The Missiological Case for Hell

One of the common, but strange, responses to Rob Bell’s infamous lack of enthusiasm for eternal torture has been what we might call the Missiological Case for Hell.

This case was articulated recently by Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary, during a Team Hell Strategy Session at Al Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The (Southern) Baptist Press summarizes Moore’s remarks on the Missiological Case for Hell:

Bell’s view of salvation, Moore said, is wrong biblically but also flawed practically and will lead to empty church pews. If the pastor says there is no judgment and everyone will end up in heaven, then people have little motivation to follow Christ, Moore and the other panelists said.

“You never have a universalist Great Awakening,” Moore said. “… The very thing [Rob Bell] is attempting to do, it never succeeds. You always wind up losing the church and unable to reach the people outside the church.”

Moore says the church will collapse without the threat of judgment. And, to be clear, “judgment” must mean nothing less than the vast majority of humankind suffering consciously for eternity in the Hell that Moore, et. al., imagine (magical fire, merciless God, “holy” as synonym for “sadistic,” etc.). Without that threat, Moore says, there can be no revival, no evangelism, no missionary outreach, no church growth. Without Hell, the church will shrink and shrivel and fade away.

This is hogwash.

I don’t mean “I think, in my opinion, that this is hogwash,” I mean that Russell Moore thinks, in his opinion, that this is hogwash. Or he would have if he had thought this through, because the silliness he’s advocating here slanders the church and all of its members, including himself. Russell Moore is unjustly impugning the motives of Russell Moore and maliciously accusing Russell Moore of believing things that Russell Moore does not believe.

The embrace of the Missiological Case for Hell represents a shift in the argument of Team Hell that Moore acknowledges here. The doctrine of Hell, Moore argues, is “practical.” It is useful. It works. That is a much lesser claim than the assertion that the doctrine of Hell is true. And it’s a much lesser claim than the assertion — which Moore presumes, without support — that the doctrine of Hell is something the Bible teaches.

What neither Moore nor his colleagues on the Team Hell panel discussion seems to notice is that this panel discussion was explicitly organized because they all believe that Moore’s “practical” argument is not true. The panel was called together, Al Mohler says, because of Rob Bell’s tremendous popularity. “He has a tremendous influence, especially with younger evangelicals, and I think that’s why we have to talk about this,” Mohler said at the outset of the discussion.

This is why this panel of Team Hell luminaries was there in the first place, because people are packing the pews at Rob Bell’s church and because his “Love Wins” message is reaching more and more people inside and outside the church.

So Moore shows up for a talk in response to the growing popularity of a movement producing explosive church growth and dramatic outreach, and then proceeds to say that this movement is wrong because it is unpopular, it will shrink churches and end outreach. Bell’s ideas are wrong because they will lead to empty pews, which is why Bell must be stopped from filling the pews by preaching those ideas. Or something like that. If Moore can’t be bothered to make sense of what he’s saying then it’s unfair to expect the rest of us to make sense of it for him.

In any case, I haven’t time here for a full refutation of the Missiological Case for Hell, but let’s just quickly look at three counter-examples — three “practical” case studies — that cast doubt on this whole notion of the missiological and ecclesiological usefulness of a doctrine of Hell.

Case Study No. 1: Paul

The enthusiasts of Team Hell would likely agree with me that St. Paul was a very successful missionary. We could attribute his success to the work of the Holy Spirit, or we could credit it to Paul’s sharp wits and dogged determination, but one thing that no one can possibly argue is that Paul’s success as a missionary was due to his preaching about Hell and his stern warning of the certainty of future, eternal, conscious torment for unbelievers.

Paul never gave such a warning. Never. Like all of the other apostles and missionaries and early church leaders portrayed in the book of Acts, Paul never spoke of Hell. Paul’s gospel made no mention of Hell.

And yet his listeners seem to have found far more of a “motivation to follow Christ” than any of the fearful followers of the missionaries of Team Hell. Paul’s listeners seemed to understand the gospel that he preached as good news that was actually good news.

As Rob Bell points out, the unbiblical substitute for that good news promoted by Team Hell is not really good news at all. If the good news is primarily that some few have a chance to escape the otherwise inevitable fate of conscious, eternal torment, then this message isn’t really news that most people will hear as good. And in any case, this is not the gospel that the Bible teaches. That gospel — the good news of God crucified, risen and triumphant over sin and death — is proclaimed repeatedly in scripture, but never is it presented as How To Escape Eternal Torture in Hell. The accusation that Team Hell loves to level at people like Bell — that it is callous and irresponsible not to confront the damned unbelievers with an explicit warning of the Hell that awaits them — can and must be applied even more strongly against Paul, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Q and all the apostles of the early church as portrayed in Acts.

Case Study No. 2: Russell Moore.

I don’t know Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary. I have never met him. But I know this much about him: Russell Moore is not a Christian because of the fear of eternal, conscious torment in Hell.

Moore believes that if he were not a Christian, then he would be destined for such eternal, conscious torment. And yet that’s still not the main reason he is a Christian. It’s not one of the top five reasons. Or the top 10.

Again, I don’t know Moore and I have never heard him tell the story of his own faith, but I know this is true for him because it is true for everyone who is a Christian. Get Moore away from the microphone and away from his official duties as a Defender of the Doctrine of Hell and then ask him why he is a Christian and I don’t know specifically what he would say, but I know generally. He would speak of God’s love for him and of his love for God. He would tell you about faith and hope, grace and gratitude, meaning and purpose. He would tell you about the love that was shown to him by some devout disciple or group of disciples and about the inspiring examples of good people he has known. He may say something about Heaven, but mainly in the context of God’s great love and the longing to experience that love as directly as possible. He may tell you some story of some numinous personal experience that he will apologize for being unable to articulate. He may tell you about his parents and grandparents.

But he won’t talk about Hell. If he mentions it at all, it will be as an afterthought — as though being rescued from the certainty of eternal torture was just a fringe benefit of all the rest, an added bonus.

