Give ‘Em Hell

Give ‘Em Hell May 26, 2011

Taking the concept of hell out of Christianity is like taking the brandy out of eggnog. What remains is still sweet, substantive, and majorly satisfying, for sure. But without that zingy, burning undertone, that certain dangerous something that tends to make people a little crazy, it’s also a whole lot less fun.

Not that we Christians think of hell as “fun,” of course. Especially not hell in the afterlife. But it’d be extremely disingenuous of us not to admit that here, in this life, hell provides us with all the justification we could possibly need (not, let’s admit, that we need much) for being about as rude, intrusive, self-righteous, and judgmental as we could possibly want to be.

And trying to pretend like being that way isn’t at least a little fun is like trying to pretend that Bran Flakes are Sugar Frosted Flakes. Front fail.

Without rudeness, intrusiveness, self-righteousness, and judgmentalism we would, for instance, have no gossip. So, I mean, you know: right there. That’s what gossip is.

Can you imagine a world with no celebrity magazines? No TMZ? No talk shows? Even less soap operas? No reality shows?!

That’s right: if it wasn’t for Satan, we’d have no Dancing with the Stars.

But you knew that.

I think we all know that.

The point is: our acceptance of the reality of hell means that we Christians get to — that we’re morally obliged to — tell everyone who is not Christian how mind-bogglingly, ferociously, dangerously, insipidly, pitiably, absurdly wrong they are about pretty much every last thing in life that’s of any critical value whatsoever.

Because if you’re wrong about God, then there’s not a whole lot left for you to be right about, is there? Being wrong about God means being wrong about the origin, nature, and purpose of virtually everything. A person wrong about God is like a fish wrong about water: something’s outlandishly awry — and bound to get worse.

If you’re a Christian, the doctrine of hell being a real place fully empowers you to tell complete strangers on the street (not to mention your neighbors, co-workers, and shamefully errant family members) how much better, purer, and correct their lives would be, if only they would stop thinking and believing whatever nonsense they do, and start thinking and believing all the excellent stuff that you do.

Remain themselves? Bad.

Model themselves after you? Perfect!

My God (so to speak). It’s all I can do at this very moment not to run next door and enjoin my neighbor to cook my awesome recipe for Bow-Tie Noodles with Asparagus and Feta Cheese.

It’s the paprika that makes it special.

Is telling someone how lame their life is and how much better their life would be if they thought and believed just what you do so rude that Donald Trump wouldn’t do it? Well, no: Donald Trump would sneeze in your cocktail just to see that look on your face. But it is rude; it’s phenomenally rude. Unless you’re a Christian, that is. Then telling someone they’re dead wrong about everything, and that they urgently need to become someone radically different than the person they are, is the opposite of rude, see. Then that’s a loving thing to scream at them through a bullhorn.

And what makes it not just repelling obnoxious but loving for a Christian to try to convert others to Christianity?


It’s the hell that makes it special.

Without hell, there’d be nothing to save anyone from.

Without hell, the sole recommendation of Christianity would be the love of God proved through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Without hell, we could only point upward to the love of Christ, instead of downward to the wrath of God.

Without hell, Christians would be constrained and honored to have their relationships with others defined and informed by nothing so much as love, compassion, charity, and altruism.

Without hell in the afterlife, Christianity would be all about this life: how to live, how to love, how to be with God.

Concerning themselves not a whit about the next life would free Christians to concern themselves solely with this life.

Also, without hell the Christian issue of universalism would vaporize. The real traction of the idea of heaven being exclusively for Christians lies in the attending conviction that everyone who dies not Christian is condemned to hell. Remove hell from the picture, and the Christian loses his reason for believing that God couldn’t be just as pleased with a person of any other religion (or, gasp, no religion at all) as he is with Christians.

Isn’t that a terrible thing to contemplate?

Thank goodness the concept of hell can in no way be challenged or undermined by reconsidering our interpretations of its biblical references, or by wondering what possible vested interest anyone who’s ever had any power in Christianity might have in promulgating some of the oppressive, tyrannous, iron-fisted ideas about it that we’ve come to accept as true.

If we started down the road of questioning the validity of hell, who knows what kind of world we might end up with?


This is the third in a series of posts I’m doing about hell. The first is What Francis Chan (And His Ilk) Get So Terribly Wrong About Hell. The second is Is Hell Real? What Are We, Six?

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  • Don Rappe

    iron fisted might be better than iron fished

  • GOOD EYES, Don! Changed. Whew.Thank you!!

  • My God (so to speak).

    HA! Purrrfect. Poetic, even.

  • JohnShoreFan

    awww, hell, John, you take the fun out of everything!

    as usual, this is brilliant, witty, logical, practical, true, and worthy of passing on to just about everyone i know. do you think it’s appropriate to send it to people who totally disagree? or is it more effective to demonstate to them how great it is to focus on love and justice and reconciliation in THIS life without having to worry about the afterlife since we know nothing of it in the first place?

    BTW, i *love* asparagus and feta and paprika! i make popcorn this way 2-3 times a week! let’s have a garden party sometime!!!!! ha!

