According to the TV series The Good Place, my mother was right. Somebody really is keeping score. Mom used to tell me that God had a book and whenever I did something bad, he (it was always a 'he' back then) would put a black mark next to my name. Small wonder we get such forked up notions about God.
If you haven't yet seen the show, go watch it - now! (Then you'll get the "forked up" joke.) I'm not going to give the story away, except for the premise that when we die, we go either to the good place or the bad place. Getting to the good place all depends on how many good deeds you've racked up in your lifetime. If you're an exemplary human being, you'll be greeted by the "Welcome! Everything Is Fine" sign and then by Ted Danson, who will introduce you to the delights of the Good Place. Trust me; it's hysterical.
But What About Grace??? Theologically speaking, it's more problematic. Not that The Good Place tries to speak theologically; there's not even a higher power in evidence. Still, my Lutheran soul immediately picked upon on the discordance between the notion of points for good behavior and the idea of justification by grace, which says we get to the "good place" only through faith and reliance on God's grace, not through good deeds. Martin Luther's warnings are burned into my brain, (e.g. "If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolatry.")
What The Good Place does do is wrestle with the question of what it means to be human. Instead of theology, it uses ethics and philosophy (trust me, it's funny).
I thought about The Good Place when I saw the latest online rant about Gretta Vosper, the United Church of Canada pastor who identifies as an atheist. The headline: Preacher who doesn't believe in God is like Amazon manager who doesn't believe in online shopping
Ha! Ha! Not. I actually wrote a post about this in 2016 Should the Atheist Pastor Be Defrocked?
At the risk of eliciting my own snarky headlines, I agree with a lot of what Vosper says. She has stated, “I do not believe in a theistic, supernatural being called God.” Well, neither do I. I don't identify as an atheist, although I might go as far as a-theist. A better label would be Christian panentheist.
I've also been reading A Freethinker's Gospel by Chris Highland, an avowed atheist whowas once a Presbyterian pastor. Again, there's not much with which I disagree. The only difference really is that confronted with questions about traditional Christianity, Highland took a path into freethinking and I went toward a form of progressive Christianity. In essence, we're pretty similar. Same with Vosper. More similar than a lot of forms of Christianity.
It's OK to Ask Questions Which brings me back to The Good Place, which is not religious in any way, yet explores what it means to be human. It may not jibe with Lutheran theology of sola gratia (grace alone), but it asks the right questions. And in today's religious milieu, I believe that it's more important to ask questions than to know all the answers ( as if we could anyway!).
So, go ahead, watch The Good Place. Laugh. Also listen to The Good Place podcast (it's really fun!). But maybe also reflect on the deeper questions of humanity.
Holy shirt! We're all in this together, no matter what we believe or don't believe.