I do not know anyone who is a Christian because of the fear of eternal torment in Hell. I know several people who used to be Christians, briefly, because someone had taught them this idea of Hell and that becoming a Christian was the only way to escape certain torture. But none of those folks were happy or proud about having made that decision for that reason, and it didn’t last. The preacher or teacher who had so vividly described the invisible and eternal gun to their head didn’t turn out to have much lasting influence.

I suppose there are congregations where the preacher invokes that invisible threat week after week, twice on Sundays and again on Wednesday nights. And I suppose something might arise in such congregations that might seem like a passable imitation of love for God, or that might feel like a functional substitute for belief that God loves us. But that’s not love, or faith, or discipleship. That’s Stockholm syndrome and it, too, will fade once the hostages are safely distant from the constant stress of the coercive threat.

Which brings us to our final case study.

Case Study No. 3: Saddam Hussein

The Missiological Case for Hell reminds me of one of the stranger stories about Saddam Hussein, the late and unlamented dictator of Iraq. Saddam ruled through fear but, at some level, he wanted his terrified subjects to love him.

We know that Saddam wanted their love — uncoerced, untainted by fear — because he wrote a novel and released it secretly under a pseudonym. The love and acclaim the people would pour out for this anonymous author, the dictator hoped, would be genuine and voluntary and he would at last know what it meant to be loved in truth and not just to have others falsely proclaim their love for him out of fear of torture and death.

But alas, the novel was apparently awful. It was panned and mocked and it did not sell.

That was intolerable for the tyrant, so he leaked the true identity of the author. Suddenly all the critics who had found it wanting recanted, lavishing it with forced praise. It became a best-seller in Iraq, but only in Iraq — only in the one country where people were forced, out of fear and the threat of torture, to pretend that they loved a man they actually despised, a man who deserved to be despised because of those very threats of torture.

Saddam published several more novels — all in his own name. They received massive critical acclaim and commercial success, but only within his realm. The Iraqis’ love for Saddam’s novels — like their love for Saddam himself — was a charade. And Saddam knew it was a charade. But he embraced that charade because it was the best he could hope for, because it was more than he deserved. For the despicable tyrant, feigned affection at gunpoint was preferable to the genuine contempt it masked.

God desires something better than that. And God deserves something better than that.

Even Saddam Hussein knew that love is not real if it is coerced under threat of torture. If fear and loathing masquerading as love could not fool Saddam Hussein, then you can be sure it does not fool God either. That is not what God wants from us. God wants our genuine love, freely given.

Why, then, would anyone think that God had arranged the universe in such a way as to guarantee that God would never be able to receive genuine love, freely given, but only a fearful, coerced imitation? I believe that God is good and I believe that God is smart — too good and too smart to confuse coercion with love.

Unlike the advocates of the Missiological Case for Hell, I believe that God is better and smarter than Saddam Hussein.

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  • Shadsie

    All I’m saying is that it would be a lot easier for me to support atheists if fewer of them gave me the impression that they hated me/ all theists/ this includes the Muslims you mentioned, too/ etc. and were just waiting for us all to de-convert or to die and get out of the way of the FUTURE. I have a good online friend who is agnostic, and she assures me, but it seems like most ardent atheists I meet online seem to think even agnostics are stupid and that anyone who dissagrees with them are a threat at worst, worthless/a waste of life at best.
    If you are going to be a jerk, expect people to tell you that you’re being a jerk. If someone tells me that the future has no place for me, I’m going to tell them that they’re being a jackass.

    The “You KNOW” style billboards are not helping. Now, the ones that were linked with the happy families and smiling people with personal testimony – like I said, those are nice, but even a few of them were condescending like the “I write fiction, I don’t believe it” one. That was a bit irksome. Unavoidable, I guess, but if they really think they’re going to convert a lot of theists, they should think the the last time they saw a “Jesus Saves” billboard and how they probably came away from it sneering, feeling hurt/condescended to or just going “Eh.” If the goal is not de-conversion, but just recognition, they do very well with the families and people talking about how they’re “good without God.” It really is best to say it without a condemnation of those who are into the God-thing.

    I am willing to support all kinds of people, but let me tell you, it’s really, REALLY hard to want to support people when they’re calling me stupid and/or inferior. It’s kind of like expecting them to start supporting the Catholic church or something just because it exists.

  • Rikalous

    I agree with you about a couple of the billboards being condescending.

    That said, I think your problem with atheists giving the impression that they hate you is less a problem with atheists than it is a function of human nature. The problem is that, for the most part, the only people who are being very vocal about theism or atheism are the ones who have very strong opinions that theism or atheism is the One True Path. These people figure that anyone who doesn’t see the obvious value of the One True Path must be stupid or evil, and from that premise sentiments like “Atheists just deny God to keep sinning” and “Theists are all brainwashed sheep” follow logically.

    People like the commenters here, who respect that other people have differing beliefs than them, and no doubt always will, tend not to see a reason to speak up to much about their own faith or lack thereof.

    You get this sort of thing in politics, too, with the assumption that roughly have the country would have to be deluded to follow a Rethuglican or Demonicrat.

  • Anonymous

    I am willing to support all kinds of people, but let me tell you, it’s really, REALLY hard to want to support people when they’re calling me stupid and/or inferior.

    “Support” is a general term. Quite likely, the people who put on those billboard campaigns aren’t particularly looking for you to join them, much as the people who advertise Pepsi aren’t particularly looking for inveterate Coke drinkers to join them. On the other hand, one can see how atheists might find it hard to deal with the fact that they are shouldering higher tax burdens because religious organizations, organizations that regularly preach that they are stupid and/or inferior, may carry on their business tax-free.

    So you’re really not being asked to do anything. Heck, it would be nice if you’d just acknowledge their right to their opinions.

  • Amaryllis

    Dash:

    (I hate disagreeing with Amaryllis, because it usually means I’m wrong. I’m not really sure I am in this case, though.
    That’s nice of you to say, but I’ve been wrong as often as I’ve been right around here, and this may be one of those times.
    Because

    “I know a heck of a lot more about goodness than you do, and I therefore hereby coopt your good actions in support of my God.”

    is not what I meant to say at all! Ouch.

