I thought I was done with this. I mean, I felt I did my part when I ripped into the people criticizing Rob Bell’s new bookthe other day. Then, yesterday, I got a secondhand smack-down from Chris LaTondresse on Sojourner Magazine’s God’s Politics blog. In a very good piece on the subject, he said
“The fact that this controversy became the most dissected piece of news in the evangelical world at the same time the regime of Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi was escalating violent attacks on its own people this weekend offers a sobering commentary on the priorities (and irrelevance) of too many evangelical leaders.”
Ouch. While I’m not exaclty what you’d call an “evangelical leader”, it still stung and rightly so. After reading that, I resolved to resume writing about social justice issues and things of that sort. That has a bonus, too: Diana likes it when I write about stuff like that. I don’t mention her much, but I probably should. Like I say here, she’s partly responsible (to blame?) for this blog. She definitely has a lot to say about how it looks, how it reads, the tone, etc. But, I’m sorry, babe. I can’t let go of this one, yet.
Okay, if you follow the Christian blogosphere/Twitterverse/Facebookland, you know that HarperOne is about to publish a new book by Rob Bell that questions our views about heaven and hell. You probably also know that some of the more conservative voices in the Christian community are very “concerned” about this. Okay, a lot of them are pissed that Rob doesn’t seem to share their views about God, hell, atonement and all that stuff. In fact, Rachel Held Evans’ post on the subject has gathered 178 comments (the venerable Tony Jones only has 83. I have 6 and 2 of those are mine. A bit depressing, really). I read and commented on both these blogs and, oh so mistakenly, subscribed to the comments. My freakin’ inbox stays full of notifications of new entries and, frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it. As if that wasn’t enough, this morning I was goofing off and flipped over to the History Channel (yeah, that’s a little dorky. Sue me) where they were running a documentary called “The Gates Of Hell“. As usual for these things, it wasn’t breaking any new ground; History Channel is anything but radical. I was pretty bored when they brought up a fire-and-brimstone southern Baptist preacher who was saying that Hell isn’t an idea, a figment of someones imagination or a mystical place. No, Hell is a real place, filled with real people who deserve nothing but eternal damnation and torment. Then, in an interview, he says that he became a Christian because he didn’t want to die and go to hell. He went on to say that “You can paint the best picture of Heaven possible, but there’s just something about the awfulness of Hell that makes people respond”. I can’t say how sad that statement made me.
What does it say about your faith when you are a man of God, a preacher of the Gospel, and you feel the only way to spread that faith is to scare the living crap out of people? When I hear stuff like this, I want grab the speaker and shake them, yelling “GOSPEL MEANS GOOD NEWS, YOU ASS! THERE’S NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THIS!” Unfortunately, this viewpoint is entirely too common. According Gallup, 70% percent of Americans believe Hell as a literal place and a lot of them share the view of the above quoted pastor, that Hell is filled with people who are evil because they didn’t accept Jesus while they were alive. I don’t like a God that would do that.
The idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment is a problem for me. For that to be true, God has to be harsh, judgmental and vindictive and, while that fits with the Old Testament, it doesn’t square with the God of the Gospel Jesus preached. That God was all about love and forgiveness and I don’t see a lot of forgiveness in eternal damnation. In Luke, when pressed about forgiveness, Jesus told His disciples to forgive not 7 times, but 70 times 7. That’s not a literal number, though. He meant always forgive those who wrong us. So, if you believe what Jesus taught, God has a double standard in this. We have to forgive everyone and He doesn’t. That just doesn’t add up. Then, there’s the whole idea of God as a loving father, a theme which Jesus pounded home with regularity. Now, I’m a father and, most of the time, I’m pretty loving. So loving, in fact, that I can’t see anything that would cause me to turn my back on my children for all eternity. Oh sure, when they screw up, I let them suffer the consequences of their actions. But, I never stop loving them and, once the lesson’s learned, I step in to help them out. That makes me a more loving father than the one so many Christians claim to follow. Which makes Him just as mean, shallow and petty as we are. And, I’m refuse to believe in a God like that, much less follow Him