The True Faith: Liberal and Conservative Christianity


Jerry_falwell_2There’s an area where most liberal/ progressive Christians and I would seem to be in agreement. And that’s about how screwed up it is for the Christian Right to spin their version of Christianity as the one true version of the faith.

When the Christian Right talks about Christianity as if their practice of it (bigoted, theocratic, intolerant, sex-phobic, hateful to women, hateful to queers, hateful to anyone who isn’t them, yada yada yada) is THE Christianity, the only Christianity, the Christianity that counts… well, the liberal and progressive Christians I know get almost as mad about it as I do. Maybe even madder.

But here’s the thing:

Liberal Christians do exactly the same thing.

And it bugs me almost as much.

Jesus_healing_the_sickI can’t count the number of times liberal/ progressive Christians have said things like, “All that hate and hellfire talk — that’s not Christian. That’s not the true message of Jesus. The true message of Jesus is love and compassion and tolerance. What the Christian Right is doing and saying — that’s not true Christianity.”

And you know what?

They’re just as full of it as the Christian Right.

Quakers_support_gay_marriageI mean, obviously I agree with them about the actual issues. I agree that their view of the “true” message of Christ is a better one. By several orders of magnitude.

I just don’t think it’s a more Christian one.

And I don’t think there’s any basis for saying that it is.

BiblefireThe Christian Left doesn’t have anything more to back up their claim of being the true faith than the Christian Right does. Sure, they can quote chapter and verse — but the Christian Right can quote chapter and verse, too. It’s not like it’s hard to find messages of hellfire and judgment in the Bible, or even in the New Testament, or even in the Gospels. When I was debating a liberal Christian over a similar issue, I did a quick flip through the Bible, and in just the first half of the first book of the four Gospels, I found six separate references to wrath, the hell of fire, the destruction of hell, and judgment day. Four of them in Jesus’s own words. It took me about ten minutes to find it. It’s plentiful, and it’s front and center. The Christian Right has every bit as much Scriptural support for their hellfire-and-judgment version of Christianity as the Christian Left has for their love-and-tolerance version. Sure, they cherry-pick the parts of Scripture that support their vision and ignore the parts that don’t… but isn’t that exactly what progressive Christians do when they ignore the wrath and damnation stuff?

Cherries_1Now, obviously I’m not saying that progressive Christians shouldn’t set aside the judgment-and-damnation stuff. The judgment-and-damnation stuff is beyond fucked up — it’s essentially a form of mind control that exists to squelch questioning and dissent — and it deserves to be set aside. And to be fair, most progressive Christians acknowledge that they’re cherry-picking. They’re not pretending to take every word of the Bible as literal truth while ignoring the parts they don’t agree with, the way the fundamentalists do. And that’s not an insignificant difference.

HeartBut when you ask progressive Christians why they believe their version of Christianity is the true one, the one Jesus wants us to have, when it comes right down to it all they can say is, “I feel it in my heart,” or, “That’s just what I believe.” They can quote chapter and verse to back up their ideas about what Jesus wants from them, and they can point to what does and doesn’t work in the world to back up their ideas about… well, about what does and doesn’t work in the world. But like all religion, their belief that they’re doing what God wants them to do ultimately comes down to the conviction of faith.

Jesus_fish_eating_darwin_fishThe problem with that, of course, is that the Christian Right is every bit as convinced that their version of Christianity is the true one. Their faith in a hostile, bigoted, pissily judgmental Christ who’s obsessed with who’s fucking who and how… it’s every bit as strong as liberal Christians’ faith in a gentle, loving, forgiving Christ who just wants us to treat one another with compassion. Their conviction is every bit as powerful; they feel it in their hearts every bit as passionately. And they have every bit as much evidence — which is to say, ultimately none — to back up their claim.

FireAnd I think progressive Christians need to cop to this. When the Christian Right acts like evil theocratic bigots, it’s much too easy to respond by saying, “Well, that’s not true Christianity, is it?” Yes, it is. The Christian Right are Christians, just as much as you are. And their hellfire and judgment version of Christianity is a huge part of the reality and the history of your faith. It’s not like they’re some weird obscure sect that believes Jesus is a space alien or something — they’re probably the largest and most politically powerful religious group in this country.

CrossBy all means, say that the Christian Right is wrong. Say that their vision of the world is hateful and bigoted and out of touch with reality and not one that you share or care to. Say that their version of Christianity isn’t the only one, even. Say any of that, and I’ll happily back you and stand by you. But don’t say that they’re not true Christians. They are Christians, by any reasonable definition of the word. You don’t have the one true version of the faith any more than they do.

Comments

  1. says

    A skeptic friend of mine once commented “You can believe in the Old Testament or the New Testament. You can’t truly believe in and practice both of them at once because they contradict each other.” I think he’s right. Reading your article today, I think it all came into perspective more.
    The conservative Christians follow the ethics of the Old Testament and the liberal Christians take the ethics of the New Testament. But, to be honest, it’s the New Testament and the Gospels of Jesus that really teach what Jesus wanted people to believe. So perhaps the liberals are more on with the “Jesus = love” message being closer to “true” Christianity.
    People say that Catholics don’t read the Bible. And it’s true that Catholics read the Bible less than other Christians (at least in my congregation and parochial school). However, when they do read it, they read the Gospels. And I always thought, secretly, that that was REAL Christianity. That the old testament was obsolete and the rest of the new testament was a bunch of jerk-offs “interpreting” what Jesus said. I always put more creedence in the words of Jesus (that were always printed in red in the Catholic Bibles we had in school) than in those other guys talking. I always thought that if we just follow the words of Jesus, then we would be real Christians. We didn’t need the rest of the Bible. I never understood why the teachers would put such weight on the writings of other people that weren’t Jesus. Who cares what they said!? If Christians follow the word of Jesus, why did we care about what some other guy wrote about what Jesus “meant”. If Jesus had “meant” something else with what he said, wouldn’t he have said it?
    Maybe I was on to something. *shrug*.

  2. says

    “The conservative Christians follow the ethics of the Old Testament and the liberal Christians take the ethics of the New Testament. But, to be honest, it’s the New Testament and the Gospels of Jesus that really teach what Jesus wanted people to believe.”
    I’ve heard that a lot: that progressive Christians pay more attention to Jesus’s own words and Jesus’s message, instead of the horrible and outdated Old Testament stuff.
    The problem with that is that there’s plenty of hellfire, damnation, and judgement messages in the New Testament as well. Like I said in the post, in just a quick flip through the first half of Matthew, I found six separate references to wrath, the hell of fire, the destruction of hell, and judgment day. Four of them in Jesus’s own words. The contradictions in the Bible aren’t just between Old and New Testaments; they’re throughout the text.

  3. Donna Gore says

    This is what makes me laugh about religion. ALL religions INSIST that
    “Our religion is the TRUE one.”
    “Our god is the REAL one.”
    “WE are the chosen people, we will go to heaven, and all those who don’t agree with us, and believe what we believe, will go to hell.”
    Not just among religions, but even within one religion, the various sects.
    They can’t possibly all be right, can they? More likely that they are all wrong.
    A couple of times a bible thumper has tried to convert me with this line of speech, and I just said, “Well, that’s what they all say. Why should I believe you any more than the rest of them?”

  4. Laura Deal says

    The thing is there are (according to my search on a web bible thing so I could be off by a bit, but I used the NIV to get the least liberal count possible) 12 mentions of hell or hellfire in the gospels. 7 of them are in Matthew, so your flipping through the first book would have understandably given you the impression that there were a lot more. There are 72 mentions of Love in the gospel. Most (38) of the mentions of Love are in John, who has no mentions of Hell (according to my search) and John was the only Gospel writer who actually might have heard Jesus speak. So one wouldn’t have to be too careful in picking cherries to come up with the belief that Christ’s message was more about love than about hell. Of course in his off hours Jesus might have sat around saying “Boy I hate fags and solidiers who fight in wars protecting fags and I really hope some asswipe goes to their funerals and torments their families, ’cause that would be awesome. But going with my gut, I’m going to guess he didn’t.
    Of course all of this is based on belief. That’s why I call my faith, faith and not hard science. This is why most liberal Christians like me don’t think religion should be taught in the schools. Many if not most of us believe that the gospels as well as the rest of the bible are up for interpretation and therefore it is not appropriate to push ones views one someone else. Of course this means that people don’t always know that we are Christians and therefore think most Christians are intollerant loudmouths because well they are loudmouths and therefore they get heard.
    Saying that you don’t think Phelps or Falwell are preaching or even following Christ’s teachings is not the same as saying you have the one true version of the faith any more than saying Britney’s Spears first marriage was a joke means that you think that your way of being married is the only way to be married. There are probaby many ways of being married that you wouldn’t want to practice that you can still respect and consider good marriages. But there are some marriages that you would probably consider bad marriages.
    Marriage like religious belief requires a leap of faith. Something like half of all marriages break up and many that remain together are far from happy, so what makes you think your marriage will be different? Well, you chose your partner with a lot of thought. You looked at the evidence, but you also went with your gut feeling. Are you 100% sure your marriage will last? Of course not, but you feel good about your chances because unlike Britney Spears you made the decision as a thinking adult and spent time making your decision. Still, it takes a lot of faith.
    I spent a lot of time considering becoming a Christian. It was never pushed upon me. As a child I never went to church until I wanted to go and I stopped when I didn’t. My dad was an athiest and my mom only went to church when I suggested we go. As an adult I had several long conversations with the pastor of the church I was thinking about joining before I was willing to call myself a Christian. We read the bible together and discussed the parts I had problems with. Since the bible is a collection of different writings from different times and with different authors, it makes sense to me to “cherry pick” Even with the Gospels, I understand that these were written a long time ago by men who had their own viewpoint and biases, 3 of whom didn’t witness any of the events they wrote about. I’m sure they did their best and taken together, they give me an idea of what Christ may have said and done. Having been misquoted in the Washington post by a reporter who wanted to make me look good and tape recorded our discussion, I have no doubt that some of what is written in the gospels is not entirely accurate. So I take it as part of the puzzle and go with my gut on the rest.
    After all when I see a cherry tree I don’t blindly grab whatever I can reach and stuff it in my mouth. I look at the cherries and choose the ones that look like they will taste good and be heathly. I don’t eat the leaves or twigs. I might be wrong about some of the cherries I pick. The bright red one might turn out to be sour, but I’m pretty damn sure the green one with a worm hole in it wasn’t going to be any good.
    I don’t claim that my view on Christianity is the only true one. None of the liberal Christians I know or read claim that. (and remember I lived in Texas for two years so this isn’t just the Bay Area I”m talking about. Many if not most of us (I have no idea what the percentage is don’t even believe that Christianity is the only true faith. A lot of us believe there are many paths to God and even people who aren’t religious can get there (just add an o in the middle if it makes you more comfortable.
    I do however hold to the belief that Phelps is not following the teachings of Christ. He may be trying to, but that’s in his heart and frankly I don’t have the stomach to look in there. So he may or may not be a Christian, it depends on your definition. What he preaches is not Christianity in my opinion and since there are zero mentions of homosexuality in the Gospels and Christ came out against stoning adulterers I do have somethiing to back up my opinion.
    Frankly I don’t see how that’s “exactly the same thing” as what the religious right does.

