A Virtuous Society Pursuing Happiness

Imagine a society where the majority of the citizens believe happiness is the ultimate goal, which can be achieved through the development of virtue.

Imagine those with influence—parents, teachers, politicians, etc.—placing a constant emphasis on the necessity of each citizen, with no exceptions for those in power, to grow in virtue.

Imagine a public school system where lessons on the acquisition of virtues are mandated.

Imagine jails and prisons emphasizing rehabilitation through self development.

Imagine news reports, movies, and books supporting and furthering this effort by praising and upholding the virtuous as role models.

Could this happen?

It would require a concerted, long-term, top-down effort drawing from, and grounded on, diverse philosophies and religious teachings.

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Note:
Ancient leaders and philosophers taught that their god or gods were morally perfect (even if stories within their cultures might depict otherwise); therefore, to grow in virtue and perfection, one must strive to always choose what is good and right (i.e. to be more godly).

Can Biblical Morals Flourish in a Secular Society?

Biblical morals can be taught, and they can have a positive societal impact; however, it’s unlikely they would flourish since secularism lacks the ability to motivate adherence.

Now you might be thinking, can’t morality be legislated? And of course, a moral code can be legislated; however, like all laws, there is a direct correlation between compliance and enforcement. Furthermore, laws created to develop virtue, such as love others, forgive others, etc., are largely impossible to enforce. The best outcome a state could achieve would be discouraging some unrighteousness (i.e. behavior contrary to the morals being legislated) by punishing those who get caught breaking the laws.

Religion, on the other hand, can promote adherence to moral codes. Yahweh, the god of the Bible, sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, and he has promised to punish or reward you accordingly.

Biblical morality requires effort. Nevertheless, when a society believes biblical morals come from God and further believes that God will one day judge all people and reward or punish them for eternity for their actions, most will put forward the effort.

Consider the following biblical morals:
• Love and fear God.
• Do not be a drunkard.
• Give to the poor.
• Transform your mind by focusing your thinking on good things.
• Love others.
• Be patient in tribulation.
• Do not fear men; they can only kill the body. Instead, fear God who can destroy both body and soul.
• Forgive others.
• Treat others as you would want to be treated.
• Practice self-control.
• Do not focus on accumulating earthly wealth, which can be stolen. Instead, accumulate heavenly wealth by doing what is right.
• Hate evil.
• Bear each other’s burdens.
• Be humble as Jesus was humble.
• Honor your father and mother.
• Do not murder.
• Avoid sexual immorality.
• Do not commit adultery.
• Do not be a glutton.
• Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
• Do not steal.
• Do everything possible to live in peace with everybody.
• Do not covet.
• Do not bear false witness.
• Obey the government.
• Love your enemies.
• Be slow to anger, and do not let anger cause you to sin.
• Be peacemakers.
• Strive for godliness/moral excellence.
• Do justice.
• Love kindness.
• Care for orphans and widows.
• Do not be hypocritical.
• Do not seek revenge.
• When struck, turn the other cheek.
• Encourage one another in the faith.
• Share your faith and hope with others.

As you can see, these behaviors do not come easily or naturally.

Humans naturally avoid doing things which do not benefit them personally, so if you remove the hope of eternal life and the threat of eternal damnation, there is little motivation to strive beyond self-seeking behaviors.

Does this mean that in a secular society people will not love, forgive, and show kindness toward others? Not at all. It just means that most people in a secular society will only love, forgive, and show kindness to the extent that these actions provide personal satisfaction and/or derive praise from others.
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Note:
I selected the items in the list above because they are still held up by Jews and/or Christians as guides for ethical conduct. Of course there are many commands, especially in the Old Testament, that are not viewed as guides for modern ethical behavior.

Does God answer prayers?

Does God answer prayers?

I don’t think so.

I grew up in a conservative Christian home, was saved and baptized as a child, and was immersed in a community of Christians. I went to church and Sunday School every week, and when I was old enough, I attended Youth Group. I loved God and regularly thanked him for the gift of his son Jesus. And I regularly prayed. But here’s the thing, when I look back on my life and consider the thousands of prayers that I prayed, my memories are of unanswered prayers and explanations such as “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” “God must have something better planned,” “God’s ways are mysterious,” “God is just saying, ‘Wait’,” or “God answers every prayer, but it doesn’t always look like what we expect.”

