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Thursday, June 9, 2016

John Piper Said "There Are No Innocent Children" and I am Not the Least Bit Surprised

[content note: abusive theology that leads to child abuse, the idea that killing children could be moral, victim-blaming, and other nasty things]

So. Another day, another WTF-tastic tweet from John Piper:
Here's a screenshot, in case it gets deleted:

Tweet from @JohnPiper: "God does not punish innocent children for the sins of guilty parents. There are no innocent children. (Deuteronomy 5:9, Ezekiel 18:20)"
So John Piper said "There are no innocent children", in a way which seems to be addressing the question of why children suffer. And I'm like, yeah, of course John Piper said that. I mean, it's AWFUL and no one should ever say such horrible things about people made in the image of God, but yeah, not really that surprising. Anyone who's familiar with Piper's beliefs knows that Piper thinks "there are no innocent children."

Some Twitter users who read Piper's tweet were shocked. I am not shocked. Well, maybe a little bit shocked that he said it so directly and so publicly, but not shocked that he believes that. I used to believe that. In the Christianity I was taught, one of the foundational doctrines was that all people deserve to go to hell. (And in the Christianity I believe now, one of the most important aspects is taking a stand against this belief in hell. That is my number one criteria for choosing a church to attend: If somebody at the church said "there are no innocent children" or "we all deserve to go to hell", what would the reaction be? Would it be "well, yeah, because God is holy"? Would it be "well I don't necessarily agree with that, but yeah some Christians believe that and it's fine"? Or would there be a massive reaction from the church members- "OH DEAR GOODNESS, how could you even SAY that???!!!!" I would attend that church. You guys, I would attend that church so hard. ... So I guess twitter is my church.)

I was taught that it was important to memorize a short summary of what Christianity is all about- a "gospel presentation"- so we could "share" it with other people easily and get them to become Christians. And the very first part of that gospel presentation was Romans 3:10, "There is no one righteous, not even one." Yes. That is the very first assumption you need to accept in order for the rest of this Christian worldview to make sense. The idea that the most important quality people have is their sinfulness.

This "gospel presentation" was all about how, in our natural state, all people are dirty sinners who deserve to go to hell. The only way to not go to hell was to "accept Jesus", so then Jesus' righteousness would cover us. That way, God would not judge us based on who we really were and what we really deserve- because of course, we deserve to go to hell. But if we "accept Jesus"- which means believing a specific set of statements about Jesus and "really meaning it"- that's the loophole that gets us out of hell.

The church taught me that this is the essence of what Christianity is. That "gospel presentation" is the more important thing there is to know. You deserve hell, but you can get out of it by believing in Jesus. Now, of course there are a lot of other important things in Christianity- like God's love, and "love your neighbor as yourself"- but nothing can ever match the severity of the get-out-of-hell instructions. Hell is infinite, eternal torture. If you just tell someone "God loves you" but they don't understand that they need to believe certain things or else they will suffer for all eternity, it's useless.

Christians always try to argue "no no no, it's not about getting out of hell, it's about sharing God's love" but there's no way to believe that and be logically consistent. Hell is infinitely bad- it outweighs any other concern, any other command. In this ideology, getting people out of hell is the definition of love. So whatever lying, manipulation, or disrespect you force on people is moral, if it works- if you succeed in getting someone "saved."

I've said it before, and I'll say it many more times: Hell ruins Christianity. Completely ruins anything good about Christianity. And I'm so glad I don't believe in hell anymore.

Anyway, because of this whole thing about hell and how everyone deserves to go there, the idea of being a "good person" was viewed with suspicion in the Christian culture I belonged to. A good person? But no one is righteous, remember Romans 3:10? If someone believes people can be "good", then they might believe that people can earn their way into heaven, and that would be a very bad thing to believe.

I remember one time, in a bible study group in college, someone made a comment about how "it's a common misconception that 'good people go to heaven.' Well, actually, technically its IS true. But there are no good people." That was the kind of thing we believed. People were basically bad, and anyone who says otherwise should be viewed with the highest suspicion, because they're probably trying to spread false teaching.

