L.B.: Explicit Content

Left Behind, pp. 101-104

10031853
I've previously joked about how the Left Behind series is "Pretrib Porno" because of its fetishistic appeal for followers of that kinky eschatology, And we've frequently noted how the characters' names — Buck, Steele, Dirk — seem drawn from the adult section of the local video store. But there's another sense, joking aside, in which these books truly are pornographic: they contain spiritually explicit scenes of graphic religious conversion.

Religious ecstasy, like sexual ecstasy, is difficult to portray directly in a work of art. It is too intimate, sacred and transcendent — and any portrayal that fails to respect that will seem reductive and cheap. A good artist knows when to fade to black (or, as in Dante's "Paradiso," to fade to white), when to suggest rather than to show, when implicit metaphor will be more truthful than explicit detail. Pornographers — be they sexual or spiritual — don't care about such things. They neither acknowledge nor seek to convey anything transcendent in their subject, replacing transcendence with titillation. Their audience is never caught up in the mystery and ecstasy of rapture, only teased with the cheap thrills of a great snatch.*

The conversion scenes in LB, like all pornography, require the reader to overcome an instinctive reaction to look away when stumbling across such intimate scenes, choosing instead the tresspassive thrill of voyeurism.

These scenes have something else in common with pornography: They take an event that is — or ought to be — primarily about love and portray it as something from which love is absent or irrelevant.

We have not yet arrived at the money shot of Rayford Steele's big conversion scene, but these pages begin to lay the groundwork for it. Love is not a factor in any of this — not God's love for Rayford, nor his love for God. Rayford seems, rather, to be motivated by fear and by a calculus of rewards and punishment.

Rayford lay there grieving, knowing the television would be full of scenes he didn't want to see, dedicated around the clock to the tragedy and mayhem all over the world. And then it hit him. …

I should have known better, but I read that and hoped that what "hit him" was somehow connected to all that tragedy and mayhem "he didn't want to see." That Rayford's little epiphany might include the idea that all this suffering involved others who were people just like him. That his utter self-centeredness — his contemptuous dismissal of others' pain, others' significance — was the sin from which he needed to repent lest it destroy him.

But no, what "hit him" was the idea that he and Chloe:

… had to find out how they had missed everything Irene had been trying to tell them, why it had been so hard to accept and believe. Above all, he had to study, to learn, to be prepared for whatever happened next.

If the disappearances were of God, if they had been his doing, was this the end of it? The Christians, the real believers, get taken away, and the rest are left to grieve and mourn and realize their error? Maybe so. Maybe that was the price. But what happens when we die? he thought. If heaven is real, if the Rapture was a fact, what does that say about hell and judgment? Is that our fate? We go through this hell of regret and remorse, and then we literally go to hell, too?

Irene had always talked of a loving God, but even God's love and mercy had to have limits. Had everyone who denied the truth pushed God to his limit? Was there no more mercy, no second chance? Maybe there wasn't, and if that was so, that was so.

But if there were options, if there was still a way to find the truth and believe or accept or whatever it was Irene said one was supposed to do, Rayford was going to find it. …

God's love is mentioned here only in the context of a possible loophole, a way of avoiding the fires of hell. Fear of hell, not love of God, is the essential point and Rayford's primary motivation for finding the secret, arcane knowledge that he must "believe or accept or whatever it was Irene said one was supposed to do."

Contrast this attitude with the delightfully repetitive insistence in 1 John 4 that All You Need Is Love. "Fear has to do with punishment," John writes, simultaneously summarizing and rejecting the central theme of Left Behind:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. …

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

I wish I could tell you that LaHaye and Jenkins were only presenting Rayford's fear-driven response to God as an initial, immature stage of his spiritual journey. But throughout the books, this remains the essence of Rayford's, and L&J's, understanding of the meaning of our relationship with God.

Salvation is never a matter of "we love because he first loved us," but is primarily seen as an escape clause from hell for those who accept or believe or do whatever it is that they do when they say the magic words. That magical utterance — not God's love or mercy — affords the only limit to, the only shelter from, God's all-consuming wrath.

It's no wonder that Rayford does not respond with love toward the vengeful, arbitrary "God" of LB. Love is something that such a God neither desires nor deserves.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* The obscene wordplay here is not mine. "The Great Snatch" is the title of Hal Lindsay's chapter on the "Rapture" in his 1970s bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth. This is the preferred translation among premillennial dispensationalists for the Greek word "harpazo," which is usually translated "caught up" — as in 1 Corinthians 12:2-4: "I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up to the third heaven. … caught up to Paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell." The mysterious, ecstatic quality of this being caught up is reflected in the primary meaning of the word "rapture" — "the state of being carried away with joy, love, etc.; ecstasy." If you want to understand the meaning of "harpazo," you're better off turning to Anita Baker than to LaHaye and Jenkins.