Now, of course my experience is limited, considering Christianity has been around for almost 2000 years; nevertheless, I don’t think that’s a good reason for rejecting a belief formed from many years of experience. And, my belief is not based on only my prayers. In addition to the prayers I’ve privately prayed, I’ve prayed with hundreds of other Christians, regarding everything from health and finances to significant life choices.

Now, the argument could be made that my prayers weren’t answered because I lacked faith, but when I was younger that wasn’t the case. I prayed believing my prayers would be answered.

Another argument could be that God chose not to answer my prayers because there was sin in my life. Now I’ve never claimed to be perfect, but I’ve always been a pretty good person. I loved and respected my parents, I tried to treat others as I wanted to be treated, I became a teacher because I wanted to positively impact the lives of kids, and when I came to believe my Christian life was not intentional enough, I sold what I had and took my family to China where I could share the Gospel with those who had never heard.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean to suggest the things I prayed for never came about. For example, every time I got a cold or flu I prayed for healing, and within a week or two I felt healed. And I usually found items I’d misplaced around the house within a few days of praying that I would. But, these aren’t the kinds of things that really build faith. The big bold prayers that could have turned me into a prayer warrior and solidified my belief in the power of prayer are the ones that eventually caused me to stop believing. Laying hands on those with cancer and other serious diseases while earnestly praying in agreement with fellow Christians just to watch those people’s health rapidly deteriorate before their untimely deaths is hard to explain away. Praying that relationships would be restored and then watching the suffering caused by divorce shakes the foundation. Praying that babies would be healed of congenital diseases or that they would survive complications at birth and seeing those prayers go unanswered causes one to ask hard, uncomfortable questions.

Even though I have no reason to believe God answers prayers, I guarantee when the solutions to life’s trials are out of my hands, I will pray and after making my request, I will ask God to help my unbelief. And if my prayers are not answered, I will not be surprised or angry; I will simply move on.

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Note:
In this post, I’m only speaking about prayers prayed by Christians since I don’t have experience with other religions. That being said, I’ve neither heard nor seen any evidence that prayers uttered by followers of other religions are answered.

Why We Need Conservatives and Liberals

Thomas Hobbes said the lives of people left to fend for themselves would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A strong leader, he argued, is necessary to provide security by keeping selfish natural human tendencies in check. And while I largely agree with this sentiment, I would add that history has shown religions with powerful and active gods are also effective in keeping selfish natural human tendencies in check.

For most of human history, religions served as the foundation of civilization. Religions defined morality, and the fear of gods helped enforce that defined morality; however, as we transition into secularism and the fear of gods has less influence on behavior, behaviors that benefit societies (and the principles and laws which codify those behaviors) naturally lose sway to self-seeking behaviors.

Societies must choose if laws will be rewritten to conform with this new individualistic secular ideology, or if laws that favor societal cohesion and stability will remain in effect.

We can clearly see this playing out in US politics. Conservatives regularly cite the importance of maintaining laws based on Judeo-Christian moral codes while liberals decry these codes as archaic and declare many of the laws that are built on these codes are harmful.

I think these debates are healthy, and our two-party system with its competing ideologies will continue to craft laws that reflect both viewpoints. Laws that would limit individual freedoms for the sake of the whole cannot trample on individual liberties.

The recent ‘Defund the Police’ movement and the spike in violent crimes perfectly demonstrates how hard it is to balance individual liberties with societal cohesion. Policies and laws become harmful when the pendulum swings too far right or left. Therefore, we must continue the hard work of ensuring the moral codes/laws that we adopt retain societal cohesion and stability with sufficient threats and incentives in place to ensure compliance without abolishing individual liberties.

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I don’t see where Progressives, Socialists, or anarchists have anything positive to contribute.

The Catholic Church and President Biden

Some Catholic bishops in the US argue the Church should deny the Eucharist to President Biden because of his stance on abortion; however, I believe that action would hurt the Catholic Church more than it would hurt the President.

