Rob Bell vs. Team Hell (cont'd.)

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived went on sale yesterday and the backlash and criticism hasn’t yet peaked.

The more I read of this criticism, the more I’m struck by the way everything Team Hell is upset with Bell about, or accusing him of, could be said even more strongly of St. Paul. The doctrine of Hell, they say, is so central and essential to Christianity that anyone who fails to embrace this specific dogma regarding “eternal punishment” is “dangerous and contrary to the word of God.”

So allow me again to repeat everything that Paul had to say about the doctrine of Hell:

Nothing. Nada. Zip. The earliest writings in the New Testament never mention this allegedly central and essential doctrine. Nor do the books we call the Old Testament, but which Paul just referred to as “the scriptures.”

And it’s not just that Paul is wholly silent, he also takes a very dim view of anyone who suggests that he left anything out of the gospel he preached. This is it, he said repeatedly, this is the gospel and nothing other than this and nothing more than this. I have not left anything out. Anyone who adds to it, he said, should be “accursed.”

He didn’t say they were going to Hell, mind you. Because Hell was not a part of his gospel — it was something he left out, an omission later correct by those who felt the gospel Paul preached was insufficient and incomplete.

Bell’s argument — from what I’ve seen thus far — is compatible and congruent with our understanding of the gospel Paul preached. Team Hell oddly insists that its own gospel is not, but that it corrects what they see as the defect in Paul’s teaching — the Bellishly deviant omission of the central and essential doctrine of Hell.

* * * * * * * * *

The great church historian Martin Marty has taken note of this most recent recurrence of the perennial debate between Team Hell and its dissidents. His take is a bit sardonic, as though he’s seen it all before (which, of course, he has):

The Michigan pastor-author is not alone; Bell’s hell is paralleled in treatments of a whole wing of evangelicals. Some of this group “out” themselves, while others are in a kind of purgatory of inference that they are not quite orthodox on the subject. What this second wing keeps pondering and sometimes proclaiming is that there are ways to witness to the fact that God is holy and just, other than saying that he takes delight in punishing those ignorant of the stakes or those who are players of other salvation games. …

Formal theologians in the evangelical camp are bemused by the consistent polls in which only a small percent of the clergy are ready to affirm and preach doctrines and threats of hell and the large percent of their followers who are not. They know of the gap, and feel they must close it. Otherwise orthodoxy will disappear and relativism or universalism will win. The evangelical parents whose teenage “good kid” son who has not made a formal profession of faith in Christ and thus will be condemned to hell if he dies, need better reasoning than the dogmatic professors of hell give them.

Otherwise, this latest fissure in evangelicalism will grow, and arguments will distract preachers of hell from their tasks and opportunities to win people from its brink, thus swelling its population in the interest of saying the right thing about this form of a holy and just God’s mode of everlasting punishment.

* * * * * * * * *

Rob Bell had a book-launch event yesterday, streamed online, in which he discussed Love Wins with Newsweek religion writer Lisa Miller. Timothy Dalrymple has posted a transcript of that conversation.

What I find refreshing is how relaxed this conversation is, how at ease and unguarded Bell’s responses are despite his knowing that his every word will be parsed and picked apart and sniffed at for the scent of heterodoxy. One gets the sense that these are his thoughts and his answers and that he does not change them or spin them depending on who might be listening or listening in. That’s not usually the sense one gets of the guarded language employed by the parsers and pickers and sniffers themselves.

My favorite bit in that book-launch discussion comes at the end, in which Bell describes his pastoral concern for people who have been taught to fear a cruel or abusive God:

… my experience as a pastor, answering real questions from real people, is that lots of people have really really really toxic dangerous, psychologically devastating images of God in their head. Images of a God who’s not good. So my experience has been, lots of people go to church, they sing the songs, they hand out the pamphlets, they really want … but to be honest, deep down they have profound ambivalence about God. So we can talk about the Bible, we can talk about Heaven and Hell, we can discuss all this, but at its core – the question behind the question behind the question, the mystery behind the mystery behind the mystery – they have a view of a God who is terrible, that they can’t even imagine being loving, or wanting anything to do with.

And over and over and over again, I’ve interacted with people who … you end up with them saying, “Actually, I think the universe might be a really awful place. It might be terribly unsafe. God might be like my abusive father.” So I think it’s really important that we talk about this because what happens is, sometimes people are talking about good news, they’re talking about Jesus, and yet you’re smelling the God behind it, going “Whatever you’re talking about, the God behind that, I can’t trust, is not good.” So in some senses, God being good is such a fresh, radical, new idea.