So let's see how this obviously-terrible teaching turns even worse when it comes to the question of suffering. Or rather, the question "why do bad things happen to good people?" Well, like I said, there are no "good people." Everyone deserves to go to hell, remember? So whatever terrible thing happened to you, you totally deserved it.

I don't believe that crap anymore, but even now, when I say things like "disasters happen in the world, and innocent people die- why doesn't God stop it?" I still feel a little ... weird about using the term "innocent people." Because I used to believe there are no innocent people. (Even though the bible often refers to people as "blameless" or "righteous.") We all deserve to go to hell. Now, when bad things happen to people, it's not because of any specific sin they committed, it's not because they're more guilty than other people- it's just because as a human, you deserve to have bad things happen to you. Those of us who aren't suffering should count ourselves lucky- we're not getting what we deserve. (Piper has made many horrifying and heartless statements like this in the aftermath of various horrible disasters.) That's literally what I believed, back then. When good things happen, it's a gift from God that you don't deserve. When bad things happen, it's justice.

I have heard the same idea expressed in this way: "God didn't have to wake you up this morning." This gets said in the context of thanking and praising God. In other words, if you had died in your sleep, that would have been totally fine and nobody would have a right to complain to God about it. Or, similarly, the idea that "God doesn't owe us anything" (which John Piper said in his video explaining why "it's right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases").

So Piper takes this idea- that we all deserve to suffer and go to hell- and says it applies to children too. (Err... in this 2010 video, Piper says infants who die go to heaven. So... I'm guessing he believes they still deserve hell, but God lets them get out of it because there has to be some kind of loophole, just like those of us with more developed brains get the loophole of "accepting Jesus" even though we all deserve hell. Wow, isn't God nice?) Now, some Christians (who still get counted as "Real True Christians") believe that, until some "age of accountability," children are innocent, and if they die they will automatically go to heaven. In the church culture I grew up in, there wasn't a clear "stance" on the "age of accountability" thing. I understood that some Christians believed in it and some did not, and it wasn't one of those issues that would call someone's status as a "real Christian" into question. BUT ever since I was little, I was taught that I deserved to go to hell and that I NEEDED to believe in "the gospel." So... yeah in practice, no "age of accountability", I guess.

The bible does not say there is an "age of accountability." (Well, the bible doesn't say that people who die without having ever agreed with certain statements about Jesus go to hell... so of course it doesn't give any parameters about the time periods during their their life when they should agree with those statements...) The closest thing I've ever found is 1 Kings 14, where it is prophesied that King Jeroboam and his whole family will die, because Jeroboam didn't obey God. None of his family members will be buried, except for his child, because "in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel." If you want, you can pretend that this passage says that there is a certain "age of accountability" and if a child dies before that age, then they go to heaven automatically. In much the same way that Christians pretend Psalm 139:13 says, "life begins at conception and abortion is always wrong."

The Slacktivist has said this about the "age of accountability" belief:
Their doctrines of original sin and Hell require that every human person is damned unless they pray the prayer of salvation. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” ...

But that seems unfair to small children who are not yet capable of understanding death, and therefore are incapable of believing in their hearts that God hath raised Jesus from the dead. And it seems even more unfair to even younger children who have not yet learned to talk and who are, therefore, not yet able to confess with their mouths unto salvation. For God to condemn such small children to Hell for an eternity of conscious torment seems monstrously cruel. It’s required by their doctrine, but they refuse to accept it. The doctrine says it must be so, but if that’s what God is like then God doesn’t seem to deserve worship, love or obedience. The character of God is supposed to be revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and it seems impossible to imagine Jesus Christ tormenting an innocent baby too young to speak.

That line of argument leads them to believe in an age of accountability, beneath which young children are exempt from the automatic eternal damnation awaiting their parents and older siblings. That line of argument, followed a bit further, would also completely destroy their extra-biblical idea of Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment, but sadly these folks balk at that and refuse to follow the trajectory of their own argument any further.
And here's another problem with the "age of accountability": so, let's say the age is 12. That means that we should kill children before they reach the age of 12, in order to guarantee they go to heaven and are happy for all eternity. If they live past 12, then their eternal fate will depend on whether they "accepted Jesus" or not, and only a small minority of people make the cut (remember, it doesn't count if they "say" they're Christians- no, they have to be "real Christians"). Hell is eternal. If you kill a kid when they're 12, let's say at most you're taking away 90 years they could spend having a happy life on earth. But when you look at infinity, the math tells you that it is certainly worth it to take away those 90 years in order to guarantee an eternity of happiness. Right?

