Fundamentalists: you have not been trying very hard to save me. Either you do not really believe I am going to hell, or you do not care. Which is it?
I wasn’t going to post this until next week, but I needed to get it online while the relevant Big Questions episode is still on BBC iPlayer so you can see what I’m talking about.
Liz Weston is a member of Christ Church Southampton. She was on The Big Questions this week to defend fundamental Christianity against the charge that it is harmful to children.
Let me say this first: I like her. She got a lot of bile from Twitter atheists when the episode aired, but I chatted to her after the show and she was genuinely nice. I got the feeling that we could have spoken for a long time and found many areas of common ground. Liz was shocked by my experiences of fundamentalism and expressed genuine regret. She was also far more tolerant than I was in my fundamentalist days. I got the feeling that where we disagreed, we could have done so without it being a source of animosity.
So yes, I think Liz Weston is a good person, and that’s important to remember in light of what I’m about to say.
The crucial exchange came about 44 minutes into the programme.
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Nicky Campbell: So who’s going there [hell]?
Liz Weston: Anybody who hasn’t put their faith in Jesus and trusted in Him as their saviour, his death on the cross to pay for their sins… But you can go to heaven, and it’s your choice if you decide to reject Jesus.
Amanda Robinson: But I have, so I’m going to hell.
Liz: That’s fine! You’ve chosen to reject Jesus. That unfortunately is your choice and I’d love to convince you otherwise but, yeah…
Then she shrugged, and laughed.
She looked a person full in the face, told her she was going to hell…
And she laughed.
Let’s imagine an alternative scenario: instead of Liz Weston, God-botherer, and Amanda Robinson, criminologist, this was a confrontation between a qualified therapist and a person with a life-threatening addiction.
Let’s say Liz is the therapist, and Amanda Robinson is a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or has a chronic eating disorder. Liz has the only solution, and it will definitely solve Amanda’s problem. Without it, Amanda is inevitably going to destroy herself in the slowest, most agonising way. How would we expect Liz to act?Liz would be distraught. She would implore Amanda, through tears and agonising pain, to accept her help before it’s too late. She would be doing everything in her power to get through to her. Nothing else would matter. Every other point of discussion would be put on hold. Amanda cannot see her own need for help, but Liz can save her. The frustration of the situation would put Liz on bended knee, begging Amanda to let her in. If this failed, Liz would be broken, defeated, shattered by her own impotence and inability to help.
She probably wouldn’t laugh.
The situation Liz claims to believe is much worse. In our hypothetical scenario, there would at least be an end to it: Amanda would eventually die, and the suffering would end. In the case of hell, Liz believes the suffering is eternal, without a moment’s respite. Yet Liz was able to look at Amanda and laugh when she told her about it.
Either Liz does not really believe this, or she does not care.
This is repugnant. It shows how the fundamentalist doctrine of hell can corrupt the moral compass of an otherwise good person.
If Liz does not care, then the Christian claim to moral superiority is in tatters. The claim that only Christians are capable of expressing true love, because of the Spirit of God within them becomes absurd. Her religion is evil, and her claim to morality is bankrupt.
If Liz does not really believe it, she shouldn’t say it.
So which is it?
- There is definitely no such thing as hell
- Your idea of love is fucked up
- Why fundamentalists will never listen to me
Afterword: For the record, I believe that the most charitable interpretation of these events is also the correct one. I think Liz laughed because she was embarrassed. She knew how awful it was to tell Amanda she was going to hell. Now I’m sure this is the source of considerable cognitive dissonance for Liz. I am not saying she is lying when she says she believes in hell, but I think this demonstrates she doesn’t actually believe it as wholeheartedly as she says.
Also, I don’t mean this to be a witch-hunt against Liz Weston specifically. As I said, I liked her. This is a specific example of a wider phenomenon I’ve observed – evangelical Christians acting like they don’t care (much) as they tell someone they are bound for hell. It’s just that this one, usefully, happened to be televised.