  • Mindy

    Well, I don’t know. Maybe iron fished is a new fad. Maybe John was startin’ somethin’ – – – –

    Or not.

  • Mindy

    Who knows, indeed.

  • It wouldn’t work.

    What I mean is, I think Christianity without Hell is really cool. As I’ve said on other threads, I like having doubts as to the eternity (as we in modern English think of “eternity”) of its nature. It’s just, your idea that it would radically change everything and we wouldn’t be overproud nagging niddlies anymore wouldn’t work. Gossip? Looking down on others? It’s just human nature.

    Case in point – other beliefs/belief systems that don’t include Hell. I’ve met a few people online who liked to lord their “enlightenment” over others. (Personally, I think anyone who does isn’t as enlightened as they think they are. I’m sure some of their own will tell them that if they keep up such pride). Really super-ardent Internet-rudenik athiests? Youv’e blogged about them. They believe everyone gets the same bad-to-netural end, yet they’ll gladly tell you that you’re as dumb as a bag of turds and wasting your life because you haven’t chosen Reason. (I capitalize because I’ve *seen* people capitalize it). It doesn’t matter if you pray under your breath or silently while you do other things, while you give to and *do work* to help others and if you live a life pretty much like theirs or even “better” by good-works standards, just *having a belief deep in your heart makes you a waste of life and they want you to know it!

    Or take things that don’t even have to do with the grand meaning of life, the universe and everything. I’ve been pretty much told that I’m stupid / a waste / a non-adult / non-human for being adult and a virgin-by-choice / aesexual. I’ve gotten the outright order by someone that until I spread my legs, even for some stranger I do not trust, I had no business talking to people with IQs “above that of houseplants.” (I am quoting! I *remember* that insult, I just don’t remember who it was by).

    I’ve seen people get into judgement and “you are less than me” over opinions on character direction and plot in animation and comic books for crying out loud. So, I prefer the animated version of something I like slightly over the comics version. I’m not going to Hell for that “sin,” but I’ve certainly been called a little girl / stupid / a bad fan / a waste for having the opinion.

    In short, humans suck. We’re all idiots and looking down on each other? It’s just something we do. Those of us who try to minimize that and do it as little as possible probably are looking down on lots of people at any given moment without even realizing it. Nature of the beast. Heaven and Hell have nothing to do with it.

  • Marcelo

    Iron chef’d?

  • Wow, 3 posts in a row about Hell, what’s up, I mean down with that John?

    I like your post BUT I really don’t agree with these statements:

    “Without hell, there’d be nothing to save anyone from”.

    “Without hell, the sole recommendation of Christianity would be the love of God proved through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross”.

    “Without hell, we could only point upward to the love of Christ, instead of downward to the wrath of God.”

    “Without hell, Christians would be constrained and honored to have their relationships with others defined and informed by nothing so much as love, compassion, charity, and altruism.”

    “Without hell in the afterlife, Christianity would be all about this life: how to live, how to love, how to be with God.”

    “Concerning themselves not a whit about the next life would free Christians to concern themselves solely with this life.”

    You see Christians should live exactly as you say in spite of Hell, not because of Hell. We are to live as Jesus taught and point people to Him, not away from Hell. The central message of the Gospel is the Love of Jesus Christ to all who come to him for foregivness, not “fire insurance” from Hell…….but you already know that don’t you John?

  • Sandy

    John, nice work here. I hope you address that old Baudelaire saw, as I know it’s in critics’ minds…

    Said quote: “My dear brothers, never forget, when you hear the progress of enlightenment vaunted, that the devil’s best trick is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist!”

    For what it’s worth, I think the Devil’s best trick is convincing you hell exists so you don’t pay attention to God in this life. 🙂

  • charles

    ones relationship with God should be the focus of our energy…. and evangelism. Hell, in that discussion is simply like throwing the “Hitler” card in an argument. That being said…. there was actually a Hitler.

  • Jeremiah Christian

    The problem with focusing on love, justice, and reconciliation in this life is that it cannot be accomplished. It will amount to nothing more than human efforts coming to human ends. Evil still being in the world and free will being what it is, there will always be evil in this world as long as it exists in it’s present form. Hence, there will never be complete justice, because there will always be injustice. There will never be complete love, because there will always be hate. There will never be complete reconciliation, because there will always be division. These are the devil’s schemes. Even if this minority group of Christians could live amazing moral lives, the would would as a whole would never be reconciled to God because everyone doesn’t share the same sense of morality and right and wrong. But God is one. It is the nature of God to be singular; singular definition of love, justice, etc., etc. Not to mention, “our righteousness is rags before the Lord”. The only way to make things right is to get rid of evil in the world and that is exactly what the second coming is all about. Hell isn’t about God getting childish revenge on all the jerks who never liked Him and His ways. This is His would and His creation and He is going to have it the way He wants it. And if you don’t want to be apart of what it is He wants He is not going to force you, but He won’t let you stand in His presence in Self-righteousness and arrogance declaring you thoughts superior or equal to His and so He will send you out of His presence. And that is what Hell is. The lack of God. And God is everything that is good. When He is not in the picture all that is left is hate, suffering, loneliness, depression, etc., etc.

