“My loving God sends people to hell”

Here’s an email just in. I thought I’d throw it up here real quick (with permission, of course) and answer it.

I just read your article about Francis Chan’s belief and teachings about hell. I feel that I must reply to your article. You are missing one important fact about Christians. They believe in God’s Word, and in the Word, God tells us about hell. God commanded his followers—Christians—to tell others about Him and His Word. His command for us to share the message of His gift of salvation is called The Great Commission. We have a DUTY—not a choice—to tell others about how to become saved for eternity and that includes telling them about the consequences of not being saved. If that is scary, it should be.

My God is a loving God, and He does not want anyone to go to hell. Through His grace, he offers an eternity with Him. He does not send anyone to hell. They choose to go there.

The best way that I can explain it is this way: If you are in a building that is on fire, and a fireman tells you to get out and shows you the way—and tells you what will happen to you if you do not do what he says—you must suffer the consequences if you do not follow his words. It is that simple to me; the fireman has warned you AND shown you the way. If you do not listen to him, the consequences are scary. The fireman had a duty to warn you; however, what you decide is your choice.

I will pray for you so that your heart may be changed and you can see that God does not have to say and do what WE want of HIM. It is the other way around. Accept that fact or not, it does not change anything. Remember, we are the clay; God is the potter. HE made us. Because of sin, some men are so arrogant that they believe that HE must be what we want Him to be. Christians accept the relationship that God intends for us to have [with him]. And we accept His Word as Truth.

Thank you for letting me contact you and try to explain to you why I believe in what God says in His Word about hell.

I’ll put in italics what I think are the four key quotes from the above, and then respond to each. Won’t that be fun?

Oh. Well, let’s do it anyway.

His command for us to share the message of His gift of salvation is called The Great Commission. The problem with The Great Commission is that in practice (and how else matters?), it’s almost impossible for it not to work in immediate and direct opposition to what Jesus himself called The Great Commandment. (People decided to call the passage at Matthew 28:16-20 the Great Commission; Jesus himself called what he says at Mark 12:28-31 the Great Commandment. I think that’s a clue as to which we should pay more attention.) Trying to convert a non-Christian into a Christian is almost guaranteed to result in that non-Christian walking away from you. That severs your relationship with that person. That means you just violated Jesus’ Great Commandment, because you can’t have a loving relationship with someone who, because of you, has removed themselves from your life. I wrote a book, I’m OK–You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop all about the relationship between Christians and non-Christians. It specifically deals with the inherently troublesome relationship between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

My God is a loving God, and He does not want anyone to go to hell. … He does not send anyone to hell. They choose to go there. If God is capable of stopping people from going to hell (and being all-powerful, he undoubtedly is), but chooses not to, then the only rational conclusion is that God is an insanely petty psychopath. I don’t think he is. So there must be something wrong with that formulation. If you would, consider reading my “God Can Love Me; God Can Send Me To Hell. But He Can’t Do Both.” Also, if you would, consider reading Is God’s Justice Different Than Ours? Hell, No!

If you are in a building that is on fire, and a fireman tells you to get out and shows you the way—and tells you what will happen to you if you do not do what he says—you must suffer the consequences if you do not follow his words. This metaphor is so obviously and profoundly flawed it’s astounding how often it’s utilized by Christians. A burning fire of the sort of fireman warns you about is real. It is an objective fact of physical reality: it exists in actual space and time. That is absolutely not true of things like God, heaven, and hell: such abstract concepts are a matter of subjective perception and experience. Objective and subjective are entirely different categories of knowledge. Think of how differently you would experience someone screaming at you about a speeding car heading at you than you would someone screaming at you that Allah is the one true God. The former leaves you no choice whatsoever; the latter you’re totally free to ignore. Ditch the fireman-as-God metaphor. You’re mixing apples and manna.

Thank you for letting me contact you and try to explain to you why I believe in what God says in His Word about hell.  I appreciate your writing me.

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  • I once prayed for the hearts of many others- Funny thing, guess whos heart changed?! Mine!

  • I’ve never exactly bought the Great Commission as a “tell people about Jesus so they don’t go to hell” concept at all. I always thought that there was something flawed about the whole thing. Thankfully you’ve done an excellent job of helping me see the flaws in a clear and concise manner.

    If there is a place where we are told “the gospel is that stuff we say to keep people out of hell” in scripture, I can’t find it. It certainly isn’t found in Matthew 28, but seems to me to allude back to the Great Commandment.

    Dang, back to imagining if people went around saying…

    “Ya know, I just gotta tell you. I believe that God loves me. He loves you to. He had Jesus give us this really amazing task. To try as best we can to love him back and to show through what we do or say how much. We get to be his spokespeople. and how do we do that? By being examples of love? And how do we do that? By being kind, and respectful, and generous, and compassionate. Cool huh?”

    But that’s just me. I’m sorta odd like that.

  • Kathy

    “…some men are so arrogant that they believe that HE must be what we want Him to be.”

    I get so tired of this type of quote because the people saying it can never see themselves in it – be careful lest ye fall.

  • Kathy

    Isn’t it a beautiful thing. An open heart is a great gift!

  • Tana

    No doubt.

  • Diana A.

    I like this. Thank you for writing it.

  • Gryphon77

    So I haven’t read your “can’t do both ” essay, but I suspect that my reaction to the fireman analogy would agree with it: Firemen don’t *start* fires and then tell you to get out of the building. Granted there is free will and this could fall under “why does God let bad things happen” … but this would be something God itself totally created. It’s more like God either started a fire and then only told some people. . and there were no really obvious signs of fire (heat/alarms/smoke), or it started a fire and only the people that heard of fire existing. . was going to be aware of it. . or get burned. Or maybe those that had never heard of it would be teleported to a really boring place in the nick of time. . but still not get burned…

  • We are renters in burning apartment buildings, God is a trained public employee with a family of his own who is yelling at us to use the damn fire escape.


    Why do so many Christians rarely, if ever, use metaphors for God that are actually written in scripture?

    What if, instead of a firefighter, God is like a parent and we are like God’s child? Building is on fire, we are inside, what does God do?

    What if, instead, God is like a spouse and we are God’s beloved? Building on fire, we’re inside, what does God do?

    Could anyone doubt that such a parent or spouse would tear bare-handed through every burning wall and flaming floor to bring the very building to rubble, or die trying?

    As both a spouse and a parent, I can barely conceive that a love _even greater_ exists. But taking on faith that it does, and also keeping in mind that God is not afraid, and very powerful, and very smart, I find your correspondent’s “firefighter offering you a brochure with ‘stop drop and roll’ instructions” to be an offense against the sacred love of Christ.

    I will pray for the author of that e-mail so that her or his heart may be changed and repent of the anti-biblical freakshow played out on the stage of this blasphemous play: “God, the Well Intentioned Firefighter, Tries Kinda Hard.”

  • Dirk

    Ah, but hell is to conservative Christians what election observers are to Republicans.

    Filthy vermin who prevent people likely to vote for the Democrats from casting their vote for the Republicans and a wonderful justification for their hatred of gays, lesbians, the transgender and everyone else who doesn’t conform to their perversion of ‘God’s love’ for the conservative Christians.

    Some nouns may have been redundant in that statement.

  • Alan

    So…. If you don’t believe in hell, according to this person, God is going to send you there? Is he kidding?

    He must be reading a very different Bible than the rest of us have been using for several centuries, because that’s no where in there. (Well, maybe the NIV.)

    The heterodoxy of those who would call themselves orthodox never ceases to amaze and amuse.

  • A’isha

    Kathy, I was thinking the same thing. Too often these are the same people that say that we (meaning everyone other than them!) pick and choose verses to make our point but totally fail to see they do the same to extreme.

  • A’isha

    It’s interesting how often I read things at different places that all blend together into a lesson. Call it coincidence, call it God, whatever, it’s cool. Recently I read an article–I want to say by Rev. Chuck Currie but can’t seem to find it now–about how if we truly love people like we’re told by Jesus to do, then we can’t go at it in a way where we hope to change the other person. It’s just not possible. So when the author of this “Dear John letter” wrote, “I will pray for you so that your heart may be changed and you can see that God does not have to say and do what WE want of HIM,” I immediately thought “why?” Why will this person pray for John? It’s definitely not out of love because it’s made clear the goal is for John to change his thinking. And why else would we pray for others if it’s not out of love? It’s totally illogical, self-serving drivel. That’s what it is. This person is the epitome of a right-wing pretend Christian.

