“I know his spirit is in Heaven.” So says Jason Freeman, grandson of Charles Manson, as quoted in the Feb. 1 Californian.

That statement about Manson, the debate over the same-sex wedding cake, and the discussion about Billy Graham’s death have made faith issues front page news in Bakersfield recently.

I was struck by Manson’s grandson’s quote, which stands out for its contradiction of traditional beliefs about heaven. I mean, if anyone is damned, it’s Charles Manson, right?While no faith can claim with certainty who's hellbound and who isn't, some faiths do outline parameters for admission into heaven and hades. In human history, only a few would be near unanimous selections for damnation if we humans were voting. Charles Manson would be one of them.

So it shocked me his grandson could say otherwise with confidence. Charles Manson, who died in a Bakersfield hospital late last year, was the leader of the Satanic cult that killed actress Sharon Tate and friends 50 years ago, and his continued rantings affirmed his evil insanity: His spirit is going to heaven, according to his grandson. Wow!

Perhaps a grandson of Hitler might advocate for poor Adolf as well. Maybe they were both just misunderstood?

Meanwhile, the Tastries bakery debate shows how trivial issues can be magnified because of our faith. To bake a cake or not? How can something so mundane be a stumbling block? It is the history of the human race that we humans will do this, even to the point of killing and war over these beliefs.

There was no killing in the Tastries debate. Just lawyers, and a very interesting debate pitting First Amendment rights against 14th Amendment rights. For my part, I understand the perspectives of both parties —Tastries owner Cathy Miller and gay couple Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rios. They’re both right. Both have rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from discrimination.

But in my limited knowledge of the Bible, Christianity, and our human spirit, we tend to be wrong when we're most certain we are right. We’ve seen folks pick and choose Bible verses to support positions. I am sure other faiths do the same, or you wouldn’t have Sunni and Shite Muslims, or Orthodox, Reform or Hasidic Jews, etc., with countless variations. The real challenge of faith is not to find the speck in another’s eyes, but to find the log in ours.

Like it or not, we all have logs in our eyes. Still, it’s odd to think about Manson’s spirit in Heaven. I might question why I tried to live my life within moral constraints if spirits like Manson’s made it in. I would be thinking, I could have started my own Satanic cult! If guys who had Satanic cults make it to Heaven, just who then actually ends up broiling next to Satan?

On top of all that, in the Feb. 22 Californian, columnist Michael Gerson throws this debate into total confusion by quoting the recently deceased Billy Graham, perhaps the most respected of all Christians.

Graham says, “I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel of Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that.”

If Graham doesn’t know who’s in and who’s not, who does? I don’t know who’s going to Heaven, and don’t need to know. I can’t even fathom it. But if there is a God, God is just, and I can live (and die) with that. If Manson’s grandson believes Charles Manson’s spirit is going to Heaven, it’s not my place to say otherwise (other than in the musings herein). Likewise, if I were trying to be a good Christian in the Tastries matter, I would think resolving the matter “as a peacemaker” would be Christ’s suggestion.

Maybe Graham’s uncertainty can take some of the certainty out of the Tastries debate. I mean, if Graham can acknowledge he doesn’t know God’s plan for pagans, maybe there is room for gays as well. Despite Graham’s input, the Manson mystery remains, but a Tastries solution may come not from above but from another supposedly hellbound villain, Marie Antoinette, who, sometime before she lost her head, is alleged to have given this counsel: “Let them eat cake.”

Sal Moretti is a retired Bakersfield city superintendent, a former captain in the U.S. Air Force, co-chairman of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, and a freelance writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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