  • Leslie

    I’d like the recipe for the bow tie noodles with asparagus, please.

  • Don Whitt

    Hell is the anchor baby of self-righteous Christians.

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

  • Dave Bowling

    @John: Bravo! nothing more I can think (or care) to say … you are right on with these thoughts.

  • “The problem with focusing on love, justice, and reconciliation in this life is that it cannot be accomplished. It will amount to nothing more than human efforts coming to human ends.”

    I’d really like to see what kind of ground we can cover with human efforts coming to human ends…oh, and we can ask God to provide the increase. Let’s try loving our enemies…I mean REALLY loving them…instead of creating more.

    And let’s try listening to the wisdom of others who perhaps do not share our faith. Because by seeing what we have in common, perhaps we will create more friends.

    Just a thought.

  • What a sad view of human beings.

  • Mary G

    Um,… gee… without hell, Christians might turn into… well, um… Baha’is? 😉

  • ck

    Well said – amen.

  • Diana A.

    And yet, I’ve certainly seen the type of behavior Shadsie describes.

  • “If we started down the road of questioning the validity of hell, who knows what kind of world we might end up with?”

    The kind of world I’d like to live in, where we don’t condemn others for not sharing our beliefs.

  • Lovely, Andie. Thanks. So true. I agree we miss a wonderful opportunity to learn from other faiths by myopically focussing on our own and dismissing all the others.

    There is a wonderful quote by Ibn Arabi (12th -13th century Sufi mystic) that I have heard Karen Armstrong, prolific writer, comparative religion scholar, and founder of the Charter for Compassion recite from memory:

    “Do not praise your own faith exclusively so that you disbelieve all the rest. If you do this you will miss much good. Nay, you will miss the whole truth of the matter. God, the omniscient and the omnipresent, cannot be confined to any one creed, for he says in the Koran, wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah. Everybody praises what he knows. His God is his own creature, and in praising it, he praises himself. Which he would not do if he were just, for his dislike is based on ignorance.”

    Gotta love those Sufi mystics.

    Anne Lamott has a great take on it too: “You know you have made God into your own image when God hates all the same people you do.”

  • Jeremiah, this reminds me of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law about religion (you know how those usually turn out). It has stayed with me because in it he said one of the most disheartening, discouraging, disillusioning things I have ever heard a person of faith say and it sounds remarkably similar to your comment here. He said, “I don’t pray for world peace anymore because I know it’s not going to happen.”

    I was bumfuzzled, flabbergasted, astounded, confused, dismayed, perplexed, and nonplussed.

    So, let me get this straight:

    You believe in an omniscient, omnipowerful, omnipresent diety……

    Who created the heaven and the earth and all that is within them

    Who hung the stars in space and lit the sun….in seven literal days, no less

    Who knows the number of hairs on your head

    And who finely dressed the lilies and knows when every sparrow falls

    Who defied the laws of science to impregnate a virgin with a divine being for the purpose of reconciling all of humankind back to itself

    And is the ONE and the only such god that exists who is capable of doing all these things including one day destroying the world…..

    Yet people loving each other and getting along in peace……..not killing each other for selfish gain….

    that’s just a bridge too far.

    THAT breaks my heart.

    O ye of little faith, why do you stand gazing up at heaven? Why indeed.

    “The problem with focusing on love, justice, and reconciliation in this life is that it cannot be accomplished.”

    This sounds like an excuse to me. It’s too hard. It can’t be done so why should we bother trying. The world is just getting worse and worse. It’s never going to change. The little good that I do doesn’t do enough good anyway…..

    Do you think Mother Theresa thought like that? Or Oscar Schindler? Or Amelia Earhart or Lindberg or Einstein? Or MLK or Gandhi or ……Mary who works in a soup kitchen in Washington D.C. who prayed this prayer: “Lord, we know you’ll be comin’ through the line today. Help us treat you well.” or ANYBODY who made a difference in the world. Nelson Mandella for God sakes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    What we lack is SPIRITUAL IMAGINATION and WILLPOWER, man. That’s why it won’t get better. WE have to man up and own that.

    It’s not that it’s not God’s will. It is. God said so. Go look it up.

    It’s not that the power of evil is too strong. It’s not. The power of evil isn’t some boogeyman with a pitchfork “out there” somewhere that we have sadly swallowed in our post-enlightenment literalism. IT’S IN US. And we have control over it! (I’m trying not to yell, really I am. This is passion, not anger.)

    We choose to do what we do – it doesn’t “happen” to us. Just like you and my brother-in-law choose to believe nothing will get better, so why bother. That’s our passive understanding of religion talking. STOP LISTENING TO IT. It’s wrong. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS WITHIN YOU.

    GO LIVE LIKE IT. This is the good that is needed to change the world. The kind of radical love that turns the other cheek, that loves our enemies as ourselves, that would lay down his life for his friends, this unconditional love is the same kind of love that will turn the world upside down….. for good.

    THIS is the good news. Go. Tell the world.

