Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter Morning, 2017
Immortality or Resurrection
By Peter K Bullock, MDiv, MS

In 399 BC Socrates, the classical philosopher and considered one of the Founders of Western Philosophy, was executed due to his moral and ethical stance that “might does not make right.”  The form of execution was to drink poison hemlock.  While dying, surrounded by disciples and friends, he spoke of the gradual numbing of his legs and torso due to the poison.  Those around him were weeping and grieving and it has been said that he comforted them, for after all, in good Hellenistic theology, he had a “soul” and it was imperishable and immortal and that he “was going to a far better place (ie, eternal life).

Human beings have in all cultures had a notion of life after death.  Neanderthals buried their dead with food, weapons and favorite items to accompany them in the life to come.  Vikings believed in Valhalla where warriors who died with weapons in hand would drink and be merry in the great hall of Odin.  Native Americans did the same, believing one goes to The Great Mystery (eg, Happy Hunting Ground).  Muslims believe they go to Paradise and some (the radical variety) believe if martyred they will be greeted by 70 virgins.

Christians influenced by the same Hellenistic philosophy of an imperishable and immortal soul believe, perhaps due to the universal angst about mortality also believe in a Soul.  Evangelicals, a relatively new name, brought about to distance from Fundamentalists but not much has changed in their belief system (“you can’t put new wine into old wine skins”).  They, like Socrates (not Christian and dead 400 years before Jesus who was also executed for his moral and political stance), believe in having an immortal soul.

The ancient Jews of whom Jesus was one, did not believe in life after death, but they steadfastly believed in a creator God who was the source of all life.  The pro life types having to do with abortion don’t seem to be pro life when it comes to the environment (the planet is a living entity) or when it comes to bombing brown people, or capital punishment or the use of guns.  They would do well to take the scriptures seriously –  “God breathed into Adam (Hebrew for human being) (Genesis 2:77 RSV) . . . the breath of life and he became a living being.”  We become human (alive) when we take our first breath – as or shortly after we are born – not before.

Comparing the death of Socrates with the death of Jesus; Socrates was calm and comforted his followers.  Jesus prayed, “remove this cup from me” and “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Socrates, like many in the western world of Christianity believed he had within him the capability to survive death (eg, immortality).  Jesus, on the other hand, knew he did not.  Many Christians believe that if they do the right thing, believe the right thing, the soul will be transported immediately to heaven (paradise).  In other words, many believe the power to determine their fate lies within themselves.  Jesus believed he had no such power, but was willing to trust in God, who created him in the first place.  “We are saved by Grace through Faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God – not of ourselves, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8).  Socrates believed in the power of his Soul – Jesus trusted in the power of God.


A final note about mortality, about which I frequently ruminate as I approach my 78th year.  Recent research found that the most prominent cause of human death on this planet is not war, violence, poverty, famine or disease etc, but simply obesity.  One would think that the “pro lifers” would be deeply influenced by the need to maintain a healthy body weight.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

“Nothing New Under the Sun”

In the middle of the third century BC, one of the books in the old testament (HEB Scriptures) is Ecclesiastes, its author “Qoheleth” (HEB Preacher).  In it he writes there is “nothing new under the sun” (an early existential thought).  Therefore, there are really no surprises.  Human beings are going to behave as they always have.

A story about an African village, in which a young man agonized over the health of his fellow villagers is telling.  This young man was noted by a missionary as intelligent, insightful and deeply caring.  The missionary made arrangements that enabled the young man to go to college and medical school in England.  He returned years later to address the medical needs of his people and he was warmly greeted.  However, when he made it known that he had knowledge, experience and medicines that could greatly help the physical maladies of the villagers, he sat alone in his hut and no one came to him.  Perplexed by this, the young doctor looked for reasons and found that the villagers were still flocking to the local witch doctor for their ills, where the witch doctor would rattle monkey bones in a tortoise shell to make them well.  They did not get well, but habit, tradition, custom and stubbornness had soon “won the day.”  Ultimately the young doctor moved to London where he practices his skills among the poor.