  • scylla

    What a wonderful discussion! In my view, the sticking point comes down to this–if God truly condemns non-”Christians” to eternal hellfire, then we not talking about God, but some form of spiteful, self-absorbed, uber-being. And I join with others in saying, “Fine, I’ll stay behind.”
    But I don’t think we’ll have to make that decision, because (assuming we can talk intelligibly about God as something separate from ourselves)God does not condemn anyone, but only provides a continuous opportunity to recognize the reality of our existence–our relation with others and with the divine.
    Hell is simply not opening our eyes to see what IS. And truly, if we cannot see, we are condemned to the torment of living in a tortured dream of our own device. So when Jesus talks about the great gulf and the torment of those on the other side, he acknowledges how easy it is for us to close our eyes to Life, and how dramatic the consequences when we do. Any other interpretation is just bad sci fi.

  • scylla

    Oh, and speaking of people permanently stuck in bad sci fi, I offer into evidence in support of my point: the republican leadership. Have they not formally declared their rejection of a reality-based existence? There is no reality, sillies, the neocons say–only the reality we create. And damned if they don’t keep manufacturing it anew every day. What kind of spiritual understanding can we expect from people apparently incapable of believing the evidence of their senses?

  • Ray

    Why is eternal hell bad sci-fi, but possessed swine/ water into wine/ raising the dead/ ascending into heaven/ the whole “He’s a God AND a man!” thing* legitimate?
    *more Byzantine fun

  • Beth

    “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed”
    Surely God could have crossed that gulf though, and brought the rich man over if He chose. You may be right that the rich man’s suffering is eternal, but considering the general beliefs of the people Jesus was talking to, I’m still not sure. Either way, Abraham’s compassion is quite a contrast to the exultant schadenfreude suggested in L.B. I suspect that if L&J had written that story, Abraham’s response would have been, “Why should we help you, you loser?”
    If you can repent on your deathbed and be forgiven, why not after 1000 years of torment?
    Exactly. And if all that torment cannot lead to repentence and salvation, what is it but cruelty and vengence? But maybe neither heaven nor hell is eternal. Maybe the saved experience such bliss at being in God’s presence that they finally unite with God completely and cease to be individual souls altogether. And maybe hell burns away all the pride and shallow desires of the damned until they too are able to love God purely and unite with Him as well.
    What a wonderful discussion!
    I agree. And it all seems to come back to understanding ourselves and our choices in this life, realizing the depth of suffering we create for ourselves with our bad choices, and the wonder we can experience if we only open our hearts to it. This seems like the real tragedy of the simplistic reward-or-punishment view of L.B. Christians. It cuts off this whole line of thinking. They don’t have to bother with what “heaven” and “hell,” or “salvation” and “damnation” really mean. They never have to really examine their own souls and their own actions, and I believe they are the poorer for that.

  • cjmr’s husband

    What a wonderful discussion!
    Concur; this thread, unlike others I’ve seen recently, has had a distinct shortage of personal attacks, deliberate misunderstanding, devil’s advocating, and gang-up-on-ing. I can only assume it’s because of my own non-participation :-)
    Keep up the good work, keep it clean, and we can all learn something.

  • What is in a name?

    What a wonderful discussion!
    It is not just a wonderful discussion. It is, actually, a taste of Heaven:
    Concur; this thread, unlike others I’ve seen recently, has had a distinct shortage of personal attacks, deliberate misunderstanding, devil’s advocating, and gang-up-on-ing.

  • Dan Lewis

    Matthew 7:
    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
    Hell means “away from Jesus”. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader. Thumbscrews or not, the possibility is meant to be unnerving, and especially unnerving to those who call themselves followers of Jesus. This is one of the places where a definition of hell as “choosing not-God” comes from.
    I said “if, like Christians, you already see personal choices as meaningful and irrevocable, and people as immortal, then some kind of hell or damnation is almost a syllogism.” If you don’t believe one of these things about people or choices, then obviously you won’t agree with the conclusion.
    Then Ray asked me, “Second, Christians think that baptism (and/or confession) washes away sin, which means personal choices are revocable.”
    There is an important way that your choices are irrevocable: you can never change them again. This isn’t just true of the choices we make for or against religion or God or something. You had breakfast this morning. You had cereal; it was Cap’n Crunch. You had a glass of orange juice and read the newspaper. You are no longer able to have had an omelette for breakfast, or to have read a Neil Gaiman novel, no matter how much you wish you could.
    Now say your religion says that eating Cap’n Crunch is a sin, and you apologize to God or whip yourself or whatever it is you have to do. In an important way, your choice has been revoked; you’ve changed your mind and restored your spiritual communion. But that you ate the Cap’n Crunch is a fact of life.
    What if it were a fact of life that you could reject your spiritual communion with God? This is a sort of meta-sin, the kind of thing some people think Jesus was talking about regarding blaspheming the Holy Spirit (“the unforgivable sin”). The reason the sin is unforgivable is because it rejects forgiveness, rejects communion with God. Isn’t that hell? Why couldn’t it be a fact of life, in the past, permanent? I’ll point out, though, that this bears very little resemblance to the “pitchforks for the un-Protestant” thing in Left Behind.

