homeschooled through 5th grade, but entered 6th grade in Wake Forest, NC. The school process was a lot different for her, but she succeeded well, made friends quickly, and was a joy to her teachers…which makes me proud of her even more.  She regularly brings home progress reports and report cards with nice compliments and praise for her uplifting attitude.

Out to Cracker Barrel with Grandpa while scoping out
Harrisburg, just before we moved.

In May of 2012, we moved to Harrisburg because Cianna’s dad had been working in the state for a year. Since our home church in NC began a church plant in this Susquehanna Township, we decided to be a part of it and settle in Harrisburg. The move went well enough, although this summer was particularly hard on Cianna. Moving from the only home you have ever known, away from loads of good friends and a phenomenal church, took it’s toll on her. Her oldest sister Lacee, 21, stayed in Raleigh, and her second sister, Serenity, 18, has gone to USMC Boot camp. Whereas we lived in NC with all 6 kids, we now are down to 4: CJ -12th, Cianna -7th, Caden-4th, and Caressa- 2nd. The dynamics are much different, and we miss the girls very much. 
Cianna's Great Gammy Granite from 
Czechoslovakia...around age 12...
Cianna sure does favor her!

However, Cianna is bouncing back, making new friends, and has joined the field hockey team which gives her an outlet this fall, until spring softball arrives. She would also like to be a part of the theatre productions at school.

Yes, we are pleased with the young lady that Cianna is growing up to be. However, I must also point out that times with Cianna aren’t always sunshine and roses. She naturally likes to squabble with her siblings, sometimes just to get a rise out of them. She doesn’t do her chores unless I nag at her repeatedly, and spends way too much time dominating our one family computer. Sometimes, she can come across as over confident, even arrogant…but deep down inside Cianna has a very good heart, cares for others, and has a desire to please God with her life and actions….and that makes Cianna a super special kid!

Sincerely, Laura Shaw

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I wanted take a bit and reflect on our time here in HBG. It has now been 3 ½ very busy months, and I can honestly say I haven’t been bored yet. I have missed certain people from NC, but overall, I have done much better than the kids have, adjusting to the move. Perhaps it is because I have moved so many times before, or because I strongly feel this is where the Lord God has called us to be at this point in time.

I never had any intention of leaving the Youngsville/Wake Forest area. From the time we drove thru town in the summer of 1996, it felt like coming home…although I had never been there before. From our rental home in Smithfield, NC, I had laid a map on the big oval oak dining room table that mom had given us, and felt God leading my eyes to the little town of Youngsville, just past the Wake County line. I clearly remember saying, “But God, it’s a little far out in the country, away from Sandy’s work site in Raleigh”, but the urge was strong, so we took a weekend to drive through the town, up 1A, past the Seminary, east on Wait Street to 98 and into Youngsville…and I fell in love. Like I said, it felt like home, so we began our house search there, and purchased a home exactly where God showed me on the map. It’s easier to see God’s hand from this side of 15 years later, but He was clearly moving.

As time went on, my mom and dad and Sandy’s brother and wife both purchased homes in the area too, and we all went on to become active members and receivers of His grace and blessings while at Faith Baptist Church. It was pretty small when we found it by way of the ladies at Lighthouse Homeschool Association. Although I surely didn’t intend to ever go to a Baptist church, as I was looking for another Pentecostal type church, God certainly led us there and used that Faithful flock of Christians to mold and grow my family in Christ. I am ever so thankful for the 15 years we had there, especially as I see the benefits that bestowing truth upon young children has on their life…knowledge that will last a lifetime, even if they choose to wander away for a while…they are never far from the loving hand of their heavenly Father…and He continues to be patient and kind to every one of us…forgiving us when we fail, and motivating us to learn from our mistakes and help others as they pass through similar waters.

I treasure the years that my family had to homeschool and help out with Anchor Soul each year. Each child helped in their own way, and saw what it means to come together as the body of Christ, to Glorify the Lord, even through a holiday as dark as Halloween. God can truly use anything, and I know our lives, among with thousands of others, were impacted for the better because of FBC’s faithfulness in creating that production each year.