  5. Laura Deal says

    Oh and PLEASE do not respond to my comment with a post. For some reason, and I can’t really explain why, it makes me beyond uncomfortable, like all my skin has been ripped off and hung up on the line. I know that wasn’t your intention either of the other times you did so, but now that you know that’s how I feel, I’m sure you’ll respect my feelings, even if they don’t make sense to you.
    Thanks

  6. says

    Hi, Laura. I don’t have time today to reply to everything you wrote here, but I do want to reply right away to the main point.
    I’m not saying that liberal/ progressive Christians claim that they have the one and only true version of what God wants. I actually think Donna’s mistaken about that; plenty of individual religious belevers think there are many different paths to knowing God. (Ingrid was actually taught that very thing in Catholic school; although based on the Pope’s recent statements about non-Catholic religions, I don’t know if that’s going to be taught in Catholic schools much longer.) And there are even a handful of religions (the Bahai, for instance) that have this ecumenicalism as a central tenet. I’m not saying that liberal/ progressive Christians are saying, “We have the one and only true faith.”
    What I think many liberal/ progressive Christians DO say is, “That, over there, the hellfire and judgment stuff of the Christian Right — that’s definitely NOT the true faith..” They may not be saying, “I know for 100% sure what God wants,” but they are saying, “I may not know everything that God wants, but I’m positive that he doesn’t want THAT. THAT’S not real Christianity. Whatever the true faith may be, it doesn’t include that.”
    And that’s the problem I have with cherry-picking (well, one of the problems I have with cherry-picking — I’ll try to get into that more when I have a little time). The same parts of the Bible that you feel in your gut are wrong are the same parts that the Christian Right feels in their gut are right. (And vice versa — although, like I said, the fundamentalists don’t admit that they reject any parts of the Bible, and that IS a significant difference.) And even serious, hardcore Biblical scholars can’t have any certainty about which parts of the Gospels Jesus really said, or indeed whether he said any of it at all. (Or whether Jesus really is the divine son of God and his words are the word of God.)
    My problem with cherry-picking doesn’t come when people say, “This part of the text I find inspiring and true, this part I find messed-up and disturbing, this other part I just find baffling.” I think that’s completely appropriate. My problem comes when people take the step from saying, ‘These are the parts that work for me,” to saying, “These are the parts that work for God. These are the parts that God really meant, and those other parts he didn’t really say, or didn’t really mean, or he was misquoted or quoted out of context.”
    Because the gut feeling that makes liberal/ progressive Christians spit out some cherries as wormy and rotten is the same gut feeling that makes the Christian Right find those exact same cherries sweet and nutritious.
    And my main point, which I seem to have gotten sidetracked from, is this: What the Christian Right practices may be fucked up — okay, it is fucked up — but it is Christianity. It is a belief that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, who was born, died, and rose again to save humanity. And I think there’s a significant difference between saying, “That is a seriously fucked-up way to be a Christian,” and saying, “That’s not Christian.”

  7. Laura Deal says

    I think it depends on how you define Christianity. If you think that belief in Christ makes you a Christian then it’s hard to say who is because nobody knows if someone like Fallwell truly believes or is using faux faith to gain power. I’d guess that crazy ass as he is Phelps is a true believer because seriously, where’s the gain for him otherwise. But if you believe that being a Christian means that you do your best to follow Christ’s teachings then Phelps isn’t a Christian because what he is doing is not supported by anything in the gospel. Yes there are mentions of Hell, but it never says anything about gays and it is really clear that judgement is not ours.
    I sort of line up that Phelps may be a Christian, but what he does isn’t Christianity. Belief may make you Christians, but your actions may still be un-Christian. It may be a fine line, but there is a line there between saying “He’s not a Christian and “That’s not Christianity” or “That’s not Christian” Of course all of this is opinion, but nobody prefaces every opinion by saying “This is only my opinion.” Now if I was teaching a class to children, or trying to impose my will on the world, that would be one thing, but if I’m having a conversation or blogging or writing an essay I reserve the right to say “That is not Christian”
    Of course you have the right to be angry about it, but I’m really confused as to why you are.
    I think it’s valid to point out that actions counter to everything or almost everything recorded about what Christ said or did are not Christian. Some things are grey anyone who reads the gospels with any sort of rational thought would have to a agree that he is pro loving your neighbor and anti- judging others (which I in order to convince myself I’m not a total hypocrite, I define, with I hope some good reason, as different from having an opinion about someone. Having an opinion is thinking “He’s a jerk” but judging assumes I have right to sentence them, “He is a jerk and deserves to rot in hell and I will punish him”. In fact many if not most of the time Jesus gets at all wrath and hellish it is about those like the Pharisees or scribes or other officers of the temple who are pretending that judgement is theirs and not Gods’. This isn’t randomly picking things this is getting the central theme, based on what is written over and over and putting aside parts not because they make me feel uncomfortable but because the balance of evidence points the other way. That is how I would read any interview or historical report. If I read one essay that had a line where Queen Elizabeth said she felt England would be better off as a colony of Spain, I would figure that author had it wrong because that goes against what she is quoted as saying in so many other sources. Of course I wouldn’t know for 100% sure, but I’d be pretty damn sure I was right.

  8. says

    This has been a slightly more crazed week than usual, and haven’t had time to go through the text of the Bible carefully enough to reply thoroughly to your comments. (The one thing on that note that I will say is that a word search through the Gospels for the word “hell” won’t reveal the whole picture, since many of the “hell and damnation” verses use word like “wrath” and “judgment” instead of “hell.”) I’ll try to find some time in the next couple of days to do that. (No promises, though — the new Harry Potter book comes out this weekend, and for the next few days I’m planning to disappear into Obsessed Geek Land.)
    But in a way, that’s kind of beside the point anyway. I’m not sure how to say this, and if I’m misinterpreting your intent here I apologize. But it seems to me as if the arguments you’re making are exactly what I was talking about in my post — namely, trying to prove that the progressive/ liberal interpretation of Scripture is the right one, the one that Scripture best supports and that God would want people to have, and that people who interpret it radically differently are just wrong.
    And my point isn’t that the liberal interpretation is wrong and the Christian Right interpretation is right. My point is that I find the whole “our interpretation of Scripture and what God wants is the right one and here’s why” exercise to be very problematic. I find it problematic because:
    People on the Christian Right can quote chapter and verse right back to support their interpretation — and they have plenty of chapters and verses to do so;
    People on the Christian Right have just as much faith and feel just as strongly in their gut that their interpretation is right and the progressive interpretation is twisted and wrong;
    Nobody on either side can be sure which chapters and verses are Jesus’s real words, since there’s no real consensus on which parts of the Gospels Jesus really said, or indeed whether he said any of it at all;
    And perhaps most importantly,
    Nobody on either side can be sure that God exists, that Jesus is his divine son, and that the words of Jesus are the words of God.
    Thus rendering the whole question of what he did or didn’t say… not moot exactly, but with no more authority than any other philosopher or social critic.
    I obviously agree whole-heartedly that a world view of love, peace and compassion is a far, far better one than one of bigotry, hatred and judgment. I just have a problem with citing God as an authority to back up that position.
    Which leads me (well, it doesn’t, but I couldn’t think of a better segue) to one of the basic problems I have with saying “They’re not truly Christian” to mean “I think their world-view is evil and messed up.” And that’s that it equates the word “Christian” with “good” or “good person.” I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing. But that’s a very common usage of the word — “That was a very Christian thing you did,” “That’s not very Christian of him,” etc. And I think arguing that someone isn’t really Christian because they think and act in terrible ways plays right into that. Saying, “He can’t be Christian, he’s not a good person” is like saying “All Christians are good people.” Indeed, it’s like saying that to be Christian IS to be a good person, by definition.
    Which, in addition to being insulting, is a theory that history really, really doesn’t bear out.
    I think it’s much better for the word “Christian” to be a simple descriptive term for the basic tenets of the faith, and the people who share those basic tenets. If it isn’t, then it either becomes a value judgment word meaning “good person,” or the definition becomes ammunition for people within the faith to throw at each other in an attempt to define each other out of the faith.