  • A’isha

    It’s much better that way, isn’t it? I’d much rather love people than pity them by expressing how they’re going to hell if they don’t change their ways. That’s the impression I get anyway of people who try to get people to “turn or burn”—that they don’t love, they just believe they know the path to heaven and you aren’t on it.

  • Linda B

    I foind that the more I read here the clearer things become for me, don’t know as I will ever call myself a chrisitan again but it has been enlightening. 🙂

  • Belva

    It is a true shame that what you may think of as humor, actually comes across as rude, arrogant, belittling, and condescending. And you may think God is a petty psychopath, but He is not. Shame on you for equating free will and choice with God having a severe mental disorder.

  • Travis

    The fireman statement is flawed for an even more fundamental reason. If you accept his arguments and incorporate them into the scenario, you have given Satan equal standing with God. A fireman cannot control a burning building, he is in as much danger of it as you. So does that make God a powerful being with experience with hell yet no control of it? This is laughable, for if the omnipotent version of God is true then he would surely have control. The example is a poor attempt at fitting omnibenevolence into a God which also created hell. Though if you accept one in reality you must reject the other. This is just my opinion.

  • Diana A.

    Ya’ know?

  • Yeah that’s my take on it as well. And I get the feeling there is just a bit of smugness about it all too. So if we take things like hell, the rapture, the “wrath of God” stuff, what do you have left?

    I also sometimes ask people these types of rhetorical questions. It is rather interesting the responses I get.

  • sigh I’m a bad self editor. The question was supposed to read.

    If we take things like hell, the rapture, the “wrath of God” stuff OUT OF THE PICTURE, what do you have left?

    Never can find the “Oh crap wait!” button when i need it.

  • Jesus changed Paul’s way of thinking on the road to Damascus in Acts chapter 9. Becoming a Christian is about changing the way we think and live our lives in the sight of a holy God.

  • Dirk

    It is a shame that you did not read the entire text. I suggest you try again.

  • Dirk

    Wrong aspect of the tripartite deity, Dan.

  • Ned

    I think that you misunderstand the objective of aggressive ‘ great commission-based’ proselytizing. I agree with you that it is an astoundingly unproductive way to win converts, but pastors who support this activity aren’t trolling for converts.

    The result of a new member at a church being sent on a fools mission is that the member is bluntly rejected by the ‘outside’ while being warmly supported and admired by the congregation. This sears a hard line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Saved’ and ‘sinners’. It isolates the member from the good that exists outside of the church community and the result is a nice obedient and fearful addition to the flock.

  • Key words in your response, Dan, are “Jesus changed Paul’s way of thinking.” Jesus did that. Not any human being by coercion or shaming. Christ stuck his finger right into Paul’s hard heart and turned it to mush.

    A person angrily telling another person that they are going to hell if they don’t believe is not the equivalent.

  • I heart this so hard, Dave H.

  • erica

    Fuck, I just want to kill myself when people try to show us that God doesn’t sent anyone to hell, but that they choose it. If God created the world and made all the rules, then by this reasoning He created hell and the consequences of hell when He could have created different consequences, so yes He sure as hell does send people to hell with this line of thinking! I remember when I was crying because I thought some of my family might go to hell, and one of my friends stated that because these people didn’t want to be with God, heaven would actually be much more painful for them than Hell so God was being gracious to send them to hell! Yeah, I think that made me cry even harder. Hmm…geez, I think I found the reason for my dx of PTSD! John, thanks for your work in debunking some of this crazy nonsense!

  • Elaine

    The Great Commandment is “to love one another” – Matthew 22:34-40.

    The Great Commission is “to preach the gospel” – Matthew 28:16-20.

  • Diana A.


  • Amy

    Oh, my that was class. Thank you, Dave H.

  • Diana A.

    In other words, you are saying that pastors who preach this are trying to create cults. Correct?

  • DR

    Did you happen to read the actual blog?

  • DR

    wow. lovely.

  • SierraStorm

    Yeah, that’s the kind of God I want to worship and believe in, one who’ll burn my butt for all eternity if I don’t do everything he says. Isnt’ that called coercion? Isn’t coercion pretty much a man-made construct? Yeah, I thought so. I mean, when Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, ‘Go and sin no more’, he didn’t add, ‘or I’ll burn your butt for all eternity.’

  • SierraStorm

    And if God wants our willing service, why the hell would he threaten us with Hell?

  • Sam

    God doesn’t threaten; he promises.

  • Mindy

    Interesting take on that, Ned. Not sure if it is as intentional as it sounds, but I have no doubt it happens that way. Which is happily convenient for those “flock leaders.” Whom I find to be quite different from genuine pastors.

  • Mindy

    Belva, read it again. Or at least read the whole thing before you lash out. Mr. Shore is pointing out that IF what the reader says is true, THEN God would be a petty psychopath. And since God is NOT a petty psychopath, then what the woman says CANNOT be true. You apparently misunderstood.

  • Mindy

    That is exactly how I feel, Linda. John Shore makes more sense to me than any other Christian with whom I have ever spoken. Ever.

  • Mindy

    Hear, hear, A’isha. And she has no idea how awful she sounds.

    I read, today, a wonderful post shared by an atheist friend, written by a Presbyterian minister in Texas, calling Rick Perry out for his big ol’ prayer meeting. The pastor was quite offended that HIS religion was being used for political gain, and pointed out how praying in public is specifically addressed in Matthew – and followers of Christ are told not to do it. That those who do are hypocrites. That prayer is private and personal.

    Apparently, those 30,000 attendees forgot that part. “Right-wing pretend Christian.” EXACTLY.

  • Mindy

    Oh, Dave. You so nailed it. God is the FATHER. Right? He is not going to let his children burn. Thank you so much for this!

  • Watch it. You’re getting all logical on us. 😉

  • Redundant indeed, and besides that, you repeated yourself! 😉


  • A basic study of the “Great Commission” has nothing to do with “keeping people outta hell”. It is three-fold, first was to TEACH (teach what Christianity is – or doctrine) next was BAPTISM ( a public identification with the body of believers known as Christians) the last was OBSERVE (or practice / live as you were taught, the essence of Christianity -salvation, love, compassion, faith, hope, mercy longsuffering, etc……….)

    I know of no Christian that didn’t become a Christian apart from someone sharing the free and sovereign Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with them. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”. Being sincere, kind, loving is an essential part, no doubt, but an atheist can do that too, the final piece IS the Gospel, a Gospel unto salvation to ALL PEOPLE, regardless of sexual orientation.

  • David J Martin

    My spirituality has lead me to Christian Mysticism which in turn binds me to the Mysticism of all Faiths for the in Mysticism, that which separates dissolves away revealing that despite the different approaches to God and theologies we all are the Family of one Creator God. Political, religious, racial, ethnic boundaries lose their meaning. Concerning hell…such a concept did not exist in for the Hebrews. Nor did Christ Himself speak of hell but of Gehenna which was a place of dumping garbage/waste to be burned outside of Jerusalem. Sheoul, another Hebrew place in the afterlife was thought of beneath the earth but not a place of punishment but of the dead – where Jesus descended to after His death to proclaim the end of sin’s rule and power over humanity.

    St. Therese of Lisieux, the great Christian Mystic and Doctor of the Catholic Church was asked if she believe in heaven and hell. Her words are inspiring and sublime. Paraphrased they are: as I can not appreciate light without darkness, nor good without evil, so too, if I believe in heaven I must believe in hell…pausing…yet Jesus Christ has revealed His/Our Father as an unconditionally loving, compassionate, merciful God who does not wish the loss of a single soul…so, I am not really sure there is any soul within hell except Satan and his minions. I question, what person is so evil that the smallest spark of Divine Life is totally blotted out ?

  • Interesting observation from Luke 23: 39 – 43 that might be interesting to consider in light of this discussion, but some might consider it a totally different discussion. If so, my apologies:

    Jesus was derided by one of the two criminals who hung on crosses on each side of him when he himself was dying on the cross. The other criminal rebuked the first criminal and turned to Jesus to ask him to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom/” Jesus turned to him and said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

    Some Questions to reflect on:

    Where exactly or what is paradise? Is it heaven? Is there another place that people (e.g. the criminal who “hurled insults” to Jesus) go after they die? If so, where or what is such a place and how long do they stay there?