The Catholics in the US who voted for Biden in 2020 (and this was most Catholics) knew he supported abortion. In fact, polls show most Catholics in the US appreciate the fact that President Biden supports abortion.

Unlike his predecessor, Pope Francis has worked to soften the Church’s views on controversial social issues, repeatedly warning that the Church must not focus on abortion and homosexuality. And I think it’s true to say most Catholics appreciate the fact that the Church does not sanction parishioners who hold views on issues such as birth control, abortion, and homosexuality that are opposed to official Church doctrine. Furthermore, if the Catholic Church were to deny the Eucharist to prominent Catholic politicians because their views opposed Church teachings, it would be seen as a politicization and weaponization of the Eucharist.

Some argue the Catholic Church cannot be spiritually relevant if it refuses to enforce its own moral teachings, but I think the Vatican sees things from a more practical standpoint: As the number of those in the West who attend Mass continues to decline, the Church simply cannot afford to risk a schism in order to appease a conservative minority.

Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and the Lake of Fire

Throughout much of the world, it is popularly believed Christianity teaches that when people die, their bodies go into the ground but their souls go to heaven or hell; however, that’s not what ancient Jews believed.

First, it needs to be noted that Jewish post-mortem beliefs evolved over time.

In the Old Testament, we read that when a person died, they went to the underworld (Sheol) and slept in peace forever.

We can see in scripture that this view was seen by some as unfair. They struggled to reconcile this with Yahweh’s righteousness and justice. They lamented the fact that both the righteous and unrighteous received equal treatment after death: They both entered Sheol where they slept in peace with their fathers. (Job 3:13–19; Eccl 9:1–10; Ezek 32:18–32)

In the book of Daniel, chronologically the last book of the Old Testament, we see a new post-mortem belief: The author of Daniel writes about a resurrection involving “many”—both good and bad. It appears this passage refers to a future resurrection of all Jews from Sheol.

Intertestamental literature continued to build on the apocalyptic themes in Daniel, and we also see some Jews expressing views of the underworld similar to that of the Greeks: the righteous dead separated from the unrighteous dead in a two-compartment underworld.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus in the book of Luke suggests Jesus believed in a two-compartment view of Hades: the righteous going to a part of Hades called Paradise (Abraham’s bosom) where they were rewarded and the unrighteous going to a different part of Hades where they were punished. However, since this story only appears in the book of Luke and because it presents a theme not seen in Jesus’ teachings elsewhere–namely that after death the rich will be punished and the poor rewarded–I think it’s unlikely Jesus actually told this story or held this view.

One of Jesus’ teachings that is consistent in the synoptic Gospels is that the righteous would be raised back to life from Hades; it’s not clear, however, if this referred only to Jews who had died or if it included Gentiles.

Jesus also referenced Gehenna in the synoptic Gospels as a fiery place of punishment. (“Gehenna” is derived from the Hebrew ge hinnom or the “valley of Hinnom.”) These references seem to denote a final, fiery destination for the unrighteous.

In the book of Revelation, which was probably written at the end of the first century, we read that the sea will give up the dead who are in it, and Death and Hades will give up the dead who are in them. There would then be a judgment according to works and then Death and Hades would be thrown into the lake of fire along with everyone whose name was not found written in the book of life. (The writer refers to this as the second death.)

Based on the synoptic Gospels, we can be confident Jesus believed those determined to be unrighteous at the judgment would be cast into fire. It’s not clear, however, if Jesus believed the unrighteous would be annihilated in this fire or eternally punished; there are verses that can be interpreted to support either view.

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Note:
Different English Bible translations use the word “hell” when translating “Sheol,” “Hades,” and “Gehenna.”

Related Post:
After death, according to Christianity

After death, according to Christianity

Do some people go to purgatory when they die?
No, the Bible says nothing about purgatory as an intermediate state or an intermediate place.

Do people go to heaven or hell when they die?
No, bodies are placed in the ground and the spirits then reside in Hades, the place of the dead. In the Old Testament, the underworld (Heb. Sheol) is described as a place deep in the earth where the dead sleep in peace.