  9. Laura Deal says

    I wasn’t quoting chapter and verse to make my point. I also wasn’t defining Christian as being a good person. I was making the point that if the the general theme found in a book is about love, even if there are mentions of hell and punishment ( especially if most of the mentions of punishment are in rants against the fundamentalists of his time for getting obsessed with the details and missing the message of love), I feel that the basic tenet of that book is love and not getting obsessed with the details and missing the message of love.
    I’m not saying line 47 is right because I like it and it fits what I already think and line 58 is wrong because it squicks me and contradicts my point. I’m saying that if most of the lines are “Yay Love & Play Nice” then the message is probably “”Yay Love & Play Nice”
    Jesus isn’t quoted as saying “Alas for you Heathens and Sodomites” he reportedly said “Alas for you Lawyers and Pharisees” and by lawyers he wasn’t addressing those practicing Roman Law, he was talking about those who spent their time interpreting Judaic laws. He was basically railing against the Religious Right of his time. So I think I’ve got a pretty good reason for thinking the people who are most like the people Jesus railed against are not following the basic tenets of his teachings.
    To me, in the argument over whether some people are true Christians or not, has nothing to do with whether God exists. If a Christian is defined as someone who follows the teachings of Christ (as well as they can be defined, which is the tricky part) then whether or not the teachings are real or fairy tales has nothing to do with deciding if you think someone is a Christian or not. That said, yes of course both the religious right and the religious left are going on the assumption that God exists. But debating what a Christian is while assuming God exists is not the same as demanding that others agree that God exists. So unless you are saying that believing in God, since God’s existence can’t be proven, means that you can’t have opinions or debates about what it means to follow Christ’s teachings on God, I’m not sure what your point is here.
    And it really has nothing to do with saying only Christians are good people. I mean if I said Dr. Laura isn’t a true doctor because she has no doctoral degree. I’m not saying only doctors are smart and have the right to give out advice or even that all doctors are smart. I’m also not saying she’s not a doctor because I disagree with her. I’m saying that by my definition of doctor, she is not a doctor and it pisses me off that she uses the title to add gravitas to what she says. Because even if it shouldn’t make people take her more seriously, even if you don’t like doctors, you have to admit that in our culture it makes people take her more seriously.
    I don’t think that if you ignore the basic tenet of something that you can claim to be a follower of it. I read the gospel as being about love and taking care of each other (and by the sheer numbers, the gospels back me up on this, while Hell doesn’t cover all the wrathy, torment parts, Love doesn’t cover all the tending, kind, honor etc. parts and actually the search engine I used did have links to related words and the first few ones I checked took me to the same passages, which is not scientific, but it’s close to the method you used, so I excused myself for not being more thorough. ) The bulk of Jesus’s words as quoted in the gospels are about kindness and caring. Therefore I would consider that the basic tenet. There is nothing that says “go forth and picket somebody’s son’s funeral” so I would not consider that a basic tenet. There is nothing that says “get thee a television show and ask poor old ladies to send you their money so they can eat cat food and you can lobby Congress” so I don’t think that is a basic tenet. There is nothing that says “Please throw stones, and if you don’t have stones, then pass laws condemning people you define as sinners.” So I don’t consider that a basic tenet. The parts about Hell and torment and wrath I could find never said anything that justified being cruel to someone or their family or taking away their legal rights because you consider them a sinner. It seems pretty clear to me that Jesus felt judgement against sinners was Gods and not the Pharisees (which one doesn’t have to stretch the brain much to see as the Religious Right in those times).
    If someone wants to believe in Hell and damnation, I don’t agree, but I think they can still be considered a Christian IF they also follow the basic teachings of Christ.
    But I don’t see Phelps or Fallwell following those teachings. Therefore I would not consider what they practice to be Christianity.
    I think that to be a true Christian you have to be a good person (not a perfect one, or I’d be out in the cold) but as I learned in Algebra that’s not the same as saying in order to be a good person you have to be a Christian. In case that wasn’t clear, I do believe good person is part of the definition of Christian; I don’t believe that Christian is part of the definition of good person. Christian would be a subset of Good Person not the other way around.

  10. says

    I firmly believe that one’s morality has a direct correlation to how much of the Bible they ignore.
    I cannot however agree with a few things you said. Primarily: “And I don’t think there’s any basis for saying that it is.” — I think there is. I think the most adherence to the Bible the more Christian (and consequentially the less moral) an individual is. The Bible is all a Christian really has to go on, I think the more they accept it lock stock and barrel the more Christian they are.
    Now, your argument as to why literalists couldn’t really accept all of the Bible was that there are contradictions. However, that isn’t actually a great argument in this regard. One cannot accept contradictions as true, if they are sane. However, we are talking about Biblical literalists, and these individuals are not so limited as such.
    Most Biblical literalists take Jesus at his word in Matthew 5:18, that the OT rules apply. And other such comments. There is a general idea of God is Love. For those people who cling to this idea, I suggest they read the Gospels. Jesus isn’t much for turning the other cheek. When he saw people exchanging one type of money for another, he went home made a whip-like thing with pieces of sharp metal attached and returned, to physically attack people with it. Nothing about torn flesh exudes love.
    Most of the moral bits, are the secular bits. The idea of loving society as much as self, or doing things to others as you would like them done to you. Those aren’t religious reasonings, they are secular points. And they are points which predate Christianity.

  11. says

    Well, I guess that in order to defend my position, I’m going to have to do what I was hoping to avoid, and that’s go through the Scriptures to find counter-examples. I’m going to put those at the end, though, since they’re lengthy and I think most people aren’t going to want to wade through them all.
    A couple of other points first. First, I don’t agree with the “doctor” analogy. For one thing, there is general agreement as to what the word “doctor” means; you have to have been to medical school, be licensed by a medical board, etc. (Podiatrists don’t look at cardiologists — or even other podiatrists that they don’t like — and say, “She’s not really a doctor,” or, “That’s not very doctoral of her,” the way people in different branches of the Christian faith look at one another and say, “They’re not truly Christian.”) For another, the word “doctor” isn’t used to mean “good” or “good person” the way that “Christian” is. I’m not saying that you use it that way, I think it’s clear that you don’t; but plenty of people do — it’s a common colloquial usage among Christians. And I think the only way to avoid playing into it is to define “Christian” the same way we define “Muslim” or “Hindu” or ” Zoroastrian” — not by, “Is this a good person who does their best to follow the tenets of their faith,” but simply by, “What are the basic tenets of the faith, and does this person believe them?”
    Which, in the case of Christianity, does include the Christian Right. Your interpretation of the basic tenets of the faith may be “be kind and compassionate” — but my whole point is that that’s your interpretation. From any sort of objective perspective, if you looked it up in an encyclopedia or a history of religion or something, the basic tenets of Christianity are something like “Jesus Christ was the divine son of God, who was born, crucified, and rose from the dead to save humanity.”
    I mean, if you’re going to say that to be a true Christian you have to be a good person
 would you say that to be a true Muslim you have to be a good person? A true Hindu? A true Zoroastrian? And if not, what makes Christianity a special case?
    Re homosexuality: It’s definitely true that there’s nothing explicit in the Gospels about homosexuality. (There may be implicit injunctions against it, depending on whether you read “Sodom” as a code word for “homosexuality”; and Jesus’s words in the Gospels certainly include more than one fairly harsh injunction against other consensual sexual sins such as adultery, fornication, prostitution. But no, there’s no place in the Gospels where Jesus says explicitly, “Homosexuality is a sin.”)
    But there is in the Old Testament. And one of the big disputes between progressive Christians and the Christian Right is about how much weight to give the Old Testament laws (and which ones to give weight to). Which is a subject on which Jesus’s own words are inconsistent. There are places in the Gospels where he says, “Moses tells you this but I tell you that,” but other places where he says, “Yes, you still have to obey the Old Testament laws, I come not to replace the Old Testament but to fulfill it.”
    So while lambasting homosexuality as a sin doesn’t come from the direct words of Christ, I don’t think it’s fair to say that people who do it aren’t Christian. They’re following the Christian faith as they understand and interpret it, and while I agree that their interpretation is profoundly fucked-up at best, it does have Scriptural support. And much more to the point, while there may be some flat-out frauds among the Christian Right who don’t believe what they’re preaching, I think most of them genuinely believe that homosexuality is a sin and that Jesus and God want us to knock it off.
    Maybe even more to the point
 Jesus also didn’t say anything about slavery, except to acknowledge its existence. And I think few people would argue that the abolitionists weren’t being Christian when they spoke and worked against it. The fact that Jesus isn’t quoted in the Gospels as saying anything about X doesn’t mean that someone isn’t a Christian for making X their focus.
    And I want to make a point about cherry-picking before I move on to the main point, since it’s central to that point. I think there’s a significant difference between secular cherry-picking — reading a text and saying, “This part I agree with and find inspiring; this part I disagree with and think is messed-up; this other part is interesting but I don’t know whether I agree with it or not; etc.” — and the kind of religious cherry-picking in which people say, “This part is the divine word of God; this other part isn’t the word of God, God must have been misquoted or something.”
    I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with people being inspired by the parts of the Gospels where Jesus talks about love and compassion, and deciding that the parts where Jesus talks about wrath and Judgment Day are messed up and wrong and they’re going to ignore them. My problem comes with people placing the authority for that cherry-picking with God’s will instead of their own moral compass. There’s an enormous difference between saying, “I don’t like this or agree with it,” and saying, “God doesn’t like this or agree with it.”
    Now on to the main point. I went through the four Gospels (Revised standard) looking for all the references to hell, wrath, judgment, fire, etc. And there really is quite a lot of it. It’s not a small number of passing references — it’s quite plentiful. And the references aren’t out of context or jarringly inconsistent – they’re woven into the text fairly seamlessly, and a number of consistent themes emerge, such as people being damned to hell for hearing and seeing Jesus and still not believing in him and repenting. (It’s also not the case that the “hell and judgment” verses are usually aimed at the Pharisees and scribes — some of them are, but plenty of them aren’t.)
    The theme of hell and wrath and judgment may not be as common as the theme of love and compassion and taking care of one another. I’m not arguing that it is. But at the very least, it clearly emerges as a strong secondary theme in the text.
    Now, obviously, I think it’s fine to disagree with those parts and choose to ignore them. In fact, I think that’s the right thing to do. But I think it’s unfair to say that people who embrace them aren’t truly Christian, aren’t following the teachings of Jesus. These are the teachings of Jesus, too. It may not be the primary theme, but it’s a prominent enough theme that it’s not unreasonable for people who believe that the Gospels are the divine word of God to take it seriously. It’s just as obvious to them that their interpretation is the right one as it is to liberal Christians that theirs is. And there’s no more basis for liberal Christians to say that people who embrace those teachings aren’t Christian than there is for the Christian Right to say that people who reject them aren’t Christian.
    (‘m going to put the actual Scriptural citations in a separate comment, since the list is very long.)