    PS: I alluded in a different post that the order of the books of the bible matter. And the big C church screwed it up by rearranging them. It is subtle, but present. In the Tanakh, the Jewish scriptures) the book of Esther comes near the end. If you pay attention to the order of the stories it begins in Genesis with God creating the world: all God – no human involvement. As you move through the stories of the Hebrew people, God’s direct involvement is less and less and our human involvement is more and more until you come to the story of Esther where she prays, but the action lies solely with Esther. All Esther – no direct involvement from God. This is expanded upon in Jewish teaching. Pray then do. It was a very Jewish thing to say in the first century: Don’t just stand there staring up at the sky. GO. Do the good you know needs to be done. This is your Divine calling.

  • Jeremiah Christian

    my point I was making in “peace’, among other things, not being possible, is that you are assuming that either everyone believes like you deep down and we just need to show them how it is the best thing to focus on in this life or that you can convince them. The problem is some people like being evil. They enjoy the power trip, they enjoy the money, they enjoy using up women or men and then leaving them, some even enjoy harming children, or their greatest thrill in life is taking something that doesn’t belong to them. Sure, there is a large population out there that if they put their minds to it and stopped acting selfish in some ways could be some really great people and make this world a better place to live in than it is right now. However, you will never be able to sway the people who really love their evil ways. They know it is bad and wrong and that is the part they like. So how do you think that will go down? The world being converted to a humanist Christianity, where the majority of people are living by their own logic and good will. You will be left with a small minority that just love to be evil. It will be real easy at that point to call them terrorist. To demonize them, and justify why it is for the good of the people that we get rid of these last few rable-rousers. And then you find yourself full circle. Your now bringing judgement. Your now sending people to Hell. (Eternal banishment from your presence.) and you would be right to do it. Because the truth is you will never have peace, love, and joy throughout the whole world as long as you have a small contingent loving themselves more than others or you ideology. You now stand in God’s shoes, because He does want peace, love, and joy throughout the land. But He is going to have to get rid of some trouble makers first.


    sorry. i promise i’ll grow up … like, next week, for sure.

  • Beautiful job, Christy. You’re really something.

  • I do.

  • Don Rappe

    I agree completely with this response, Shadsie. Conceptual or doctrinal changes would surely not in itself heal our fallen nature. I admire your sexual self knowledge. I think I can understand it. Almost 50 years ago when I met my wife she was as sweet and demure as she is today and most people would not pick up on what Ia truly hot tamale she was, because she did not flirt. At midlife she required a surgery which removed her sources of sexual hormones. Gradually her body changed and now has no sexual response at all. We still like to cuddle occasionally, but their is no sexual response. She is still the same fine person, but, asexual now. You and your common law husband seem to have found an excellent balance. You both have my admiration and congratulations.

    Referring to our rampant human assholishness that you mention as “fallen” I do not mean to diminish its disgusting quality. So, we still have something to be saved from without embracing the pagan conception of Tartarus in Hades to interpret a very few scriptural references. For me, the categories of “saved” and “condemned” are real, they are not illusions. The “gulf” between them happens if I embraced a theory of human personal identity that involves a “center”. If my center is structured primarily around my assholishness (sin) then “I” am condemned. Somewhere the Bible says that Jesus was made an asshole for us so that he could show us how to choose a different center. (the Rappe paraphrase) The God of Israel teaches us in the Torah how not to be an asshole by loving others as much as we love ourselves. And that we are worth loving because we are God’s people. Jesus commits a messianic act by exposing the Universality of this message. Exposing the universality of God’s salvation is the good news that Christ brings. Denying the universality of God’s salvation involves not receiving the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone who denies this Gospel is indeed condemned with a very real condemnation. We must accept real humility to center our lives around the universal love that Jesus teaches. Arrogance leads to condemnation. We may arrogantly choose to center our lives around ourselves and our own.

  • …..she reads……then, smack, palmfaces her forehead, still dismayed.

    “Because the truth is you will never have peace, love, and joy throughout the whole world as long as you have a small contingent loving themselves more than others or you ideology.”

    Guess who that small contingency is.

  • Deep breath….

    A long time ago I was taught that the narrow way was filled with people who followed all the rules and believed the same things I did, and the wide way was filled with people who didn’t.

    And then I read some books. And met people from a different zip code, and I lived in a different time zone and learned that the world is a really big place. And that God, the Divine, is bigger than my Sunday School understanding. And I experienced some things…..real things….first hand… lessons…..OJT. And then one day I learned about ego and compassion and unconditional love, and it was like Dorothy stepping out of her black and white twister-whipped house into the technicolor of OZ …..

    Ego…. edges God out and blocks compassion every. single. time.

    And the self-righteous are driven by ego. It’s what John’s been writing about here concerning hell. It’s what Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount; it’s why he was so hard on the Pharisees.

    Gordon Livingston, in one of his wonderful books, either Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart or And Never Stop Dancing, says this: The hardest thing in the world to do is to see ourselves as others see us.

    We need mirror holders. John is one. That say, “my friend – this is what you look like.”

