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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When I said "I don't know if you're going to hell" what I meant was "probably yes"

Grumpy Cat: "Don't know, don't care." Image source.

Here's an interesting post from Peter Mosley: Why It Wasn’t Good Enough for This Ex-Christian to Say the Eternal Fate of Others Was up to God. It's about this:
Almost every time I ask a Christian if non-believers go to heaven or hell, they answer that it’s not up to them. It’s up to God.
Yeah, I used to say that sometimes. You know, if you go out and "do evangelism" and somebody's like "but ... is my grandma in hell?" you can say "well I don't know, only God can judge."

Of course, for me, "well I don't know, only God can judge" actually meant "Was she a Christian? No? Well... unfortunately, yeah, she's probably in hell. But I don't want to actually say that out loud."

Here's what Mosley has to say about this kind of answer:
My experience of talking to Christians indicates that, for many of them, passing the buck on to God is good enough. But should it be? Honestly — if you really, deeply care for your friend, wouldn’t you want to make sure that they weren’t going to spend eternity in torment, instead of just being resigned to a third party? Wouldn’t you want to make sure God let them into heaven with you?

That’s how I felt, eventually, as a Christian. “It’s up to God” wasn’t good enough. I wanted to know for sure. Did hell exist? Who was going there? Who wasn’t?

And I also asked myself an arguably more difficult question: “What does it say about me that I believe in and worship a God whose law indicates that this person I care about might go to hell forever? What kind of person would I have to be to even think to worship a God like that?”
I'm kind of startled, to be honest. He says "if you really, deeply care for your friend" but when I used that answer, of course I didn't care. It was just a way to sidestep a particularly nasty part of "the gospel." Grandma was just a data point in an apologetics argument. Just an objection that had to be overcome so this person could "get saved."

I already knew the answer: yeah, she was most likely in hell. But I could get away with saying "I don't know, only God can judge" because it's possible she had a secret deathbed conversion, or maybe she had prayed the sinner's prayer at some point in her life and God counted it, or maybe the narrow gate is wider than it seemed. I hoped the narrow gate was wider than it seemed, I hoped for some kind of Christian universalism, but based on what I knew of "God", it was very unlikely.

So anyway, now I'm wondering, are there Christians who use this answer to mean something different than "yeah probably but I don't want to actually say that out loud"?

I actually have encountered that- there was one time I was talking with some Chinese Christians about hell, and they seemed to be unaware that Christians were "supposed to" believe that people get into heaven based solely on whether they believed the right things about Jesus. (To be clear, I'm using the term "supposed to" here to make fun of the American evangelicals who think they know the correct definition of "Christianity" for all people for all time. In reality, Christianity manifests itself differently in different cultures.) So when we talked about hell, it was sort of hard to communicate because we had completely different assumptions about it.

When I asked them directly, what do you think the criteria is for going to heaven or hell, they said we don't know, only God can judge. So I asked them, do you think it's based on whether or not a person is a Christian? And they said no. It seemed that the idea was ridiculous to them. Of course hell would be based on if we treated people right or wrong in this life.

When I asked them, "so, do you think Christians should warn other people about hell?" they said yes, and I was surprised. But, upon further questioning, I realized they didn't mean warn people "you need to believe in Jesus, otherwise you'll go to hell" but to say to someone who's mistreating others "hey, there's going to be a judgment someday, better stop doing that."

I guess for them, "I don't know, only God can judge" meant "I'm not exactly sure how bad you have to be in order to get sent to hell. But it's definitely something along those lines." So was your grandma a pretty great person? Then God knows that. She's probably okay.

(I have no idea whether or not this is typical among Christians in China. But I would guess, since Christians are a minority and it's very common that a Chinese Christian's parents/ close family members/ friends are not Christians, it's much harder to sell the "all non-Christians go to hell" line here.)

Anyway, the other important point that Mosley makes is "What does it say about me that I believe in and worship a God whose law indicates that this person I care about might go to hell forever? What kind of person would I have to be to even think to worship a God like that?"

Yeah, I never questioned that.

Because I was taught that I was so sinful that I couldn't trust my own sense of what morality and justice are. Yeah, it may seem like it's awful to send the vast majority of the human population to hell, but a person would only think that because they're a sinner who's unable to understand what justice actually is.

The worst thing about this theory is that it's completely logically consistent. People deserve to go to hell. If they say, "no, we don't deserve to go to hell", well OF COURSE that's what they're going to say, they're sinners who deserve to go to hell.

We are so sinful we can't even understand how sinful we are, apparently. The only counterargument is "but... but... that's AWFUL!" and actually having a heart, and I was taught I can't trust my heart; it was in opposition to God's truth and God's justice.

So no, I didn't question. I didn't say, "Actually, it's not right for God to send my friends to hell." No. I really really really really didn't want my friends to go to hell, but I never once questioned that that's what God would have to do if they didn't believe the right things about Jesus. So I worked so hard at evangelism, and I prayed so hard for God to change their hearts so that they would realize they needed to become Christians.

In church, they said "God doesn't violate people's free will. He's not going to force them to become Christians." But if it was up to me, I would have totally violated EVERYONE'S free will. If I was able to, I would have, back then. If there was anything I could have said or done that would force my friends to become Christians, I would have done it. I tried everything.

My Christian friends told me, "God loves our friends even more than we do. God wants them to become saved even more than we do." (Which, on that topic, I also recommend this post by the Slacktivist. "One of the many problems with all of that was that it required us to believe that Bruce Springsteen is greater than God.") Apparently, God, who was sending our friends to hell, really really wanted not to. We said this to encourage each other when we tried so hard at evangelism and our friends remained stubbornly unsaved.

Apparently, God wanted my friends not to go to hell even more than I did. But God was sending them to hell anyway, and I believed that was right. I believed there could be no way out except for the loophole that Jesus made possible on the cross.

And I really think the worst part of this theology is when I have conversations with Christians who just CANNOT FATHOM why anyone would think it's offensive, unjust, unloving, or unreasonable to believe that everyone deserves to be tortured eternally. Evangelicalism has created a whole culture where "we're sinners" is the most important thing about people, and basic human compassion is "watering down the gospel" and being "soft on sin" and forgetting "God is holy."

I've said it before and I'll say it many more times in the future. Hell ruins everything about Christianity.

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