  12. says

    Here are the references I found in the four Gospels to hell, wrath, judgment, etc. (My apologies for any typos, btw: I couldn’t find an online version of the Revised Standard Bible to cut and paste from, so I had to just type all this in by hand.)
    And it looks to me like it’s a very prevalent theme.
    This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are several other more indirect allusions to these concepts: implying it in parables, using words like “punish” or “condemnation” instead of “hell” or “fire,” etc. — but I limited myself to the most direct and explicit ones. There are several other references in the Gospels to these concepts spoken by either John the Baptist or by the narrator/gospel writer — but I’m limiting myself to sayings that are quoted as Jesus’s own words. And there are also other troubling words from Jesus in the Gospels that aren’t about judgment and hell but that also aren’t in keeping with a message of love and tolerance — but I’m limiting myself here to teachings about hell, wrath, judgment day, etc.
    There are definitely more in Matthew than any of the other four, although Luke has quite a few as well. John doesn’t have as many as those two, but the concept is far from entirely absent (plus John does have a fair number of the abovementioned indirect allusions and comments from John the Baptist and the narrator). Mark seems to have the fewest (although again it has a fair number of indirect allusions that I didn’t list here).
    Oh, btw: The comment about John being the most reliable of the four Gospels didn’t jibe with what I’d learned as a religion major, so I did some (fairly minimal, admittedly) digging online, and it seems that that’s mistaken. According to most biblical scholars, John is probably the *least* likely of the four to be historically accurate — it was written later, after the other three, and there’s serious dispute as to whether the person who wrote it was really there or was merely a follower of someone who was there. At the very least, its accuracy is very questionable.
    MATTHEW
    Matthew 5:22: “But I say to you that every one who is angry with the brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Sermon on the Mount, said to the crowds)
    Matthew 5:30: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go to hell.” (ditto above)
    Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (said to disciples)
    Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” (ditto)
    Matthew 11:21-22, Jesus: “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.” (said to crowds in cities, for not repenting when they saw his miracles)
    Matthew 11:23: “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (ditto above)
    Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (this is the Blasphemy Challenge thing, said to Pharisees when they said Jesus cast out demons because he was a demon himself, not by the Holy Spirit)
    Matthew 12:33-34: “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ditto)
    Matthew 12:41: “The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (said to scribes and Pharisees, on people not repenting when they heard his preaching and saw his works)
    Matthew 13:30: “Let both (wheat and weeds) grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (said to crowds — explained later in 13:40-42)
    Matthew 13:40-42: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (said to disciples, in explanation of previously quoted parable which was said to crowds)
    Matthew 13:49-50: “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (said to disciples in explanation of a different parable)
    Matthew 18:8-9: “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire..” (said to disciples)
    Matthew 22:2, 11-13: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son
 But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, an cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'” (said to priests and Pharisees)
    Matthew 23:15: “Wie to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (spoken to crowds and disciples, about scribes and Pharisees)
    Matthew 23:33: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (ditto above)
    Matthew 24:48-51: But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (said to disciples; part of a long passage replying to the question, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”)
    Matthew 25:30: “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (ditto)
    Matthew 25:41: “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (ditto — this is the parable of the sheep and the goats)
    Matthew 25:46: “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (ditto above)
    MARK
    Mark 4:28-29: “Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” (said to scribes — this is the Blasphemy Challenge part again)
    Mark 9:43-48: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire.” (said to disciples)
    LUKE
    Luke 10:11-15: “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near. I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day [Judgment day] for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be for you more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And to you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” (said to disciples — not to the 12 but to 70 sent to prepare the way for him in towns he was about to go into, about cities that didn’t repent when they saw his miracles)
    Luke 11:32: “The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (said to crowds, again about people who didn’t repent when they saw his miracles)
    Luke 12:8: “And every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (again the blasphemy thing – but this time it’s spoken to the disciples, and not in the context of getting mad at the Pharisees for denying that he used the Holy Spirit to cast out a demon, but just in the context of explaining to the disciples how things were going to be)
    Luke 12:49: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (said to disciples, about Judgment day)
    Luke 13:2-5: “And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.'” (said to multitudes)
    Luke 13:23-34, & 27-28: “”And some one said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able
But he (God) will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ There you will weep and gnash your teeth
” (said to crowds)
    Luke 16:22-29: “The poor man died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus [the poor man] in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'” (said to Pharisees)
    Luke 17:28-29: “but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all — so it will be on the day when the Son of man is revealed.” (said to disciples)
    Luke 21:22: “for these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (said – I think, it’s a little unclear – to disciples in hearing of crowd)
    Luke 22: 31: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (said to disciple Simon – the “sifting like wheat” reference is about judgment day being like separating the wheat from the weeds)
    JOHN
    John 5:22, 26-29: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son
 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” (said to “the Jews” — not specified which ones, but in context it may be the Pharisees, or it may simply be the crowd)
    John 10:39: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” (said to blind man whose eyesight he cured)
    John 12: 48: “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.” (not clear who this is said to or about)
    John 15:6: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” (said to disciples)
    John 16:8-11: “And when he (the Counselor, a.k.a. the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (ditto)

  13. Rebecca says

    What I think is interesting here is that no one seems to have brought up the possibility that everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is a Christian, in much the same way that everyone who calls themselves queer is queer. “Christian,” after all, refers to an identity, as do most adjectives related to religion.
    So I’m wondering if my “you are what you believe yourself to be” system could apply here as well. In that case, everyone who calls themselves Christian is Christian, regardless of what another person, Christian-identified or non, might call him or her.
    This just seems to make more sense to me. But what do I know; I’m an agnostic Jew.

  14. says

    I appreciated this article. It made me think. And while to some extent you’re right, you’re also basing your argument on the idea that the Bible is the only source from which we can glean evidence about what is and isn’t the true meaning of Christianity. The problem with the fundamentalists’ argument is that they do claim to be taking the Bible literally while cherry-picking. Those of us who don’t have good reason for rejecting what we have: justifiable suspicion that politics and power – and even just translation – have twisted the meanings of certain passages over the centuries. And by justifiable, I mean that there is evidence to support that. Plus, what Jesus says may be as close as we can get to the meaning of Christianity, and a lot of that other stuff just doesn’t jive – that’s another basis for suspicion. And yet even His words may not be exact. All that we really have is belief and interpretation – as with anything, really. Does that make one side “wrong”? I’m always suspicious of any argument that attempts to suggest that there are only two sides to an issue anyway. That’s not usually the way the world works.
    For instance, here you imply that “liberal and progressive Christians” – as though we’re all one united group! – deny the fire and brimstone aspects of the Bible. I don’t see how that means that “we”‘re not “right” about Christianity not being about hate. Maybe the bigots will burn after they die. That’s God’s revenge, though. Or at least, that’s what I believe. ;)

  15. says

    “…you’re also basing your argument on the idea that the Bible is the only source from which we can glean evidence about what is and isn’t the true meaning of Christianity.”
    Actually, that’s kind of the opposite of what I’m doing, although I can see why you’d think that. My point is that the Bible — even just Jesus’s words as quoted in the four Gospels — supports an extremely wide variety of possible interpretations. And my point is that it’s very problematic for people with X interpretation to insist that people with Y interpretation don’t have the true faith and aren’t truly Christians.
    If your point is that people can use their own common sense and their own inspired faith to decide the true meaning of Christianity… Well, the problem with that is that people on both sides of this question — or on all sides, if you prefer, since it’s true that this is a debate with many more than two sides — all have their own common sense and their own inspired faith… all giving them wildly different answers.
    Which is one big reason that I have a problem with the whole idea of religious faith in the first place. It’s simply not the case that all we ever have to understand anything is belief and interpretation. We also have observation and reason and evidence. And when it comes to morality and ethics, I think the questions of “What did Jesus say?” or “What would Jesus do?” are not only unanswerable — they’re irrelevant, compared to questions like, “What works in the world? What makes people happy? What makes people safe? What makes people thrive?”
    Which are questions that can be addressed, to a great extent, with observation, reason and evidence. One of my whole problems with the “What did Jesus really mean?” game is that it assumes that Jesus’s ideas should be given greater weight, not only compared to those of any other philosopher or social critic, but compared to the actual reality in front of our faces.
    And while it’s certainly true that evidence supports the idea that politics, power, translations, the fact that nothing was reliably recorded at the time, and even just a 2000 year old game of Telephone have almost certainly twisted Jesus’s original words… well, actually, that’s kind of my point as well. Nobody — Christian, atheist, nobody — can have any reasonable degree of certainty about what Jesus did or didn’t say.
    Which makes the whole “your interpretation is the false one and you’re not a true Christian” game even more absurd.
    Actually, I think Rebecca hit the nail on the head. I’ve been defining Christianity by the basic tenets of the faith (Jesus was the divine son of God, etc.)… but I don’t think there are many people who call themselves Christians and yet don’t hold those basic tenets. (“Secular Christian” just isn’t as common a concept as “secular Jew.”) My point is that, within reason, anyone who calls themself a Christian is one.

  16. Laura Deal says

    You seem to be debating points that I’m not trying to make, so I’m not sure if I’m misreading you or you’re misreading me or both or what.
    I am not saying that people who believe in Hell are not Christians, so thanks for the many quotes but I don’t see what they have to do with what I’m saying here. I understand what they have to do with what we discussed months ago, but I’ve admitted over and over that you were right and I was was wrong so I’m a bit bewildered as to why you think I’m still arguing that point. I’m not saying that it’s not there, I’m saying it’s not the main point.
    I’m saying that if Christ never says go forth and punish people and take away their rights and in fact says be kind and let God be the judge not you (and if there is a Hell, actually this does nothing to take away from the fact that judgement is God’s, in a way it would actually back it up I guess if you feel that there has to be a punishment- I don’t feel that punishment is required as a remedy for evil, so for me, it doesn’t enter into it) then in fact when you go forth and take judgement as yours and are in fact unkind and work to make things worse for the poor rather than better that those actions, being in fact counter to what is said over and over in the gospel and not backed up by anything I’ve read in the gospel would not be Christian actions. I only quickly read over your quotes, so maybe you inclueded a part where he said work to make things worse for the poor and take judgement as your own, and I missed it. If so I appologize.
    Now do Christians do things that are not Christian? I believe that they do. But I think if someone’s life work is working against the bulk of Christ’s teachings that one might call oneself a Christian and be wrong.
    And actually I would say that part of the definition of being a Muslim or Hindu or Secular Humanist or Buddist , etc….would be being a good person because I think a large if not the main part of the tenets of all those belief systems is to do your best to be a good person and I think if you do your best to be a good person you are a good person, not perfect not someone who never does anything bad or mean or wrong, but a good person.
    I agree with you that “within reason” anyone who calls themself a Christian is one. I think we differ on what is “within reason” and I think working against what is the main theme of someone’s teachings and then claiming to be their follower is not reasonable.

