Going to Hell?

on Nov 22 in Flotsum & Jetsam by

Over the past year, two friends had at it on my website about Christianity, evolution, Buddhism and the belief in eternal damnation. One of them, Kyle, a deeply religious man, believes in the existence of hell for those who die before or without embracing Jesus Christ. The other, Bob, was an atheist and a Buddhist by intellect and temperament. I say was, because as if to provoke us, Bob passed away suddenly this past August 7th. If you scour these online conversations, which Bob dubbed the Religioblogothan, you will find the two of them spent a great of time and energy discussing the afterlife, particularly because Kile’s view was, and I presume still is, that right now, because Bob died without accepting Jesus, he is engulfed in flames and writhing in eternal agony. (The online discussion begins on page 5, with my post dated April 29th.)

Last week, This American Life broadcast a one hour segment called Heretics, about former Bishop, now Reverend, Carlton Pearson, a charasmatic pentacostal preacher, who rose to fame in the 1990s — megachurch in Tulsa, darling of the Bushes, visiting with the likes of Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al, who suddenly decides there is no way a good or just deity would consign every human being who is not saved to eternal damnation (sounds pretty reasonable, huh?).

Here is the link to the show. I found it really moving. I’d never before heard a charasmatic or evangelical Christian preacher who, despite the yadda-yadda sweet talking, did not harbor a smoldering fury toward those outside his flock. Frankly, until Carlton Pearson, I never heard a charasmatic or evangelical Christian preacher who didn’t sound, at least on the subject of hell (and the rapture), a tad mad.

By the way, Bob left us quite an amazing legacy of writing that I’m slowly gathering into an online memorial.

One Comment

  • Administrator says:

    Comment by Kile:

    For someone who thinks that Christians are insane, you sure worry a lot about what we believe! I don’t know Rev. Pearson, but for someone to drift away from Christian theology is not unheard of, just as many have embraced Christianity after years of denying it. I just finished a book by one such person, Francis Collins, who wrote The Language of God. He’s a chemist and geneticist, and is the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. In the book he details his journey from atheism to Christianity, guided there every step of the way by science. (He’s still an evolutionist, by the way, just to show you how big our tent is!)

    As to our “smoldering fury,” which you’ve often invoked, I confess I remain mystified. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, and I’ve worshipped, sung, prayed, joked, played bass guitar, played volleyball, eaten, drank, and talked with countless fellow believers, from very conservative to very liberal, from Pentecostal to high-church Latinist, from pastors to janitors to musicians even, and not once have I seen evidence of any fury, smoldering or otherwise, toward anyone “outside.” Christians can be as petty or nasty as anyone else, I’m sure, but one thing a lifetime of observance and the reading of histories on the Crusades have taught me is that Christians usually save their worst for other Christians! But anyway, what is true is that we try to love God, try to love fellow believers, and try to love everyone, regardless of belief, as ourselves. We get memos on this straight from High Command every Sunday.

    If by fury–or madness–you mean simply that we trust our Lord’s teaching that salvation lies in him alone, then you’ll have to take that up with Jesus. We didn’t invent it. There are a lot of difficult things Jesus said, and I spent a long time telling Bob that picking and choosing just the easy stuff to believe was not for me. Others may amuse themselves doing that: Thomas Jefferson expurgated the New Testament (look ma! no miracles!), and the Jesus Seminar folks cash their church checks while waiting for Godot or reporters in front of ever-dwindling audiences. But no thanks. If I’m in for a dime, I’m in for a dollar.

    Jesus spoke a lot about the end times, both generally and for us as individuals, and he could be wincingly precise or maddeningly broad. Nobody has every bit of it figured out. But Christians believe it all, figure out what they can, trust the rest, and in the meantime love and serve Jesus and love and serve everyone else.

    Loving everyone no matter what: maybe that is madness.