  • Dan Lewis

    The other thing Ray asked about was time, specifically “if the soul is everlasting and immortal, why should God limit his forgiveness to the first 100 years of that soul’s existence? If you can repent on your deathbed and be forgiven, why not after 1000 years of torment?” I think there is an important issue we have been skirting around the edges of here (and I did it myself, in the last post).
    What month is it right now in hell (on the Christian hypothesis)? June? The fact is, none of us knows for sure that people live for lengths of time in hell, or even that time exists in hell. I’d opine that it doesn’t, and that the issue rests on the interpretation of words like “eternal” or “everlasting” that don’t make much sense to us human beings living in serial time.
    So, in other words, the assumption behind “If you can repent on your deathbed and be forgiven, why not after 1000 years of torment?” is that being in hell is like living, only more so, and longer, and it hurts, and it’s cruel.
    But to the contrary, hell is not like living because hell is permanent.
    I’d say that hell is an indestructible palace of one’s own making, lovingly furnished, planted with the most fragrant flowers and delicious fruits, populated with our ideal companions, providing the fulfillment of our wildest dreams… lacking only the love of God.
    I sympathize with Beth’s comment here; “it all seems to come back to understanding ourselves and our choices in this life, realizing the depth of suffering we create for ourselves with our bad choices, and the wonder we can experience if we only open our hearts to it.” If hell were only torture it would be pointless. But if hell is the depth of suffering we create for ourselves, it all seems so natural, doesn’t it?

  • Ray

    I’m having a hard time seeing how the decision you made about what to have for breakfast this morning is similar to the decision I made to reject God’s forgiveness. Your decision about what to have for breakfast can’t be changed, because its in the past. The Captain Crunch was eaten, and so it will always be eaten. Do we only get one chance with God? Does one rejection condemn us for the rest of our lives?
    Even just in terms of a relationship with another human, things don’t seem to work that way. Fight with someone today and you can make it up tomorrow, even if you can’t unfight the fight. As far as the relationship with God goes, that seems a teeny bit heretical. Does rejection at any time rule out the possibility of reconciliation? Can you not repent and seek forgiveness, even on your deathbed?
    The idea of heaven and hell as places outside of time does get around the problem of condemned souls repenting after some time, yes. But it raises a lot of other philosophical/theological problems – how can beings that are outside time intercede in time? Saints, angels, God – its one thing to say that they are not bound by time, another to say that they are outside time completely.
    The main problem though – and its the same problem that CS Lewis’ hell has, and the idea of hell as a lovingly furnished palace that is lacking only God – is that it doesn’t match the Bible at all. Its obviously the result of someone reading a bit of the Bible and saying “Wow, they couldn’t have meant _that_, it must be a symbol for something that I’m more comfortable with”. (But, you know, I’m glad that people have a problem with the eternal fire thing.)

  • Ray

    I’m having a hard time seeing how the decision you made about what to have for breakfast this morning is similar to the decision I made to reject God’s forgiveness. Your decision about what to have for breakfast can’t be changed, because its in the past. The Captain Crunch was eaten, and so it will always be eaten. Do we only get one chance with God? Does one rejection condemn us for the rest of our lives?
    Even just in terms of a relationship with another human, things don’t seem to work that way. Fight with someone today and you can make it up tomorrow, even if you can’t unfight the fight. As far as the relationship with God goes, that seems a teeny bit heretical. Does rejection at any time rule out the possibility of reconciliation? Can you not repent and seek forgiveness, even on your deathbed?
    The idea of heaven and hell as places outside of time does get around the problem of condemned souls repenting after some time, yes. But it raises a lot of other philosophical/theological problems – how can beings that are outside time intercede in time? Saints, angels, God – its one thing to say that they are not bound by time, another to say that they are outside time completely.
    The main problem though – and its the same problem that CS Lewis’ hell has, and the idea of hell as a lovingly furnished palace that is lacking only God – is that it doesn’t match the Bible at all. Its obviously the result of someone reading a bit of the Bible and saying “Wow, they couldn’t have meant _that_, it must be a symbol for something that I’m more comfortable with”. (But, you know, I’m glad that people have a problem with the eternal fire thing.)