    Nor did I mean to imply to Andrew Glasgow:

    All of these phrasings still make me feel like ‘Good’ is meaningless and my own choice is just an expression of God’s will. I don’t particularly want to have anything to do with any God, and the idea that no matter what I do, any time I’m doing something good I’m being part of God or serving God or taking part in God’s will really kinda pisses me off.

    I shouldn’t try to be mystical, or metaphysical, because I always get it wrong.

    I don’t know anything (and the older I get the less I even think I know). I certainly wouldn’t say that your good actions prove that God exists or that God is good, or that anything good that you do is impelled by God, or taken to the service of God. It’s not so much that your “choice is just an expression of God’s will.” I meant, I think, that it could be argued that, for a certain worldview or cast of mind, “good” is seen as an expression of God’s nature, and that each little instance of human good is a human-sized expression of the same nature. For those of a different sort of mind, that doesn’t work.

    That’s probably not any better, is it? But I’m not sure how else to put it–It is impossible to say just what I mean!— so maybe I’m wrong in thinking that it can be said without offense.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    @Amaryllis

    I meant, I think, that it could be argued that, for a certain worldview or cast of mind, “good” is seen as an expression of God’s nature, and that each little instance of human good is a human-sized expression of the same nature.

    Nicely said.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way my opinion on this–regardless of what it happens to be–isn’t going to be taken as offensive or condescending so I’ve stayed out of it. But that was good. God’s nature, yeah.

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

    That’s probably not any better, is it? But I’m not sure how else to put it–It is impossible to say just what I mean!– so maybe I’m wrong in thinking that it can be said without offense.

    I think this subject is one where it’s very difficult to honestly express yourself without offending someone. I know I’m offending people by the responses I get, and I sincerely regret that. I think if atheists and theists talk about the core issues at hand, you can’t avoid it. All you can do is be in a situation where we can move past the offense and not turn it into an argument about that specifically.

  • Shadsie

    Not everyone who believes in higher powers agrees with the tax-free status of churches. It would seem to be a relic left over from the days when churches were the primary charities out there / before a lot of secular charities were created. I remember someone somewhere explaining that the tax-free status also keeps the churches from having too much influence in politics, as in, it’s supposed to be illegal for church or other tax-free funds to go to support political campaigns and if they were taxed, the organizations legally have the right to become political fundraising machines. I suppose one can argue that this already happens, though…

    Personally, theist I may be, but I haven’t gone to church in years. I still find it difficult to support people as they insist upon insulting me/anyone remotely like me, *especially* when I’m *not personally a part of the problem.* Someone once blamed me for why she couldn’t become president. WTF? A candidate’s religion or lack thereof means not a whit *to me* – I vote on policy and leadership qualities. I think most political candidates lie about their convictions, anyway and it *annoys* me that so many have to “paint on piety.”

    I’m a proud owner of a set of boobs. I don’t think it gives me the right to verbally piss on men for having different plumbing than I do even though, as a *minority* it would seem many think I have the right or possibly even the duty to. Sorry, I still think of men as people.

    When you broad-brush, you inevitably wind up painting innocent people who are your allies, or at least people would be if you didn’t cover then in the ugly-paint.

  • Anonymous

    All I’m saying is that it would be a lot easier for me to support atheists if fewer of them gave me the impression that they hated me/ all theists/ this includes the Muslims you mentioned, too/ etc. and were just waiting for us all to de-convert or to die and get out of the way of the FUTURE. I have a good online friend who is agnostic, and she assures me, but it seems like most ardent atheists I meet online seem to think even agnostics are stupid and that anyone who dissagrees with them are a threat at worst, worthless/a waste of life at best.

    As I read over your comments more carefully, I noticed that you seem to be talking about two different groups. You say it is hard for you to support atheists (in general?) because some atheists give you the impression they hate you/all theists. I appreciate that one can find certain members of a group sufficiently off-putting as to make it hard to like anything about that group. I think the point has been made so far that, just as some theists have had that experience with atheists, many atheists have had that experience with theists. I’d also point out that most groups’ jerks make themselves more apparent online than in other venues.

    Speaking just for myself, I am aware of some very annoying people involved in just about every activity I might want to support. If one judges the value of an issue largely by the gentility of the people involved, well, as Hamlet said, “who should ‘scape whipping?” Again, speaking just for myself, the groups I have encountered who haven’t yet shown me their jerks are the Episcopalians and the Quakers, and I suspect that’s because I don’t know many Quakers and I just haven’t met the right Episcopalians yet. On the other hand, the group that has, I think, the highest level of general jerkitude per unit of population involved is … animal rescue, a group of people that most people tend to think of as doing admirable work. People who work in animal rescue tend to be good with animals, not so much with people. But if everyone judged the value of the activity by the annoyance factor of those involved, precious few animals would be rescued.

    When you broad-brush, you inevitably wind up painting innocent people who are your allies, or at least people would be if you didn’t cover then in the ugly-paint.

    Quoted for truth.

  • Thalia

    I read that as “gunshy because my attempts to ally with atheists have been met with rejection.”

    But that’s me. YMMV. (But I think it’s worth noting that I double-down on your “quoted for truth.”)

  • Anonymous

    @Thalia
    Rereading the comment I was replying to, I think you’re right. Reading fail on my part, and, Shadsie, I apologize for misreading the first part of your comment. I thought you were getting at a far more general statement.

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

    I’m a proud owner of a set of boobs. I don’t think it gives me the right to verbally piss on men for having different plumbing than I do even though, as a *minority* it would seem many think I have the right or possibly even the duty to. Sorry, I still think of men as people.

    I wasn’t ever saying that you as a theist are personally oppressing atheists, or that the atheists who were being jerks to you weren’t being jerks. They were. They may have had reasons for being jerks, and hating theists — a lot of atheists have reasons for hating theists that make complete sense to them — but it still wasn’t fair to you.

