Sunday, August 16, 2009

Once Saved Always Saved: Reductio Ad Absurdum Theology of Gym Killer George Sodini

Theology of Gym Killer George Sodini

Following is a quote from the blog of George Sodini, who killed four people (including himself) and wounded nine others in a Pittsburgh gym on August 4, 2009. The mind of the about-to-be killer mulled over the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone and pushed it to its logical absurdity (reductio ad absurdum[1]).
Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.

Some people think the blog is a forgery. There is some evidence to support that claim. For one thing, the web hosting site’s records for blog say that Sodoni’s blog was last updated December 2008, not on August 4, 2009, which is the date of the last entry supposedly entered by Sodoni. But this may be a simple clerical error. Or that web hosting record itself may be a hoax. I tried to check the original, but If you go to now, all you see is an empty page. (A cached version of the index.html page for the site is available at google.)

The quotes circulating from the real or bogus blog do mention accurately the name Tetelestai, the Protestant congregation that Sodoni frequented for years ( And one entry slams the Tetelestai leader, Alan R. Knapp, by name.

Tetelestai a Koine Greek word means “it is finished,” and is the last word/words of Christ on the Cross. The name refers to the congregation’s teachings that Christ’s death put an end to all penalties for all sin for all believers. One shorthand for that doctrine is “once-saved always-saved.” Another way of saying the same thing is “Eternal Salvation.” This is a common Protestant doctrine.

Even if the blog is false, a deacon at Tetelestai echoed the exact theology stated in the quote from Sodini’s blog. According to the following quote from the Pittsburg Valley News Dispatch, Deacon Jack Rickard believes unequivocally that George Sodini is in heaven. ‘Once saved, always saved’ — Deacon says killer rests in heaven

George Sodini rests in heaven now because he professed a faith in Jesus years before his shooting rampage, a Tetelestai Christian Church leader said.

Jack Rickard, a deacon … said the Bible makes it clear that “professing a faith in Jesus as savior means you will have complete eternal salvation.” Rickard, 80, of Indiana, Pa., said Tetelestai members “are firm believers in ‘once-saved, always-saved.’” …

Starting with Luther, Protestant theology rejected the Sacrament of Confession. There is no need for confession (or repentance even) according to their way of looking at sin.

There is a lot to be said on this topic. For one thing, it is far from convincing from my point of view that Luther said that God gave to him the doctrine of justification by faith alone when Luther was sitting on the privy!!

Corraborated by what I’ve been reading today when researching the Protestant position, many congregations teach that after a person professes belief in Christ any sins that person commits are covered by the Blood of Christ.

An image often quoted from Luther says that Christ’s sacrifice covered our sins like snow covers a dung hill. Many Lutherans say that there is no evidence for that image appearing in any of Luther’s writings. However, I found an actual quote from Luther’s writings in which Luther did refer to the stench of our sin being hidden by Christ’s sacrifice, even though the words snow and dunghill do not appear in the quote.

Here is yet another quote from a mainstream Lutheran site:

People are lost in hell because they reject Christ as Savior, not because they have committed the sin of abortion or some other sin. That is the truth of the gospel.

… When Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), [tetelestai again] he was saying that his task of paying for sins--including the sin of abortion--was complete.

That [the Cross] is where we find the certainty of our salvation, not because we have lived such a good life, but because Christ did so in our place. …

I have some first hand exposure to that theology. I left the Catholic Church in rebellion and intellectual pride when I was 18. At about 32 years of age, I started exploring Christian denominations. I began attending an Evangelical Free and other non-denominational fundamentalist congregations. In the enthusiasm of my conversion to being a “Bible-believing Christian,” I agreed with whatever they taught, including the doctrine of Eternal Salvation. At that time I looked back on when I had been a Catholic, and I decided that instead of having Eternal Salvation I had lived under the Damocles sword of Eternal Jeopardy.

But then after a while, I realized there was a lot of proof-texting going on to support the once-saved-always-saved position. Okay, there is “By faith are ye saved not by works, lest any man should boast.” But if the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, why didn’t they pay any attention to: “Faith without works is dead.” Or why didn’t they quote Peter, who said that many would fall away from the Faith? And that adulterers and fornicators (among other sinners would be damned? I don’t have space, but the Scriptures quoted on both sides of the argument are pretty well covered at this site

After long searching, I found a clarification of the once saved correlative belief that a believer can murder or commit adultery and still be saved; in a letter, Luther wrote that serious sin was not possible for a believer because the sin itself proved the lack of faith of the believer. This is quite different from the doctrine that the sins of the believer are not seen by God, and that after a profession of faith, the believer is assured of salvation. From other of his writings, Luther seems to have held both beliefs

As George Sodini’s case indicates, many denominations that have splintered off in the 500 years since the original rupture from the Catholic Church have built their whole belief systems on justification by faith alone (eternal salvation) and one other major catch phrase: Sola Scriptura. But the doctrine "by Scripture alone" is a whole other topic.

I want to end this rough essay with a bit of doggerel verse from the same website quoted above. The poem addresses the fatal flaw in the doctrine that George Sodini seems to have followed, the fallacy that led him to being convinced that he was guaranteed to be going straight to heaven after a murderous rampage.