  • Beth

    Do we only get one chance with God?
    No, but we don’t get only one chance with breakfast either. Every morning brings a new opportunity to choose. I think what Dan’s saying is that you can repent and be forgiven for all your previous sins, but that doesn’t change the fact that you committed them. I much prefer that to the idea that some people seem to have that when you’re born again you’re literally a new person and have no connection to your sinful past. I could beat and rob you then repent, and God would forgive me, but I’d still have to make amends to you for my actions.
    The problem I have with Dan’s view of eternity, is that I can’t understand how experience could exist without time. If we’re really frozen in time, it wouldn’t matter whether we’re surrounded by all the joys of heaven or all the fires of hell. On the other hand, if we’re able to experience our state, then we can also repent of it and be saved. I do like the idea that eternity is something more than lots and lots of time, though. Someone once said, “All love is eternal, for as long as it lasts.” That’s paradoxical of course, but I think anyone who’s been in love will relate, and I think heaven and hell have that same ‘flavor’ of eternity, at least that’s been my experience of ‘heaven/hell on earth.’
    Its obviously the result of someone reading a bit of the Bible and saying “Wow, they couldn’t have meant _that_, it must be a symbol for something that I’m more comfortable with”.
    Maybe it is (and that sort of thing annoys me, too), but maybe it’s people using biblical concepts and imagery to try to describe the indescribible. For that matter, how do we know that the hellfire described in the bible was meant literally in the first place? As Mnemosyne pointed out, burning would be a natural metaphor for torment to desert people. Also, I suspect those endless fires were originally conceived as a sort of spiritual funeral pyre, and only later became a symbol of eternal suffering.

  • Dave Lartigue

    It’s at this point where one can definitely see the appeal of Biblical literalists. Once we start saying, “We really don’t know what they’re talking about when they’re talking about Hell, so let’s make it into something warmer and fuzzier than what they’re saying,” where does it end? When will you know that you’ve left whatever truth may be in there and are now just onto spiritual fan-fiction? Much easier to simply say, “All right, everything is literally true, period.” and not have to ask any more questions.
    Of course, there’s the other route as well, the route I and others have taken, and simply reject the whole thing (which, let’s please establish this…my atheism doesn’t come from the ability to play semantic games that question the ‘accuracy’ of the Bible, and I doubt any mature atheist’s does.)

  • cjmr’s husband

    Best coverage of Eternity that I’ve read was in an old Star Trek novel, The Wounded Sky by Diane Duane. No glib quote, sorry, but several sections really give the impression of what life (or more to the point, not-life) would be in an eternity of no-time-at-all.
    Warning: Contains hard physics, questionable theology, cunning linguistics, and deep (and not-so-deep) philosophy. Read it. (and then everything else D.D. has written)