    Through some difficult self-reflection I came to understand that the wide way is the way of EGO and many self-righteous rule-following church going tithers, and passionate believers are on this path to destruction. And the narrow way is the way of compassion. It is the way of Jesus. All we have to do is follow it with a humble heart.

    The journey is it. That’s what it’s about, not the destination. What John and others have been saying for centuries and in this exchange about hell and elsewhere is this: If you’re focussed on the destination, you are missing the point. Follow The Way…..for when you are on the right path, it can’t help but lead where you need to go.

    “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” ~ Jesus, Matthew 7:13 – 14 (NIV)

    Look with metaphorical eyes to see for the first time what has been right in front of us all along.

    Blessings on your journey, my friend.

  • Brian, I have found in exchanges of this sort it is helpful to occasionally employ the phrase, “I’m not sure I can agree with you on these points; help me understand what you are trying to say.”

    One says: I disagree.

    The other says: I disagree, but I want to try to understand your point of view. It’s a gracious way of engaging others.

    You said, “You see Christians should live exactly as you say in spite of Hell, not because of Hell. We are to live as Jesus taught and point people to Him, not away from Hell.”

    Do you think you could agree to this version as well, “Christians should live exactly as you say in spite of Heaven, not because of Heaven”?

  • DR

    This is the extremism that I find so fascinating. If he’ll as a concept is challenged, then that means Christians are all of the sudden becoming “humanists” and e ills going to run rampant.

    Jeremy with all due respect, open your eyes please. Our church is doing nothing to stop the evil that hurts the vulnerable because you know why? We are in total denial that a lot of it is coming from our church, within our tent. Pastors and religious leaders are sexually abusing kids, it’s one of most common places pedophiles hide and we let them. Gay kids are driven to suicide quite often as a result of hearing they are evil and unfit to bs married. They are kicked out of their homes. We were the last of the citizens in this country that wanted to give women the right to vote, Christians were against segregation. The list goes on and on. So these evil people you are talking about? They are us, they are sitting right next to us in church. Yet many of you are spending almost all of your time on evangelizing to the Non Christians. Stop working about everyone else not hearing about hell and start worrying more about thehes we can fix on earth, including the ones we’re making.


  • DR

    These iPhone typos kill me a little each time.

  • Well said, that about sums it up…

  • Christy,

    Lots of insighful observations, I especially liked:

    The journey is it. That’s what it’s about, not the destination…… If you’re focussed on the destination, you are missing the point. Follow The Way…..for when you are on the right path, it can’t help but lead where you need to go.

    The modern word EGO, the Bible calls refers to as PRIDE. Anyway, great post Christy….

  • DR,

    You said, “Christians were against segregation”…so you’re for segregation?

  • Sandy,

    It can also be said, “A trick of the devil is to convince you hell doesn’t exist so you don’t need God in this life”.

  • Christy,

    Yes you said this well..and I agree.

    “I’m not sure I can agree with you on these points; help me understand what you are trying to say”

    Now, as to this statement,

    “Christians should live exactly as you say in spite of Heaven, not because of Heaven”?

    I wouldn’t affirm that statement, but I would agree with this rendition:

    “Christians should live as much like Christ in spite of our Heavenly home, not because if it”

    It’s not what I say, it is the teachings contained in the BIble – or what God says, not me.

  • Do you know the irony?

    I can feel the “Tsk, tsk, tsk” coming off your statement. It’s exactly what I’m talking about.

    I may have used extremes here. I mean, I’m sure most atheists (outside of Internet memetic-fests with arguments so repetative I could turn them into a drinking game) aren’t into lording themselves over people. Certainly, that vocal atheist art teacher I had in high school was able to respect and even like me as a person, though she had an ill view of my religion. (Amazing)! I’ve really only met rude Buddhists and Hindus online in the same memetic-fest discussions – and then, not many — but the point is – people don’t need a “game over bad end” destiny for some (Hell) to get onto a religious or philosophical high-horse.

    All people need for that is a philosophy that tells them “I am better than other people.” In our society, it usually has a “smart” flavor – “I am more intelligent because I figured this or that out.”

    My response sounds harsh, I know. I did not include that I am of the opinon that “realizing one is an idiot” is the first and most important step to gaining wisdom. Just my opinion, though.

    It’s one of the reasons why I like Christianity. In its philosphy, God likes the dregs. We aren’t special, just for whatever reason, God chose us. He loves the farmer as much as he likes the CEO, the mentally retarded kid as much as the genius scientist. Even the criminal as much as the saint.

    Humans just don’t love like that, generally. There’s a reason why one of the identity-taglines at one of the places I go to online is “Conquer your dark side or become it.”

    I think we all need to see to our own human tendencies and take care of our own hearts before we take on the world. And it’s a pride thing, Heaven or Hell has nothing to do with it.

  • Christy

    It is obvious she meant “were against desegregation.” She was doing her best with technology on the fly. If you know anything about DR you know she is nothing if not passionate. A passionate typo inhibited by iphone auto correct.

    This would be that gracious opportunity not to jump on other people’s mistakes and intuit what they meant.