There is a woman who comes up to me every Sunday at our church. She hands me a piece of paper. It’s half of an 8-by-11 sheet, and it’s folded in half. She walks away. We smile, I give her a hug, we talk for a moment, and she walks away. And on the sheet of paper is a number, and it is the number of days since she last cut herself. She told me about a year ago that every man she’d ever been with hit her. So when she hears about love, her experience of life has not been love. And just a couple weeks ago, she crossed the 365-day mark. So we brought her up on stage and I introduced her and said this is her name and she’s celebrating one year without cutting herself. And it was a beautiful, beautiful moment, to say the least.

But for her, it’s like a whole new rewiring of her heart and mind is going on. And that’s what all of this means to me. I love the discussion, I love the speculation, I love all the different theories, but ultimately for me its like, I don’t want her to cut anymore. It’s, like, that simple. I want to see her experience good news. I want her to experience love. I don’t want her to live with these sorts of images and messages she’s been sent about who God is and what life is ultimately like and whether the universe is even a place that she can call home. I want her to give me another sheet of paper, and I want us to get to two years.

Stay in touch with the Slacktivist on Facebook:

Advent Calendar, Day Five: Magnificat Is Coming to Town
Sometimes so strange, sometimes so sweet
How conversionist stories promote dishonesty
Slaves in the hands of an angry white God
  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    Woo first.

    Anyways, I don’t really understand what Martin Marty is saying. Is he suggesting that pastors generally don’t really feel like they can commit to the notion of hell but the general audience vehmently does?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1390930332 Orion Moony

    I think the phrasing was just awkward – my take on it was basically, “There are only a few members of the clergy willing to preach hell, and most people also are unwilling to subscribe to that doctrine.”

    It becomes much harder to preach a hardline, uncompromising view of eternal punishment when people you know and love would be condemned to torment forever by your own beliefs. Since the hardline Amerivangelical view suggests that virtually everyone on Earth will burn eternally, there’s naturally going to be a lot of people leery of that belief: my sister is going to hell, she never said her Magic Words. My father is going to hell. My host family in Japan is going to hell (thankfully, not yet). My best friend is going to hell. And, of course, I’m going to hell.

    Tough pill to swallow unless you were raised to believe it. Even if you were, it starts getting tough to swallow once someone close to you becomes one of the damned.

  • Froborr

    I suspect this is the reason fundagelical churches lose so many people. IIRC, the last big survey of American religious identification showed that they were getting the most converts of any religious group in the U.S., but also had the most people converting out.

  • Anonymous

    Hell. Yes.

  • Froborr

    I want her to give me another sheet of paper, and I want us to get to two years.

    Word.

    Also, I really, really hope he got her permission before revealing to the congregation that she cuts herself.

  • Anonymous

    Also, I really, really hope he got her permission before revealing to the congregation that she cuts herself.

    Oh jeez this. It’s exactly what I was thinking as I was reading it. I mean, really! Not the kind of thing you declare to everyone in your church! This isn’t like an AA meeting!

    Or, well, maybe it was. There’s something to be said for such strong gestures. It’s just… Well. I hope it was a thing they’d planned. Must’ve been. Probably.

  • cjmr’s husband

    “brought her up on stage” …. wow, what a great way to reset the counter!

  • Holden Pattern

    The hellfire preaching that I saw from the fundies where I grew up permanently soured me on Christianity. I couldn’t reconcile it with the notion of a “good” god where the word “good” had any meaning at all. It seemed to me that their god was just a more powerful version of them — petty, vicious, fearful and angry, wrapped in a paper-thin corn-syrup shell.

  • Holden Pattern

    I should note that as an adult I now know a lot of Christians who aren’t that way, and don’t believe in that particular god, so I certainly don’t staple those tags to all Christians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1390930332 Orion Moony

    I was raised (mostly) in a very rural, very white, very conservative, very Evangelical corner of Western Colorado. I experienced a lot of angry, spiteful preaching – because my family was not/is not Christian.

    I recently returned for a few weeks. I was at once astonished by how much it had changed, and how much it was the same as ever. The old guard still preached on the street corners, still screamed angry things, still preached that we were going to hell for letting the Gays and the Darkies and the Jews run the world. They were still there.