A Poem by Dr. Michael Brown

God loves me and God loves you
Smile sinner, don't be sad,
God's not angry, he's not mad,
And even if you leave the path,
there's no hell and there's no wrath!
God sees your heart, and that's enough.
The judgment seat won't be that tough.
You can't sin away His grace,
Or take that smile from His face.
Trust me, sinner, to the end,
My name is Satan, I'm your friend".

[1] "Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: "reduction to the absurd") in formal logic is an argument to refute a proposition (or set of propositions), by showing that it leads to a logically absurd consequence."

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Julie/Julia Project: Two Characters Unequally Matched

Photo: Julia Child's Cambridge kitchen, on display at the Smithsonian..

In the movie, the Julie/Julia Project, the richness of Julia Child's life experience, relationships, and accomplishments (especially in Paris) contrasts sharply with the poverty of blogger Julie Powell's life, friendships, and ambitions in Queens and Manhattan.

The plot: Julie Powell creates a blog describing her self-imposed task of cooking all the recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. Powell's ups and downs are portrayed by screenwriter Nora Ephron against the story of how Julia Child came to learn French cooking and write and publish that cookbook, as described in Child's autobiography, My Life in France.

The contrast the movie reveals between Julie and Julia is sort of like holding up a painting by a modern artist who never learned to draw against a masterpiece from an old master.

Don't get me wrong. I recommend the movie, with an additional caveat about the sexual situations and some foul language, some of it quoted from Julia Child herself. The sex is married sex, but still. The movie illustrates very clearly the link between the sensuality of food and that of sex.

Forty years ago, I watched all the PBS shows of the French Chef. At that time, the French were correctly if not charitably carping that Julia Child was not a real working chef. As Child admitted, she was a home cook and taught home cooking. She inspired me partly by her ineptness, actually. When I saw the lumpy buche de noel (Yule log cake) with the misshapen meringue mushroooms Child created in one show, I thought to myself, Hey! Even I can do that!

I started watching her show on PBS in Boston, continued when we moved to San Francisco and then when we lived in the prairie in Northern Minnesota up near Fargo. I still remember one midday when I carried a big steaming pot of garlic soup that I made from a recipe in Child's French Chef cookbook to a Freaky Foods Club meeting in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco.

The movie reminded me of my great affection for Julia Child. She was a bright original spirit, her cook books are very good, and her shows were entertaining and belied the impressive amount of work that she and her husband and many assistants did to prepare behind the scenes.

I also became acquainted with the Julie/Julia Project blog before it was famous, and I just now finished taking another look at the blogger's final posts. I have to say I can't abide its angry, mean, fairly superficial and not to mention expletive ridden and blasphemous writing. (When she hinted there would be an addition to the family [which turned out to be a dog], she wrote, "No, not a baby. J***s!) What does that say about her in contrast to Julia Child's tears and great sadness in the movie about the children she wanted but could not have?

I have to agree with Julia Chld's reaction to the blog: she said it was a stunt and that the writer was shallow and wasn't a serious cook.

One thing that is patently absurd is that in the movie Powell set herself a year's deadline for cooking all the recipes and then wailed that if she missed it she would have wasted a year. Huh? There was nothing to lose if she missed the deadline, nothing at all. It was inspiring to me that she got a book contract and a movie out of her blog, but was what she wrote actually worth all that? And her reported conversations with her imaginary friend Julia Child while she cooked seemed pretty absurd too.

The actor portraying Julie's husband has some tough lines to read when trying to console Julie after a reporter told her what Julia Child thouught of the blog. The husband speaks a psychobabbly bit about how the Julia Child that Julie has in her head is a different person from the Julia Child who doesn't appreciate the blog. And that somehow consoles the Julie character.

To tell the truth, I wonder if all the gourmandizing that Julia Child unleashed was altogether good for American culture. You cannot make a simple salad these days without a mix of six lettuces (with the mandatory arugila) in the circles I run in. My work cafeteria has all kinds of what I call yuppy food, when I'd like to sometimes go in at lunchtime and pick up a regular old low priced sandwich, with maybe romaine or curly leaf lettuce. Cooks these days don't seem to realize that good food can be made and enjoyed without expensive ingredients like varieties of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar. Even good, traditional, priests who are Facebook friends are sending tweets (from Twitter) about their gourmandizing and wine bibbing.

Excessive preoccupation with food, even excellent well-prepared food, and with other aspects of what is called good living is just as bad as any addiction. What have we come to with a TV channel totally dedicated to Foodie-ism? I have to admit I'm delighted that American cooking is no longer only packaged mixes, Wonder Bread, and convenience foods of all kinds. But food is not the meaning of life.

As St. Paul said, "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17). And in Phillipians 3: 18, 19, St. Paul wrote that those who make their bellies their god are actually enemies of the Cross.

"For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things."

The true focus of our lives should be what St. Paul writes about in the next two verses (20 and 21):

"But our citizenship 13 is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.."

Great cooking, Parisian living, cooking shows, book contracts, fame, and fortune, all are intensely attractive. But as St. Paul tells us, our minds must be on heavenly things, we should be busy while waiting our savior, and we need to be humbly subjected to Christ. Ever hear of a saint who insisted on extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar on his mixed Spring greens? Me neither.

Aside from all this, in the face of Julie and Julia's atheism, I am sad, and all I can do in the face of that sorrow is pray for their souls.