  • Christy,

    Just checking, I don’t know DR so it wasn’t obvious to me and that’s why I wanted some clearification. Sorry if I was subtly “reading into what they meant”

  • My last note didn’t come off as gently as I intended it. I’m sorry about that.

    Brian, I don’t know DR in real life either, I only know her from what I have gleaned here on John’s page by paying attention. In her note she is shining light and shaking salt on the lack of self-reflection from within Traditional American Christendom…..the dirt in our own closet….the tick on our own dog. Her point and my point and John’s point is that Pious Christianity goes about wagging it’s finger at all those “bad and evil god-forsaken people out there” while meanwhile back on the farm the fox is in the hen house.

    Another little nugget form Gordon Livingston: We focus on the wrong things.

    Destinations instead of journeys.

    Specks instead of planks.

    Who’s going to hell in the afterlife rather than how, little by little, lacking self-reflection and awareness and personal insight into our own behavior, our unconscious, our shadow-selves (as Jung would say), we are each going to hell right here, right now.

    Do you acknowledge the widespread opposition to and active resistance to and obstruction of desegregation within conservative Christian churches during the civil rights movement?

    Could you address her criticism of the big C Church’s involvement in sundry unsavory positions held throughout history and how this might have been quite the deterrent to successfully spreading the way of Jesus? Specifically: the crusades, the inquisition, Western expansion and occupation of the New World and how it impacted Native Peoples, slavery, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, gay rights, recent positions on torture and pre-emptive war, our callousness toward the poor and the “collateral damage of war” just to name a few and how the Christian concept of “retributive justice” has permitted Religion to enact a “turn or burn” policy here on this planet for millennia under the guise of “doing God’s will” because we are mimicking our (misguided) understanding of a theology that says unless you believe the right things you will be punished in the afterlife?

  • Thanks, John. Really, I appreciate the support…..but truly, like Chan said, I’m just clay. Now genuine compassion – that’s really something. Thank you for giving us the space here to share our voice and learn from each other. Namaste, John.

  • Brett Deiser

    I’ve always felt that one should do good for goodness sake not out of fear of punishment. The difference for me is motivation. If it’s out of fear then it means that with out the threat of pain or suffering what you really want to do is evil, so your not really a good person, just an evil person in hiding.

  • Brett Deiser

    That’s the rub to being Christian/spiritual/kind /good. The thing for me is to see in others the potential for ones self to be in the same position/condition. We are all one step/decision/accident away form any condition or situation we might witness in others. Therefore it behooves us to view others with compassion and kindness, not judgement and condemnation.

  • The thing is, Jeremiah, John is essentially saying the same thing, but he is pointing to the cross and the work of God through Christ as what makes it possible for us to do just what you are saying we cannot. Jesus said it best: “The Kingdom of God is at hand- it is among you.” No one is saying that if we all could just learn to love each other, it will all work out alright, because I think we can all agree that we have messed up the image of God that we were created to be, and by our efforts alone, you are right- it won’t be done. So we need some reconciliation, we need an event to provide for us The Way. The problem here is you think we are trying to rob the power of the Christ Event by doing away with hell; but I think we could make the argument in the reverse just as well- that we are, in fact, taking quite seriously the ramifications of the reconciliation found in Christ and his desire to return at “the renewal of all things.” Can you at least see that our desire is not to diminish the work of Christ in the cross, but rather to perhaps take it out to its fullest potential? To take it as seriouslyl as it seems to be?

  • God IS Love. Hmmmm. Too simple, John! Too simple!

    You’re taking away my right to judge other people’s hearts!

    Wait. Wow. I feel so free . . .

    No more playing God . . .

  • Sandy

    Oh, I need God. What I really need is more time seeking God and less time being afraid of somewhere, by default, I should not be going as I yearn for closer communion in every moment, not further fear of hell.

  • Don Gollahon

    My child has grown up enough that he wants to go outside and play. Do I let him with no warnings? Shouldn’t I teach him about the dangers of playing in the street? Wouldn’t I be guilty of neglect if I didn’t warn my child about the dangers of playing in the street?

    No, I don’t harp on it every day. In the beginning I will tell him more than once but as time goes on I don’t have to warn him, he should have learned by now. We want to place most of our time telling our child all the wonderful things he/she CAN do, not harp on what they cannot do.

    Isn’t hell similar? For those who believe the scriptures that teach it and that refer to the wrath of God, aren’t we obligated then to tell people about it? We shouldn’t make it the major teaching by any means, but warn we must. And yes, here again there is so much to tell people that they CAN do, not harp on what they can’t do.

    With so much in the Bible about God’s “angry” side, I fail to see how we can be justified to just throw it out altogether and never speak of it. Don’t you at least believe that God disciplines those he loves as a father disciplines his child?

  • Don, it is a healthy question to ask regarding the connection of how we tend to view God as a parent, how we were parented, and how we parent ourselves.

