The Irreverent Musings of Harry McCall (former Christian seminarian, still a lover of Biblical studies, having been bitten by the "Bible bug")
The Bible is like a senile senior citizen, semi-coherent and out of touch with reality--but his loving children (believers), via their denials and creative ingenuity, lovingly take him by the arm and theologically help him to shuffle along.
I'm sitting here at my keyboard thinking about my past life as an Evangelical Christian. How did I ever believe all the doctrines, and swallow the love mixed with strange fears, for decade after decade? I appear to have been victimized by a frighteningly overpowering (dare I saw psychotic) mix of something the Bible (and my church) called God's "love," mingled with that same God's "eternal hatred," and, I was also taught that I was the one to blame for this weird mix, I was the one "asking for it!"
As a Christian I heard John 3:16 run into the ground about how God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son to die for us. Even Jesus said we should call God "Father"--a loving father who forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, gives us our daily bread, sends blessed rain on the farmer's fields of both the just and unjust, or who would leave 99 of his sheep to hunt for the single lost one. Of course this love only lasts till judgment day (or till we die, whichever comes first). Because on that day our loving Father morphs from a kindly Dr. Jekyll into a sadistic Mr. Hyde (or maybe more like “Sybil”—as in the academy award winning movie of the same name—whose mother loved her one moment only to beat and torture her the next).
Thus, the perennial question that young believers and non-Christians ask: If God is a God of love, why does He morph into someone who demands eternal punishment, as if to say, "Remember all that stuff I said before? 'Peace on earth goodwill toward men?' 'Blessed are the peacemakers?' 'Bless those who curse you?' 'Love your enemies?' ‘Love keeps no record of wrongs… It always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… These three remain: faith, hope and love?’ Forget about it. You're dead now, and your rear end is mine!”
Of course a common modern reply is that “God does not send anyone to Hell. We send ourselves.” Yea, right! Just like Sybil MADE her psychotic mother punish, beat and torture her.
A god who slaughters families, not to mention cities, nations, and drowns the whole world, is acting in ways it's difficult for any human being with an ounce of compassion to not view as reacting questionably. This is a god who also blames the victims eternally, as a way to justify the horrific gore He puts them though.
One might picture it this way: After death the Christian comes into the presence of a God who quickly begins morphing into a sadistic vampire-like character. The Christian of course can’t hold up a cross, or use “holy water” to ward off God, instead, Christians must use the blood of Jesus to compel God to draw back from his angry wish to inflict eternal punishment (anger that God blames on the victim and that preachers insist we are asking for). God smells the aroma of Jesus’s blood and his irrational everlasting anger abates, so the Christian can get to live with this psychotic-like God forever. It's like the movie, “The Exorcist,” with the Christian driving back God's unquenchably angry desire for eternal vengeance by shouting: “The blood of Christ compels Thee!” God curses and screams, drawing back.
Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans "Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us" in heaven. (Romans 8:34, NIV) While Romans 14:12 tells us that each person is going to have to step up and "give account of himself to God" even though God already knows all the thoughts of our hearts (Romans 8:28). (Not that "heart" is necessarily being used as a scientific term by Paul, though it also can't be denied that in Paul's day many did believe that "hearts" had "thoughts.")
But returning to the image or metaphor of "Jesus at the right hand of God interceding for us" in heaven. Not to be coy, but how exactly am I to imagine the need for incessant "intercession?" Didn't Jesus suffer, "become sin," say "it is finished," then die and rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven? But after he got to heaven he was assigned yet another job, which is to "intercede for us" to the Father--who apparently is still highly prone to yet more anger? Or forgetfulness?
God: "That Christian down there is really starting to p*ss me off! I should let him slip into sin further, send him strong delusion that he might believe a lie, send in some lying spirits, and let Satan have his way with him--but save some for me to punish eternally."
Jesus: "Forgive him father. I died for him."
God: "Oh, yeah, I remember. O.K. But what about that other Christian right there who is..."
Jesus: "Forgive her father. I died for her."
God: "Oh, yeah, I remember. O.K."
And Jesus after 2,000 years and for the sixtrillionth time: "Forgive him father. I died for Him."
And God for the sixtrillionth time: "Oh, yeah, I remember. O.K."
Little wonder neither God nor Jesus has time to answer prayers since both now find themselves in a Catch-22 situation; one of eternal intercession:
"Blaugh, blaugh, blaugh: O.K."
"Blaugh, blaugh, blaugh: O.K."