    That said, I don’t have to apologize to you for what some other atheist said, nor does the rest of the infidel community at large. I’m not going to take out an ad saying ‘Attention Christians, I don’t hate you.’ No one is responsible for the extreme actions, whether they are violent or just assholish, of others just because they happen to share their beliefs (or lack thereof), ethnicity, or other characteristics.* If it was an actual organization I actively belonged to who were making bigoted remarks to you, then I would owe you an apology.

    I think of theists as people too. Most of the people I work with and spend time with on a regular basis are theists of various stripes, mostly Christian. In the U.S. the default assumption is that one is a Christian unless one specifically says otherwise, and “coming out” as atheist can under some circumstances be as traumatic, or more so, than coming out as gay.

    *The link is to one of Fred’s old posts at Typepad!Slactivist, even though it says ‘The Board Administration Team’.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I wonder if it might be effective for a billboard to just say something like “Helping the homeless would be a nice thing to do” or “We should try killing each other less” or “Isn’t that sunset lovely?” with a banner at the bottom saying “This Message Brought To You By The Atheists”

    It conveys a positive message of goodness, associates the message with atheists, and does it without saying or implying that atheism is Better or You Know Your Religion Is Silly, it’s nonconfrontational, it doesn’t try to assert a causal relationship between atheism and goodness, and it forces anyone who objects into the position of having to say “Oh yeah? Helping the homeless is WRONG when atheists do it!”

    Plus, the same technique can be used by Muslims, QUILTBAG groups, heck, the socialists can try it if they like.

  • Shadsie

    Now I’m thinking about those rather insipid and saccharine “doing goodness” TV commercials by “The Foundation for a Better Life.”

    – i.e. something sponsered by the Methodist Church.

    The commercials do not have a religious message, they’re just about taking time out to do the right thing and appreciate life and people. Rather “fluffy” and I didn’t know they were church-sponsored until I paid attention to text at the bottom of the screen.

    Are you talking about something like that?

  • muteKi

    Now I’m thinking about those rather insipid and saccharine “doing goodness” TV commercials by “The Foundation for a Better Life.”

    And the music! Oh god, the music! Sometimes I like to call it variants of the “Foundation for a Better Life for Corny Songwriters”.

  • hf

    I think people have tried to point this out, but it didn’t seem to take. The “good without God” billboards actually say, “Millions of Americans are Good Without God,” and “A Million New Yorkers Are Good Without God. Are You?” and “Are you good without God? Millions are,” and other variations on this theme. They take a common claim about Christianity vs atheism and point out that it does not fit the evidence. Likewise, a lot of y’all seem to be arguing about a fictional billboard.

    Other messages of course seem nastier. The one saying “In your heart you know its a myth” made me smile, but I’ll grant you that it seems a bit dickish.

  • hf

    Perhaps I should expand on my last comment. Around December I had to see multiple signs about keeping Christ in Christmas. America of course treats this time of year as a capitalist national holiday that affects everyone. I kind of like the celebration itself — within limits — but I keep seeing people insist that it should exclude me and that America should celebrate for months in a way that excludes me. So seeing the image of the somewhat-dickish billboard came as a relief. It showed the more exclusive Christmas imagery and then said, “in your heart your know it’s a myth,” which seems true of me. And I can enjoy the celebratory images as part of a fun myth, provided I get to use other stories as well when I feel like it.

    Since people almost certainly spend more time thinking about people who resemble themselves, those who designed the billboard may not have given much thought to how dickish certain others would find it.

  • ako

    Bell’s view of salvation, Moore said, is wrong biblically but also flawed practically and will lead to empty church pews. If the pastor says there is no judgment and everyone will end up in heaven, then people have little motivation to follow Christ, Moore and the other panelists said.

    I always find this argument weird. I mean I don’t see any reason for me to be Christian beyond the “You’ll be tortured if you don’t!” claim, but I’m an atheist and most of the Christians I’ve heard from make it sound like there are actual positive things about their religion, and they see it as having more to offer than “At least you won’t be tortured forever!” Except for the Team Hell set, who seem to have the same “Barring the whole Hell-threat, there’s nothing in Christianity I particularly need or want” mindset I do.

    This will probably be offensive to people who love God, like Deird, and Fred, and others, but sometimes it almost feels like a creepy stalker who won’t leave you alone no matter what you do. And people around you keep telling you to open the door and let him in, let him control your life, get rid of the restraining orders against him, because he really loves you and wants the best things for you. And it doesn’t matter that you’ve never given him the time of day or given him any reason to think you want his love.

    This. I don’t have any sense of the existence of any gods or any relationship with them, and from the perspective of an outsider reading secondhand sources, “God is good!” is far less clear than it must be to someone who feels a personal relationship (the same is true for “God exists!”) In my understanding of the universe, I’m quite happy with any gods, and “But he’s there! All of the time! In everything you do! Waiting for you to let him in!” feels creepy and intrusive. (Plus, based on past experiences, it always reminds me of the people who are desperately trying to persuade me that I have a god-shaped hole in my life, so they can fill it with their religion, and completely ignoring my actual feelings and experiences in favor of their interpretation.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I mean I don’t see any reason for me to be Christian beyond the “You’ll be tortured if you don’t!” claim

    I still call and visit my mum, even though she won’t beat me or yell at me or disinherit me (even if she could) if I didn’t.

    To move away from the relationship metaphor (and not sure if this will work, but it just came into my head), I still read classical novels even though there’s no class requiring me to do so. I love it and I like the effect being exposed to it has on me.

    Personally, I don’t know any Christians whose only impetus for belief is avoidance of punishment but I’ll take the word of others that such a mindset exists.

  • Shadsie

    As per public messages: I agree that addressing some topics are just going to offend people no matter what. Religion/ Spirituality is just one of those powder-kegs. No matter how polite or innocuous one tries to be with the message, some people will get upset.