    Having lived on both sides of the angry God/loving God DMZ zone…..I have found this to be experientially true: Those who believe in a retributive justice punishing God tend to have been parented by parents who used corporal punishment and/or who now use corporal punishment with their own children. Those who believe in an unconditionally loving God whose will and goal and ability it is to reconcile all of creation back to God’s self tend to not use corporal punishment or have had it used on them by their own parents. Interestingly, my agnostic, atheist, liberal, and gay friends are the ones most likely to find corporal punishment appalling. One might choose to see this as evidence of “godlessness” or one might look deeper at why that is.

    I have had a great deal of difficulty over the last year, as I parent my own children, realizing that the church of my youth and those of similar ilk not only condoned corporal punishment as good theological practice, they encouraged it as a sign of good, healthy – correct – parenting and as being faithful followers of “God’s plan” thereby reinforcing the “Good Christian parents spank their children” meme. I recall sermons on how children were to submit to the will of the parents (as we are to submit to the will of God) and many such churches recommend spanking very young children and using enough strikes until the child’s “will is broken” and “cries lustfully or heartily” because, after all, if it doesn’t hurt enough – how will it work?

    This is not healthy parenting.

    These are the same themes used by the same churches that lead to spousal abuse when teaching that wives are to submit to their husbands. Of course it is not the intent of these churches to encourage abuse. Of course it isn’t. I get that. But this teaching DOES encourage abuse.

    Second only to “I am the way” passage the most misinterpreted to ill effect verse in the Bible is “spare the rod, spoil the child.” We know how literalists interpret this verse. With a minimal amount of Bible scholarship one will find that a rod is a tool of a shepherd (“thy rod and thy staff, they COMFORT me). They are tools of guidance, of direction, of protection, of rescue. Know any shepherds who hit their sheep? If they did would you think they were a good shepherd?

    Know what the difference is between cowboys and shepherds?

    Cowboys push cattle. Shepherds lead…..because sheep won’t go anywhere that the shepherd hasn’t gone before. And when the sheep is lost or strays or loses it’s way or gets caught in a bush – what does the Good Shepherd do?

    In light of that reading of the passage, God help us. What are we doing hitting our kids?

    If we are going to rely on the Hebrew Scriptures to teach us what God is like perhaps we could also glean some knowledge and wisdom from the millennia of study done by Rabbis that have expanded upon them and have read them in the context of Jewish history and culture. But if we are to rely on Jesus, under the New Covenant with God, as the embodiment of the Divine and the example by which we are to live our lives…..then we must ask ourselves: How would Jesus parent? As our minister says, pretty much every such question can be addressed by what Jesus said in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Greatest Commandment.

    A good and loving parent will teach his child, lead, guide, and protect them. Of course we would teach them about the dangers that can befall them in this life, avoiding traffic being one of them. And when they get hurt we grieve with them.

    What we wouldn’t teach them is that if they play in the street and they get hit by a car….. it is punishment for disobedience.

    (The story of the cowboys and the shepherds can be found in The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor.)

  • Rex

    John, these self-righteous christions you write about do you know them, are you grouping all christians into the same category? The christians I know are loving, giving and kind, they speak of the love and grace of God not “you better watch out”. We believe in hell but that dosen’t make me judgemental, it if anything causes me to be more compassionate towards nonbelievers. I just feel that true believers do not feel the way you described. 🙂

  • I think religion is trying to “cover up” the true meaning of the English word “hell”

    Hell know! LOL

  • Interesting take on the care of animals.

    I work with horses. I work at a barn currently and have worked on and off with horses over the years. I haven’t owned any since my family had a pony when I was five-six, and I don’t consider myself in any way a real equestrian because I’m not a good rider / haven’t actually *ridden* a horse in about five or six years now. Sadly, the barn where I stablehand at doesn’t let me ride. Still, I’ve noticed things about the way people train and dicipline horses.

    I’ve worked around horses I… didn’t trust. Undisciplined mares that acted like psychos and horses that were rescued from abuse who also acted like psychos (but a different kind of psychotic). The horses I work with now I trust very well because they were obviously raised correctly.

    Horses do need a measure of dicipline, but from what I’ve noticed, “just enough.” What I mean is, I’ve seen my bosses give a horse a hit to the neck when they were doing something dangerous. In learning lunge horses years ago, use of a whip is just “whip the ground or the air, the sound excites them” – but if they try to kick at you, give them a light nick on the rear or ankle because kicking behavior is damn dangerous and they need to learn not to do that. Some of the stronger horses at the barn or ones that are being too antsy are given a chain over the nose when being lead out to the paddocks. The chain does not injure them and I doubt it even hurts them, but it is uncomfortable enough to get them to halt if they try to run and you yank the lead rope – like a pinch. Calms them down. But, really, that’s it. Light dicipline makes for good citizens.

    Abused horses on the other hand – ones that have had their ears twisted and tied back, rode with a saddle-but-no-saddlepad (knew a horse like that, her previous owners must have been sadists), hit and beat all the time… maybe gives some cowboy a power-trip, but does not make for good citizens. Horses that have survived hell wind up being frightened/paranoid of anything in the shape of a human (doesn’t matter if you’re a “good” human, you are a human and to them, evil), and are prone to kicking biting and generally lashing out. They’re on the defensive all the time by default.