  • Dan Lewis

    “Do we only get one chance with God? Does one rejection condemn us for the rest of our lives?”
    I see I was not clear enough here. No, one rejection need not condemn us, because there’s always a chance for a new reconciliation while we live. But Christians also believe that life comes to a head: “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” The Day of Judgment is a day (there’s another one of those eternal time periods) for a permanent choice, God or not-God. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God.” If there’s a deathbed redemption, there’s a deathbed damnation too. I would probably call either deathbed scenario the Day of Judgment; this thought experiment is actually a concrete part of Christian theology.
    Beth said “you can repent and be forgiven for all your previous sins, but that doesn’t change the fact that you committed them.” I think that’s entirely true; allow me to extend this idea and call hell permanent unrepentance. I don’t think it’s something God does to you; it is something you do to yourself. As an interesting corollary, heaven is repentance.
    “… it doesn’t match the Bible at all. Its obviously the result of someone reading a bit of the Bible and saying “Wow, they couldn’t have meant _that_, it must be a symbol for something that I’m more comfortable with”.”
    Again I need to clarify what I was saying. I am not comfortable at all with a beautiful palace lacking God. For me it has Orwellian overtones more fitting to my 21st century horror of the corruption of reality than the 1st century horror of endless burning. It reminds me of the Matrix, or the Menagerie, however you want to put it, and it’s also cribbed more or less intact from existentialist theologian Soren Kierkegaard. I wouldn’t call it warmer and fuzzier at all; if anything, it is a darker and colder picture of hell than the lake of fire.
    I think some of the concern about “what hell is like Biblically” is thus misplaced. Take two New Testament metaphors for hell: “the lake of fire” and “outer darkness”. Are we supposed to say the New Testament is incoherent because a lake of fire couldn’t possibly be dark? No. Hell is the worst destination possible, in whatever century, and we should be free to understand it using our own metaphors; this mirrors the practice of the New Testament writers.
    Taking this a step further, Christians should never want people to go to hell; it is like saying that you want someone to endure the worst thing possible. And still further, Christians should not say that people will go to hell, which is almost always a sin and almost never a forthright warning. It is just too close to saying you want someone to go to hell, anyway.
    Ray said, “The idea of heaven and hell as places outside of time does get around the problem of condemned souls repenting after some time, yes. But it raises a lot of other philosophical/theological problems – how can beings that are outside time intercede in time?” Beth said, “I can’t understand how experience could exist without time.” Right. There is a way of affirmation and a way of negation; you can say “God is like this” only so far before you butt up against “God is not like this”. What do I know about beings outside, beyond, in but not of, transcending, mediating, or creating time? The New Testament is suggestive here; we could talk about how, to understand the Christian story better.
    But first, notice something funny that’s happened. We are no longer at “But the loving God of redemption and forgiveness does not sit well with the wrathful God,” and “The problem is that it’s cruel and vengeful.” We have moved to “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” I think this is a good thing; for me, it means we have collectively agreed that hell is not an unfortunate accident in Christianity. Can we not accept hell and leave the details to the career theologians at this point?
    “Hell, damnation, sin, all of that just completely bungs up the whole story…” This was the starting point for me in this discussion. Hell is an integral part of the Christian story, not easily whitewashed or interpreted away, springing naturally from some very basic Christian beliefs; and not pointless, but actually a logical destination for people who make a certain choice with permanent implications.
    This has all sounded a little cold-blooded to me; how about “going to hell is the private business of consenting adults”? I don’t think all this theology is just vacuuming the cat.
    “I do like the idea that eternity is something more than lots and lots of time, though.” I do too. Explaining this one thing would clear up a lot of misconceptions about both heaven and hell. It’s too bad LaHaye and Jenkins were not brave enough to get beyond the obvious and the blandly orthodox. There was plenty of the wildly orthodox out there for them to choose from.

  • Grumpy

    I’ll take your word for it, Fred, that L&J don’t correct Steele’s immature view later in the story. Based on this excerpt alone, it’s clear that character development is secondary to thumping their eschatological agenda.
    Take the line, “…Even God’s love and mercy had to have limits.” Says who? I can excuse Steele jumping to that conclusion, given his unformed opinions about God. But it seems like an arbitrary conclusion for him to reach — except that it is vital to L&J’s conception of the deity. The line jumps out as L&J forcing their own view into their character’s thoughts. Which would be fine, except that their character isn’t a pretrib huckster or a hack writer.
    Same problem with “If the disappearances were of God….” A non-Christian wouldn’t use the formulation “of God,” but a Christian would. A good novelist would use language appropriate to the character.
    And again, “Had everyone who denied the truth pushed God to his limit?” Here, Steele assumes “the truth,” even as he is struggling to recognize what it is. Of course, L&J know what their truth is, and they know that their audience knows it. But the character doesn’t, so don’t jump the gun!

  • Grumpy

    Reflecting further on the appropriate language for the narrator… My criticism only holds up because I assume the narrator is not omniscient. But then, who is the narrator? Is “Left Behind” a tale told by Jesus himself? Talk about your literal Third-Person Omniscient!
    My discomfort with the, shall we say, entre nous fashion of the narration is based on my assumption that it’s third-person limited omniscient. Seems like that’s how LB flows: We stick with one character at a time, and the narrator doesn’t know what goes on with other characters until the scene changes. But if you use that device, it means you also can’t bring other knowledge to the scene, like what is “the truth.”

  • Ray

    I don’t like doing the point-by-point argument thing, but I’m pressed for time…
    If we’ve moved to “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?”, its because you (Dan) have said “what if Hell is like the head of a pin?”, by suggesting that Hell is eternal but timeless. An interesting idea, but one without biblical support.
    But I don’t think, and hadn’t thought, that Hell was an “unfortunate accident” in theology. Its “unfortunate” in the sense that it changes a story about love, love, and love to a story about love, judgement, and punishment, which is less appealing, and more objectionable – but not an accident.
    The Day of Judgement? Well, its not called the Day of Choice, is it? The biblical descriptions seem pretty clear that its God who decides where you go, not you who decide if you want to live with God or not. Hell is _not_ the private business of consenting adults, its the decision of God.
    Sure, you should have been good while you were alive, but… I reject God now, for example, because I don’t think he exists. If I die and I’m brought before the heavenly throne for judgement, I’ll probably want to rethink things. But at that point its too late – I’ll have been condemned to eternity without God*.
    The idea that its God’s judgement, not your choice, is surely implied by your argument that Hell is a necessary corollary of meaningful, irrevocable decisions. If God picks the afterlife that suits the decisions I made, then those decisions had meaning. If I can rape and slaughter my merry way through life, but then choose my own afterlife, the decisions I made in life are not really meaningful.
    *Though if I’m not brought before the heavenly throne, and just sent straight to hell, I’ll take the ‘beautiful palace where all my desires are met’ version, thanks. Worst destination possible? You don’t get out enough.