    Regardless, another interesting question is “Why didn’t Jesus persuade the first criminal to repent and be saved?”

  • David J Martin

    Commission: go forth and spread the good news I believe…not proclaim the good news and judge those who fail to believe. The one command of Christ is to love, not judge who is saved or not saved.

    A missionary preaches the Word to three persons who have never heard of Christ.

    First Person: hears and believes in his heart…and lives the Word

    Second Person: hears and believes in his heart…turns away from the Word because of worldly concerns.

    Third Person: hears…thinks the message is good but does not have the Gift of Faith from the Holy Spirit…continues to live a good life as before without accepting the good news.

    Of the free, the First and Third follow a path leading through Christ to salvation. The First does so by choice, accepting the Good News. The Third, in his life and heart knows and lives the Word, though unwittingly. Both serve to advance the Kingdom of God.

  • Dirk

    I know, but, gosh, Don, in another thread, I once used six or seven generally accepted terms for hateful Christian – conservative, fundamentalist, literalistic, bible-thumping, Christianist, Sadducee, Pharisaical, et cetra and not one was acceptable. I then pointed out that conservative Christians always vote Republican and that wasn’t acceptable either. I asked whether any of my rhetorical opponents had voted for the Democrats since LBJ and they (astonishing how much offense can be put into simple words) snarled back that they were real AmeriKans so, of course, not.

    Yup, yup, it’s redundant, but, heh – I’m beginning to realize that it is not possible to reason with Fundagelicals.

  • The argument that hell is subjective seems to come out of left field. It seems like you’re just asserting it without trying to make the reader believe it, or understand it. Suppose the emailer takes your word for it, and wants to make better analogies, with a proper subjective vocabulary. Where would he go to start building such a vocabulary?

  • Ralph H.

    I never understood how people present the bible as the infallible word of God…they even use verses from the bible to prove the bible. Studied it all my life…from age 9 to 45 and I see the truth in it and the words of Jesus, but it’s not perfect.

    So what do we have if we take out Hell, Rapture, The Wrath of God etc.? Don’t know that we have anything other than everything….Love. Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. In these 2 commandments are all the law and the prophets. What’s important? Feeding the hungry. Why? Because we Love them. Why? Because we are of the body of Jesus.

  • Ralph H.

    I always have seen the message of God in the actions, not the words. I’ve grown tired of preaching coming from a person with 2 houses and 3 cars, while so many die for want of basic necessities. If you want to show people the truth, leave your mouth closed (they’re so burnt out on that approach). Love them and they’ll be drawn to the truth in you.

  • Diana A.

    That’s okay. John Shore’s blog is one of the few places in the world in which logic is still allowed. 😉 back at you!

  • Diana A.

    What everybody else said. You nailed it, Dave!

  • Steve: There is no such vocabulary. That’s the whole point. There’s nothing “left field” about categorizing hell as a subjective phenomenon. It cannot be, ever, anything else. It’s like saying I should try to convince someone that rain is wet. That’s what rain is: it’s water. Water is wet. Wetness is the irreducible quality of water. Subjectivity is the irreducible quality of concepts like hell and heaven and God. It’s when you confuse the knowledge categories of objective and subjective that you begin skipping straight down Dead End Lane. You can’t go anywhere with that. Believing that God is real doesn’t make God real in the same sense that, say, the sun, or your left nostril, is real. The inability of so many Christians to understand or acknowledge the simple, clear difference between objective fact and subjective impression is why so many non-Christians think Christians have willingly traded their logical minds for their emotional comfort. How is anyone supposed to tell the difference between a congenital idiot and someone who just refuses to think logically?

  • Christie

    Thanks for posting that perspective, David. 🙂

  • Christie

    That was amazing. Your words got me all teary-eyed. Thank you!

  • WORD.

  • Hmm.

    Those calling “fake Christian!” Please be careful of labeling, okay, guys? While I’ll hold leaders and teachers accountable, I think a lot of average people are just hopeless idiots who really *are* trying – said because I used to be such a hopeless idiot. I still consider myself a hopeless idiot, but in other ways… heck, I might be hopelessly backslidden and fallen off the wagon right into sin again or something. Perspectives….

    The above reflects what I believed for a long time (conversion through saying the “Magic Prayer” while watching the 700 Club and subsequent attendance and instruction in a Baptist church FTW? Or FTL?) As much shame as I have for my mistakes, I can’t hate who I once was – I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for what I once was. Anyway, I used to address the Hell Question in similar terms.

    I remember being taught things like “God is light and it chases away darkness ie if you choose darkness, you cannot be in God’s presence” – it was like God was made subject to a spiritual counterpart of a physical law. Sort of makes God powerless when you think about it, but people would always bring out the “God is just/holy” argument…

    Only I found out very early on that trying to warn people away from danger didn’t always/usually or EVER work. I actually gave up on the evangelism thing early on, figuring “God speaks to people’s hearts when they’re good and ready” and thinking that it was arrogant of myself to think he’d necessarily use me to save any soul. I kind of thought “Maybe I’ll speak through my writing” but, again, found early on that any kind of shoehorning in of a religious worldview into the kind of fiction I like to write meant for secular audiences = crap. (Seeing as I sometimes cringe a little at certain things in “Narnia” – the thing that is supposed to have integrated religion/fantasy fiction most masterfully…) And of course, more people who try wind up penning stuff on the poo-levels of Left Behind….

    Then there’s a good online friend of mine. Atheist-leaning agnostic, awesome writer and great listener and fun to geek out with, whether we’re on fiction, art, or…. fonts. We’ve wound up in a lot of religious disscussions, seeing as she is an ex-Catholic (she knows what she’s talking about – she’s by no means new to religion). She once flat out told me after saying she’ll “find out when she dies” that she really hopes that if there’s a God, that it’s not the Christian one. I actually… understood that – and despite being Christian, hoped that, too, because I had to tell her that I believed she was going to Hell. (I couldn’t dodge the question – she asked me outright). *Sigh* – So when another (Christian) friend turned me onto arguments for Universalism, I was like…. YEAH!

    In any case, if there is an eternal Hell, I’d like to think that God would at least give someone another chance – post-mortem, because, you know, people like my agnostic friend just don’t “feel” it at all. There is *not* enough evidence for her – it’s not a “har har, I’m going to reject because I’m evil” – she actually does better stuff for the world than I do – she just has analyze what has been presented her and found it wanting, so I think that if God is Love, he’d have give her the evidence she needs (which, for her, probably means “I’m dead but my soul still exists, and I’m face to face with God’s big toe WTF?”)

    As it is, I don’t think Heaven will be Heaven for me if everyone’s not there. Yes, even Hitler (after he’s had an appropriate amount of EMPATHY smacked into him and all the evil burned away… something like that). As for the idea I used to have that “God will make me forget loved ones in Hell” – um…. I realized a while back how *creepy* that idea was. God isn’t really God if he’s gotta lobotomize his people, and I think too many of us will be too sad in Heaven for it to be Heaven if we’re missing the people we love.

    Of course, I could be wrong. God could be very much like nature – brutal and indifferent.

    Sorry, rambled on there.

  • Christie

    Well, I can say that I became Christian because I felt hugely pressured by the person I was talking to AND through fear. There were several aspects to that fear.

    1) I respected the man I was speaking with and knew (based on his actions outside this particular interaction) that I would not have his respect if I chose to say no or that I wasn’t ready. I wanted his respect and was afraid to NOT have his respect.

    2) He used fear of hell to persuade me. He made me feel that God wouldn’t respect me if I needed to wait to figure out what was in my heart.

    3) We had been at a church service before this interaction. That service included a portion where the preacher asked us all to bow our heads and during prayer asked if any of us were unsaved or were questioning becoming saved. He asked those of us in that place to raise our hands. I did. I did not come up to the altar after the service to accept Jesus as my lord and savior. He literally ran after the man I ended up speaking to later to talk to him. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I do know the preacher was glancing back and forth from me to the man I ended up talking to. I felt preyed upon.