You just can't argue with the math. The ideology they've set up leads to the conclusion that it's moral to kill children. There's no way around it. [content note on this link: it's about children who were murdered] I mean, of course they'll say you shouldn't kill children because then you'll go to hell, but this does NOTHING to address the fact that, in their belief system, it IS better to be murdered as a child than to live a long, happy, non-Christian life. What if you love the child so much that you're willing to go to hell so they don't have to?

Ugh. That's just disgusting.

And it's sort of, uh, interesting how this relates to abortion. All the religious pro-life people I've ever encountered believe that "aborted babies" automatically go to heaven. So, in that case, isn't abortion the best thing that could happen to them? Why let them be born and take the risk that they'll never become the right type of Christian, and then go to hell?

But let's get back to the Christians who believe that there are no "innocent children." This thinking gives rise to a parenting philosophy that's based on parent and child fighting for control. (This is promoted by Christians like James Dobson and Michael Pearl. I guess we can give Dobson credit for being "less extreme"- he doesn't advocate regularly hitting infants with a stick, like Pearl does. But the underlying philosophy is the same.) When a small child misbehaves, it's seen as a deliberate rebellion against the parents. Children are born sinful, so of course they just want to be as bad as possible and see if their parents will let them get away with it. Parents are told they MUST punish children for every little "sin"- even for the "sin" of obeying in a way that's not "cheerful" enough. There are no excuses- children shouldn't get away with "sin" because they're tired/ hungry/ not developed enough to know how to communicate and handle their emotions.

This leads to child abuse, because OF COURSE IT DOES. Even parents who genuinely love their children and are trying to do what's best for them will hit their children, withhold food, emotionally abuse, etc, if they buy into this parenting ideology. Children have died as a direct result of Michael Pearl's teachings.

I also believe that this "no one is righteous" belief goes hand-in-hand with victim-blaming. If you believe that eternal torture in hell is a reasonable punishment for any little sin ever committed, it's pretty easy to believe that rape is a reasonable punishment for drinking too much, or wearing "immodest" clothes, or doing "impure" things like kissing. It's pretty easy to believe that an unarmed black man deserved to be shot by police because he was doing something illegal, or had smoked weed in the past, or wasn't respectful enough. Really, we all deserve to go to hell. We all deserve to be raped and shot. Really, these victims deserved worse. Nothing to see here folks, no injustice to address.

In short, believing that everyone deserves to go to hell completely warps one's understanding of justice. It means every possible terrible thing that happens to someone is deserved- if the universe were just, we would all be in hell right now, but thank God that we at least get a little time in our earthly lives to experience some happiness before justice kicks in. It means blaming victims rather than showing compassion and fighting for justice- in this case, I'm using the ACTUAL definition of justice, which includes helping victims. (The biblical definition of justice is "God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble, he has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." Please note that I'm using the term "the biblical definition of" to make fun of Christians who claim there is a "biblical definition of marriage." [I don't know if they've noticed, but the bible is not a dictionary...] There is no "biblical definition of justice" either- but that verse I quoted is from the bible and it matches my understanding of what justice is.)

It's a horrific ideology. It's not loving, it's not Christ-like, and it treats people- who bear the image of God- like they're worthless. The truth is, we don't deserve to go to hell just as a default consequence of being human. We deserve happiness and love and pleasure. We don't deserve tragedy. We don't deserve to die. We don't deserve abuse.

Jesus said, "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." John Piper's theology is about telling "the least of these" that they deserve to suffer and go to hell, and it leads to violence and abuse directed at "the least of these." Any God worthy of worship would be disgusted at that.

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Related: John Piper Said "Sex Belongs to Christians" and I am Not the Least Bit Surprised

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