  • Scott

    It’s Friday. :-)

  • cjmr

    but even God’s love and mercy had to have limits.
    I’m surprised this didn’t pop out at me before. Granted, this line is in the mouth of a currently “unsaved” character, but if this is what L&J believe, doesn’t it kinda contradict the doctrine of the omnipotence of God?
    If tbere is a sin that is too big for Him to be able to forgive, how can he at the same time be all-powerful?

  • Christopher

    The problem I have with the “Hell is the choice to divorce yourself from god” theory is that it only comfortably deals with two kinds of people: Christians, and atheists who base their beliefs on a dislike of the Biblical god.
    Now, all this is fine for those two groups, but there are also others out there: There are Atheists that don’t believe in god becuase they’ve seen no evidence of him, there are religious folks who have other religions, and there are those who commit crimes in the name of god.
    For the evidential atheists (and agnostics) it seems bizzare and unfair that they only are allowed to come to a conclusion before they’ve seen all the evidence, and that when there is enough evidence to make the choice, they can’t make it.
    Evidence is also a problem with those of other religions, as they will confront an almost completely alien landscape in the afterlife. Many religions don’t believe in an eternal afterlife, others believe that punishment for our sins will come during our lives, and that the afterlife is more or less unconnected with rewards or punishments.
    These people will have to grapple with the fact that they were pretty much led on their whole lives, and that despite their seeking, god manifested himself only partially, not bothering to tell them that they were believing a bunch of lies.
    This leads to a third group, those who blaspheme in god’s name. An Inquisitor who burned witches and pretty much made a career out of hurting women and stealing their stuff is pretty much a complete scumbag, but he thought he was actually working for god.
    He doesn’t seem to deserve heaven, because his actions were divorced from god. But he doesn’t seem to deserve seperation from god, because in his mind, all his actions were made to get closer to god. And if he was, for example, a fourteenth century Aztec priest practicing human sacrifice, he had no holy book to tell him what he was doing was wrong.
    So, I have some problems with this theory.

  • Christopher

    The problem I have with the “Hell is the choice to divorce yourself from god” theory is that it only comfortably deals with two kinds of people: Christians, and atheists who base their beliefs on a dislike of the Biblical god.
    Now, all this is fine for those two groups, but there are also others out there: There are Atheists that don’t believe in god becuase they’ve seen no evidence of him, there are religious folks who have other religions, and there are those who commit crimes in the name of god.
    For the evidential atheists (and agnostics) it seems bizzare and unfair that they only are allowed to come to a conclusion before they’ve seen all the evidence, and that when there is enough evidence to make the choice, they can’t make it.
    Evidence is also a problem with those of other religions, as they will confront an almost completely alien landscape in the afterlife. Many religions don’t believe in an eternal afterlife, others believe that punishment for our sins will come during our lives, and that the afterlife is more or less unconnected with rewards or punishments.
    These people will have to grapple with the fact that they were pretty much led on their whole lives, and that despite their seeking, god manifested himself only partially, not bothering to tell them that they were believing a bunch of lies.
    This leads to a third group, those who blaspheme in god’s name. An Inquisitor who burned witches and pretty much made a career out of hurting women and stealing their stuff is pretty much a complete scumbag, but he thought he was actually working for god.
    He doesn’t seem to deserve heaven, because his actions were divorced from god. But he doesn’t seem to deserve seperation from god, because in his mind, all his actions were made to get closer to god. And if he was, for example, a fourteenth century Aztec priest practicing human sacrifice, he had no holy book to tell him what he was doing was wrong.
    So, I have some problems with this theory.