    I didn’t want to share any “good news” with anyone, much less my future in-laws that I live with, even though I KNEW they would be absolutely joyous that I finally “came to Jesus.” I didn’t feel very good at all. I felt bullied, stalked, and beaten into submission.

    I know Jesus wouldn’t want ANYONE to come to him by that path.

    Thankfully, Jesus and I are doing just fine today and I daresay I’m good with God, too.

  • Christie

    I just shared my conversion story below here, and I wish it had been like you imagine. Thank you for sharing <3

  • Karen

    I must address the fireman metaphor. Let us assume that Hell is for real (which is something that I wrestle with in my faith). Many Christians are very ugly in their beliefs and message to non-believers. So for somebody who has heard nothing but anger filled fundamentalism, “The way, the truth and the light”, may not seem that happy and cheery. Christianity is a thing of judgement, damnation, and shame.

    Thus continuing with the analogy; the person standing in the burning building being told by the fireman “jump” has seen this scenario before. When the people followed the advice of the fireman and jumped (eg accepted Christianity), they broke their legs, their arms, necks, landed on others and caused them suffering, etc… Why SHOULD you want to jump? You have observed others before follow the fireman’s advice and become disfigured, ugly, disabled forms of their former selves. Why not take your chances with the fire? (I hope you get the gist, it definitely sounded better in my head).

    My point being, if I were a non-believer, and the first experience I had with a Christian is somebody telling me about a loving God sending all those who do not agree with him to be tortured for eternity, my thought would be “Then I want nothing to do with your God” and “If being a Christian is going to turn me into a self-righteous, pompous, lecturing, no-fun-to-be-around, jerk, why would I want to do that?”.

    I am a public high school teacher. I do not bring my religion into the classroom. (However, I did get into trouble once when I told a student to stop using my God as an excuse for his prejudice. I teach in VA, the buckle of the bible belt.)

    One of the greatest times in teaching is the time I spend outside of the school hours talking with students. During these times I do talk about personal ideas and beliefs, if a student brings them up to me. One experience that I will always remember is when in a passing comment I told one of my seniors that I was a Christian. He was shocked. I asked him “Do I treat you fairly? Do I treat you with respect? Do I go out of my way to help you? Do I show compassion? Why would you NOT think I was a Christian?”

    His reply was that I had never pushed my beliefs on my students, I did not look down upon my students who are gay, I believed in evolution, and that these ideas were in contrast to what he had been shown was Christianity.

    Also, from reading some of the previous comments, I want to give a word of caution. We must not become the opposite yet equal versions of the fundamentalists. If we start making comments like “All Republicans are… or all conservatives are.. then we are no less judgmental than those from whom wear trying to distance ourselves… just a thought.

  • Diana A.

    Oh yes! This is it, exactly!

  • DR

    “I promise I will burn you in eternity if you don’t stop being gay or ‘fill in the blanks here'”. Not a threat? Who are you, Clint Eastwood?

  • DR

    John became a Christian in a closet. 🙂

  • Diana A.

    I really love what you wrote here, Shadsie. In fact, I find much of what you write to be very eye opening.

    Some of what you wrote above is very similar to what Thomas Talbott wrote in “The Inescapable Love of God.” I’m certain I’ve asked you this before, but have you read his book? Or is all of this something you came to by some other means? In either case, I’m in full agreement with what you’ve written and I love your unique way of getting it across.

  • I haven’t read any of the published books about this stuff. I just read stuff online – like this blog – and think about it.

    Maybe it’s that I “think in narrative” a lot… spend a lot of time building fictional worlds, so I take that to real one?

  • navi

    ummm wouldn’t the fireman not convince you to come out but just go in and grab you? So, still, bad analogy.

  • A’isha

    Mindy, I wonder if we read the same article. The one I remember was also in response to Rick Perry and his prayer-o-thon. Or maybe I’m confusing multiple articles that I read in the same day…that happens! Either way, absolutely! Prayer, like the way Perry and his followers did, is flat out wrong. How dare they use Christ in like that! I imagine a very heart-broken Jesus weeping over the things that are done in his name.

  • Diana A.

    I agree.

  • Diana A.

    “Also, from reading some of the previous comments, I want to give a word of caution. We must not become the opposite yet equal versions of the fundamentalists. If we start making comments like “All Republicans are… or all conservatives are.. then we are no less judgmental than those from whom wear trying to distance ourselves… just a thought.”

    Yes. It’s hard, but you’re absolutely right.

  • A’isha

    More and more I think the kind of “logic” many fundamentalists learn goes something like this. A is true, but only if A is in the Bible. A plus B is true, if you can find at least one verse in the Bible to back it up. C is never true because the version of the Bible used by “us” doesn’t say that. D is evil and must be destroyed because “the Bible says so.” If none of the above can be backed up in the Bible, it still may be true if one or more Christians have prayed long enough and think God told them it is true (or not, as the case may be.)

    Sound about right??

  • Diana A.

    Either that or getting ready to overturn some money-changers’ tables–metaphorically, if not literally.

  • Javajunki

    I dont understand how people cut others out of their lives because they (others)dont follow the Christian Faith.

    THIS IS LIFE. We only get ONE chance with those we love. You never get to come back and tell your homosexual child, friend, sister or brother that you love them, you never get to make up the time you lost when you decided not to “yolk” yourself with non-believers.

    When you’re dead, you’re dead. Why does the promise of “Heaven” make it okay to abandon people on earth?

    And while I’m at it ….

    I dont understand it when people say “I know my parents/kids love me, but God loves me more”

    Why does the Christian faith INSIST that NO ONE is able to love us like God does and that we will forever be unsatisfied until we come to accept HE loves us MORE than any human?

    Why does it teach that we are useless beings without God? Then, when we finally accept Gods love for us, we learn that we’re still unworthy of His love but thanks to “Grace” we can still receive it freely.. WTH is THAT?

    Why would I accept love from a God that doesn’t feel I’m worthy of it? And why am I only given love(tho’ still not worthy of it) ONLY IF I trust in Jesus Christ as my savior?

    Is “Grace” supposed to be the Hot Fudge that makes our sh*t Sundae taste better?

    I’d say God is rather emotionally abusive.

  • VERY nicely done, Java.

  • Christie: Your story here is really affective (and very well said). thanks for sharing it.

  • Dave: NICE JOB!!

  • Dirk

    Except the hateful, nasty, vile people in these two groups are working to have the paltry rights I, a gay man, now ‘enjoy’ stripped from me, have me permanently separated from my husband and thrown into a nut-house to be subject to electro-shock therapy.

    Or, in simple English: But they are, Marge, they are.

  • So simple, and so true.

    I believe that God would go in and grab you. So I guess the analogy works for me when you really think about it. 😛

  • Diana A.

    Dirk, this is a hard one because you’re absolutely right too. What I know is that flinging hate at haters doesn’t make them stop hating. This doesn’t mean we should roll over and play dead when haters act to take away someone’s human rights or threaten to kill a gay person’s parents because the gay person dared to come to his parent’s town to help them and other residents after a devastating tragedy. Wasn’t it Jesus who said: “See, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Be then as wise as snakes, and as gentle as doves.”? (Matthew 10:16–Bible in Basic English–your version may be different.) Somehow, we as Christians are expected to rise above the rage and the pain and “love our enemies.” The people who hate us. The people who would kill not only us but our loved ones just because we dare to exist and be who we are. Stand up for justice, yes, but not return hate for hate. Is this difficult? Yes it is. That’s why we only do it by the grace of God.

    If I am wrong in saying this, please let me know. Thank you.

  • Dennis Dawson

    L’enfer, c’est les autres.


  • nat

    I thought exactly the same thing.

  • Dirk

    Not quite. Hell is reading a boring philosopher in a class taught by a professor who thinks that his trite sentiments of negativity are refreshing.

    That was my hell. And, the class was required.

    Undergraduate philosophy courses are designed to make people dislike philosophy. There can be no other rational explanation.

  • Dirk

    Well, let’s see, Diana.

    Did your approach – widely held by Christians towards Hitler – help prevent all those millions of murdered Jews, Roma, Sinti, gays, lesbians and other nicht lebenswuerdiges Leben?

    Has your approach stopped Uganda?


    There was a time when cheerful, kumbaya speeches worked on me.

    No longer.

    The day the conservative Christians threatened my parents was the day my eyes were opened.