Don’t be surprised, fellow progressives, about the recent election.  “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Black Lives Matter: A Commentary

The Black Lives Matter movement has caused a push back by many saying, in effect the obvious, “all lives matter.”  This is to counter by way of sarcasm, the movement.  Of course all lives matter and this simplistic, obvious and trite attempt to diminish the point of the movement hides what I suspect is the real underlying issue – simply and starkly stated – RACISM!

I think what impacts and causes anger among so many is that they know, feel and are aware – at some level -- that the Black Lives Matter Movement is really saying: “Black Lives Matter – as much as White Lives.”  Enter the racial animus of so many who will not openly admit that Blacks, and other Minorities are as good, smart and deserving as Whites.  This is just old (ages old) racism – all the more reason to support the movement because historically and even to the present, as a group, Blacks have been culturally, economically, academically and opportunistically un-equal – and this is a nation that constitutionally declares all are created equal.

Some time ago I was in a Mennonite thrift store perusing books.  I couldn’t help overhearing an elderly couple in conversation.  The woman, in particular, loudly complaining about the country’s state of affairs and made reference to that “thing” in the white house.  Barack Obama, a black man born, raised and educated in a country where he rose to the highest level of achievement and influence in the world.  This bigoted old woman refers to him as a “thing” – of course she has to dehumanize him since she is a racist.  And – forgive me here – given the store we were in, most likely calls herself a Christian.

I am a 77 year old white male who has been afforded the freedom and opportunities granted by this nation.  I am an imperfect man, along with being a grateful man.  I am liberal, pretty well educated, sometimes smart and many times not so smart.  I am one who has been deeply influenced by Judeo/Christian thought and insights, and especially by the man, Jesus of Nazareth.  I do not pretend that I can overcome prejudice, racism and ignorance, or the many other injustices that persist in our society.  Our president recently said that “ignorance is not a virtue!”  I agree.  Ignorance is also ill informed, unaware, insecure, immature -- and dangerous.  I do not believe that I would be able to change any of this – but what I can do, is to refuse to remain silent in its presence.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Grief Revisited

In September, 1970, I was between college and graduate school.  I and two of my children were at my parents’ home in central Pennsylvania.  On the 12th, I was getting ready to go to my in-laws to pick up my wife and two of my four children and head toward Philadelphia.  As I was leaving, I saw a military car pull up in front of my parents’ house. Knowing my brother Denny was in the Service, I thought he had been given another award, as was his history.  I decided to stay to find out what it may be all about.  Two officers came to the door and my mother answered.  They inquired as to her name, and if Dennis John Bullock was her son.  She said she was and that he was.  The officer then said simply and directly, your son was killed yesterday in the South China Sea off the coast of Viet Nam.  My mother did what all mothers do.  She sank to the floor saying No! No! Oh No!  In the following days my parents, along with my two other brothers, grieved.  My parents being religious, began to find some comfort by acknowledging their son’s death was somehow the “mysterious” will of God.  I railed against that notion by pointing out that what killed “Denny” was the American paranoia of communist influence in Southeast Asia; the machinations of the military industrial complex, the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a five inch shell that killed their son and my brother.  I was much younger then, my head filled with the protests of college during the 60s.  My so-called intellectual maturity was leaning more and more to liberal and progressive ideology.  What I said then, I still believe.  The aforementioned dynamics were true then, and still are – I was right.  However, for a number of years now I have come to know that I was, in fact, wrong.  I had failed to acknowledge my parents’ faith, for which even though more liberal, I hold deep value even now.  I am twelve years older than when my father died and two years older than when my mother died.  I was wrong.  It is one of my deepest regrets that over the years I never clearly indicated to my parents how much I have come to know they were right.  Life and death is a psychological and spiritual mystery and the most honest reality for me is the willingness to acknowledge that mystery by “leaving it up to God.”  The truth is, we don’t know, even as our hearts and minds want and need to “know.”  So if courageous and honest, we go again and again to that only place where deep in us we know we have always been.  The place where the fierce and radical love of God calls us and pulls us – sometimes kicking and screaming – to that place where we say with gratitude and wonder “your will be done.”