Here are four questions recently in and my responses to them.
I’ve been doing a lot of questioning as of late, what with the rise in atheism and wondering if I’m a fool for even believing in something intangible like God. This questioning has really been cutting into me and is very painful. My question to you is: how important is faith to us as humans? Is it really that damaging to believe in the spiritual aspect of life, despite that science cannot explain it?
Of course it’s not damaging to believe in things science cannot explain. Science can’t “explain” love, and love, as they say (when they’re speaking metaphorically, of course) makes the world go round. At any rate, the pertinent question here isn’t how important faith is to humans. What matters is how important faith is to you. It sounds to me like you want to believe in God. Then do! I do, and I guarantee you I think as critically as any atheist you’ll ever meet. Since as of this writing only a complete dink would claim to actually know whether or not God exists, why not assume he/she/it does? The main thing is to pick a lane. Step into both (or a third, if you want to try agnosticism), see which one feels best, trust that intuition, and start running. See where it takes you.
Mr. Shore, I follow you on Facebook and have read your book, I’m OK – You’re Not and sometime this week, I should receive from Amazon UNFAIR: Why the “Christian View of Gays Doesn’t Work. I find your posts to be informative, humorous, and intelligent. I am straight, always have been, always will be. I have a gay relative who always has been, and always will be, gay. I have numerous gay friends who have tried to be straight and failed, because it’s not who they are. But I also have a Christian friend who continues to try to assure me that, when it comes to gay people, what’s right is to hate the sin and love the sinner. Despite every single time I have told her that I will not budge on this issue, she continues to send me messages about how she prays for me to see the truth, how she is in tears for me and my refusal to follow the Bible. I am at a point where I am ready to cease all contact with this person. I just can’t stand to hear or read anymore about how discrimination wrapped in “love” and Biblical misrepresentation is right thing to do. Can you give me a kind response for my friend? Because I can’t be kind right now. I’m unable to respond lovingly anymore. Help?!
Well, you obviously have to decide whether or not you any longer want this person as a friend. It sounds to me like you don’t. (And I don’t blame you: I can tell you that I wouldn’t be friends with her. “I’m in tears over your refusal to follow the Bible” would boot her right off my Christmas card list.) If you don’t want her as a friend anymore, stop responding to her emails. She’ll soon enough stop sending them; either way, it doesn’t take long to hit the Delete button. If at some point she asks why you’ve stopped responding to her messages, tell her you’ve found that life’s too short to keep hopping aboard the same not-very-merry-go-round. Just fade her out of your life, basically.
If you do want to keep her as a friend, then … then why?
It’s been my experience that the reason Christians who believe in hell aren’t constantly freaked out over all the people they believe are going there is that the fact that they think they’re not going there is more than enough for them. As yes, there is a spiritually-based argument against Hell that isn’t easily dismissed as twisting the Bible to mean whatever makes you happy. I wrote it. It’s called Hell No! Extinguishing Christian Hellfire. It’s short, tight, has been generously quoted by Rob Bell, and is right now on sale for $2.99 on Kindle; or it’s $3.99 on Nook. (And if you don’t have a Kindle you can download here for free a Kindle reading app which will allow you to read any Kindle e-book on pretty much anything with a screen.)
Dear Mr. Shore,
Though I desperately want to believe that Hell doesn’t exist, that seems way too good to be true. I’ve been traumatized by the concept of Hell since I was a kid. I was always looking at people on the street and thinking of how they were unaware of their impending doom, and that people around the world were dying every second and ending up irrevocably in the unquenchable fires of Hell. It sent me into an evangelical frenzy (and then massive suicidal depression when preaching at people just got me mocked). A pastor I spoke with about this issue told me to just trust that God’s judgement would be fair, and not to worry about these things. So I tried pushing it aside—and then made more atheist friends, who gave me hope that maybe they were right and there was no eternal torment in store for most people.
But now for the first time in ages I’ll be joining a Christian small group study, and in past sessions they’ve apparently been talking a lot about Hell and salvation. I really don’t want to reopen those wounds again. But it does feel like not believing in hell is maybe just making excuses not to hear the uncomfortable parts of Christianity, and to instead just stick to the happy, God-is-love stuff. But I’m also afraid that Hell just might be the kicker that turns me away from Christianity for good (which is saying a lot, after all I’ve gone through being an LGBT Christian). There are times I don’t want to be a Christian just so I don’t have to believe in Hell. Help? Is there any spiritually-based argument against Hell, that isn’t easily dismissed as twisting the Bible to mean whatever makes you happy? Alternatively, how do the bulk of Christians who do believe in Hell manage to go about their lives as functional human beings, even capable of friendly chatter with supposedly hell-bound non-Christians, instead of suffering from the constant weight of crushing despair and helplessness?
I’m from a super-liberal community in [big American city]. My family’s Jewish, but I didn’t grow up with any religious education. I became a Christian a few years ago (partly from the influence of my now-wife, who grew up in a fairly conservative but loving Christian home ). I attend my wife’s church, which is small, low-key and intimate. Since becoming a Christian I’ve become even more of a raving liberal than I was before. I read your blog daily, along with several other Christian lefty blogs. I argue with my conservative friends, and talk to my wife about homosexuality regularly. (She no longer thinks it’s a sin, but still feels a bit conflicted on how to express her feelings to others.)
My question for you is this: I am trying to decide whether or not to become a member of my church. I want to be a member because I’d like to be more involved in the community, and I know that being a member will help me do this. However, while the pastor never preaches on homosexuality, I know for a fact that he and many other people in the church (most all of whom I like!) believe that it’s a sin. They also hold conservative views on women in leadership and a couple other issues. I don’t know what to do because gay marriage and rights is such an important issue for me, but I love my church and want to be a part of it. I just don’t know if I can reconcile these two issues. I keep going back and forth as to what I’m going to do but still haven’t decided. I’m stuck. Can you provide any advice? P.S. Thanks so much for all the work you do– never give up! You’re doing God’s work.
Thanks for kind words about my work!
I can only tell you what I would do. I’d leave that church. First of all, they’re lying. If they believe that homosexuality is a sin, then why aren’t they preaching it? And they don’t think women are fit to serve as clergy? Dude, that’s one seriously conservative church. I just can’t see how you, a true liberal, could ever be happy giving such a church your devotion, energy, and money. I vote that it’s time for you (and, I would hope, your wife: it’d be weird for you guys to go to different churches) to go church shopping. Why marry someone you don’t love?