  • My concern is, you’re saying it’s important for people to understand or acknowledge this difference. When you say a thing like that, the next sentence (or at least the next paragraph) should go, “Here’s how,” or, “here’s how to get started.”

    Unless you’re saying it’s impossible to convince someone that the divine is subjective. I’m not sure if that’s what you’re saying.

  • Karen

    Dirk, I am not going to insult your suffering by even implying that I know what you must have experienced. I am a white, straight, middle class, woman. Though I have experienced sexism in my lifetime, I know that it pales in comparison to you the prejudices you have faced.

    My point is that we don’t want to make blanket statements and thus become like those from whom we are separating ourselves. I know of republicans that are sensitive, intelligent, and compassionate. I know conservative Christians that visit the sick, give their time to soup kitchens, and are humble.

    Why I left the conservative church is because of its absolutism and black and white judgements.

    Now I fight to not do the same. Ex: all conservatives are non-intellectuals, ignorant, small minded etc. I do not want to become what I despise in others.

    I pray that you are able to come to peace with your pain, not because those who hurt you deserve your pardon, but because you deserve the peace.

  • Karen

    Dirk, after re-reading your post I see that you were not addressing the “Blanket statement issue”. Sorry.

  • Dirk

    Thank you, Karen.

    No, I was not.

    Actually, you raise a valid point.

    There is no single, solitary term which one may apply to the hateful Christians who persecute gays, lesbians, the transgender and their families which is accepted.

    I have tried many variations over time. I have tried detailed definitions. It is useless.

    Conservative Christians comes closer than any other term except for ‘Christianist’ which is the neologism from the 1990s that fits perfectly. The term is nearly universally misunderstood, sadly.

    As for Republicans, have you actually read their party platform? There is NOTHING Christian left in it.


    Anybody who in 2011 proudly claims to be a Republican stands in direct opposition to all which Jesus came for.

    One simply can not be a Republican in today’s Republican party and a Christian. It is not possible.

  • I will agree with you Java. The problem, as I see it, is we how believe in a truly loving God tend to not be the strident, screaming, types. We don’t get the television time. Maybe we need to be louder. My feeling is God loves us, period. (Or “full stop” if you are from the UK!) The message is so much louder from those who are into judgment. Also, people are more likely to listen to the message of judgment.

    You give people free grace, and they will fight tooth and nail to pay for it.

  • ndgifford

    When my daughter was three, she asked me who I loved more, her or God. I replied and I was honest. “You.” I asked a friend from church and his answer was “God. I love God more so that I can love you more.” I agree with what he said in theory, but not in practice.

  • RayC

    Well, then it failed on me. My undergraduate degree is in philosophy and I love it. Oh well, I guess there’s always one freak in the crowd.

  • Lauralew

    Java, I need to copy and send your post to a friend–her mother told my friend’s son that she didn’t love him as much as she loved God. That kinda severed their relationship. As I sat with my friend at her dying mom’s bedside, that was the main thing she could recall to tell me about her mom. Way sad.

  • Dennis Dawson

    One or two. 😉

  • Dirk

    On second thought, Karen, it’s really pretty simple.

    One reason I reject the ‘oh, you mustn’t speak in generalities argument’ is that, quite simply, the shoe fits (mixed metaphors a specialty, a dime a dozen)….

    Of self-identified conservative Christians, over 2/3 firmly stood behind the shrub dictatorship’s policy of torture.

    Over two-thirds.

    Explain to me, please, how one may be a Christian and support torture?

    Oh, and, I do hope one of the conservative Christian Republicans here (there I go again with the tautologies) demands I support that ‘over 2/3’ statement. So wonderful when their filthy lies get held up to the light of truth.

  • John Shore, I love you! Thanks for being logical, courageous and wise. –kd

  • “Why does the Christian faith INSIST that NO ONE is able to love us like God does and that we will forever be unsatisfied until we come to accept HE loves us MORE than any human?”

    Step in my shoes and it will seem pretty simple actually. From my experience, I’ve been horribly unsatisfied with any kind of relational love I’ve found – be it parental, romantic, friend, or sibling. They’ve all been fantastic at times but then horribly dysfunctional and disappointing at other times. Even at their best, I’ve always found myself lacking, craving more – as if I’ve only received a taste of something much more desirable. For me, to believe that any sort of human love experience is ‘IT,’ is horribly depressing. On the contrary, as one of the Christian faith, I take heart that there’s far more to love than what I’ve encountered in my immediate existence. When I do rest in the hope that His love for me if complete and one day I will be absolutely fulfilled in His presence, I find a great amount of joy.

  • which is why I agree with so many aspects of Reformed Theology

  • DR

    Did you actually read his comment?

  • Ned

    Thank you for the reply, Diana. I am cautious about using the word ‘cult’ because the word means something different to everybody. However, I am pretty confident that Bible thumping at a non responsive audience reinforces a sense of remote ‘otherness’ in the thumper and, yes, that sense of isolation in a bubble of grace is useful to cult leaders.

  • selene

    In my journey out of my cult of fundamentalism, I’ve come to believe more and more that when Jesus said I am the way, truth, and life, he was talking about his love, not his name. In that vein, I think that people like Ghandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and so many other people who claimed various different religions but all had one thing in common–their love for humanity–are closer to Jesus than many Christians.

    All religions that I’ve looked into so far have the same seed at heart. Some call it the golden rule or the compassionate life or whatever, but it can basically be boiled down to love. That’s the enduring truth, in my opinion, of God that will never die out.

    For God to say, either you choose this, or you choose hell–that’s not love. There is NO CHOICE in that. If someone offers you something but threatens you with death or torture if you don’t accept it, it’s not a choice. If someone offers you two things, but tells you you can’t choose the one, you don’t have a choice. Having fake options on the table doesn’t make them legitimate, it only mildly covers the abusive coercion.

    God is LOVE. As such, I don’t think LOVE could behave in the unforgiving, judgmental, petty, angry, abusive way that many people paint God. We create our own hell here on earth, and LOVE promises to rescue us from that. And I agree with Rob Bell that the greatest hell would be to be in heaven and not able to enjoy it, but God always has the invitation open to our accepting love and joining in the fellowship of love. Like the brother in the prodigal son story who was so angry that the son was getting a feast–he was there, invited to participate. He chose to wallow in self-pity, hatred, and anger. The father didn’t punish him, but he didn’t force him either. However, his hell was not an eternal you-missed-your-chance-so-now-you’re-fucked hell. It was a temporary hell that he had the power to end anytime he chose.

    So yes, I believe in hell. I believe we create hell on earth with our hatred, our abuse of others and of the planet, and our refusal to allow love to change us. I believe we can be “in hell” while in heaven. But God doesn’t send us there and he certainly wouldn’t keep us there. If God wants all people to be saved, and God is Love, and love never fails, how is it a victory for God to close the door on someone for all eternity because of (maybe) 80 years on earth? More importantly, for all the people who reject Christianity because of what Christians have done to them, how is it just for God to damn those people to hell for the abuse that they received that made accepting Jesus (as presented) impossible for them?

    Love is the one things that is repeated ad nauseum throughout the Bible. You’ve got Jesus himself giving the great commandment. Paul repeats in when he says that love is the fulfillment of the law in Romans. Other places talk about true religion being to feed the hungry and care for the poor, the widow and orphan, etc. We’re called to bear each others’ burdens. We’re told that if we aren’t in love, we aren’t in God in First John. In First Corinthians we’re told that nothing matters without love, not even prophecy or good works or martyrdom. The fruits of the spirit are various forms of love or reactions to love. Over and over and over, love is emphasized, but it’s the one thing that modern Christianity seems to have NO CONCEPT of. I’ve stopped calling myself a Christian because I’m too ashamed of the connotations that go with that word. Why is love so hard to grasp for those who claim to follow Christ?

  • Andi B.

    It seems to me that the best reason to embrace Christ’s teachings are to live a life of meaning, contribution, and love. What comes after that shouldn’t really be of any consequence to us, particularly if we believe that it’s God’s grace that ultimately saves us rather than our own works. Focus on the now–spend time in that burning building trying to save all you can, and don’t worry about the aftermath. Live life in love and you can’t fail to live in love after death, either.

  • Or three.

  • Very nice. Love it.