    But what was different was, nobody cared. Nobody paid attention to them. Most everyone is still Christian, and most of them have no idea what a “Baha’i” is, and by the way they stare at my older cousin, I’d wager some of them have never seen a black person before. But they aren’t the old guard anymore. They don’t buy into the need to rage and fume and hate everything that doesn’t fit their narrow worldview.

    It’s all about fear, and fear for fear’s own sake rarely survives the passage from generation to generation, particularly when people see reasons to be hopeful. There was a study I read not long ago – I’ll look for a link in a bit – that suggested, the more people doubt their beliefs, the more loudly and aggressively they’ll proselytize them. So coupled with this fear that they’ll go to hell, that the Gays will take over and destroy their marriage, that the Jews secretly control the world… there’s the fear that they’re wrong, that they’ve always been wrong, and that they’ve wasted decades preaching the wrong things in the hopes of getting into heaven.

    And, of course, that’s a difficult thing to accept. So they preach louder, and try to scare other people into accepting their beliefs, to help them reaffirm their own shaky faith.

    At least, that’s how I see it…

  • http://style92.livejournal.com/ style 92

    In my Christian High School, which was usually very conservative, I did notice a growing discomfort and slow backing away from, the concept of Hell. Many of them said, “We don’t focus on Hell in the preaching.” I had one teacher tell me he did not believe hell was a place of torment, just of separation from God. Different people mean different things by that, but he seemed to take it as just an inability to obtain ultimate happiness, not that they couldn’t have any happiness.

    To me, getting rid of hell entirely seems like the next logical step. In fact, this was the one issue I really thought Evangelicals were liberalizing on. Too bad it looks as though I was wrong.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Add me to the list of folks confused by the quote’s syntax.

    But that aside: thanks for this, Fred… I needed to be reminded that all of this abstract theological disputation really does ground out in basic, tangible, visceral stuff; that embedded and entangled in all of it are basic questions about what stance we take towards the world.

    Do we expect love or abuse? Do we expect praise or punishment? Do we endorse hope or fear?

    These questions influence how we deal with ourselves, how we deal with one another, how we deal with authorities and institutions and governments. It shouldn’t surprise me that they also influence how we deal with — and how we conceptualize — the universe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anna-Besmann/59703189 Anna Besmann

    I wonder if part of the issue is that communities are slowly becoming more diverse, and thus people are brought face to face with more friends, family, and loved ones who are not their flavor of Christian. Once you’re not completely surrounded with people you know are going to hell, the idea that you might lose your wife or brother or best friend to hellfire becomes far more uncomfortable…and thus you find yourself more uncomfortable believing it.

  • Froborr

    I agree. In general, contact with people who are different tends to make people, over time, more accepting of difference. I should think religious difference works the same way.

  • Anonymous

    Nth-ing the point that this quote makes no sense:

    Formal theologians in the evangelical camp are bemused by the consistent polls in which only a small percent of the clergy are ready to affirm and preach doctrines and threats of hell and the large percent of their followers who are not. They know of the gap, and feel they must close it

    OK, so in short only a small percent of clergy preach hell. Logically then, a large percent of clergy must not want to preach hell.

    Meanwhile, a large percent of their followers also do not want any preaching on hell. Equally logically, only a small percent of followers want preaching on hell.

    So there would seem to be a pretty close correspondence between the number of clergy who want to preach hell and the number of followers who want it preached; same goes for clergy and followers who don’t want hell preached. What “gap” then is there to be closed? It seems like this is just some pointlessly complicated and misleading way for these evangelical theologians to say that they’re unhappy with how the majority of both clergy and followers don’t subscribe to the idea of hell. So they want to pass off this rather straightforward state of affairs as some bemusing inconsistency that must be fixed.

    Anyways, I guess “Team Hell” is supposed to be a joking allusion to Team Jacob/Edward in Twillight fandom, but I can’t help but think of it as some sort of Pokemon villain team. Wonder what uniforms they’d wear?

  • Anonymous

    Anyways, I guess “Team Hell” is supposed to be a joking allusion to Team Jacob/Edward in Twillight fandom, but I can’t help but think of it as some sort of Pokemon villain team. Wonder what uniforms they’d wear?

    Bahaha!

    Red ones. With cute little stuffed horns. (And they all run Houndoom and Honchkrow.)