Maybe this is why churches must repeat prayers over and over again in liturgical rotation from Sunday to Sunday. In a similar fashion advanced Alzheimer's patients must also hold to a repetitious stablized environment.
Or maybe Jesus at some point will get tired of begging God to have mercy, and turn toward the earth, and shout, QUIT sinning you guys! I've interceded enough! Give me a break! I need some "down time!"
Of course the idea of Jesus continually interceding for us also reminded me of something that St. Ansalem (sp?) wrote, that Jesus's love was so great he was going to "remain on the cross" until the last sinner was finally sprung "out of hell." THAT kind of interceding makes sense if God truly "is love." Because God and time are the best teachers.
I sometimes reflect on the way God/the Bible/a church/a theology blames its problems, difficulties and evils on humans. At the same time, we humans are never given any credit should we do something good. In short, if there is a problem, it's the fault of humans, but if a human being does something good, God alone gets the praise. People trained to view themselves in such an untterly "unworthy" manner will tend to assert the perfection of their particular religion's doctrines, and assert how utterly wrong everyone else is if they dare question the Bible or even their church's interpretation of the Bible. In effect, they learn never to trust themselves, and get sucked into trusting their church, and their church's particular doctrines and interpretations of its holy book, everyone else be damned.
Compare that with, say, a theology that teaches there is a spark of goodness already inside everyone, and people's "job" is to blow on that spark and brighten it further?
We come to God/the Bible/a church/a theology wanting our inmost pains healed, be they loneliness, fears, or uncertainties; and to gain protection and gain certitude; only to be handed in exchange a much larger and complex set of problems we couuld ever have bargained for, called "theology." (That's what's called the old "bait-and-switch.") It's like the case of a trusting child who depends on the adult to protect them and comfort them, only to be abused because the adult has much more serious, older and deeper issues than the child in his care. "God" and "theology" are complex reflections of the history of human mental agony--an agony steeped in a questionable form of "love."
The New Testament states that Jesus "became sin" [or was "treated as sin"] while on the cross. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Did Jesus become as hated as "sin" and/or "Satan" in God's eyes? Did God hate Himself? Did an infinite God wind up hating himself and released His full wrath on Himself, treating Himself as "sin," all because some of his finite creatures ate some forbidden fruit? Sounds a bit difficult to swallow.
Harry McCall (whose testimony appears in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists)
SOME MUSINGS OF OTHERS
I read in the Gospels that Jesus forgave the men who nailed him to the cross.
He even promised, “This day you shall be with me in paradise,” to a thief crucified next to him--a thief who addressed Jesus simply as a “man” rather than as “the son of God.”
Yet, today, this same Jesus cannot forgive my kindly old aunt and allow her to dwell in paradise, simply because her “beliefs” do not match Reverend So-and-So’s?
They say that when god was in Jerusalem he forgave his murderers, but now he will not forgive an honest man for differing with him on the subject of the Trinity.
They say that God says to me, “Forgive your enemies.” I say, “I do;” but he says, “I will damn mine.” God should be consistent. If he wants me to forgive my enemies he should forgive his. I am asked to forgive enemies who can hurt me. God is only asked to forgive enemies who cannot hurt him. He certainly ought to be as generous as he asks us to be.
When all has been considered, it seems to me to be the irresistible intuition that infinite punishment for finite sin would be unjust, and therefore wrong. We feel that even weak and erring Man would shrink from such an act. And we cannot conceive of God as acting on a lower standard of right and wrong.
Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland), “Eternal Punishment,” Diversions and Digressions of Lewis Carroll
It is strange to me that people can consign others to hell without a scruple. One only has to remember a toothache, not to wish it eternally on anyone.
Lucy Daugalis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Given headaches, backaches, toothaches, strains, scrapes, breaks, cuts, rashes, burns, bruises, PMS, fatigue, hunger, odors, molds, colds, yeast, parasites, viruses, cancers, genetic defects, blindness, deafness, paralysis, mental illness, ugliness, ignorance, miscommunications, embarrassments, unrequited love, dashed hopes, boredom, hard labor, repetitious labor, accidents, old age, senility, fires, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes, I can not see how anyone, after they are dead, deserves “eternal punishment” as well.
When I was a boy I heard tell of an old farmer in Vermont. He was dying. The minister was at his bedside--asked him if he was a Christian, if he was prepared to die. The old man answered that he had made no preparation, that he was not a Christian, that he had never done anything but work. The preacher said that he could give him no hope unless he had faith in Christ, and that if he had no faith his soul would certainly be lost.