  17. says

    I think you misunderstand why I brought up all the references to hell in Jesus’s words in the Gospels. I’m not trying to rehash the old argument. My apologies if I was unclear; let me clarify.
    You’re arguing (I think) that the Christian Right is actually going against the central message of Christ as stated in the Gospels, thus making them not true Christians. My point with the extensive verses about hell in the Gospels is this:
    a) The message of Christ as stated in the Gospels is self-contradictory and unclear. It’s open to many different interpretations, and pretty much every interpretation can be and has been defended by both faith and scripture. Including that of the Christian Right. You’re arguing that the central message of Christ is clear; I’m pointing out that it’s no such thing.
    b) You’re arguing that the Christian right is going against what is clearly Christ’s central message. I’m arguing that, to them, the message of hell and wrath and damnation is every bit as clear and important a part of Christ’s message as the message of love and compassion is to you. The Christian Right is just as convinced that liberal Christians are ignoring one of the most important messages of Christ — namely, that everybody better repent and stop sinning or they’re all going to be tortured and burned in hell for eternity — as you are that the Christian Right is ignoring the important messages about caring for the poor and letting judgment be God’s.
    c) You’re arguing that to be a true Christian, you have to do your best to be a good person and live up to Christ’s teachings. My point is that the Christian right DOES think they’re doing their best to be good people and live up to Christ’s teachings. And their interpretation of Christ’s teachings does have extensive scriptural support. Yes, they’re going against major parts of Jesus’s teachings — but so are liberal Christians when they discard the stuff in the Gospels about hell and wrath (not to mention the stuff about adultery and fornication, or how the only path to God is through Jesus). I don’t think it’s fair to say that people can define themselves as Christian within reason, and then define “within reason” as “so long as they agree with me about what the central message of the faith is.” And I think that’s equally unfair for both liberal Christians and the Christian Right.
    d) You were making the argument that maybe Jesus was misquoted or quoted out of context. I’m pointing out that the hell stuff isn’t just a couple of lines; it’s an awful lot to be just a misquotation. That’s why I’m pointing out that the verses about hell are not passing or trivial — they’re extensive, and while not quite as prominent as the verses about love and compassion, they’re extensive enough that they need to be taken into serious consideration as a major part of Christ’s words in the Gospels.
    Finally: I’m not sure how to say this, but the more we go in circles about this, the more it seems like you’re making my point for me. I keep saying, “Liberal Christians are just as convinced that the Christian Right aren’t true Christians as the Christian Right is that liberal Christians aren’t true Christians,” and you keep saying, “But we’re right! The Christian Right *aren’t* true Christians!”
    And my argument against that isn’t that the Christian Right is correct and liberal Christians aren’t true Christians. My argument is that, from the point of view of someone outside the faith, the entire exercise — different branches within the faith pointing at each other and saying, “That’s not the true faith” — is seriously problematic at best. And it’s equally problematic with all branches, regardless of whether the branch that’s saying it is a branch whose basic political outlook I happen to share.
    When I look at Christianity present and past, I see a huge mixed bag, one that includes Martin Luther King and the Crusades; the abolitionists and the segregationists; the Catholic Workers and the Inquisition; Glide Memorial Church and Cardinal Richelieu; Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell; and a whole bunch of ordinary people just trying to get by. All of it is Christianity. To say that only the good people from this list are Christians is to deny the history and reality of the religion. I have no problem at all with people saying, “This part is good and that other part is fucked up” — but I do have a problem with people saying, “This part is Christian and that part isn’t,” simply because it doesn’t jibe with their own interpretation of the faith.

  18. Nurse Ingrid says

    I feel that I must take issue with the claim that right-wing Christian fundamentalists are basing their beliefs on hate. I do believe that the message of the megachurches, Focus on the Family, etc. is designed to inflame people’s prejudices in order to make money, win votes, gain power, etc.
    But that has not, overall, been my experience with the Christian fundamentalists in my family.
    I never once doubted the sincerity of their beliefs. I certainly never felt that they “weren’t truly Christian.” I know they KNOW, in their heart of hearts, that hell is a real place and that I am going there unless they can convince me to get saved.
    Imagine that you know that someone you love is destined for a horrible, eternal fate — wouldn’t you feel compelled to do anything you could to prevent that? How could you just sit across from that person at Thanksgiving dinner and not try to warn them?
    Also, I think a lot of their prejudices are just that — they’re based more on ignorance than on hate. That’s why they don’t know what to make of me and the other nonbelievers — their church has told them that we are wicked and wallowing in sin, and yet they see that we are perfectly nice, happy, loving people. There is nothing in their worldview that can explain that, so they find us deeply baffling and troubling.
    One of my most elderly relatives has told us that she and her friends talk about their grown children who aren’t saved. And they ask each other, how will it be heaven if our families aren’t there? How can we enjoy heaven knowing that our loved ones are in hell? And this makes me so sick and so sad. Religion is supposed to bring people together, and to comfort you as you face the end of life. But what I see it doing is tearing families apart, and making people miserable in their old age.
    I also think they must feel deeply ashamed, like they’re failures. After all, what is every good Christian supposed to do? Go forth and multiply, and bring your family up in the faith. So they look at us, their progeny, and I mean every ONE of us has left the fold. They must think, what did we do wrong?
    I truly believe that most fundamentalists are convinced that they are acting out of love, and out of a sincere belief that they are following Christ’s teachings. And I’m not going to gloss over what they did in my family — they have said and done some truly ugly and hateful things. But they really do read all the passages in the Bible about hell and damnation, much of it in Christ’s own words — and I think it scares them. I think they are terrified for us and our souls — because they love us. And I think that is sick and wrong, but I don’t think it makes them not loving — or not Christians.

  19. Rev. Cawley says

    Hi Greta Christina,
    I’m new to your site, so, thank you for the “Hell” and Christianity discussion.
    You are talking about Jesus’ quotes about Hell. May I share my insights? This is what I believe Jesus was REALLY talking about when He referred to Hell.
    Except for the Luke 16: 22-29, the word Jesus used that was translated “Hell” was Gehenna. Gehenna, the valley of Hinnon, was an actual geographical location outside of the old city of Jerusalem where trash, garbage and the bodies of condemned criminals were burned.
    Jesus spoke these passages to people who understood Gehenna as being the town dump. It’s important to note that Jesus spoke to people who did not understand Gehenna to be an eternal cosmic place of punishment for lost souls.
    Some writers feel Jesus was trying to get across the meaning that wicked people are like trash thrown into the dump, discarded, unusable to God…not tormented for all of eternity.
    Now I’m not trying to explain away verses, but I’m trying to see what Jesus’ real intention is in making these statements.
    In all the passages about gouging your eye out….the passages are not about directly about Hell, but an exhortation to righteous holy living.
    In the passages in Matthew 10, Jesus in not teaching about Hell, but telling believers not to be afraid of what men can do to them.
    In Matthew 23: 15, Jesus in not teaching about Hell, he is reading the Pharisees the riot act. “Son of Hell” is an expression; like “son of a bitch” is an expression. Of course I’m not saying Jesus cussed out the Pharisees. I’m just saying Jesus’ intent in using the word translated Hell here is not to teach us about the afterlife.
    I want to address the statements by Jesus about the “coming judgment” or “the end of the age.” Jesus is alluding to Daniel 12:1. “At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:1-3
    God consistently used phrases like furnace and fire in the Old Testament, often giving the definition of what that furnace was— Jerusalem, Egypt, etc.The furnace refers to a time of testing and affliction. Ezekiel even prophesies of a time to come, when Jerusalem itself would be the very furnace into which Israel was gathered. (A few examples from the Old Testament, showing the common usage of the word “Furnace:” Exodus 19: 18, Deut. 4: 20, Proverbs 17: 3, Isaiah 31: 9.)
    Jesus picks up on this theme, and basically tells Jerusalem that NOW IS THE TIME for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Notice in Matthew 13:40 that He says, “so shall it be at the end of THIS age.” He wasn’t referring to some future “end of the world,” but to the end of the Old Covenant age, which was drawing to a close in because of the corruption of the Temple religion.
    By alluding to the verse in Daniel and other Old Testament apocalyptic prophecy, Jesus was telling that generation (who thought they were righteous) that they were actually the evil generation spoken of by the prophets…and that the judgments that they had read about coming upon the wicked — were in fact going to come upon them — or at least some of them. That is why Jesus warned His own about the end of the age so often
He knew that if the 1st century Jews continued on their quest to overthrow the Romans, that the Romans would retaliate and destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, as an act of divine judgment. Most would “perish” in the furnace, and only a few would escape….Those who held Jesus to be a true prophet remembered His words and fled Jerusalem when they saw all these signs of the destruction of the city coming to pass.
    Salvation, from a Biblical Hebrew point of view, not so much about whether people die and go to heaven or hell. Salvation meant to be healed, to be delivered, to be made whole, to be restored.
    Many passages dealing with salvation in the New Testament spoke of being “delivered” from the “wrath to come.” That was not a final judgment at the end of the world which determined whether one went to heaven or hell. It was a final judgment on Israel at the end of the Mosaic Covenant Age. When Jesus said things like “If your hand causes you to sin cut it off, better to enter life maimed than to have your whole body thrown into Hell,” He was not referring to the afterlife. Jesus was saying that if the Jewish people didn’t “cut out” their desire for revenge and get on with loving their enemies, than they would be thrown into the garbage dump. The Greek word for Hell is “Gehenna,” which was a fiery garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem, and the Roman government often crucified insurrectionists and threw their corpses into the Gehenna garbage dump (i.e., “the worm dieth not” refers not to actual worms in an afterlife Hell but to the worms writhing in the corpses in Gehenna).
    Now 1st cnetury Israel did not accept Jesus’ path of loving your enemies, so Jesus predicted (in Matt. 23: 37-38) the destruction of Israel, especially Jerusalem. He said not one stone would stand upon another in the Temple which had recently been rebuilt. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that over a million people were killed in 70 A.D. Thousands were sold into slavery. It was a horrible end to the Biblical Hebrew age.
    Jesus came to usher in the New Covenant. All those who took His words to heart would flee Jerulsalem when they saw the Romans destroying the city (Matt. 10:23).
    That’s why Jesus said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus spent all His time preaching and warning of the wrath to come ONLY IN ISRAEL. He was sent to give Israel a chance to move from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. But that was His mission, to save a remnant from Israel which would be the first fruits from which a “new nation” of priests unto God.
    Thank you for reading my long post. Jesus loves you all, even if you are an agnostic Jew. Please don’t reject Him because you think He wants to burn people forever in an afterlife Hell.
    Sincerely,
    Rev. Cawley