  • Froborr
    Anyways, I guess “Team Hell” is supposed to be a joking allusion to Team Jacob/Edward in Twillight fandom, but I can’t help but think of it as some sort of Pokemon villain team. Wonder what uniforms they’d wear?

    Bahaha!

    Red ones. With cute little stuffed horns. (And they all run Houndoom and Honchkrow.)

    Don’t forget the big black H on the front of the shirt, and the disturbingly short skirts or shorts on the female ones. (Seriously, Pokemon character designers, WTH? Don’t even get me *started* on Dawn’s and Misty’s game outfits, at least the Team Whatever members are presumably adults or at least late teens! They’re TEN and TWELVE!)

    What would their schtick be? So far we’ve had “generic criminals/world domination,” “batshit insane landscaping fanatics,” “terrorists who want to restart the universe,” and “animal rights terrorists.” And would there be an opposed but equally fanatical “Team Heaven” that fields, what, Shedinja and Xatu?

    I

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    Re: Pokemon character designers:

    They’re Japanese. The short skirts for pre-teen girls are standard. I don’t think I’ve *ever* seen a pre-teen in a long skirt in a Japanese series, even in stuff marketed specifically to young girls (Angelic Layer, Cardcaptor Sakura, etc.).

    Oddly, older girls *do* get to wear more realistic clothes, at least for everyday wear (as opposed to magical girl costumes).

    Yes, it’s disturbing. Like a *lot* of things about Japanese anime/manga/games.

  • Shay Guy

    Nanoha.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    You’re right, I forgot about Nanoha – the exception that proves the rule :-)

  • BaseDeltaZero

    *Squees over Nanoha*
    Her ‘civilian’ outfit in the first two seasons is still pretty short. But that’s part of the reason this issue exists. It may not be quite as extreme as in Anime/Games, but apparently school uniforms really do have short skirts.

    Of course, a lot of characters do wear rather short skirts. But I suppose when you have invisible force fields for armor, the temptation to show it off is just too great…

  • MD

    Anyways, I guess “Team Hell” is supposed to be a joking allusion to Team Jacob/Edward in Twillight fandom

    I thought it was a 2nd-generation steal, by way of Team Evil/Team Stupid on The Daily Show. That is, Fred got it from TDS, which got it from Twilight. I thought there was a Slacktivist blog post some time back that mentioned TDS in this context. I might have made it up in my head, though…

  • Anonymous

    You know, I’ve always had a problem with that song “Jesus Loves Me.” I never used to sing it at Sunday School – but I never could quite put my finger on what it is about this song that makes me so queasy – but I think I’ve got it now.

    The whole “Hell” things strikes me as a sort of cosmic schadenfreude. One of the central messages of Christianity (as it’s told, anyway) is that “God loves you and wants you to be happy.” (Of course, any message that includes the implicit “so don’t piss him off!” there is basically the definition of an abusive relationship.) The message of a doctrine that’s Hell-centric is that “God loves me. You he could give a flip about.”

  • MD

    This is how I read (after trying about three times) the quote:

    “Formal theologians in the evangelical camp [Team Hell] are bemused [baffled, not “amused”] by the consistent polls in which [a large percent of the clergy are not on Team Hell] and the large percent of their followers who are [also not on Team Hell]. They know of the gap [between Team Hell and the clergy/laypeople answering the polls], and feel they must close it.”

    I think the word “gap” in the original quote, combined with the awkward phrasing, is confusing. The gap is between Team Hell and most clergy/laypeople, not between clergy and laypeople. Those two groups seem to agree that Team Hell should get stuffed.

  • Anonymous

    @redsixwing, Froborr: now I’m picturing them as using Shin Megami Tensei demons instead of pokemon (and Team Heaven would use angels, of course).

    I guess Team Hell would want to use the power of God (or Arceus, I suppose, or maybe SMT’s big green floating head version of YHVW) to punish all those they deem sinners and send them to hell. So basically LaJenkins as video game/anime characters. Meanwhile Team Heaven wants to use God/Arceus/Big Giant Head’s power to bring everyone to heaven, but their idea of heaven is where everyone has to conform to their specific vision of perfection and happiness: the blind shall, dammit, whether they want to or not!

  • Froborr

    Years ago, I ran a Lovecraftian Pokemon BESM campaign (*not* Pokethulhu, that was a lame series of puns–this was genuine cosmic horror genuinely set in the Pokemon universe, which is surprisingly easy to do).

