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?