    Sometimes, when I see someone who dislikes Christians (usually an ardent athiest) go on and on about how their family abused them in the “name of God” and fed them stories that if they slipped up in the slightest, the demons would drag them to Hell, etc. etc. and JUST WON’T LISTEN when one tries to tell them that they’re a Christian who finds their childhood appalling and “we aren’t all like that” or even “most I know aren’t like that” – it’s like there’s no way to convince them that people who believe in a God aren’t all evil because… well, they’re like abused horses. People like that remind me instantly of abused horses.

    I don’t mean that as insult – I really do think that human beings are more like animals than we often think. We may think of ourselves as higher-minded, but we act by instinct and reflex much of the time, too. All of us.

  • DR

    Hi Rex,

    Here is something I’ve learned – painfully – from the non-Christians in my life that has been very productive.

    I used to ask this same thing to those like John who were calling out the evil in Christianity. One thing to consider is even those of us who are attempting to differentiate the “good christians, the true believers” vs. the bad are neglecting the real, systemic problem – that if we’re so great, then why aren’t we stopping the ones who are causing such damage? If there are more of us than there are of them (which I believe), then why do we focus such time and attention making sure everyone knows that our hands are clean? That we’re not the “bad” ones?

    Good Christians who do nothing are enabling the evil that the “bad” Christians are doing. We’re responsible done for the damage done in the name of Jesus – to not accept full responsibility for that, to not focus more of our energy, our intellect, our education, our time, our money – even our friendships – confronting those who are doing this, we’re enabling the evil. Making excuses for not knowing how, the problem being too big, etc. are just excuses. Most messes that Christianity causes – gay kids committing suicide as a result of the impact our theology about them has had on our culture, for example – are cleaned up by non-Christians. The Trevor Project for example, Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign being another. The Christians feel badly, they express remorse over gay kids being kicked out of their Christian homes but at the end of the day the focus seems to be “Hey everyone, don’t be mad at me because i’m one of the *good* Christians. Which is self-absorbed.

    This is a very – very difficult message for those of us who consider ourselves part of communities that are living the teachings of Christ. We’re doing our part. But it’s not enough, to those who have been given much, much is expected. If we’ve been enlightened, then we’re accountable to stopping the damage our Church is doing. We are – as someone said – often willfully blind – or willfully powerless – because this is a tough thing to do. So the problem isn’t John illuminating this – the problem is that doing so often creates a realization that those of us who do know better are negating our responsibility. Time to face that, and choose differently.

  • Christy

    Shadsie, please forgive my inability to see it, but I need a little help understanding your point.

  • Actually, I’m not sure I made one. That’s what I get when I post anything before I’ve had something to eat.

    It’s just there was a disscussion of diciplining children and the way shepherds guide sheep was brought up and it made me think of how people work with animals, and my own experiences with that. If a person subjects an animal to abuse, from what I’ve seen, it is less inclined to “obey” as it is to become a paranoid thing that lashes out. I think people who raised in abusive households are often the same way.

  • DR

    Thanks Christy, yes that’s what I meant. Passionate or not, I really do need to stop typing on my iPhone. 🙂

  • DR

    Brian Christy was correct, it was a typo. But thank you for catching it, it was a big one.

  • DR

    Christy your comments are truly, one of the best parts of this blog.

  • Indeed, As Christians we have no fear of hell and we need to focus on our relationship to God and seeing the lost sheep of humanity reconciled to a loving God through His Son Jesus Christ.

  • Thanks for sharing your insights. Yes, the abused tend to become abusers themselves. It is very hard to teach what you don’t know. All the more reason to break the cycle of violence and not use God and Religion as a permission slip or a slippery slope for abuse.

  • Kevin Knox

    Ummm. Linked over by Michael Morrell, and I can’t say I’m impressed. Your core assumption is that without a hell Christian Pharisees can’t call anyone wrong?


    A Pharisee is a Pharisee because of his heart. Take away his hell, and he’ll find an equally imposing place to plant his feet and keep cracking that whip. And a child of God (you’ll recall Jesus identified Pharisees as children of the devil) is steadfastly childlike, even with hell on the table. He will still paint his Father the way he sees Him, as a safe and loving Haven.

    While I acknowledge your excellent wit, the question I’d like to hear answered is what turns Pharisees into children of God.

  • Ummmm. Can’t say I’m impressed by your comment.

  • Eric

    *pees his-self*

  • Eric

    Seriously, though: It’s the FEAR of hell that some people love to leverage. But, since perfect love drives out fear, what does that say about that approach…?

  • DR

    “The question I’d like to hear answered is what turns Pharisees into children of God.”

    When did they stop being children of God? They were religious a-holes who couldn’t love their way out of a paper bag but they were children of God.


    They really were.

  • You are lovely just the way you are. Be John Shore.

  • Thanks, Brian.

  • Kevin Knox

    I certainly asked for that. 🙂

  • Kevin Knox

    Are you really confident enough of that to disagree with Jesus?

  • Very good. Thanks.

  • DR

    Oh. You’re one of those guys. Got it, carry on.