  20. says

    I have to say, the Gehenna/ city dump thing is a new one for me. I was just complaining in another debate that I’d never seen an argument from a theist that I hadn’t seen before… but I haven’t seen that before. (And I was a religion major.) I’m currently doing a bit of research to see what others say about the translation question.
    I still don’t think the larger argument holds up, though. There are plenty of places in the Gospels where Jesus talks about hell as fire, torment, a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, eternal fire, unquenchable fire, eternal punishment, etc.
    As to the “Jesus’s point in many of these verses wasn’t about hell, it was about (X)” argument, that actually kind of supports the point I made in “Invisible Punishment: Hell as Social Control.” Hell wasn’t necessarily the main topic of any given teaching where Jesus mentions it — instead, it’s used as a threat, the stick that goes along with the carrot of heaven, the promised consequences of disobeying or disbelieving his teachings. Link:
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/07/invisible-punis.html
    But I also feel that I should reassure you: My disbelief in God isn’t because I don’t believe in, or like, the idea of hell. I know that people can and do believe in God or other spiritual entities without believing in hell. I have plenty of other reasons for disbelieving in God or an afterlife (reasons detailed elsewhere in this blog). As Ingrid pointed out, it’s actually the other way around. It’s not that I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in hell. I don’t believe in hell because I don’t believe in God, or the afterlife, or any of it.

  21. Rev. Cawley says

    I want to respond to Nurse Ingrid’s comments when she said: “One of my most elderly relatives has told us that she and her friends talk about their grown children who aren’t saved. And they ask each other, how will it be heaven if our families aren’t there? How can we enjoy heaven knowing that our loved ones are in hell? And this makes me so sick and so sad. Religion is supposed to bring people together, and to comfort you as you face the end of life. But what I see it doing is tearing families apart, and making people miserable in their old age.”
    There are very good reasons to make the case that “eternal” judgment and “eternal” fire in the Bible does not necessarily mean “endless.”
    I encourage you to read about the Hebrew and Greek words for “eternal” at the following link: http://www.tentmaker.org/FAQ/forever_eternity.html.
    Yes Greta, Jesus referred to hell as fire, torment, a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc.
    But Jesus was simply using the metaphorical language of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology to warn the 1st century Jews that if they didn’t repent (lit. change their minds) about overthrowing the Roman occupation…then the Romans would ultimately destroy Jerusalem and literally throw their bodies into Gehenna.
    Jesus used exaggeration and hyperbole quite frequently. To take those metaphors literally is to fall into the fundamentalist’s error of literalism.
    By the way, I read the article “The Thiest’s Guide to Converting Athiests” at http://www.ebonmusings.org. The article says that fulfilled prophecy would convince an athiest.
    Well, as I said before, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in in Matt. 23: 37-38….and historian Josephus tells us that over a million people were killed in 70 A.D.
    Prophecy fulfilled!
    BLESSINGS!
    REV. CAWLEY

  22. Rev. Cawley says

    The article “The Thiest’s Guide to Converting Athiests” at http://www.ebonmusings.org says that fulfilled prophecy would convince an athiest.
    There are numerous Biblical prophecies that have been fulfilled.
    Egypt was, with Babylonia, one of the two greatest nations of antiquity. Noph was the ancient capital of lower Egypt and No (Thebes) the capital of all Egypt. Their grandeur, especially the magnificent temples and images, was tremendous. Yet the prophet Jeremiah said, “O thou daughter dwelling in Egypt, furnish thyself to go into captivity: for Noph shall be waste and desolate without an inhabitant.” (Jeremiah 46:19) The prophet Ezekiel said, “And I will set fire in Egypt: Sin shall have great pain, and No shall be rent asunder, and Noph shall have distresses daily.” (Ezekiel 30:16) These prophecies were fulfilled centuries later. Of Egypt as a whole, Ezekiel said in Ezekiel 29:15, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.” Egypt continued as a great and powerful nation for many centuries after the prophecy was written, but finally Egypt became a backward, impoverished, weak nation and has remained so ever since. It was not condemned to extinction, however, as many other ancient nations. Actually, the most ancient of nations, Egypt, is still in existence after over 4, 000 years. Many Scriptures (like Isaiah 19: 21,22) indicate prophetically that Egypt is still a nation in the last days.
    Edom (Idumea) was a small but powerful nation, descended from Esau. Yet many prophecies had been uttered against it, and all have been fulfilled. Obadiah 18, for example, says, “
there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the Lord hath spoken it.” Today the Edomites are gone without a trace.
    Babylonia was the first great world empire! The Greek historian Herodotus reported on it’s architectural greatness. Yet the prophet Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 51:58, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labour in vain, and the folk in the fire, and they shall be weary.” Many other prophecies were directed against Babylonia, and eventually they came to pass.
    The Assyrian empire, with its great capital of Ninevah, was another colossus of antiquity. But the prophet Zephaniah said in Zephaniah 2:13, “He will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.” Nothing could have seemed more unlikely than this when Zephaniah wrote, but it has been fully accomplished.
    The two great cities of the Phoenicians were Tyre and Sidon. Of Tyre, God said through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 26: 4, 5, “And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.” Today, fisherman mend their nets on the barren rock where Tyre once stood. God also said in Ezekiel 26:14, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.” The site of ancient Tyre is quite suitable for habitation, but the prophecy has stood fulfilled now for over 2, 000 years, and Tyre has never been rebuilt.
    Tyre’s sister city, Sidon, was the object of a different kind of prophecy. Ezekiel 28:23 says, “For I will send into her pestilence, and blood into her street; and the wounded shall be judged in the midst of her by the sword upon her on every side; and they shall know that I am the Lord.” Although Sidon has continued to exist as a city, she has suffered more warfare and bloodshed than almost any other city in history. Sidon has been destroyed and rebuilt many times and still exists today in spite of all her suffering. Tyre, on the other hand, has never been rebuilt, thus confirming prophecies.
    Ashkelon was another great city, the birthplace of Herod the Great. It continued as a great city until finally destroyed in 1270 A.D. Long before, the prophet Zephaniah had prophecied in Zephaniah 2:4, “For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noonday, and Ekron shall be rooted up.” The same prophecy had also warned of destruction upon two other Philistine cities, Ekron and Gaza. In both cases, the prophecy was fulfilled.
    Similar judgments were forecast for Bethel (Amos 3: 14-15), Samaria (Micah 1: 6,7), Jericho, (Joshua 6: 26) and, in the New Testament, for Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin (Matthew 11: 20-23). All have been fulfilled as written.
    Many other prophecies dealing with these and other nations have been fulfilled. There are also many other prophecies dealing with individual cities in the nations. The fact of fulfilled prophecy demonstrates the divine inspiration of the Biblical writers. The reality of fulfilled prophecy sets the Bible apart from other so-called “holy books” of other religions. If you have read this article with an open mind and an open heart, I think you will agree with the Apostle Peter when he wrote in 2 Peter 1:21, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
    Thanks for reading!
    BLESSINGS!!

  23. Linus' helper monkey says

    More about Gehenna here: http://www.concordant.org/expohtml/DeathAndJudgment/TheGehennaOfFire.html
    Specifically: “In the Scriptures, however, “Gehenna” (“hell,” AV)— all incredible myths to the contrary notwithstanding — does not speak of “the place of the eternal torments of the damned.” Instead, it refers to an actual place on earth, namely, the valley (or “ravine”) of Hinnom (Neh.11:30) in the land of Israel. The ravine of Hinnom is a valley to the southwest of Jerusalem (“the ravine of the son of Hinnom”; Joshua 15:8). The Hebrew phrase gê (“ravine of”) hinnom became geenna in Greek, whence Gehenna in Latin and English.
    In time, Moloch, a god worshiped by the Ammonites, came to be worshiped by Israel as well (Lev.18:21; 1 Kings 11:3,5,7; 2 Kings 23:10; Amos 5:26; Acts 7:43). In Jeremiah’s day, the ravine of Hinnom was associated with the worship of Moloch (Jer.32:35). Josiah, in Judah, defiled this shrine by destroying the high places of Moloch, thus putting a stop to the sacrifices offered there (2 Kings 23:10,13).
    Moloch worship incorporated human sacrifice, namely, the sacrifice of children by fire. In the days of the Kings, under Ahaz (2 Chron.28:3) and Manasseh (2 Chron.33:6), children were sacrificed by fire on altars erected within the valley of Hinnom. In later times, according to some, this valley was used for burning the corpses of criminals and animals, and indeed refuse of any sort. Jeremiah spoke of the day when this ravine would no longer be termed the ravine of the son of Hinnom, “but rather, the ravine of the killed, and they shall entomb in Tophet[1] because there is no other place” (Jer.7: 31,32; cp Jer.12:3; 19:6; Zech.11:4-9). Perhaps this was first carried into effect through the reforms of Josiah (cp 2 Kings 23: 10-20).”