    I’m kind of in-between. I mean, among even the well-designed billboards, a few of them irk me – the “I don’t believe fiction” irks me the most. That comes across as condescension. I don’t much like the “science will save us!” gist of a couple of them because I believe that science is neutral – it flew us to the moon, but also gave us atomic bombs. People treating it like a pure good magic thing seems to me like something that doesn’t respect it for what it is. At the same time, the “we’re a happy humanist family” one doesn’t bother me. The “If your faith doesn’t feel right, leave it” doesn’t bother me (that one would seem to be the best for “evangelism” as it were, since it targets people at a crossroads who don’t feel right where they are).

    And I’d totally fight to the death for your right to put them up.

    But, as you see, even “Good without God, join the club” ones which, *I, personally* find pretty innocous and am not offended by offend some people as we can clearly see in the tangent on this comments-thread – they see it as “How can one be good without the source of Good?” or “This is like telling me I could be happy without a loved one.” I think they are missing the point of who the message is for, but you see, even one of the most polite atheist-advertising messages is offending some people.

    Just as I’m sure people are offended by the simple message of “Jesus Saves.”

    Rattling people just comes with the territory – even if you go out of your way not to be a jerk, somene will be upset (but it doesn’t mean that you “might as well be a jerk” either – you lose people like me that are in-between that way).

    Also, anyone besides me remember those passive-agressive notes from “God” billboards that were popular for a while?

    As for getting more back on topic….

    I think if Christianity had only “escape from Hell” as a benefit, not many people would stay with it for very long, even if that’s that they originally came for. As I said on the first page, my exploring of it came about from fears of mortality, but that’s not why I stuck, or stick.

    I was telling an online friend the other day that one of the main reasons I have for reasonating with Christianity is that when I read Christ’s words in the Bible about equity and human worth, I feel like I’m not worthless. When I think about it, I feel like I’m not worthless.

    I have issues, anyway, but when I puzzle it out, I don’t feel like I’m a very valuable person in the worldly sense. I struggle finacially, I never quite “made it” as a success, the things that I’m good that (art, writing – or so I’m told) I’m apparently not “good enough” at to actually get anywhere with, I have issues that make me very difficult to live with, etc. Outside of feeling like there is intrinsic, and yes *cosmic* and *spiritual* worth to every person, and believing things like “blessed are the poor,” and such, I don’t feel, well, objectively valuable. I might as well donate my organs to my “betters” if I have to be objectively valuable.

    In a world that seems like its ruled by assholes, the idea that there’s something spiritual and, I hate to cause offense, but for lack of a better term “better than that” underlying it all and to be hoped for… it’s what keeps me going. And oh, yes, I’d say “working toward” that justice is better than just hoping for it, but I wouldn’t be inspired to work without hope.

    Also, I’m fond of saying that, as someone who likes to write, that I tend to see existance in terms of “plot.” I’d much rather be a character in a story that I believe will make sense someday that just a random person who should or shouldn’t have been born in a random jumble. Where some people see freedom, I see only despair, just as where I see purpose, they see only restriction or wishful thinking.

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

    I’m glad that your religious/cosmic/spiritual tradition provides you a context in which you feel valuable.

    I’m sorry you don’t feel valuable outside the context of that tradition.

    And under those circumstances I can totally understand the impulse, and perhaps the need, to treat your tradition as “better than” the secular context that surrounds it.

  • Anonymous

    I think a factor to consider when evaluating the behaviour of angry atheists is that a lot of them are probably spiritual abuse survivors. I absolutely agree with those who are saying that some atheists are real jackasses about their beliefs, but I also think it’s important to note that some people who are anti-religion are anti-religion because religion hurt them. I’m not an atheist–I’m a liberal Christian–but I’m also an ex-evangelical, and I’ve been known to use pretty negative language when describing what I think of some evangelical doctrines. I do it because those doctrines hurt me and I’m fairly confident that they’re hurting a lot of other people as well.

  • Shadsie

    That seems to be the case with a lot of the angry-types I meet online. It’s like, I’ll make a comment on some Religion article at Huffington Post or somewhere and before I know it, I’m having to fend off people either calling me an idiot on the grounds of their superior, uber-science brains or talking about how they grew up with crappy over-religious parents and how I’m evil for being a part of it. It seems like no amount of explaining “not all X are Y” gets through. Okay, it gets through to some people, but those that really want to hold onto their hurt don’t seem to fathom that some of us think that what happened to them sucks. No, we are the “enemy” and it doesn’t matter how “nicely” we follow our God, to them, our God is the same nasty God of their absuive parents. They think that we must either be abusers ourselves or that we’re in thrall to Stockholm Syndrome.

    I am reminded of harsh words Jesus had to say about “those that lead these little ones astray…” Stuff learned as a child is hard to get over. I had a very open upbringing in regards to religion, the proverbial “Let a kid choose for themselves” that people seem to want because they think smart kids will inevatibly choose athiesm – turns out I *didn’t.* I wonder if that breaks peoples’ brains.

    What’s even weirder is that I know someone from my geek-fandom online life who mentioned growing up with a severely mentally ill mother who used to try “drowning demons out of her” (something like that). Today, she’s a healthy, strong-minded Seventh-Day Aventist. Chosen on her own after getting away from her mom. She seemed to make a distinction between the concept of “God” and the “God of Mom’s Crazy.” It seems not many do that, so I found that interesting.

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

    > She seemed to make a distinction between the concept of “God” and the “God of Mom’s Crazy.” It seems not many do that, so I found that interesting.

    Yes, exactly.

    A friend of mine who used to be virulently anti-religion (and perhaps still is, though not so much in my presence) used to make all kinds of claims that just seemed obviously and demonstrably false, and become extremely upset when those claims were challenged… not just in principle, but by pointing out that religious people he actually knew were counterexamples to the claim he was making.

    Eventually I got into the habit of, every time he said “religious people do/are X,” understanding that to mean “the sort of Roman Catholic that my mom was when I was growing up does/is X.”