The old man was not frightened. He was perfectly calm. In a weak and broken voice he said, “Mr. Preacher, I suppose you noticed my farm. My wife and I came here more than fifty years ago. We were just married. It was a forest then and the land was covered with stones. I cut down the trees, burned the logs, picked up the stones, and laid the walls. My wife spun and wove and worked every moment. We raised and educated our children--denied ourselves. During all these years my wife never had a good dress, or a decent bonnet. I never had a good suit of clothes. We lived on the plainest food. Our hands, our bodies are deformed by toil. We never had a vacation. We loved each other and the children. That is the only luxury we ever had. Now I am about to die and you ask me if I am prepared. Mr. Preacher, I have no fear of the future, no terror of any other world. There may be such a place as hell--but if there is, you never can make me believe that it’s any worse than old Vermont.”
Robert Ingersoll, “Why I Am An Agnostic”
Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, “casting” billions of people into a “lake of fire whose smoke rises up forever,” because they have offended your ego or disobeyed your rules. Love is not obedience, conformity, or submission. It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being.
Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist [Edited by E.T.B.]
Jesus loves you unconditionally, and if you do not believe it you will when you are in hell.
According to Christianity eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love. That’s the message we’re brought up with, believe or die. “Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options.”
Bill Hicks (comedian), Rant in E-minor, CD
As a tot I was given the usual terrifying mixed message: a) God is love; and b) If you don’t believe how much he loves you, you will stand in the corner for eternity.
James Lileks, “God Has Call Waiting,” Notes of a Nervous Man
Any religion that teaches there is only heaven or hell
is gonna be a haven for manic-depressives.
Do I believe in eternal punishment? Hell no. I always believed God could get his revenge in far less time.
God recently remodeled hell. He replaced the flames of eternal damnation with a microwave. Now, instead of taking forever, His revenge is complete in seconds. The only hard part is hanging on while the plate rotates.
An idea, which has terrified millions, claims that some of us will go to a place called Hell, where we will suffer eternal torture. This does not scare me because, when I try to imagine a Mind behind this universe, I cannot conceive that Mind, usually called “God,” as totally mad. I mean, guys, compare that “God” with the worst monsters you can think of--Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, that sort of guy. None of them ever inflicted more than finite pain on their victims. Even de Sade, in his sado-masochistic fantasy novels, never devised an unlimited torture. The idea that the Mind of Creation (if such exists) wants to torture some of its critters for endless infinities of infinities seems too absurd to take seriously. Such a deranged Mind could not create a mud hut, much less the exquisitely mathematical universe around us.
If such a monster-God did exist, the sane attitude would consist of practicing the Buddhist virtue of compassion. Don’t give way to hatred: try to understand and forgive him. Maybe He will recover his wits some day.
Robert Anton Wilson, “Cheerful Reflections on Death and Dying,” Gnoware, February 1999
Conservative Christian theologians teach that if you make the wrong choice and believe the wrong thing, you will be tortured for eternity in hell. That’s not a “choice,” it’s more like a man telling his girlfriend, do what you wish, but if you choose to leave me, I will track you down and blow your brains out. When a man says this we call him a psychopath.
William C. Easttom II [Edited by E.T.B]
Some Christians argue that eternal hell should be viewed as “God’s great compliment.” But if hell is a “compliment,” what does God do when he wants to “insult” someone?
Others argue that hell is a “loving provision,” a place where non-Christian souls are safe from the pain they would feel if they were exposed to God’s presence. Such apologists for “a kinder, gentler hell” seem to have forgotten their own Bible where it says Jesus visited hell and preached to the souls there. So apparently God can “tone down” His presence at will, becoming “Jesus” who mingled with “sinners and wine-bibbers” in Judea and Galilee, as well as preached to “souls in hell.” If Catholics and Lutherans are right, God can even put His “presence” in communion wafers. And most people can eat even a consecrated communion wafer without it burning their tongues (unless the person happens to have a strong allergic reaction to wheat).
By the way, those Christians who are willing to question the notion of a firey retributive hell lit by God’s jealousy and anger, should also take their questioning to the next level and ask why “hell” needs to be any worse than this world? We have pain and sickness here, we suffer here, but there is also room for healing, growth and education, and speaking of education, what better teachers could there be than God and time?
Primates often have trouble imagining a universe not run by an angry alpha male.
Any infinite Being who feels it is their duty to torture me for eternity, should switch to decaf.