Literal Hell + Age of Accountability = What?!?

[The text in the facebook status copied above reads: About 20 children are receiving the BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER….the presence of our God and our Lord Jesus Christ!]

I remember when Andrea Yates drowned her five small children in a bathtub. I was a conservative evangelical at the time, and still in high school, and when I heard about the story I had a problem. I knew I found what Yates had done morally reprehensible, but, well, I couldn’t find a way to criticize her reasoning for doing what she did. My theology wouldn’t let me, because, well, her theology was my theology followed to its logical conclusion.

As with many if not most evangelical and fundamentalist churches, my parents’ church taught both the existence of a literal hell – consisting, of course, of eternal torment – and the idea that children who die before the age of accountability – usually around seven or eight – automatically go straight to heaven. Andrea Yates explained that, based on these doctrines, she murdered her five small children because she was afraid that if she let them grow past the age of accountability, they might not choose Jesus and might therefore spend eternity in torment. She was willing to damn her soul by committing murder if that was what was necessary to ensure that her children would spend eternity in heaven. Aren’t mothers supposed to sacrifice for their children, after all? As evangelical and fundamentalist America jumped all over itself to condemn Yates’ actions, I wavered on an instant of doubt and then pushed it away.

Following this line of thought, evangelicals and fundamentalists who truly believe in both a literal hell and the age of accountability ought to, like the facebook user who posted the status above, rejoice in the deaths of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Why? Because, by their doctrine, the shooter did those children a favor by sending them straight to heaven. Had those twenty children grown up, the odds that all of them would have become Bible believing Christians are a hundred to one, and the consequences for those children who didn’t would have been dire – eternal and never-ending torture. Instead, by these beliefs, all twenty children will have never-ending bliss.

Indeed, these evangelicals and fundamentalists ought to approach abortion in the same way. They believe that fetuses have souls, after all, and since they are under the age of accountability, they believe the souls of dead fetuses go straight to heaven. Logically, abortion doctors ought to be viewed as heroes, willing do damn their own souls and face eternal torture in order to spare as many souls as possible the same fate. In fact, logically, what mother who truly believes these things would choose to birth a child and let it grow up with even the chance of rejecting Jesus and spending eternity in hell? Would it not be better to abort it and thus spare it any chance of such torture and send it straight to heaven? Sure, by doing so they would damn their own souls to hell, but wouldn’t that make them the ultimate heroes, willing to sacrifice all for the good of their children?

When I had these thoughts as a teen, I didn’t know how to handle them, so I pushed them away rather than face their full implications. And as I write this, I realize that some might find it offensive. But I think we need to be pointing out the absolute moral horror that results from actually and truly taking these two beliefs seriously. Andrea Yates realized that horror, and she walked into it. And yet, thankfully, she is the extreme aberration. Further, her actions were widely and soundly condemned by evangelicals and fundamentalists right alongside everyone else. Why is this, when her action is in some sense simply the natural and humane conclusion of the doctrines held by so many evangelicals and fundamentalists?

My answer to this question is that evangelicals and fundamentalists who claim to believe in both a literal hell and the age of accountability must (a) not truly believe in one or both of those doctrines  (b) have never followed these doctrines to their logical conclusion, or (c) have pushed these thoughts under the rug as I did for so long. And I suppose perhaps we should be glad of this, because the last thing this world need is more Andrea Yateses.

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