You’ll see in this latest piece we published that Ben Carson himself was rejected as a speaker at a Christian event because of his own religious beliefs. Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. It’s all a bit ironic coming after Carson said a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the United States.
But the apparent disinvitation to Carson got me thinking because it brings up an issue that has always fascinated me. Seventh Day Adventists do not believe in heaven or hell or the immortality of the soul – which creates significant distance between them and most Chalcedonian Christians.
The Bible – both the Old and New Testaments – is somewhat contradictory on a major point of what most people think of as an elemental aspect of Christianity and Judaism for that matter- namely, what happens to you when you die?
One line of argument is that when you die you’re pretty much dead but that God will literally resurrect either some people or everybody at the end of time. This is the subject of one of the most arresting passages in the Bible, in Ezekiel 37.
Here’s one part of the passage from the NIV translation …
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Then of course there’s a very different understanding, which most of us, whether we believe it or not, are more familiar with today, which is that there’s a continued, non-bodily existence after death. In other words, you go to heaven or hell or wherever you go your existence doesn’t end with the death of your body.
As I said, there’s a lot in the bible to support both views and most contemporary forms of Christianity and Judaism end up, sometimes awkwardly, combining the two. But Adventists stick strictly to the earlier bodily resurrection model. So you don’t go to the Heaven when you die. You’re just dead until the resurrection. And also, I think, if you’re bad you just never get resurrected. Which is sort of a plus for atheists if you have any lingering doubt since that’s what you were figuring anyway. No eternal torment.
It doesn’t surprise me that some mainstream evangelicals might view this as heretical and shun Carson. That’s what happened in some cases with Mitt Romney, though Mormonism is much, much more distinct in terms of doctrine and belief. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is why it’s a good thing we don’t have religious tests for office and as a matter of civic belief if not quite constitutionality that we should be indifferent to people’s religious beliefs and the specific doctrines they espouse when evaluating them for elective office.
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