    It made our conversations a lot more coherent.

  • Shadsie

    There’s also people who make up their minds about something and “always must be right,” too – your story reminded me of some kerfluffle I got into with an ex-friend over something having nothing to do with religion, more like… character interpretation for a comic. Yeah.

    This ex-friend got onto a tangent about how X character must be an alcoholic because she’d read a few articles about alcoholism online. I contended that X character, while he drank some, didn’t strike me as dependant-alcoholic because I *grew up* with dependant- alcoholics. I witnessed alcoholism first-hand. (Thankfully, my father was a “happy drunk” rather than an angry one and he got help/recovery when I was young. My older brother… not so much). I remember explaining this, how alcoholism really went down and her response was basically “I’m right and you’re wrong because I read it on Wikipedia!”

  • Madhabmatics

    I used to think those type of atheists existed only on the internet. Last year, though, I moved in with a buddy for a little while and his roommate was like some sort of living caricature of the internet militant atheist, I was absolutely floored.

    Like, this dude tried to corner me in a room and scream at me because I was bringing “CHRISTIAN PROPAGANDA* INTO THIS HOUSE OF SCIENCE”**

    * It was an issue of left-wing political magazine “The Nation.” His proof that it was actually religious propaganda was that a letter to the editor referenced Kierkegaard.
    ** The House of Science that literally got all of it’s food from religious charity and who’s gaming happened in the basement of a church nice enough to say “You can have your RPG events in our chapel.”

  • Madhabmatics

    I learned so much about building bicycles out of junkyard parts so I wouldn’t be in the house with him before it became too much and I had to flee back to hell, a.k.a Alabama.

  • Anonymous

    those that really want to hold onto their hurt don’t seem to fathom that some of us think that what happened to them sucks.

    This phrasing really bothers me. While recognizing that it is possible to hold onto one’s hurt–largely because I’ve done it myself a few times, although on other subjects–it is difficult to say of someone else on any given occasion whether they’re able to get over what they’ve been through but aren’t doing it or whether they are truly not able to put that portion of their past behind them. And in any case, are we called to make that judgment?

  • Shadsie

    Another thing I thought of – This is the precise reason I don’t want to believe in Hell anymore, at least not in the traditional eternal sense. It seems unfair to immediately pitch someone into a firey furnace for eternity because they avoided You on the grounds that the only vision they had of You was given to them by crazy people who did so with a daily beating/daily dose of terror. You’d have to give them *at least* a clear vision of Your love and a last ditch chance.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Team Hell (and all those hyperdetailed Medieval Visions) are a real kicker when you consider that Jesus’ own idiom for Hell — “Gehenna”, i.e. Hinnom Valley, i.e. Jerusalem City Dump — is more akin to “a discard pile” than anything else.

    Paraphrasing Jesus’ idiom, “The Kingdom of God is coming, and now Is! When All is Fulfilled, don’t end up on God’s Discard Pile!”

  • Shadsie

    There was some point in my life before I’d tasted chocolate. Having tasted chocolate, I know that chocolate is good. I don’t ever want to “un-taste” it. I’ve tasted it, know that it is good, and generally speaking – would like to keep on eating it every once in a while.

  • http://horriblefoodogre.blogspot.com Samantha C

    it’s funny, it occurs to me that both afterlife and lack of afterlife can be ways to avoid the concept of death. Some people are comforted by the thought that their consciousness does in fact survive and they don’t have to die; others are comforted in the idea that consciousness will simply end and they won’t have to exist past death.

    I feel like if I do exist past death, it will be traumatic and painful to have to deal with the fact of having died. I’ll have to be separated from the people I love, at least until they die, and that separation will be painful. I’ll have things that I was planning to do that now I never can – it’ll be Time Enough at Last, only without my body I’ll have broken my glasses and can’t read.

    Even if I get past that, if there’s plenty of time to heal, I think I prefer the idea of just stopping. I would never know that I had stopped; once my consciousness goes out, there will be nothing left to remember whatever might cause me pain. To me, nonexistence as a concept is a way to not have to deal with having died.

  • Shadsie

    For anyone who might be interested, I just finished polishing it up and posting it… I’ve been spending the day (between looking in on here and other shiny internet things) finishing a short story upon this very subject – (questions of the afterlife).

    http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2011/04/last-dream.html

    Before you read it – it is a Fantasy story… an afterlife setup for a speculative-fiction world, which means it’s not serious apologetics in the least, more of a “my world, my rules” thing. The first half of it is the setup of the legends among a subset of people in said world, the other half of it is a young man who doesn’t believe in the afterlife arguing with his grim reaper just after he’s been killed. The grim reaper character (a small, fuzzy cat) posits that between those that believe in an afterlife and those who do not, in a weird way, *both* may be right. (Yes, the goal of this story is to be a mind-screw).

    By the way, the young man who doesn’t believe in the afterlife is *not* an athiest. His people worship a creator goddess, they just don’t hold to an afterlife.

    Reading different people’s opinions on on the subject helped me to write this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kuyan-Judith/100000142848270 Kuyan Judith

    I’m an atheist Australian, and at least in inner Melbourne, where I lived until recently, atheism is, as Pepper and Deird have said, very culturally acceptable. Given that, as Pepper mentioned, in the last two terms of federal government we’ve had a Cristian PM then an atheist one, Christianity and atheism evidently are both tolerable to many people in a lot of the country.

    Until reading what Pepper said about people lying in the census, I’d assumed the census data was accurate, with many Australians evidently being Christians for whom atheism/Christianity was at most a minor factor in judging politicians. I’d assumed that the reason so many of the people whose religious beliefs I was familiar with were atheists was some combination of atheists being “louder” than theists and atheism being more common in inner Melbourne than in other parts of Australia. Now they’ve mentioned it, I think I remember my father saying he was Catholic despite not believing in the divinity of Jesus anymore, since he’d been baptised Catholic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kuyan-Judith/100000142848270 Kuyan Judith

    testing

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kuyan-Judith/100000142848270 Kuyan Judith

    Is there any way to take my real name off this? I thought I’d be able to change it to something else.