  • Brava, Selene!

  • Comment of the day. (Well, for ME.) Thanks, KD.

  • Dirk

    Might be that I majored in the Natural Sciences. I did fulfill my phil. requirements with courses in logic.

    Which I aced.

    Still, the worst courses I ever had were undergrad. phil. Blindfolded people holding burnt out candles in the basement of a dark house at midnight looking for a black cat who’d left the house long ago.

  • RayC

    “Blindfolded people holding burnt out candles in the basement of a dark house at midnight looking for a black cat who’d left the house long ago.”

    You mean, humanity? Cause, I don’t know anyone who isn’t blind and trying to find their way around.

    SEE: “The gods did not reveal from the beginning all things to us, but in the course of time through seeking, men find that which is the better. But as for certain truth no man has known it, and if by chance he was to utter the final truth, he himself would not himself know it.”

    — Xenophanes

  • Dirk

    You put your finger on it, Ray.

    No sense of humor. That’s what made philosophy so boring.

  • RayC

    …and that’s too bad, Dirk. Because I think having a philosophically trained mind is an asset, not a liability. And if the profs at your university made it seem dreary and boring then they did a disservice to the study of philosophy.

    I went to a small public liberal arts university (UNCA) and the philosophy department there was small, but very tight knit. Half of us were agnostic/atheist and the other half were Evangelical Christian. We all hung out together, studied, socialized, and learned together despite our worldviews. And, too bad it’s not that way in the real world!

    It’s wholly possible that my experience was unique; if so, I think that’s sad. As the profs obviously did a disservice to their profession by making philosophy seem dreary and boring….

  • RayC

    opps, I repeated myself in the last paragraph. Hmm…i need more coffee?

  • Human love can be kind of conditional, can’t it? Even from people who “love you uncondtionally.”

    When my emotions get off the handle, the people who love me often – want nothing to do with me until I calm down. I remember having to take a cab home from the hospital after a half-assed suicide attempt because my siblings were so angry that they refused to help me. That’s not love. (My parents, on the other hand, drove down from their distant place as soon as they could). And even they, growing up… as a teenager, I didn’t always feel “love” from them when I was having behavioral issues at school and home.

    People say that their pets love them uncondtionally – but, no. If you beat your dog, your dog is more likely to fear you than love you (even if it *wants* to love you).

    I do love my family and the people in my life, but I know that my own love is flawed and so is theirs because we’re limited human beings.

  • RayC

    Fantastic insight!

  • Javajunki

    @ Davo, I know where you stand with unsatisfactory love. I too have suffered unsatisfying, abusive relationships my entire life. I’ve felt ‘disconnected’ … lonely … as far back as I can remember.

    I’m a (recovering) cocaine addict, a drop out, my mother was a raging drunk who let men beat the crap out of her and my birth father was MIA from the get go.

    The three times I’ve had the pleasure of being in love, I ended up loving them more than they loved me, as it is with all my relations. I dont know how to be loved without having to fight, hard, to feel loved.

    I’ve tried healing through God. I’ve tried to convince myself that his love is what’s been missing this whole time. If I give my life to Christ and remain diligent in my faith that big hole in my soul will finally be filled.

    But who I am and my struggles are not the result of Gods will or Satan attacking. IMO.

    It’s not because I dont know Gods true love for me either … Its simply ‘life’.

    I think I’m genetically set up to struggle emotionally and I end up in complicated relationships because my concept of love was distorted during my developmental years. I have to relearn love, and remain vigilant… that’s just how it is. Neither caused nor cured by God.

    I just cant imagine God would love me ‘more’, or ‘better’ than anyone else and allow me to feel painfully alone at times when I was a child. Why make the love we NEED so hard to find?

    Why would someone have to suffer to the point of suicide when God’s love could save them?

    If my child were sick and I had the cure, I wouldn’t make them struggle to find it … I’d simply GIVE it to them.

    ::shrug:: Maybe someday I’ll have a better understanding…maybe there IS a God and he’s really not a cruel as I think he is.

    Anyway – thanks for sharing. I appreciate it.

  • Mindy

    Steve,you don’t go out and “get started” understanding the difference. You just – do. You read what John wrote and say, “Oh, I get it. The sun can ACTUALLY burn my ACTUAL skin, so the existence of the sun is objectively real. Hell, on the other hand, SUPPOSEDLY can burn me up after I die. Even though I’ve been taught to believe this my whole life, no one has ever seen it, been there, been burned by it, knows where it is, has any ACTUAL evidence of its existence, or can tell me about it. So I totally GET that it is not objectively real to everyone, but only subjectively real to people who believe the Bible literally.”

    It really isn’t a process on which to start, it is simply a logical understanding to accept. I can accept that a conservative Christian BELIEVES Hell is real, and greatly fears winding up there. But a conservative Christian, if s/he uses the brain bestowed into his or her head by God, has to acknowledge that those of us who do NOT believe it have good OBJECTIVE reasons not to, AND therefore have absolutely no reason to fear it.

    The only way I can imagine telling anyone to “get started,” or “here’s how” to understand this is simply to use their brains. As the brilliant Mr. Geisel taught us, “Oh, the thinks you will think!!”

  • Mindy

    Brian, I really hope you mean that last sentence. When I read it, I smiled. Then I worried that you were following it up in your mind with “as long as they don’t act on it.” Then I blew that off and thought, “No, I shouldn’t doubt him. He stayed to learn.”

    I will add, though, that my “conversion” as a young teen was solely to please my best friends. They were good Southern Baptists and as such brought me along to all of their youth gatherings. I got caught right up in the social aspect of it all, and realized that to fit in, I had to be “born again.” I wanted to believe it, with all my heart, because I loved them dearly, I liked all of their friends, and I couldn’t see the downside. I went along with it all. But my heart never really bought it – no matter how hard I tried, I felt like I was living a lie – because they wanted me to believe that I’d go to Hell if I wasn’t saved, AND that everyone else who wasn’t was doomed. They didn’t say it cruelly, they said it with great pity for the unsaved. If it hadn’t been for that part of it, I would have embraced it fully. But it sounded soooo hypocritical of their God that I just couldn’t – even though I didn’t have the nerve to tell them that at the time.

    I guess you can dismiss it as not a “real” conversion – which is true – but I have a feeling I’m not the only kid who gave it lip service, but never really heart service, the way one should.

  • Mindy

    LOL. Yes. That.

    A’isha – here’s the article I was sent:


    Even more interesting is that it was actually linked from the site of the “Friendly Atheist,” who was commending Rev. Rigby for standing up to those commandeering his faith.

  • Dirk

    Well, I did ace all the logic courses which were taught by the philosophy department so it’s not as if I reject all aspects of the discipline.

    However, now that you mention it, why yes, I do teach seminars at a small university in Europe and, yes, we do have interdisciplinary staff meetings and, yes, the most obstructionist, long-winded and difficult for the sake of being difficult profs. are from the philosophy department.

    I am well aware that not all philosophers are chasing after those black cats. By now, it should be obvious that I am not quite illiterate, nor am epistemologically closed to any viewpoints apart from those which may be tested by the hard sciences.

    That said, far too many philosophers forget that there are no answers to the most important questions.

  • Lauren

    Very well put. I’d also add—and i apologize if someone else has said this before me; i haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet—the “fireman” analogy only works if the fireman 1) put you in the building, 2) SET FIRE TO IT, and THEN 3) told you to get out. Analogies, metaphors, etc. can be useful tools for describing the ineffable, but ultimately all analogies will fall short of the reality of God.

  • Perfect.

  • I really don’t like how they say they will pray God will change your heart. I don’t want you to start believing this way. That would be scary. I don’t know how prayer works, but I pray people give up ideas like this. Maybe they cancel out, or, you know, free will makes it all pointless. Anyway, this letter seemed sincere, which I find tragic.

  • I read it lots of times, but didn’t understand it. So should I have been sure that’s what he’s saying? I hope that’s it, because otherwise I don’t even know what I’m missing.

  • Mindy

    Wow, A’isha, it’s like you’re in their heads. 🙂

  • Mindy,

    You’re right many serve lip service when young and when they become adults and leave home they never darken a door of a church again. In Jesus’ parable about seeds falling by the wayside (meaning the Gospel being preached along life’s journey) only 25% were fruitful unto salvation. But your life’s journey is not over, no one know’s what God may have in store for you down life’s road.