Of course there also are the multitudes of Godly men and women we met, none perfect, but all striving to honor God with their lives, and to grow in Christ. And teachers like Jeff Lickliter who taught me so very much over our 10 years in SS class, in his twisted-humorous way J  Yes, I am playing favorites…and to have had the chance to know Michael Liter, to get a glimpse of his incredible, artistic mind at work…well, I truly do feel blessed. I pray his children are as creatively inspired as he is for they will have a dynamic future serving God with that type of talent. Having the Pastors who gave such clear truths from the Bible, along with the pool of Professors from the Seminary, teaching Sunday School each week and the occasional sermons…that church is surely blessed! There are so many others there, so many people who give their all to serve the body of Christ…I love it and miss it…but it was time…not that I ever saw it coming…but God knew it was time to move this family elsewhere…because there is work to do for him here in HBG. It is easy to want to continue to bask in all that Faith offers, and then there is a time to go out where God sends you, and serve him as he leads each day…not necessarily knowing what the purpose is, not understanding the call completely yet, but trusting that He has brought us here, and if we are faithful to step forward each day…he will guide each of those steps..and prayerfully, we all will bring glory to Him where we are at.

This is why I think I am dealing well thus far, moving far from what I considered my “forever home” of NC. Although I can not yet see the “Big Picture” of what God is doing, I certainly see Him moving, and want to remain faithful to Him, no matter what it looks like from this side of heaven.

I am learning much since being here, learning how to really pray, and praise God for who He is, not what he provides for me…I am learning to trust Him with the upbringing of the children, the blessings that he has allowed me to raise for Him. I never intended to stop homeschooling, since He called me to do it back in 1994 while Lacee was only 3. However, God can use ANYTHING for His purposes, and I believe from the bottom of my heart, He can use public school too, to raise Godly children for Him and his purposes. Since this is what I feel he has led me to do, in this season, I will trust Him in this too. And I pray for them more, ALL of them, than I ever have before, while we all were under the same roof each day. I miss my girls terribly, miss talking witth them each night, miss the laughter and the tears, and just being there for each other…but also know that this too must come, as they mature, and go on to living their own lives. It seems to sneak up on ya…they are there, day by day, then they are gone, taking care of themselves, and living their own life. Because of this, I pray more, and I LOVE THEM NOW MORE THAN EVER!

Time drags on so slowly it seems, as the daily grind goes on, but when it is over…it is surely over, and you wonder where the time went. I am so very thankful that I did the best I could to show my kids the Truth of Christ in the years we had, so that now I can let go, knowing God has them in His hands, wherever they are and wherever they go… I know He is faithful to bring them to completion in Christ.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”. Phil. 1:6

Saturday, September 1, 2012

First Official Fall 2012 Football Game

This is from the very first official game of the season: Susquehanna Township against Spring Grove. 
We arrived to the band playing the Indian theme...very cool.

On this video you can hear the announcer listing this years first string line up.

One of the first plays in the almost 90 degree weather.

Billy and Michelle

Blaise, Caden, Logan

Our newest friends - The Webb family

Another rare picture...Sandy and I together

CJ on the field.

Having fun - Hunter, Logan, Caden, Blaise

Indian smoke signals! The battle is on.

Lil Olivia

Caressa and Maddie

The natives getting restless!

End of game prayer time :)

A gift from Coach Stokes after the game; in honor of WFR #79 Austin Flowers.
CJ unexpectedly received #79 when he became an Indian this year.

We did have a great time at the game, cheering on the Indians with family and friends. And with a 40-0 win, it was an excellent night. Including the thrill when Billy and Michelle snuck up to our kitchen window about 10:30 to scare us as we served icecream to the kids...good thing Caressa was the first to wash her hands in front of the window - my poor heart probably wouldn't be able to take it ;)