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Heretics

If you haven’t heard it yet, This American Life re-broadcast a story last week about Carlton Pearson, a pastor who was once rising in the evangelical ranks. Pearson is also responsible for introducing the Christian world to Pastor T.D. Jakes. So why was Pearson once rising as opposed to still rising?

Because he stopped believing in hell.

And then all hell broke loose. Because “when there’s no hell (as the logic goes), you don’t really need to believe in Jesus to be saved from it.” His closest friends and associates left him, he was deemed a heretic, and he had to essentially start over. Pearson now preaches a “gospel of inclusion” at New Dimensions church.

The story is worth listening to the entire way through, regardless of your own beliefs. The show did a great job describing his thought process through his decision, and you realize how even now, many of his former church members refuse to speak about him in interviews. I was amazed how quickly Christian leaders turned on Pearson when he decided he didn’t believe in hell. The same people who claimed to have “Christian love” wanted nothing to do with him. It’s not the only time this has happened. When I listened to the story, I thought of how James Dobson suddenly withdrew from Ted Haggard’s counseling team after Haggard’s allegations came forth, citing “lack of time.” You would think the one time Haggard is asking for help, he could rely on Dobson, a man who builds his reputation on “protecting the family.”

While I don’t think Pearson went far enough in saying where the Bible was wrong, he shows an attitude that is much more admirable than many other pastors– one that isn’t intent on condemning everyone who thinks differently. It’s at least a step up. One step up a very long staircase.

To hear the story, download the mp3 here. If the link doesn’t work, you can stream it live here.


[tags]This American Life, Heretics, Carlton Pearson, atheist, Christian, hell, evangelical, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, New Dimensions, T.D. Jakes[/tags]

  • BC

    I head listened to that TAL story a while back. It was really interesting, one of the best stories I’ve heard on TAL. I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable of Christians to disassociate themselves from him or consider him a heretic – when viewed from the standpoint of an unbending support of Christian beliefs (Jesus is the only way to heaven, his beliefs may actually lead to more people going to hell). However, their rejection of him seems unreasonable when viewed from the standpoint of humainness (not rejecting people because of religious disagreements), and reasonableness (if God is a loving god, then why is it so unreasonable to suggest that he saves everyone?)

    On a similar subject, I recently listened to the audio files of you speaking at Parkview Christian Church. I thought you did a good job. I did want to add a few things that you might want to consider in the future for these types of questions. When people ask me why I (as a non-believer in god, heaven, hell, sin, etc) act morally, I explain that my moral beliefs actually come from empathy for other people. As Lincoln said, “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad. That is my religion.” I act morally because I don’t like hurting other people.

    Also, with regard to the existence of God, Christians say that God has given us a way to heaven through Jesus. We can accept or reject that, and our choice determines what happens to us in the afterlife – therefore, it is we who chose our fate (removing God from any blame for people going to hell). Of the the things I bring up in this context is the issue of “authentication”. Authentication is the issue of God proving that he is God. This is an important issue to raise when it comes to conversion, because people don’t reject Christianity because they’ve chosen not to follow God, but, rather, because Christianity appears no different than any other false religion (no evidence). Similarly, if a member of a cult walked up to you on the street and asked you to convert to their religion and follow the teachings of David Koresh, most everyone (Christians included) would reject conversion because they didn’t believe the cult was true. But, what if, in the afterlife we were sent to hell for not converting to that cult (we were, afterall, “given the chance”)? It’s a problem of authentication – that the religion or cult is who it says it is, and that we have a way to know that. It would seem hugely unfair to end up in hell for not converting to a cult, yet Christians seem to think it is entirely reasonable for someone to end up in hell for not converting to Christianity. Now, many Christians might argue that if you converted, you would see the truth of the religion (although most people would rightly reject that same argument if a cultist told you that you needed to convert to the cult before seeing the truth of its claims), the fact of the matter is that many of us were Christians, and still didn’t see the truth of those claims. From a global view, the issue of authentication is a big problem. Religious people (Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, etc) aren’t rejecting the Christian God out of a desire to spite him. They are following their own religious traditions that they believe in. If God really wanted to save people (as he claims), why not authenticate his endorsement of Christianity? Billions of people would convert if Jesus were walking around as a ghostly figure (as described post-resurrection), teaching and preaching the good news. God could do other miracles or send angels so that no one could doubt the reality of Christianity (though they could still chose to disobey). The problem is that all religions are reduced to the same position – they claim to have the truth, but none of them can actually provide any real evidence despite the fact that God is overwhelmingly capable and, if Christianity is true, God wants to save people. That choice on God’s part (to not authenticate the one, true religion) will inevitably lead to billions of people ending up in hell when they would’ve chosen Christianity that was backed by authentication.
    ( Also, I’ve stumbled upon a similar argument against religion called, “The argument from unbelief”. Google it if anyone wants to read it. )