  • David

    Christopher,
    I completely agree with you that a simplistic good/bad view of who will populate either heaven or hell is deeply naive and problematic. While many fundamentalists may cling to decisive boundaries in regards to whether or not one will be ‘saved’, many Christians throughout history (and I note, in these discussions) do not view things this way.
    CS Lewis has been cited many times in this discussion, he being the most well-known Christian writer/figure to offer a counter-opinion in recent years. There is no Biblical precedent, really, for strict interpretation of who goes which way. Jesus himself frequently trampled the man-made boundaries of the religious establishment of his day, and overturned their ideas of who was good and who was not, and the means by which such was measured. As 1 Samuel 16:7 states:
    “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”"
    I apologize for those who do go about declaring who will be in heaven and who will be in hell, but not all Christians make such assumptions or believe it’s as simple as some would make it out to be.
    Another favorite passage of mine, from 2 Samuel 14:14:
    “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.”
    Like Fred, I see in the Bible a God who is actively seeking after us and finding means of reconciliation. I do not see the bureaucratic God of some who rejects people for simply not having the form stamped correctly or not having said the sinner’s prayer, or calling Jesus by his exact name in proper formula.
    In regards to those who live and die without any exposure to the Bible or the Christian story, Paul does speak to this in Romans 2:
    “12All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”
    Jesus also tells the parable of two brothers whose father asks them to do something for him. One effusively agrees, says all the right words, but doesn’t bother following through. The other says no, but in the end, does the work. As Jesus asked, which one did his father’s will?
    I believe Jesus’ parable about the judgement has been mentioned either here or in another thread, but it also indicates that merely calling on God in one’s actions is not enough if one’s actions run contrary to God’s will, which the actions of the Inqusition, based on fear, prejudice, and hatred, certainly did. Being convinced of rightness in one’s actions does not excuse anyone from the Inquisition, to Hitler, to myself. The human capacity for self-delusion in self-service is endless.
    The God of the Bible is far more nuanced and complex than is given lie by American evangelicalism. That said, I don’t fault anyone who may have another impression given the amount of stupidity regurgitated in His name on a regular basis. One of the things I truly appreciate about Fred’s site is that it eloquently serves to counter it.

  • Dan Lewis

    Hear hear! David put all this very well.
    “The idea that its God’s judgement, not your choice, is surely implied by your argument that Hell is a necessary corollary of meaningful, irrevocable decisions.” “The Day of Judgement? Well, its not called the Day of Choice, is it? The biblical descriptions seem pretty clear that its God who decides where you go, not you who decide if you want to live with God or not. Hell is _not_ the private business of consenting adults, its the decision of God.”
    I do agree completely that a belief in hell derives naturally from a belief in meaningful, irrevocable decisions (and the immortality of the person). The Day of Judgment is “the reveal”; the time for decisions is over:
    11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. (1 Corinthians 3).
    If anything, this says that the Day of Judgment is all about choices. Maybe there isn’t one last chance to accept God on the Judgment Day; but maybe you have already made your choice, which is the cumulative result of the innumerable choices you have built up over a lifetime, turning all that fluid present into solid past. It is incoherent to say that God judges you on all of your choices, and yet you had no choice in the matter. This is a long, solid theme in the Bible: choices bring us to the judgment. My argument doesn’t depend on whether there is a Day of Choice or several Decades of choices. Again, “10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5)
    “If we’ve moved to “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?”, its because you (Dan) have said “what if Hell is like the head of a pin?”, by suggesting that Hell is eternal but timeless. An interesting idea, but one without biblical support.”
    16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
    1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Corinthians 4-5)
    What can this mean but that eternal means un-temporary, un-momentary, unseen? Since heaven is eternal isn’t it un-temporary too? But “temporary” and “momentary” are practically synonyms for “life in time”. What about eternal life? Eternal punishment? Eternal damnation? Considering these themes will only draw us deeper into “eternal but timeless”.
    Like I said before, defining the word eternal as something like “permanent” will be more fruitful to us serial-time beings, because we can actually imagine things that are more or less permanent, and draw some interesting conclusions about heaven and hell. Thinking of eternal things as frozen snapshots will not accord with the Bible either.
    “3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17)
    What this definition by Jesus has to do with living a long period of time is a mystery to me. There is something weirder going on here, which is of course why everything I have said sounds a little weird.
    Let me say, Ray, that I have enjoyed talking about this with you and the others on this thread. Yes, a slice of heaven. I don’t mind being wrong or unclear so much when we can have an informed, intelligent discussion. So thank you.

  • Doctor Science

    Eric –
    Thank you very much for the link to Moorefield’s article; it is *extremely* illuminating. For those who didn’t click the link, Moorefield argues that, emotionally, LB is from the point-of-view of the Raptured, with whom the Christian evangelical readers identify. LB lets the readers indulge in the forbidden pleasure of “you’ll be sorry when I’m gone”.
    For instance, Moorefield cites a passage (also noted by slactivist) where Steele thinks:
    What a beautiful, frilly place Irene had made it, decorated with needlepoint and country knickknacks. Had he ever told her he appreciated it? Had he ever appreciated it?
    I’m actually boggled that a couple of men wrote these lines. Does any man *really* like it when his wife fills the house with frills and knickknacks? Doesn’t it actually sound as though it’s written from a woman’s POV?
    Anyway, considering LB as porn does actually explain one of the striking features of the books: their soul-sucking *badness*. If you’ve ever dipped into commercially written porn (or the hell that is The Nifty Archive), you’ll notice one of the genre characteristics is badness. Not just Sturgeon’s Law badness, but active, worse-than-you’d-think-possible badness. I think the badness of genre porn is a distancing mechanism, and I think the badness of LB is also a distancing mechanism. LB can only be comforting to the evangelical reader if they (who count themselves among the Raptured) don’t get too emotionally involved with those Left Behind, the people for whom this is all a big I Told You So.

