A friend once earnestly invited me to his very fundamentalist church. I was a Christian at the time but, according to his church, I was not the right kind of Christian and was destined for hell. He said to me, “With the stakes so high, doesn’t it make sense to come check it out?”
He had a point, but I declined.
The Internet can leave the truth-seeker feeling pretty hopeless. For every website that says one thing, you can find another that says the opposite. How can you find the truth in over a billion websites of he-said/she-said?
The last three posts in this series suggested some ideas, but now I offer what I believe is the most important and reliable test:
It has been fun to speculate for the last three posts about the near future, when reliable, unobtrusive lie detectors will be everywhere in our society. However, the sad truth is that most people do not care about the truth.
Throw whatever technology you want into the mix, and we’re still human beings, with most of us bearing emotional wounds whose reopening we want to prevent at all costs.
Here at the public library, I just overheard a remarkable conversation.
A middle-aged woman with a couple of kids and a slightly older gentleman were sitting at adjacent computers. The woman was earnestly explaining that the Church does not consist of a building, but of people. She also said something I didn’t catch about the Rapture (the belief that when Jesus returns all true believers will be taken up to meet him in the clouds).
The man disagreed and said, “What I’ve been told is…”
Sometimes I’m tempted to upgrade to YouTube Red so I don’t have to watch all the ads, but then an ad comes along that changes my life. Well, almost.
Yesterday, a video that I can’t even remember was preceded by an ad I’ll never forget. Maybe you’ve seen it, too. It opened with a scruffy-looking man in his back yard saying, “Yeah, so this is my back yard…” except this wasn’t just any back yard. It was mostly a gigantic swimming pool, sited behind a luxurious home in Beverly Hills. The next five and a half minutes consisted of the scruffy man, Tai Lopez, nonchalantly taking me on a tour of his uber-house while promising to reveal the Three Secrets of Success.
He was disarmingly casual, not even sure how many bedrooms the house had (18, or was that the number of bathrooms?), nor which of his many cars were in this particular property’s garage at the moment (they turned out to be the Ferrari and the “Lambo”).
I admit that I watched the whole thing. Even after all these years of knowing that wealth can’t buy happiness, I still wish I were rich. Call me irrational.
Last time, I promised this post would consider the purpose of hell. It has been so long since that promise that some of my readers may think that I have actually gone there, but fear not: I have not and neither will you.
Alive and well so far, let’s turn to the cheerful subject of why hell is so important to evangelical Christianity.
1) Without hell, Jesus’ death on the cross is meaningless.
Several years ago, one of my daughters, who was a Christian, said she was worried about going to hell. At the time, I was still a Christian too, but, in the midst of my four-year period of deep questioning, there were some things I had figured out. I assured her, “Don’t worry. The doctrine of hell is ridiculous. A just God would not punish anyone for an infinite amount of time for sins committed in this lifetime’s comparative blink of an eye. Infinite punishment for finite sins makes no sense.”
She immediately saw the truth of my argument and stopped worrying about hell.
There are some beliefs that are so morally reprehensible that to dignify them with even a one-word response would only add to their offense, yet so common among otherwise decent people that one feels compelled spend a thousand words refuting them.
The list of such beliefs includes the conviction that African-Americans were better off enslaved in the South than left to their own devices in Africa; the assertion that poor people are just lazy; and the cultural attitudes behind the “honor killing” of rape victims.
Akin to these, but even higher on the list, is the belief advanced by no less a Christian luminary than C.S. Lewis, that “the gates of hell are locked on the inside” because the souls confined there for eternity are in rebellion against God and do not wish to be with him in heaven.