Who will be resurrected?
Jesus said the righteous will be raised back to life. (It’s not clear if this referred only to Jews who had died or if it included Gentiles.) Paul believed Gentile followers of Christ who had died would also be resurrected. Some books in the New Testament say all of the dead will be resurrected. Revelation is the only book that says there will be two different resurrection events separated by 1000 years.

When will the dead be resurrected from Hades?
At the return of Jesus. As Jesus is returning to earth, the dead will be resurrected.

If a person is not resurrected at the return of Jesus, is there anything resurrected family members or friends can do to cause that person to be resurrected?
Probably not. The Bible never mentions this possibility.

Could cremation prevent a person from being resurrected?
Probably not. Those who are resurrected in order to inherit eternal life will not be wearing their old bodies; instead, they will receive new immortal, imperishable bodies.

When the dead are resurrected, will they be angels?
No. Jesus said the resurrected would be like angels. According to Paul, followers of Christ who are alive at the return of Jesus will be transformed so that just like the resurrected dead, they will also have immortal, imperishable bodies.

Will those who were married resume their marriages after they are resurrected?
Jesus said those who were married, died, and are later resurrected from the dead will no longer be married, nor can they get married because they will now be like angels. It’s not clear from Jesus’ words if married couples who are alive at the return of Jesus will continue to be married. (I think Paul would likely say married followers of Christ would cease to be married at the return of Jesus, since they would also be like angels.)

What will immortal, imperishable bodies look like?
When Jesus was raised from the dead, his body still had the nail scars from his crucifixion. On the other hand, there are several accounts in the Gospels that show his followers not recognizing him immediately, so there may be continuity as well as discontinuity.

Will the resurrected have memories of their earlier life?
Probably, Jesus did.

If babies are resurrected, will they be babies forever?
We do not know.

If babies are resurrected, who will take care of them?
We do not know.

Will the appearance of immortal bodies change over time, or will they look the same forever?
We do not know.

As Jesus is coming back to earth, will the righteous (all of those with new bodies) fly up in the air to meet Jesus?
There is one passage in the Bible that says this will happen. Many New Testament scholars believe Paul was describing an ancient practice where people would go out to meet and welcome the approaching emperor or king. Because Paul often used metaphors, it’s hard to know if the part about meeting Jesus in the air is meant to be taken literally or figuratively.

When Jesus is back on earth, will there be a day of judgment?
Yes, the books in the Bible that only speak about the righteous being resurrected say that those living at the return of Jesus will be judged according to their works; the righteous will inherit eternal life and the unrighteous will be cast into fire. However, those books that say all of the dead will be resurrected, naturally include the newly raised dead in the judgment.

When the unrighteous are cast into fire, will they be burned up and cease to exist or will they experience eternal torment?
It’s not clear if Jesus believed the unrighteous would be annihilated in this fire or eternally punished; there are verses that can be interpreted to support either view.

What will Jesus’ earthly reign be like?
Jesus will reign as king from the newly restored Israel. (Many refer to this as the messianic kingdom.) According to Paul, he will reign until “all things are subjected to him” and then he will subject himself to Yahweh so that Yahweh may be “all in all.” (It’s not certain other biblical writers agreed with Paul’s view that Jesus would only reign until he had accomplished his mission.)

What will life be like while Jesus is reigning from Israel?
All Jews will return to Israel and the Jewish nation will reign over all of the earth. Every Gentile nation will be envious of Israel’s prosperity and will serve and pay tribute to Israel. And everyone on the face of the earth will worship Yahweh. It will be a time of peace.

Will Satan be released from his imprisonment at some point during Jesus’ reign?
This is only mentioned in the book of Revelation. The writer of Revelation says after 1000 years, Satan will be released and he will deceive many and cause them to revolt. This revolt will be put down. Those who joined with Satan will be destroyed, and Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire.

What is the lake of fire?
Although the lake of fire is only mentioned in the book of Revelation, references to Gehenna in the synoptic Gospels appear to refer to the same thing. The writer of Revelation says after Satan’s revolt is put down, all of the dead will be resurrected (the second resurrection event) and judged. Those who were unrighteous will be cast with Satan, death, and Hades into the lake of fire.