  24. says

    Hi all,
    Greta Christina invited me here, since Mr. Cawley was commenting on an article of mine. I’d like to address some of his claims about the alleged accuracy of biblical prophecy.
    Let me be clear about one thing at the outset: some of the nations and cities whom the biblical authors claimed would be destroyed, were indeed destroyed. This, however, is hardly stunning proof of the foresight of the Bible’s authors. *Most* cities and nations of antiquity have fallen, and most of the ones that are around today will probably fall eventually, also, if only you’re willing to wait long enough.
    This is especially true given that Mr. Cawley seems to allot infinite time for any of the Bible’s prophecies to come true. Notice, for example, how he claims that the destruction of Ashkelon – in 1270 AD, for truth’s sake – was a fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy of doom nearly two thousand years earlier. This is the stunning foresight that should so impress us all? If I predict that a great flood will strike Egypt, and then a thousand years later such a thing does happen, does that make me a miraculously gifted prophet? Hardly: it just means that if you predict a fairly likely event and are willing to wait forever, sooner or later your prediction will be fulfilled.
    To prove that your prophetic powers are up to snuff, it’s not enough to predict a likely event and then wait for eternity. Rather, as I said in my article, such prophecies should come with specific, falsifiable details about time, place and circumstance. In this case, Mr. Cawley has definitely fallen off the horse. Most of his alleged “fulfillments” are derived only by removing relevant context – stripping out specific details which show that the Bible’s prophecies actually did *not* come true as written. I’m not going to address his every example, but as a sample of the kind of misrepresentation he repeatedly engages in, let’s consider this point about Egypt:
    “Of Egypt as a whole, Ezekiel said in Ezekiel 29:15, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.” Egypt continued as a great and powerful nation for many centuries after the prophecy was written, but finally Egypt became a backward, impoverished, weak nation and has remained so ever since.”
    Mr. Cawley, you are blatantly guilty of out-of-context quotation. But that’s not surprising, considering the *full* details of the prophecy show that, rather than a success, this was a conspicuous failure. Here’s the full text of what Ezekiel said would happen to Egypt:
    “Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years. And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries. Yet thus saith the Lord GOD; At the end of forty years will I gather the Egyptians from the people whither they were scattered. And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom. It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.”
    (29:9-15)
    I think even Mr. Cawley can agree that this never happened. Egypt has never been desolate, much less for forty years at a time, and the Egyptian people were neither scattered nor later regathered. That entire string of predictions failed to come true. It’s only the coda at the end, about Egypt losing its superpower status, that Mr. Cawley seizes on and elevates to prophetic status – and, again, history shows that most empires and superpowers decline in status given sufficient time, so this is hardly proof of divine foreknowledge.
    For one more example, let’s consider Mr. Cawley’s claims about Tyre. Again, he’s guilty of removing relevant context to disguise prophetic failures. Ezekiel didn’t just predict that Tyre would be destroyed; he predicted it would be destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon:
    “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler against thee. And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers.” (26:7-9)
    Again, this is a false prophecy. Nebuchadnezzar did indeed besiege Tyre for many years – but, as any history book will tell you, he failed to conquer it. (Tyre is a city on an island just offshore, with suburbs on the mainlands. Nebuchadnezzar conquered those, but failed to break into the island city.) Alexander the Great did conquer it later, but he was not the object of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
    But now comes the real howler:
    “God also said in Ezekiel 26:14, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.” The site of ancient Tyre is quite suitable for habitation, but the prophecy has stood fulfilled now for over 2, 000 years, and Tyre has never been rebuilt.”
    This is completely wrong. Tyre exists to this day, and plenty of people still live there. Here’s some modern satellite imagery of this supposedly non-existent, never-rebuilt city:
    http://www.earthspots.com/ExploreEarthSpot.php?NID=1211&MT=1
    When Biblical apologists resort to denying the existence of entire cities in an attempt to mangle history sufficiently to make their prophecies appear to come true, you know there’s nothing more that needs to be said.

  25. says

    I have a longer, more substantial reply to the heart of your arguments; but it’s going to take me a couple of days to finish. (Should be up on Sunday, probably as a separate post of its own.) In the meantime, I wanted to reply to a couple of specific points.
    First, about Gehenna and hell. I’ve been asking people who know more about this than I do, and here’s what I’ve learned. Yes, one of the words (although not the only one) that got translated into hell was Gehenna, which was the city dump where bodies and other things were burned. But this doesn’t necessarily support your theory that Jesus didn’t use “hell” to mean an afterlife of eternal burning torment. Opinions differ significantly, not only on what Gehenna/hell does or should mean and how the concept should correctly be interpreted, but on what it meant at the time Jesus was teaching. Your interpretation is plausible, but it’s very far from the only plausible one, and you don’t really have any evidence to support your beliefs about what Jesus did or didn’t really mean when he spoke of it.
    (Side note: I was talking about this “hell as the huge stinky dump outside old Jerusalem” concept with friends, and their comment was, “I bet the birdwatching was great!”)
    Second, and perhaps more importantly:
    Re your point that, quote, “Jesus used exaggeration and hyperbole quite frequently. To take those metaphors literally is to fall into the fundamentalist’s error of literalism.”
    Are you really trying to argue that Jesus didn’t mean everything he said? Not just that he was misquoted or mistranslated, not just that words were put in his mouth by the Gospel writers, but that he deliberately deceived and mis-spoke? That when he told people about the horrible punishment of hell, with the fire and the torment and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, he was just using exaggeration and hyperbole as a rhetorical device?
    I’d be very, very careful about making that argument if I were you. (And not just because it completely undercuts any reference you might make to Jesus as a source of truth and wisdom.) You may want to re-read my piece “Invisible Punishment: Hell as Social Control”:
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/07/invisible-punis.html
    The idea of hell is completely appalling to me. 100% morally indefensible. As a rhetorical device, it is, as I said in the piece, an evil, hateful form of social control that exists solely to terrify people into doing what you tell them, without having to offer any evidence that you’re right about it.
    So if Jesus didn’t really mean it about hell being an afterlife of eternal fire and torment and wailing and the gnashing of teeth, if he was just exaggerating to scare the crowd and get their attention
 how is that better? That’s *worse.* That’s much, much worse. It’s bad enough if he sincerely believed it. But if he was being insincere, if he didn’t really believe it and was just saying it to scare people into doing what he told them… that’s just morally bankrupt. If you think that this argument is going to convince me that these teachings are therefore okay, you’re very much mistaken.

  26. Rev. Cawley says

    Dear Greta,
    Am I trying to argue that Jesus didn’t mean everything he said? Of course not.
    First of all, to say that Jesus used exaggeration and hyperbole is NOT THE SAME THING as saying that Jesus didn’t mean everything he said. Of course Jesus meant everything he said! But when He told people to gouge their sinful eye out or cut their sinful hand off (Matt. 18: 8-9), or they would end up in Hell (Gehenna), WAS HE SPEAKING OF LITERAL BODILY DISMEMBERMENT???? NO.
    The Eugene Peterson “Message” paraphrase Bible helps us understand what Jesus REALLY was conveying in Matthew 5:29-30, “Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. [30] And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.”
    When Jesus was saying verses like “if your hand or eye or foot cause you to sin, you better cut it off or end up in Hell,” He was basically saying, “You better cut out of your life the things that lead you to sin, or your life will end up in the trash!”
    That’s what I believe Jesus really meant.
    The parables that talk about punishment with the fire and the torment and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth are all “COMING KINGDOM” parables. Meaning, each one of those parables has to do with the King coming to the earth to bring judgment…not about people going to God and being sent to Heaven or Hell. Go back and re-read some of those parables, like in Matthew chapter 25. Not one of those parables talks about persons physically dying and going to either Heaven or Hell…they all have to do with the King COMING TO THE PEOPLE ON EARTH not the other way around. As I explained in a previous post, in His parables, Jesus used the language of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology (“coming King” talk) to convey the truth that God was judging 1st century Israel for not practicing God’s justice and mercy.
    What is the evidence of my position? First of all, the parables in Matthew 25 come RIGHT AFTER the teaching in Matthew 24 about the sigsn of the end of the age (not end of the world, but end of the Old Covenant age). Second, read some New Testament commentary on the “Kingdom parables,” and I believe they back me up.
    What’s my evidence? My evidence is the context of 1st century Jews: Jesus spoke to people who understood Gehenna as being the town dump. Jesus spoke these passages to people who did not understand Gehenna to be an eternal cosmic place of punishment
    for lost souls.
    Now if you choose to read Matthew 5:29-30 or Matt. 18: 8-9 as speaking about the afterlife … then it sounds like Jesus is saying, “If you don’t cut off your hand or gouge out your eye that causes you to sin, then you will die and burn forever in a place called Hell.”
    To say that Jesus used exaggeration IS NOT TO SAY that Jesus didn’t mean everything he said. It’s like the expression, “You drive me up the wall!” Is somebody literally being driven up an actual wall…or is the metaphorical language referring to being driven to frustration and aggravation?
    If you tell someone, “Hey, you better cut out your drinking and get some help, or your life is going to end up in the toilet,” what do you think the point is? Do you think the point is that the person will physically be pushed down a literal toilet? Of course not! It means (just like Jesus said) that if you don’t CUT OUT the things in your life that lead you to sin, then your life will be destroyed.
    What happened to the corpses that Romans soldiers threw into Gehenna? They were destroyed, burned up, incinerated! That’s what happens to our lives when we refuse to “cut off” the things that tempt us towards sin.
    Is this “fear” teaching? Maybe. But sometimes you have to lovingly confront self-destructive people with some fear. A healthy dose of fear can keep some people on the right, healthy, productive path. It’s not social control (although it can be misused that way), it’s loving someone enough to warn them of ruining their lives.
    At this point, either you get it or you don’t. I’ve tried my best to explain all of this through e-mail.
    As far as trying to convince you that Jesus’ teachings are okay, I do not believe that anything will convince you. No offense. I’m not being sarcastic or mean or judgmental or harsh…but I am being honest. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem…and it happened in 70 A.D. I’ve tried to explain (above) what Jesus was talking about when He referred to Gehenna.
    But what you believe is up to you. I don’t judge you. I don’t even know you. We see life the way WE WANT to see life. I post messages here because I enjoy your articles and I want to express my beliefs. Period.
    But do I believe that I will convince you? No. I believe that you have too much of an emotional investment (and a financial investment, with this blog) to relinquish your atheism and embrace Jesus. I UNDERSTAND THAT. I believe that you enjoy your life as an athiest so much that a literal vision of Jesus would not convince you to believe in Him.
    But if you think that Jesus’ use of exaggeration or hyperbole indicates that He didn’t mean what He said, you’re very much mistaken.
    Thanks for reading!