    Recently it’s begun taking up more headspace again, in the form of an ambition to create an expanded, improved, d20 version, which I have taken to mentally referring to as Pokemon Color out of Space/Octarine.

    And the one big thing the old campaign was lacking was a villainous team… and I do believe you’ve just given me mine. Team Hell are the main villains of Color Out of Space, Team Heaven of Octarine. Or maybe the other way around, I haven’t 100% settled on what the differences between the two are.

    My eventual plan is to have two players, one doing CooS and the other Oct, playing on alternating weekends, and then for the endgame they team up for the final devestating confrontation with The Most Lovecraftian Pokemon of All. (Hint: It’s from Generation I.)

  • Caravelle

    Years ago, I ran a Lovecraftian Pokemon BESM campaign (*not* Pokethulhu, that was a lame series of puns–this was genuine cosmic horror genuinely set in the Pokemon universe, which is surprisingly easy to do).

    I am not surprised at all, and after imagining it for a bit I want to play that game soo badly. If I had the skillz to make game hacks…

  • Froborr

    Yeah, as Pokemon Colour out of Space/Octarine invaded more and more of my brainspace, I started looking to see if somebody’s hacked a Pokemon Game Maker (I know there’s a pretty good one for Zelda that random Internet people made by hacking Link to the Past, it didn’t seem that farfetched that someone might have made one using, say, Pokemon R/S/E). Sadly, no–there’s lots of very simple proof-of-concept type stuff, lots of individual people announcing they’re working on such things, no signs of anything remotely near usable.

  • Froborr

    And while we’re on the topic of adults playing Pokemon…

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/3/21/

  • Anonymous

    Froborr: Years ago, I ran a Lovecraftian Pokemon BESM campaign (*not* Pokethulhu, that was a lame series of puns–this was genuine cosmic horror genuinely set in the Pokemon universe, which is surprisingly easy to do).

    Sounds interesting. I remember seeing that “Pokethulhu” game back in the day; shame to hear it wasn’t any good.

    And the one big thing the old campaign was lacking was a villainous team… and I do believe you’ve just given me mine. Team Hell are the main villains of Color Out of Space, Team Heaven of Octarine. Or maybe the other way around, I haven’t 100% settled on what the differences between the two are.

    Cool, glad to be of help. I’m interested to hear how this turns out.

    My eventual plan is to have two players, one doing CooS and the other Oct, playing on alternating weekends, and then for the endgame they team up for the final devestating confrontation with The Most Lovecraftian Pokemon of All. (Hint: It’s from Generation I.)

    Hmmm…Parasect? It’s a brain-controlling fungus (of course, that’s based on a real organism).

  • Froborr

    I waited an hour, but it looks like Disqus ate my comment. Trying again…

    I’m interested to hear how this turns out.

    I shall keep you posted!

    Hmmm…Parasect? It’s a brain-controlling fungus (of course, that’s based on a real organism).

    No, but thanks for reminding me of that creepy little critter, and the reality it’s based on. (Up there with Shedinja for creep factor–what makes Shedinja is that bit in the Pokedex about “If you look in the hole in its back, it can steal your soul.” When you’re battling, YOU ALWAYS SEE YOUR POKEMON FROM BEHIND.)

    As long as they keep basing new Pokemon on things like ice cream, and not stuff like T. gondii. (Parasite carried by as much as a third of humanity, causes creepy behavioral changes in mice, may possibly be a factor in schizophrenia in humans.)

  • Mau de Katt

    Years ago I was dealing with my own conflict between a Good God and yet:Hell, and I read a book that really influenced me: Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God. It’s written very simply, and says pretty much the same thing that Bell says in his book, that Fred says in this blog, that many others say over and over, but I read it back in the early 90’s, which was a long time ago in more than calendar years.

    Two concepts from that book have stuck with me:
    1) God loves us at least as much as the person on Earth who loves us the most.
    …and…
    2) We become like the God we worship. (By their fruits shall ye know Him?)

  • Anonymous

    *lol*

    And you can tell them apart because Team Heaven wears a blue outfit with a gold H on it instead. I like Spalanzani’s idea of their shtick.

    Mau de Katt, I shall add that to the reading list.

  • Anonymous

    Not that they would ever say it, but I get the sense that deep down, some evangelicals believe that Jesus was sent to save us from God.