What will life be like when all things (with the exception of Yahweh) have been made subject to Jesus?
There will be no more tears, no more death, and no more pain. Everyone on earth will worship the Lord. Beyond that, we do not know.

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Notes:
My answers are based on information in the Bible, not on extrabiblical material.

The author of the third Gospel, who was likely Greek, has Jesus describe Hades in a way that corresponds with Greek beliefs: a two-compartment underworld–a place of reward for the righteous and a place of punishment for the unrighteous; however, there is no evidence outside of Luke that Jesus actually held this view.

The writer of the Gospel of John appears to have rejected the idea of Jesus’ earthly messianic reign (click here).

We know Jesus promised immortality to his followers, and he said the dead would be like angels when resurrected, but we do not know how Jesus expected those who were alive at his return to receive immortality. Perhaps, like the author of Revelation, Jesus believed Yahweh would bring back the tree of life that was in the garden of Eden.

Related Post:
Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and the Lake of Fire

Is it bad that I don’t want to live forever?

Christian apologists and pastors tell us humans long for an afterlife because we fear ceasing to exist. We understand that ceasing to exist would mean losing everything.

And while I understand ceasing to exist means the loss of oneself, I have to admit that eternal life concerns me just as much if not more than the absence of life.

I’m 52, and I’m guessing I will probably die somewhere around the age of ninety. And while I like the idea of being resurrected at some point after death to live on a renewed earth where there will be no sin and no tears, the idea of eternal life—living forever in an immortal, imperishable body—worries me.

Do I really want to live forever? Will I be bored stiff after a thousand years? Will I have any unmet desires after a million years, or a billion years, or a trillion years?

The truth is, the mind I have now does not relish the idea of living forever, so my hope is not just that I will be resurrected from the dead, but also that when I am resurrected and receive a body suited for eternal life, I will also receive a mind (or at least a mindset) that is also suited for eternal life.

Will Marxism Become America’s State Religion?

Marxism in America, which has incorporated critical race theory as a key component, has the type of tenets and practices commonly associated with religion:

  • Mankind is fallen as a result of power and oppression (socialism / critical race theory)
  • A new “equitable” moral code is needed (wokeness / social justice)
  • This new moral code must be enforced so that oppressive and corrupt systems and structures can be dismantled (political correctness / censorship)
  • Unbelievers must be taught the truth so they will leave their false religions behind (secularism / scientism)
  • Those who criticize (blaspheme) the truth, i.e. heretics, must be punished for their sins (cancel culture)
  • Through steady progressive change we can create utopia (humanism)

While religions like Christianity and Islam have been experiencing shrinking membership, Marxism has been growing, thanks to a very vocal and influential progressive coalition on the left. This coalition has been especially successful in winning converts on college and university campuses.

In spite of its growth, I do not believe Marxism will ever gain enough adherents to become America’s state religion, but that’s not to say this religion will disappear. I believe Evangelical Christianity will become even more political, and we will see these two continue to compete with each other both in the marketplace of ideas and at the ballot box for power in a country that is becoming less and less religious.

The Name of the Hebrew God

Yahweh or Jehovah?

Although there is no biblical prohibition against writing or saying the name of the Hebrew god, around the 3rd century BCE, rabbis began teaching that their god’s proper name was too sacred to be spoken. When Jews came to the tetragram YHWH in the text, they would say Adonai (Lord) or Elohim (God) instead. Later, they started writing YHWH with vowel points to remind people to say “Adonai” instead of speaking God’s name. As a result, the pronunciation was forgotten!

In the 16th century, William Tyndale attempted to insert vowels to ascertain the original name. The Latin J was used to represent the Y sound and the Hebrew vowels from Adonai were added to the Hebrew consonants YHWH. This produced the name, Jehovah. Today, most scholars recognize this was a mistake, and “Yahweh” is now seen as the much more likely spelling.

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Note:
Some Jews go even further and will not even say “Adonai” outside of prayer services, and some will not write the English “God,” instead writing G_d.

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gods & priests