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Thanks for the advice, BC :)

    – Hemant

  • http://www.2eblog.com Michael 2e
  • http://www.livingbyfiction.com/ Sean

    Ah This American Life, so full of insight each week.
    I haven’t heard that one yet, will have to look it up online.

  • Siamang

    Wow, that was powerful and wrenching. I sat here at my desk at work, welling up with tears for that man so loving and so in conflict with his old beliefs.

    What a wonderful journey for him. I’m sorry that it carried so much pain, but I do feel the love in his heart. For his sake, and his loving heart I hope that he’s right. I want him to be right. He deserves to be right, for the love he has for everyone.

  • Bobby

    I admire CP’s ability to question his beliefs. All too often christians don’t do this. Most people are guilty of believing things without convincing proof. Can any of us really prove or disprove God’s existence? I sure can’t. I guess the only one who can prove Gods’ existence is God Himself. Anything worth believing is worth questioning. I may not be able to prove or disprove the existence of Hell, but if it does exist, I definitely deserve to go there. I believe in Hell and Heaven, and God, and Jesus. As a follower of Christ I seek people who don’t necessarily have the same worldview as me. Just to test and try my own beliefs, and maybe try to coherently explain mine. Jesus has made my life so much more full, and I came to this point only because God revealed Himself to me. I want everyone to know how good he is. I am daily growing into a more full understanding of God, humanity, and life. Man I have got alot to learn. Christians are guilty of turning our backs on anything not familiar to us. I recognize this as a problem, and I am trying to overcome it in my own character. I’m not exactly sure how, but I’m sure that God is working in me to change. This seems like a good place to start. If ever there was a place that a friendly christian could find people willing to talk with someone who had different worldviews it would be with friendly atheists.

  • Siamang

    Welcome, Bobby!

    I’m glad you’re here. Even if I’m not in the same place in the journey that you are, I’m really glad that you’re here, and I appreciate the desire for friendly conversation (I left the unfriendly places behind.)

    Bobby, you wrote this:

    I may not be able to prove or disprove the existence of Hell, but if it does exist, I definitely deserve to go there.

    I have the opposite view. If Hell exists, NOBODY deserves to go there. Because it’s infinite punishment for finite sin. Since human life is finite, any infinite reward or punishment makes the sin infinitely miniscule by comparison.

    If I said I’d put you in jail for 500 years (and it’s Abu Ghrab jail, not regular jail with TV and Shuffleboard) for stealing a toothpick, you’d rightly call that cruel and ruthless and way, way out of proportion. But God does it not for 500 years, not 5000…. not 5 million, five billion or five trillion. Nope. Forever. 500 million gazillion gazillion gazillion gazillion times 100 million quintrillion is NOTHING at all next to forever.

    Now, you said you deserve it. I can’t imagine what you could have done to deserve it (do you happen to be Hitler?) Are you a multiple-convicted child murderer? Perhaps you’re Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussain.

    If I haven’t guessed your identity, please enlighten me as to how you rank up there with those entities and you deserve the mother of all Abu Ghraibs.

    I suspect you’re guilty of the grievous sin of having been born a son of Adam, and that the rest was a guilt trip layed on you by people anxious to have your money in the collection plate on Sunday. But that’s just me. I see many of the dogmas of religion as a sales pitch.