  • http://twitter.com/PatrickBiggs Patrick Biggs

    Oh no, they’re very willing to say it. That’s the entire gist behind the “penal substitutionary” theory of atonement. Jesus came to satisfy God’s wrath towards men. Or at least, the men whom God predestined before time began, as PSA is usually linked very deeply with the heavily Calvinistic strands of Christianity and Evangelicism.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    THAT is one good line!

  • http://jdg123.myopenid.com/ Josh G.

    sherri_n: “Not that they would ever say it, but I get the sense that deep down, some evangelicals believe that Jesus was sent to save us from God.

    Marcion, a Christian theologian of the 2nd century, actually did believe that. He taught that the Creator-God was an inferior, flawed deity and that Jesus had nothing to do with him, but had come to Earth to save humanity from the Creator’s wrath and offer us a new home in his heavens.

    Although Marcionism was later rejected as a heresy, it nonetheless had a strong influence on Christian history – for one thing, Marcion was the first person to compile a New Testament canon (one Gospel, which was similar to but shorter than our Luke, plus 10 letters of Paul). The sharp antithesis of Law and Gospel, propounded by Martin Luther and later Protestants, ultimately stems from Marcion’s interpretation of Paul’s epistles. And the oft-repeated contrast between Old Testament wrath and New Testament forgiveness also dates back to Marcion’s writings.

  • http://www.kurmujjin.com kurmujjin

    Fred,

    Thanks for following this and posting. I would not have known about it were it not for you. I loved the video a few days back. Got to get the book.

    Thanks,

    Wayne

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    And now I remember why I love Slacktivist. WOOO People who have played non-Persona SMT games.

    Team Heaven would use the Togepi and Chansey lines. An if they had SMT demons, Team Hell’s leader would either be or would use Mara. For those who haven’t played SMT, Mara is [ROT13’d for NSFW] n tvnag cravf zbafgre evqvat va n fbyvq tbyq punevbg.

    Re:Pre-teens in anime/games: Iris Chateaubriand (Sakura Taisen; ankle length skirt; Age 10-11?), Coquelicot (Sakura Taisen; pants; not sure of age), Sasami Misaki Jurai (Tenchi Muyo; ankle length skirt ; effective age 9-10), Vanilla H (Galaxy Angel; knee length skirt; age 13). There’s a few, but you do have to search for them. Of course, the irony with this list is that Sakura Taisen all but qualifies as harem anime and Tenchi Muyo is basically the prototypical harem anime. And I should watch Nanoha at some point.

  • Lila

    I seem to recall that Martin Luther had difficulty with the concept of God as Father, because his own father had been abusive.

  • Elizabby

    I’ve always found the whole topic of hell deeply disturbing and distressing and yes, it *does* make me ambivalent about the goodness of God. Thanks Rob and Fred, for “outing” that thought that I’d never looked all that closely at before.

    But when I became a Christian, the very next thing that I had to face was that if *this* is true and *I* am “saved” – then my mother, father, sister, husband, sister-in-law and just about everyone else in my extended family are *un-saved* and going to hell… This pretty much filled my quota for nightmares for the next ten years.

    So naturally, I’m keen to read Rob Bell’s book. This is a new idea to me, and I’m having trouble digesting it, but Fred’s articles are leading me slowly in a new direction…

  • Anonymous

    But when I became a Christian, the very next thing that I had to face was that if *this* is true and *I* am “saved” – then my mother, father, sister, husband, sister-in-law and just about everyone else in my extended family are *un-saved* and going to hell… This pretty much filled my quota for nightmares for the next ten years.

    I know people who get very worked up over the idea that it is very urgent that everyone they know join their church. I have nothing but understanding for them on that point.

    I’ve got no desire to experience that emotional distress, thank you. I was already not-religious before I discovered that such tensions existed, however, so it wasn’t part of my choices concerning religion.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I know people who get very worked up over the idea that it is very urgent that everyone they know join their church. I have nothing but understanding for them on that point.

    Over at Internet Monk, one of the original IMonk’s most famous postings — “Wretched Urgency: the Grace of God or Hamsters on a Wheel?” — was on exactly this subject.

    In my experience, one of the worst Team Hell ways to ramp up the Wretched Urgency was applying Ezekiel 13(?) personally — the idea that if you DON’T Witness (TM) to someone and they die unsaved/Christless Grave/Go to Hell, “God WILL Hold YOU Accountable.” This ended up with God always holding a gun to your head with the hammer back and the trigger half-pulled to WITNESS WITNESS WITNESS because it’s your ass if you ever don’t. You can take that sort of Cosmic Pressure only so long before you crack, and before you crack you’re going to get very desperate. And that desperation will lead to some really desperate and crazy high-pressure Witnessing tactics.