  • cyllan

    You can change your profile such that whatever you want shows up in the “Full Name” section.

  • Anonymous

    Chris, it looks to me like you may be getting at the idea that there are gradations of privilege. I’m not American, but I gather that moderate evangelical Christians occupy a privileged place in U.S. society, with RTCs not far behind (although there is regional variation). Liberal Christians, e.g. universalists, are a notch below more evangelical Christians. Atheists and pagans are several notches lower.

    The problem with the atheist billboard is that it’s painting with too broad a brush. It’s not just targeting the most privileged groups, which could stand to be taken down a peg. It would also target Chris’s orange-hatted young woman, who occupies a place of moderate privilege in society in general but lacks privilege in the subculture in which she grew up, and is pretty beaten down because of said subculture. It would also target pagans and Muslims, who aren’t really doing any better than atheists on the privilege front.

    In other words, the “You know it’s a myth” billboard is hurting some people who already hurt, and who certainly don’t need to be taken down a peg. It would perhaps be better for atheist billboards to use messages that promote atheism (e.g. “You can be good without God”) rather than attacking religion, since some religions really don’t need to be attacked.

  • Anonymous

    I am normally all about avoiding offense whenever possible. I think it is a good idea to be polite to everyone. However, I shall now, very much to my own surprise, speak up in defense of the “You know it’s a myth” sort of billboard. Not that I am saying that the local atheist crew should go trotting out right now with paste and advertising sheets to put that sort of thing up all over the place. But I think maybe it says what they want it to say, and if the rest of us don’t like it, that’s unfortunate. I mean, sucks to be us. But does it really suck that badly? Furthermore, with all due respect to chris the cynic for a careful limning of an interesting and pitiable character, the billboard’s possible impact on young ladies with orange hats who may or may not exist is probably not what we want to base our judgments on.

    I more or less get what chris the cynic is getting at, but it’s possible to come up with at least an equal number of scenarios in which the young woman is equally beaten down by her religion and desperately needs to see something direct and straightforward like, “deep down, you know it’s a myth.” As opposed to one of those bumper stickers that say, “Benedict XVI says ‘Defend life'” or “No Jesus, No peace / Know Jesus, Know peace.” Or maybe she’s just left her religion and is deeply hurt by one of the two bumper stickers just preceding.

    The point is that you can’t be sure what people need to see at any moment, and saying that people shouldn’t put up billboards that have the potential to be offensive, but are nonetheless no more offensive than many that are put up by corporations to sell things or by political parties. If your atheism is so weak that you can’t deal with seeing Benedict XVI on the bumper sticker ahead of you, maybe you shouldn’t be driving. At least not on the road I’m driving on. And if your faith is so weak that a bumper sticker that says “In your heart, you know it’s a myth” bothers you all that much, um, pretty much the same thing.

    Many of us on this board (I’m inclined to say most) are in advertising-heavy contexts. We are all exposed to all kinds of messages all the time that we reject or find offensive or think stupid to the point of offense. I think past a certain point one has to decide what to put one’s energy into being offended by.

    I know I sound a bit like I’m saying “a plague on both your houses,” and to a degree, I’m saying that, insofar as I’m saying that encountering advertising that is phrased in a way such that its content offends is almost inevitable. Past a certain point, I suspect it is good for us to absorb a bit of that. (I’m reminded of a Dorothy Parker story about a woman who was so delicate that her staff worked very hard to insure that she never encountered anything that would offend or disturb her. She was not an admirable character.)

    And now, having offended absolutely everybody, on every possible side of this argument, I shall duck my head apologetically and scurry off to my study to continue reading that book I have to read. It’s about what happens in a war.

  • chris the cynic

    Does it seem like I’m saying that I don’t have time for a complete response more than normal lately? It seems that way to me. Anyway, I don’t have time to respond more than a little right now.

    Furthermore, with all due respect to chris the cynic for a careful limning of an interesting and pitiable character, the billboard’s possible impact on young ladies with orange hats who may or may not exist is probably not what we want to base our judgments on.

    I agree with this entirely*. If we want the world to be a better place it doesn’t make a lot of sense to base our judgments on the things I feel because, as I’ve already said, what I feel often doesn’t apply all that well. Demographics far more worthy of consideration than young ladies with orange hats are members of minority faiths (and atheists plus agnostics if the billboard creators cannot be counted on to play nice with their own.)

    I wish I had time to go into greater detail on that now.

    But I think maybe it says what they want it to say, and if the rest of us don’t like it, that’s unfortunate.

    I’d say that its more than just maybe. I ran across a quote from a representative of the group responsible for the billboard saying what it was all about: “We get blamed for a war on Christmas every year. This time we’re actually going to pay attention to that. We’re actually going to earn a little bit of that.” I’d say that it does say what they want it to say, and says it quite well.

    I’m not going to argue that they don’t know what they’re saying. Some times, though not in this specific case, I may argue that they haven’t thought all of the implications through and in so doing are actually reenforcing some of the key components of the system they seek to oppose (hurting others who find themselves in similar situations along the way), but for the most part I think there’s a lot of understanding of exactly what is being said and exactly what reactions it is likely to provoke.

    What I do question is whether things always should be said. It seems like whenever we come across a formerly non-Christian character in Left Behind we get a story about how deep down they knew atheism/Islam/generic native American religion/[whatever] was a myth. And whenever that is brought up we here tend to regard that claim on the part of L&J as a completely assholic one to make.

    From my point of view that means either we owe L&J a (qualified narrowly worded) apology, or claims like that shouldn’t be made. And if they shouldn’t be made then they shouldn’t be made. Regardless of the speaker.

    I also don’t really think it’s a question of what people can deal with. For a personal example, I could deal with being called a fag when I was little and being made fun of constantly. (For the life of me I still don’t know why they thought I was gay.) I obviously could deal with it as I’m still here. I shouldn’t have had to. What someone can deal with is an bad measure of what they should have to deal with.