  • Bobby

    Hiya Siamang
    I’m glad you’ll share ideas with me.

    you wrote:
    “Because it’s infinite punishment for finite sin. Since human life is finite, any infinite reward or punishment makes the sin infinitely miniscule by comparison.”

    Do our actions carry consequences that are exclusively immediate, or do we sometimes carry grudges and emotions for long times? sometimes our entire lives?

    you wrote:
    “please enlighten me as to how you rank up there with those entities and you deserve the mother of all Abu Ghraibs.”

    Does anyone, regardless of offence, deserve to be freely forgiven without any consequences?
    Would it be fair for a judge to award a criminal freedom without any form of punishment for the crimes committed?
    you wrote:
    “I suspect you’re guilty of the grievous sin of having been born a son of Adam, and that the rest was a guilt trip layed on you by people anxious to have your money in the collection plate on Sunday. But that’s just me. I see many of the dogmas of religion as a sales pitch.”

    No, I have my own faults, and yes I have been given guilt trips by my “brothers and sisters” and yes some churches do seem to be worshiping the almighty dollar, and many dogmas of religion are just sales pitches. It’s not just you, its the truth and the truth is usually evident to everyone who can see clearly. I think my vision is clearing up. God shouldn’t be used a money maker or a frivolous (monetary) opportunity. He is the answer to our deepest desires.
    When I answer these questions, based on my faith in the God of the Bible of course, then I am drawn to the conclusion of Hell’s existence, and my deserving to go there, solely for my actions and offences against my fellow man or woman (which are direct offences to their/our creator)

    I’m sure this is all not new to anyone reading this, I’m just here to trade and share worldviews with as little offensive confrontation as possible. Thanx for your time.

  • Jessica

    Hello! this is Jessica Bobby’s wife, I just wanted to pop in and say hello and comment on one thing
    Siamang said “But that’s just me. I see many of the dogmas of religion as a sales pitch.”
    no sex before marriage, dress modestly, monogamy, be meek, there ARE abosolutes.
    With todays mentality that sex sells and what’s ok for you might not be ok with me but that’s ok too; these concepts are repulisive and not at all popular. Why would anyone with half a brain buy into that? I mean millions of people sleeping around and doing who knows what with who knows who can’t be wrong can they? And why on earth do people go to a place every Sunday to hear religious propoganda about paying the church to keep your soul out of mortal doom? That’s what happens isn’t it? that’s what it’s all about right? unless that’s not what happens and that’s not what people buy into. Maybe there’s something more. But what could it be?

  • BC

    Bobby: You seem to have skipped past the whole point of Siamang’s post. He’s not saying that he shouldn’t be punished for wrongdoing. He’s saying that nothing anyone does deserves eternal, torturous punishment in hell. You seem to have skipped that whole point and argued that wrongdoing requires punishment (as if anyone disputed that). Your post reminds me of the old political saying, “Don’t answer the question they asked. Answer the question you wish they asked.” It’s unfortunate that you didn’t address the point that he actually raised – but then, you might not be here defending Christianity if you actually dealt with the issues head-on.

  • Bobby

    My point is that any wrongdoing has long-term and (if you believe in eternity), eternal implications. I believe if we could really see the way we hurt each other (read each others hearts) we would live in torment today.
    BC:He’s saying that nothing anyone does deserves eternal, torturous punishment in hell.

    Why do we assume that hell is only a place for those who have committed the worst atrocities?

    The most basic and yet horrifying definition of hell I could state is that it is eternity apart from God. Some would argue that hell isn’t such a bad place to be, given this simple definition. But I would argue that if our definition of who God is were more accurate according to His character, we would seek to be closer to Him.

    BC

    Your post reminds me of the old political saying, “Don’t answer the question they asked. Answer the question you wish they asked.” It’s unfortunate that you didn’t address the point that he actually raised

    sorry but I didn’t read that question in Siamang’s post it is not Siamang’s fault only my eagerness to explain what I thought was a good response.
    Please consider any of my responses my best attempt to explain why I believe the way I do – rather than attempts to “defend christianity” we both know I don’t stand a chance in that arena. I am not here to start any fights or disputes, only to try to understand why you believe the way you do.


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