  • Expagan

    In reference to Elizabby (and to the whole list):

    You mentioned you were “saved.” What was it that you needed to be saved from?

  • Anonymous

    Elizabby — I don’t mean this in any sort of an aggressive or argumentative way. The things you’re saying are exactly the sort of things I said, right before I became an atheist.

    As “expagan” suggests below (unintentionally, I think), I don’t think there’s a way to reconcile the exclusive doctrines of Christianity (i.e., that “you” need “saving”) with the universal, humanitarian empathy that many of the rest of us feel towards our fellow men and women. Or, as Amartya Sen once said to Robert Nozick: “If you’re disturbed that your beliefs seem to attract some rather nasty company, it’s worth figuring out whether they are, at core, rather nasty beliefs.”

  • Frcraig1

    I’m an Episcopal priest. Bell is a wonderful preacher/teacher – we have used his Nooma materials here. He’s completely correct in my view. Conservative Evangelicals seem to need a God who yearns to punish – it makes it possible for them to use fear and shame to ‘convert’ people. And it makes them feel superior over all those ‘sinners’. Looking through the lense of Jesus – God in human flesh – I cannot find a God of wrath: why would such a God come and live and suffer and die among us to set us free from the fear of death? Nor can I find a God who uses fear and shame – there will be none in God’s Kingdom, only love. I am an unabashed universalist – God has all of eternity to work on us. See C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce… Thanks

  • Expagan

    It’s not about “punish”-ment, it’s about a Holy God’s justice.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    What’s “just” about torturing someone forever?

    I think Fred’s mentioned this Wretched Urgency before – if you assume that everyone who doesn’t believe exactly the same thing you do is GOING TO HELL, than _any_ effort to convince them is worth it. Seen in this light, the Spanish Inquisition was doing the right thing, as they were saving SOULS – any damage to said souls’ fleshy packaging was irrelevant.

    It’s a wonderful tool for spurring the believers to recruit more, if you don’t care about the emotional trauma it causes.

    Being a Discordian, I tend to agree with the Hell Law:

    The Hell Law says that Hell is reserved exclusively for them that believe in
    it. Further, the lowest Rung in Hell is reserved for them that believe in
    it on the supposition that they’ll go there if they don’t.
    HBT; The Gospel According to Fred, 3:1

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Seen in this light, the Spanish Inquisition was doing the right thing, as they were saving SOULS – any damage to said souls’ fleshy packaging was irrelevant.

    “And if I rack him ’til he die, what of it? For I shall have Saved His Soul.”
    — “The Inquisitor”, Mark Twain’s Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

  • Frcraig1

    ExP, I believe that God’s holy justice is – from the OT onward – about caring for the widow, orphans and strangers, that is caring for the poor and the outcast. When Jesus speaks of Justice and judgment is for doing or not doing these things…

  • http://twitter.com/snortasprocket Scott Parkerson

    Anyone want to comment on the Martin Bashir interview with Rob Bell that is going around and getting “Heh, Indeed”ed by Team Hell at the moment?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Maybe if you linked to it we would?

  • http://twitter.com/Ethawyn Kevin Greenlee

    Beautiful post Fred, thank you.

    I’ve said this elsewhere during this whole uproar, but it seems to me that those who take it upon themselves to be the guardians of orthodoxy end up spiraling from reasonable critiques of real problems to proverbially wild-eyed madmen who jump at every shadow.

  • http://twitter.com/scyllacat Scyllacat

    “two sense” –best typo of the day.

  • http://twitter.com/Ethawyn Kevin Greenlee

    BAH! I hate my typos

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    The Christianity that such people preach and practice is utterly alien to the Christianity that I was raised with. Every time I encounter it… well, the best analogy I can come up with is that I feel like I’ve just landed on Earth-3, where instead of the Justice League there is the Crime Syndicate. And there are people who’ve had to live there all their lives.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    The Christianity that such people preach and practice is utterly alien to the Christianity that I was raised with. Every time I encounter it… well, the best analogy I can come up with is that I feel like I’ve just landed on Earth-3, where instead of the Justice League there is the Crime Syndicate. And there are people who’ve had to live there all their lives.


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