  • Ray

    “Maybe there isn’t one last chance to accept God on the Judgment Day; but maybe you have already made your choice, which is the cumulative result of the innumerable choices you have built up over a lifetime, turning all that fluid present into solid past. ”
    which is fine, a coherent position, but it does mean that this “The Day of Judgment is a day for a permanent choice, God or not-God.” can’t be right. At that point, the choice has already been made.
    “What can this mean but that eternal means un-temporary, un-momentary, unseen?”
    Un-temporary = permanent, un-momentary = lasts a long time. Heaven and hell are permanent, it is their nature. But if you are arguing that they must be timeless, because nothing on _earth_ can be permanent… aren’t you restraining an infinite god with mortal concerns? Can’t God make a heaven that is permanent _and_ eternal, in the sense that we usually understand that word to have? (As Lewis put it, each day in the land after Narnia was better than the last, for ever and ever)
    (Sorry for being so abrupt, my son’s about to wake up)

  • none

    “I believe Jesus’ parable about the judgement has been mentioned either here or in another thread, but it also indicates that merely calling on God in one’s actions is not enough if one’s actions run contrary to God’s will, which the actions of the Inqusition, based on fear, prejudice, and hatred, certainly did. Being convinced of rightness in one’s actions does not excuse anyone from the Inquisition, to Hitler, to myself. The human capacity for self-delusion in self-service is endless.”
    And what would be the negative feedback to indicate that such actions are against god’s will?
    How was the Aztec priest expected to understand that his actions were against god’s will? All evidence, from personal revelation to the success of the Aztec empire, pointed to human sacrifice being a holy pursuit.
    What happens to a priest of Tlaloc, who sacrificed children by drowning them or locking them in caves to starve to death? Heaven or Hell?

  • Christopher

    Doh! That thing with the aztecs was me.

  • Christopher

    Doh! That thing with the aztecs was me.

  • David

    Well, if you want the fundamentalist opinion: he’ll go to hell. He didn’t believe in Jesus and God roundly condemned those who practiced child sacrifice in the days of the Old Testament.
    However, as I indicated, and I believe is indicated by Paul in Romans and elsewhere in the Bible, no one can make that determination but God. I can’t tell you what God’s criteria would be in that circumstance. I cannot tell you what kind of life the priest led, what his motivations were, or the state of his soul. For this reason, any hypotheticals will likely receive the same answer – I don’t know. As I indicated, I don’t believe salvation is a black/white issue.

  • http://www.forgettingourselves.com/?p=178 Forgetting Ourselves

    Serialized review of Left Behind…

    I’m really enjoying Slacktivist’s serialized review of Left Behind. Take a look at “L.B.: Explicit Content”, which describes how Left Behind is really just christian pornography. For some reason, C.S. Lewis comes to mind as someone who would agree, t…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    I love ya, Fred, and I love this review more than words can convey. Going through this beautiful archive like Gandalf, feverishly thumbing through ancient, yellowed parchment stacks. 

    I suppose my only problem with things is how you portrayed anything that’s ‘sexually explicit’ as ‘bad art’ or something to that degree. I get your point, and you’re obviously thinking about the video porno crap that is ubiquitous and ubiquitously awful, but you come off rather harsh and generalizing, considering there’s a lot of good stuff exploring and portraying sexuality that isn’t bad. Erotica’s whole premise is ‘fade to black is boring! that’s where things are most worth chronicling’! It might nor be everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t make it less legitimate (see: definition of ‘art’).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    I love ya, Fred, and I love this review more than words can convey. Going through this beautiful archive like Gandalf, feverishly thumbing through ancient, yellowed parchment stacks. 

    I suppose my only problem with things is how you portrayed anything that’s ‘sexually explicit’ as ‘bad art’ or something to that degree. I get your point, and you’re obviously thinking about the video porno crap that is ubiquitous and ubiquitously awful, but you come off rather harsh and generalizing, considering there’s a lot of good stuff exploring and portraying sexuality that isn’t bad. Erotica’s whole premise is ‘fade to black is boring! that’s where things are most worth chronicling’! It might nor be everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t make it less legitimate (see: definition of ‘art’).


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X