    If we’re going to live in a world where the only limit on what atheists have to deal with on account of being atheists is what they are capable of dealing with, and the only limit on what non-atheists have to deal with on account of not being atheists is what they are capable of dealing with, then we will live in a wretched world.

    Whenever I type “sho”, as in all of the various “Should”s and “Shouldn’t”s above, the word processor suggests that I mean “shoot-first-and-ask-questions-after-incinerating-the-body-to-make-damned-sure-its-dead”. With that I must go now. I hope this makes some kind of sense, I don’t have time to look it over again.

    *With the possible exception of the “carefully” which to me implies some level of craftsmanship. I hesitate to say this a little because I know that saying something came easily can sometimes be disillusioning, but that really was pretty much dredging up pure id. There wasn’t a lot of care involved.

  • Anonymous

    What I do question is whether things always should be said. It seems like whenever we come across a formerly non-Christian character in Left Behind we get a story about how deep down they knew atheism/Islam/generic native American religion/[whatever] was a myth. And whenever that is brought up we here tend to regard that claim on the part of L&J as a completely assholic one to make.

    From my point of view that means either we owe L&J a (qualified narrowly worded) apology, or claims like that shouldn’t be made. And if they shouldn’t be made then they shouldn’t be made. Regardless of the speaker.

    I think we have probably encountered the point where we find our disagreement. Or perhaps we are merely using different senses of “should.” L&J are writers (for a certain very broad definition of “writers”). They are entitled to write what they want. They are entitled to write with the most thorough-going nincompoopery. (They appear to be enjoying this right to the fullest, as I think we agree.) I am entitled to call them on their nincompoopery.

    The atheist organization is entitled to put up their billboards. We are entitled to say, “Whew! That billboard is seriously in-your-face! It is unpleasant to read. It does not make me want whatever it is you’re selling.” They are entitled to say, “It’s not meant for you.”

    Same holds for the church down the street with all the passive-aggressive signs about their spiritual beliefs.

    And the folks with the pope’s face on their bumpers are entitled to have the pope’s face on their bumpers along with the “defend life” claim. I am entitled to want to draw a moustache and Groucho glasses on it. If I ever do that, THEN we will all agree I have gone too far.

    In essence, I think it simply isn’t possible to say interesting things while entirely avoiding offending anyone. As I remarked earlier, the very statement that may offend me now may in two years be the catalyst that helps me change my mind in a positive way two years hence.

    Otherwise, I think we agree.

  • muteKi

    http://openparachute.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/w1598173481.png

    Adds nothing in particular to the conversation but it was vaguely relevant and I thought it was a little cute.

  • Cissa

    I’m not going to love a god just because that god threatens me if I don’t.

    In fact, that discourages me from having anything to do with such an extortionist.

    I am rather like the atheists in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld that way: they continue to be atheists, even though the gods come down off their mountain and throw rocks through the atheists’ windows. :)

  • bg

    Fred Said > The embrace of the Missiological Case for Hell represents a shift in the argument of Team Hell that Moore acknowledges here. The doctrine of Hell, Moore argues, is “practical.” It is useful. It works. That is a much lesser claim than the assertion that the doctrine of Hell is true. And it’s a much lesser claim than the assertion — which Moore presumes, without support — that the doctrine of Hell is something the Bible teaches.

    Team Hell?

    It seems by the way that you use this phrase over and over again that you are attempting to degrade Mr Moore, Mr Mohler, the whole Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky and anyone who dares teach the Biblical view of Hell (Team Hell)?

    Are your word spoken in “Christian Love” guided by the Spirit of God as taught in the Scriptures?

    Fred Said > I don’t know Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary. I have never met him. But I know this much about him: Russell Moore is not a Christian…

    WOW!? If I may use Rob Bells line questioning in response to your so matter of fact assertion; Russell Moore is not a Christian? He isn’t? And you know this for sure? And you felt the need to let the rest of us know?

    Again I ask are your word spoken in “Christian Love” guided by the Spirit of God as taught in the Scriptures?

    As I read your review it became apparent that in your zeal to defend your understanding of what the Scriptures have to say about the reality of Hell, or in your understanding what they don’t say, you’ve become what you are accusing Mr Moore and the others of being. Your motives stand in light of your own condemnation.

    John 14
    1“Do not let your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe in me also. 2In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If there were not, I would have told you. For I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will return again, and then I will take you to myself, so that where I am, you also may be. 4And you know where I am going. And you know the way.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

    Acts 1
    1Certainly, O Theophilus, I composed the first discourse about everything that Jesus began to do and to teach, 2instructing the Apostles, whom he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, even until the day on which he was taken up. 3He also presented himself alive to them, after his Passion, appearing to them throughout forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God with many elucidations…9And when he had said these things, while they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10And while they were watching him going up to heaven, behold, two men stood near them in white vestments. 11And they said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall return in just the same way that you have seen him going up to heaven.”

    Acts 4
    7“By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” ..10let it be known to all of you and to all of the people of Israel, that in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead, by him, this man stands before you, healthy. 11He is the stone, which was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner. 12And there is no salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which it is necessary for us to be saved.”

    Revelation 22
    18For I call as witnesses all listeners of the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone will have added to these, God will add upon him the afflictions written in this book. 19And if anyone will have taken away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his portion from the Book of Life, and from the Holy City, and from these things which have been written in this book. 20He who offers testimony to these things, says: “Even now, I am approaching quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

    As far as your assertion/claim that the Bible is silent on the subject of Hell therefore it is untrue..? Again I quote Rob, “what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

    We’ve got to be very careful and have the utmost respect for the Bible and what it teaches so we do not distort its message even if we don’t mean to. No human explanation or interpretation of Gods Holy Word should be held to the same standard as the Scripture itself.

    I have this statement written in the front of my Bible as a reminder that “Even an infallible guide can be misused, for it is always used by fallible people.”

    GB,bg


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