  • Lauren

    yes, yes, YES. This is an “Amen”-worthy comment.

  • Yes, love this too, Andi. I agree. It would seem a compassionately lived life is full of connection and meaning and is its own reward. A path like this can’t help but lead us where we need to be.

  • So well said, Selene. I’m a fundamentalist cult survivor too. I’m so happy for you – that you have found the loving God we never knew. Deeply knowing this unconditional love is profoundly transformational. Bless you as you travel this path and share this love with others, knowing you are not alone in your journey. Namaste.

  • DR

    Sometimes things take a while to sink in.

  • I just had a lovely two day conversation with a very nice woman on the official Bob Jones University FB page that included mention of objectiveness and subjectiveness relative to our understanding of God and the concept of Post-Enlightenment Literalism. I’m not sure she ever really got what I was saying, but I surely tried.

    Objective things are observable, measurable, often tangible, provable. They are studied in medicine and science etc. They include things like frequency and duration, temperature, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, how fast we can run, the distance to the moon.

    Subjective things are relative to the person, experiential, intangible: emotions, sensations, perceptions.

    Here, John is explaining a burning building is a real thing. It’s objective. You can see it, feel it, touch it, prove that it exists, measure how hot, how much damage occurred, how long it will take to rebuild it.

    Hell, is a concept. It’s not objective.

    Now the young lady from BJU, as a self-admitted biblical literalist, believes hell is literally real – a physical place existing in space and time. But what John has explained is that believing something that is a concept or a theory or intangible or unprovable is real does not make it literally real in the tangible, touchable, measurable way. Yet, it can be real to us (subjectively), without being literally real or real to everyone else (objectively).

    What I tried to offer in my conversation with the young woman was that our relationship with God is inherently subjective. But because she, and other very nice folks who hold to a literal interpretation of scripture, insisted that correct belief is what confers God’s grace on us, her understanding of God and the faith has become objective, measurable: if you believe this list of things – you’re in. If you don’t – you’re out.

    A literalist view of scripture, as the author of the letter presented, has tried to make the religious experience (an innately subjective thing) measurable. Because then we can “know” if we (or others) are part of the in group or part of the out. It’s much more neat this way. Much more orderly. It makes way for certainty and is one way of dealing with the uncomfortableness of doubt. But this quantifying of our proper belief in God, this objectifying of the spiritual experience, is what has created many of the divisions within the Church and much pain and suffering in our world. It has grown out of our own human discomfort and anxiety with uncertainty, with vulnerability, with the sacred messiness of life, and our inability to accept the ineffable nature of the Divine. Quite a shame.

    In my experience (subjectively) it has been in embracing the mystery when I have felt (subjectively) closest to God. Is this not faith? Following without knowing (objectively)? And, yet, we can still gnow (gnosis) deeply.

  • You two make me smile =).

  • Bravo, Dave.

  • Kaede

    Sartre said,

    …“hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because…when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, … we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. … But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us

  • Kaede

    As a firefighters child, I feel I must say that firefighters are required to pull away any people from the fire. They have failed in their job (and will be dismissed from their duty) if they don’t. People act irrationally in times of crisis and will run TOWARD a burning building. A firefighter must save ALL the people, even the foolish/irrational ones.

  • Christy: Perfect! Thank you.

  • Lauren


  • Don Rappe

    For what it’s worth, my picky mind is in almost complete agreement with this statement. You may wish to consider whether an atheist is someone who claims “not to believe in” God, or is someone who “is without God”. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is God’s Power to salvation.” Paul goes on to clarify the meaning of this greatly. The context is that the words were written to the Jewish believers in Rome. In our time, these would correspond to doctrinally correct Christian believers. Think of these where you see the word Jews used and think of the unbaptized where you see the word Greeks. Paul is very clear that the Greeks may have the Gospel “in their hearts” and that it is accessible by natural means without use of scripture (Torah or Law). These passages which clearly define the meaning to the apostle of the term Gospel tell us that the “atheist” who is “sincere kind. and loving” has the Gospel in his heart and will be so received on the day of the Lord. It also contains a warning for all of us who know the scriptures well. but do not have the Gospel in our hearts. The Gospel then, is not some verbal doctrine or creed, but a condition of the heart, which is God’s Power to save us.

  • Don Rappe

    The above should say @Brian. I too have no “Oh crap” button. I’m afraid my training as a mathematician may cause me to place too much emphasis on my (correct) indentation. Probably few others pay as much attention to it.

  • Don Rappe

    If I want God to be a loving God, does that make me arrogant?

  • Don Rappe

    Yes, Amen!

  • Don Rappe

    I do not find the conflation of American religion with American political party to yield mush light.

  • Don Rappe

    Well put!

  • Don Rappe

    Yes, it is true that conversion is about changing the way we think and act and have our being.

  • Don Rappe

    Yes, isolation from the world at large is characteristic of cults. Think FLDS.

  • Don Rappe

    Oh oh! I’m pretty sure you get burnt at the stake for saying tripartite instead of triune.

  • Don Rappe

    The story doesn’t say whether or not the first prisoner repented.

  • Love the mystics….

  • And the great insight by St. Francis was that we are to preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

  • Are the people who run toward the burning building the ones misguidedly trying to be heroes?

    The rational mind says – “If the firefighters are there, let them do their job because they know what they’re doing,” but I can imagine myself being stupid and trying to help.

    I did something risky recently because the cops took their damn time showing up AND because I knew what I was doing (involved a horse not a person, and I know what to do with horses), yet, I could see myself trying to do something “noble” in a situation where I didn’t know what I was doing and geting in the way!

  • Diana Horel

    That looks like our resident crazy here in Savannah. Is he the one who wrote to you about hell?

  • Don Rappe

    Sometimes there are fine semantic connotations which can distinguish the meanings of words slightly. The Greeks referred to their sacred stories as “myths”. If I refer to a Christian sacred story as a myth, many people get noticeably bent out of shape. That’s because the modern understanding of the word seems to include the idea “false”, which is not necessarily correct. I think the same is true of the word subjective. Many people think (incorrectly) that it includes the notion of illusory. I will have better luck if I substitute the term “spiritual” for “subjective”.Heaven, hell and God are spiritual realities, not physical objects of any kind. This is good because spiritual truths can be meaningful in ways that physical truths can never be. One might say that the concept of meaning is pretty much confined to the spiritual realm. Unless you want to consider mass, luminosity, specific gravity or quantum state to be forms of meaning. In the spiritual realm, real means the opposite of illusion. The grace of God really does sober up alkies; it is not an illusion. Faith and God have real power; they are not illusions. On the other hand the notion that the Gospel is something you can just hurl at a sinner and it may straighten him out is an illusion. This illusiveness is characteristic of false spiritual teaching. But how can we illuminate the lives of other sinners? These little lights of ours, let them shine, let them shine, let them shine!

  • Don Rappe

    Heaven won’t be heaven for me either if everyone’s not there. But, now I’m going to have to thin of a loving God creating a brutal and indifferent Nature. I’m not sure how that will come out.

  • Don, Marcus Borg and others have written, and written well, about the truth of myth: Meaning found within religious literature and stories that may not be, nor need not be, historically, factually accurate nor literally true and yet they are MORE than true. Parables, for instance, (to use language familiar to our evangelical friends) or Aesops fables that have a moral to the story. We know they did not actually happen, but they still contain truths that are useful in sharing insights and wisdom that help us live our lives.

  • Don Rappe

    Always wondered what he meant by that.

  • Absolutely. Abuse is putting a person in a situation where whatever choice they make, they can’t win. When that person is a child, it is even more heinous.

    Eventually the abused begins to live with a “why bother” attitude, and then goes on to destroy their life and the lives of everyone they touch. It is the opposite of love.

    I pray that I am forgiven for the things that I did because of the way I was abused and that I can know truth instead of the lies I was taught.

  • Sojourner

    The Old Testament tells a story of God establishing covenants with man: if you keep my commandments, then I will love you. If you don’t, well, you’ll be sorry. Over and over God makes these pronouncements, Israel fails to comply, and God, because of love, is forced to say, “ok, well, let’s start over. Just don’t do it again.” In fact, God sets up a system of sacrificial offerings which are helpful in atoning for Israel’s sins. But none of this ever gets the job done. After all, God established the conditions, God set forth the consequences. Ultimately, in Jesus’ great Yes to God, God gets the sacrificial satisfaction God required, and in that act, frees man from the “if you do this, then I will do that” and sets forth the “because I love you” relationship. That was Jesus’ victory over Hell.

  • NS

    I would also like to point out that firefighters are not omnipotent. Which is to say that they cannot simply make there stop being a fire. And make history happen such that you were not in a burning house. An omnipotent God could do that. An omnipotent God who puts you in a burning house and then merely tells your through an annoying messenger how you might could possibly get out…is not merely petty, but also insanely sadistic.

  • Found this today. Seemed perfect.

    “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”

  • Lauren

    (can’t stop laughing) Where have you folks been all my life?

  • Clearly you guys have considered and attempted to persuade people on this point quite a lot. But then you’re arguing that such persuasion is futile. Where you see failure, I see a starting point. I totally see how it can be futile in practice. But John and Mindy seem to be arguing that it’s futile in principle, as if there’s a binary state of belief or nonbelief, with no intermediate steps that someone can be enticed along.

    As John said, the two states are irreducible. But they’re still explainable. If you meet someone who thinks rain isn’t wet, you can sit down with him and figure out what he thinks rain and wetness are, how he learned the concepts, and how he uses them now. If he forgot his thought processes as he gained this belief, then apparently he believes it out of habit. Then, you can discuss the pros and cons of beliefs of habit. Meanwhile you could try to rediscover those thought processes, by looking for authors who wrote them down before forgetting them. Or comparing them to your own, correct ones, if you remember them.

    Or if you think that no such thought processes ever happened, and he gained the belief in an irreducible epiphany, then that must put you in the “futile in principle” camp. So then I guess the guy’s just screwed. That’s one reason this whole thing troubles me.

    As Mindy said, it’s a matter of using your brain or non-using your brain. Actually, I don’t object to that. The binary model fits just fine in this case. But people have reasons for avoiding the use of their brains, and it’s usually not a matter of brain power. You can go after those reasons. But then you’re attacking someone’s insecurities, and you generally want to do that sneakily like a ninja. Maybe that’s what John was doing all along and I’m just ruining it.

    But even if I agree that this persuasion is futile in principle, and I’m bumbling into John’s expert ninja tactics, I still think it’s a nit worth picking, for academic purposes. John’s arguments on all the other points expertly weaved solid objective logic with denial-resistant human truths. And, of course, references for further study. But on the last one, he threw out a quick analogy and was like, “Nope, that’s not how it is. Ditch that metaphor.” Since I’ve conceded that persuasion is futile, I can’t say he’s wrong. That might have been the best argument possible.

    The academic problem is this: There’s a lot of high-quality thinking on the “the divine is objective” side, even if it’s ultimately flawed. John dismissed a whole school of thought, and made a big argument look like a small one. That was an error, one of a whole phylum of little errors that imperceptibly weaken a human’s credibility and sympathy. There are trillions of such errors, and it’s impossible for an argument to be free of them. It’s a testament to John’s dialectic skill that I think this is one was worth pointing out.

    I started writing this as a criticism. I don’t even know what it is now.

  • Kaede

    Not necessarily. Panicked people do stupid things. “I have to go back in! I left my iron on!” “My daughter won’t find me if I’m not inside!” “I have to get my mother’s photo!” “My computer is in there!” “I have to save my cat/dog/fish/bird!”

    All understandable impulses, but ones that will get you killed.

  • MindWarp

    So, yes that sounds great…but, why did Jesus warn about hell, if it’s all taken care of? (I am asking seriously, not for arguing.)

  • In C.S. Lewis’ “Problem of Pain,” the perspective on Hell is a little different. For one, “hell” was set up for non-humans. For another, “hell” other than a lake of fire is “being apart from the creator.” So, the only thing tormenting about being apart for eternity from the creator is the anguish of the soul, not administered punishment. During our lifetime and after, when our soul continues, we establish a trajectory of some degree. That trajectory supposedly continues until, at some point, your soul evolves (spotlessness) or devolves (totally corroded) so that you qualify for either heaven or the lake of fire.

    Of course, the whole point of the book was to discuss how to resolve the “starbuck’s coffee conversation” you wrote about. I forget how The Slacktivist (blog) refers to the people who preach hell, but these guys have totally invested hell with all kinds of fantastic qualities, including eternal physical torment. One can accept hell as some kind of condition premised upon being apart from the creator (and all that that could imply for how existence would be), but the specter of eternal physical torment is wild imagination (or demagoguery) evolved to dogma. That’s not God’s fault.

  • Jen

    “If God is capable of stopping people from going to hell (and being all-powerful, he undoubtedly is), but chooses not to, then the only rational conclusion is that God is an insanely petty psychopath.”

    This line reminds me of a quote I heard a long time ago that resonated with me (paraphrasing here):

    “If God is willing but not able to prevent evil, then he is not omnipotent. If God is able but not willing, then he is not good. If he is willing and able, then why is there evil?”

    I always answer, in my heart and mind: “There is evil because there are people who do evil, including me. We break God’s heart. But He loves us and knows that making us mindless puppets will only make Him as selfish and hateful as us, which He is not.”

    On another note, Wikipedia helpfully informs me that the above quote is known as a trilemma, or: “a difficult choice from three options, each of which is (or appears) unacceptable or unfavourable.”

  • Lauren

    My church actually did a recent bible study discussion on the Great Commission. Most of our discussion centered on the fact the standing out on the sidewalk, yelling at passersby, OBVIOUSLY did not work. Someof us admitted to using qualifiers like “Well, yes, I am Christian, but I’m not one of THOSE Christians.” when talking about our faith.

    I’ve had some personal experience with the “Great Commission”. I spent two years identifying as athiest, and another year as agnostic. During that time, so-called Christians hurled names at me, (funnily enough, ‘Satanist’ was a common insult) screamed at me about the ‘dangers of hell’, and basically told me I was worse than Hitler (At least HE was CHRISTIAN!) Once I ‘came out’ as bisexual, it got WORSE. This did not make me want to be Christian. Far from it. My early experiences were of no help – my parent’s church was of the “He loves you! -but only if you’re one of us” types.

    The person that ‘succeeded’ was much, much different. He was/is my best friend and my significant other. He grew up in a Southern Baptist church and had gone through some hard changes and doubts too. His beliefs had changed drastically from when he was young, and it was a subject we discussed often. He shared with me his views on God as a loving God, and he presented his views as his own, not once demanding that I change my own beliefs. Then he’d listen to me about my views, both on athiesm and on Christianity.

    When he and his sister started going to a new church (also baptist) after some drama at the church of their childhood, he invited me to come and visit with them. There I found a more loving community than I’d ever experienced before. The church was an affirming, welcoming place that preached love and grace, and offered many oppotunities to show that love through volunteer work. Best of all, they are EXTREMELY pro-LGBTQ. Our youth minister is a lesbian woman, and she’s one of the most incredible women I’ve ever met.

    I kept going back, and that church became my church. I found a different God, one that rings true to me. After about six months of going to weekly services and wednesday bible studies, I told my friend that my beliefs had changed and that I had decided to once again identify as Christian. He was excited, yes, but he’d always made it clear that he was fine with me being non-Christian. That’s how I knew he wasn’t mentally making another tick on the chalkboard. He was truly excited for me, having come to my own conclusions, and finally knowing the God that loves, not the God that loves selectively.

    From that experience, it seems clear to me. We don’t spread the word by screaming at people. We don’t focus on ‘converting’ anyone. We simply share our experiences with one another and exemplify God’s love to the best of our abilities. And it always comes through close relationships and a willingness to accept and listen.

  • Lauren

    I agree completely. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been chastised by other Christians because I’m not willing to push my faith down other people’s throats. I think there is this fear among Christians that God won’t love us if we don’t meet this unspecified quota of people we convert or share the message with, and so they act like traveling salesmen for Jesus. These are rational, intelligent people, and yet for one reason or another they can’t wrap their minds around the possibility that people aren’t really into the “turn or burn” sales line anymore. It’s stories like yours that reassure me that patient, agenda-less love is really the only way to share the love of God.

  • Gretchen