  27. says

    Rev. Cawley, I’ve replied to most of your points here in a separate blog post, a post intended to step back from the point-by-point debate and show how your arguments sound to someone who isn’t already a Christian. The piece is called “A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside,” and it’s at:
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/08/a-self-referent.html
    A very quick summary: When it comes to some Bible verses, you say, “These clearly aren’t meant to be taken literally. They’re metaphors, etc.” But when it comes to other verses, you say, “It’s so inspiring! It’s so accurate! It’s clearly the divine word of God!”
    The problem is that every Christian sect, and to some extent every single Christian person, has their own idea of which verses to take literally and which to interpret as metaphor or understandable error. And many of those versions and interpretations directly contradict one another.
    You seem very sure that you know what Jesus really meant — but other Christians who radically disagree with you are equally sure that THEY know what Jesus really meant. Why should I believe that your version is the right one? And why should I believe any of the versions at all?
    Again, PLEASE read that “What Religion Looks Like From the Outside” piece if you’re going to debate this further, as it is a direct reply to your arguments and goes into my counter-arguments in better detail. I really don’t want to repeat them all here.
    Just a couple of smaller points. Re the prophecy about Jerusalem falling: I’m sorry, but that’s a completely unconvincing argument. Ebon Muse has already replied to your citation of the supposed fulfillment of Biblical prophecies here:
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/07/the-true-faith-.html#comment-79730109
    He goes into detail about serious inaccuracies in many of the prophecies you mentioned. But he didn’t happen to mention Matthew 23: 37-38, so I will: The verses don’t say, “Jerusalem will be destroyed in 70 A.D.” The verses say:
    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.”
    I’m sorry, but “your house is forsaken and desolate” is not even a remotely specific prophecy or prediction. It could be interpreted in hundreds of ways, and if Jerusalem hadn’t been destroyed, hundreds of other historical events could still be seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy.
    Finally: I never cease to be startled when religious believers accuse atheists of being too attached to their beliefs, and too emotionally invested in them, to consider the possibility that we might be wrong. We’re not the ones who think that holding onto a faith in spite of evidence and arguments contradicting it is not only valid but virtuous.
    The atheists I know, including myself, are not 100% convinced that God doesn’t exist; we just think the God hypothesis is highly unlikely and not supported by evidence. But if evidence appeared that clearly showed I was wrong, I’d change my mind. Again, I’ll point you to Ebon Musings’ “Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists”:
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/theistguide.html
    And again, I’ll ask you the question he asked in that piece and that I asked in my “What Religion Looks Like From the Outside” piece: Is there anything that would convince you that you were mistaken? Is there any possible piece of evidence that could persuade you that God does not exist?
    If the answer is “No” — if your answer is, “That’s what faith means, it means believing in God without demanding evidence and no matter what happens” — then I don’t see any reason to continue this debate. I don’t see any point in debating someone who isn’t willing to admit to even the remote possibility that they might be wrong.
    (P.S. If you think this blog is providing me with anything more than the most minimal financial payoff, let me assure you that you’re very much mistaken.)

  28. Nurse Ingrid says

    So let me get this straight.
    When Jesus says in (for instance) Matthew 5:22 (Sermon on the Mount): “… whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire”
    he’s speaking metaphorically?
    But when he says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…your house will be forsaken and desolate”
    he’s making a literal prediction about world events?
    Seems pretty backward to me. The former statement is quite direct, while the latter is rather poetic and vague. I see no reason to take your word — or anyone’s — that one is to be interpreted in a different manner than the other.

  29. says

    Actually, I do have one more thing to say. Rev., you’re accusing ME of having a financial investment in not relinquishing my atheism?
    You’re a *minister.*
    (At least, I assume you are, since you sign your comments “Rev. Cawley.”)
    Being an atheist blogger brings me a moderate amount of attention to my writing career, and a tiny, tiny trickle of income.
    Believing in God, and convincingly professing that belief to others, is your JOB. Your career.
    With all due respect, you are in no position to accuse me, or any other atheist writer, of having a financial investment in my religious views.

  30. Rebecca says

    “We see life the way WE WANT to see life.”
    Actually, I would love to believe in an afterlife. The idea that I could someday once again look into the the eyes of a long-dead friend, could walk hand-and-hand with him and talk and laugh…what a tempting dream. If my beliefs about the nature of life and death were what I might WANT them to be, loss would be unimaginably easier.
    Not all of us “see life the way we WANT to see life.” Some of us see life as evidence and experience suggests it is, joyous and painful, full of both “heavenly” and “hellish” experiences — and quite finite.

  31. says

    c4bl3fl4m3 writes:
    “That the old testament was obsolete and the rest of the new testament was a bunch of jerk-offs “interpreting” what Jesus said. I always put more creedence in the words of Jesus (that were always printed in red in the Catholic Bibles we had in school) than in those other guys talking.”
    The problem with that is that the whole idea of Christ’s blood atonement is totally tied up with the story of Adam’s fall right in the first few chapters of Genesis. Without that, the whole story of the crucifixion becomes meaningless. There’s a lot of stuff in the New Testament that refers directly back to the Old.
    (Not that I even believe in any of this, but I understand the logic.)

  32. Rev. Cawley says

    Greta said that I seem very sure that I know what Jesus really meant even though other Christians disagree with me are equally sure that they know what Jesus really meant.
    Why should you believe that my version is the right one? And why should you believe any of the versions at all?
    My response: You should only believe what you think is right and true in your heart and mind. Don’t take ANYBODY’S word for it.
    Could I be wrong? Of course I could be wrong about Jesus’ teachings!
    Greta asks me, “Is there anything that would convince you that you were mistaken? Is there any possible piece of evidence that could persuade you that God does not exist?”
    My response: SURE there is! I’ve questioned the existence of God PLENTY of times in my seventeen years of being a Christian! Yes, I could be wrong about what you call “the God hypothesis.”
    I WOULD NEVER SAY that faith means believing in God without demanding evidence and no matter what happens! I agree with former athiest and author Lee Strobel, that faith (for me) is “walking in the direction that evidence points to.”
    But, I don’t see any reason to continue this debate. We’re looking at the same evidence and the same Scriptures, but I choose faith and you choose athiesm. So there’s no point in debating the existence of God or the teachings of Jesus any more because you are not going to change my mind (after I’ve heard the arguments for atheism) and I am not going to change your mind (after you’ve heard the arguments for belief and for Christianity).
    So I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to debate these issues with you, even at the most minimal financial payoff.
    BLESSINGS!

  33. Rev. Cawley says

    I do not want to continue the debate, but I want to respond to Mr. Ebonmuse.
    Ebonmuse says that Ezekiel 26: 7-9 says that Ezekiel didn’t just predict that Tyre would be destroyed; he predicted it would be destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
    Ezekiel 26: 7-9 does not say that Tyre would be destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar.
    It simply says…
    “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler against thee. And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers.” (26:7-9)
    Even though Alexander the Great ultimately brought down Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar achieved all that Ezekiel 26: 7-9 says, and he took 13 years to do it.
    In a seven-month siege, Alex the Great fulfilled Zechariah 9: 4 and Ezekiel 26: 12 concerning the city at sea by destroying Tyre and killing 8, 000 of its inhabitants.
    Ebonmuse seems to think that Biblical prophets predicted things that were likely to happen. Ebonmuse said, “Let me be clear about one thing at the outset: some of the nations and cities whom the biblical authors claimed would be destroyed, were indeed destroyed. This, however, is hardly stunning proof of the foresight of the Bible’s authors.”
    “Most cities and nations of antiquity have fallen, and most of the ones that are around today will probably fall eventually, also, if only you’re willing to wait long enough.”
    That last sentence might or might not be true. When the Biblical prophets predicted the fall of Assyria and Babylon, nothing could have seemed more unlikely, since those nations were what we would call superpowers.
    Ebonmuse argues that Tyre is still around today and muses, “Tyre exists to this day, and plenty of people still live there…When Biblical apologists resort to denying the existence of entire cities in an attempt to mangle history sufficiently to make their prophecies appear to come true, you know there’s nothing more that needs to be said.”
    Wellllll, I never actually said that Tyre is uninhabitable. If you read an earlier post, I said and I quote: “The site of ancient Tyre is quite suitable for habitation.”
    Folks, the Bible predicted the rise and fall of great empires like Greece and Rome (Daniel 2: 39-40) and foretold judgment coming upon Tyre and Sidon (Isaiah 23).
    The Biblical prophets did indeed predict the destruction of some nations (Edom, Philistia, Babylon, Assyria) while predicting that some nations would remain (Egypt, Tyre, and Sidon).
    Coincidence? Depends on how you see it. Athiests and believers are seeing the same evidence, but we’re just giving it different interpretations.
    Thanks for reading and goodbye.

  34. says

    You know, Rev. Cawley, I was just starting to think that maybe you were a reasonable person after all. Your previous farewell message was gracious and dignified, and while I definitely didn’t think you made your case, I was willing to let it go with friendly thoughts.
    And then you had to go dragging out Biblical prophecy again.
    It seems that I have to spell this out very carefully. Ebon Muse didn’t say that Tyre was inhabitable. He said that it was INHABITED. Right now. In direct contradiction of Biblical prophecy — and of your words.
    I quote the Biblical passage you cited: Ezekiel 26: 4, 5, “And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.”
    And now I quote your words in your comment: “The site of ancient Tyre is quite suitable for habitation, but the prophecy has stood fulfilled now for over 2,000 years, and Tyre has never been rebuilt.”
    Yes, it has. That was the exact point of Ebon Muse’s comment. The city of Tyre HAS BEEN REBUILT. It’s there RIGHT NOW. Look again at the map:
    http://www.earthspots.com/ExploreEarthSpot.php?NID=1211&MT=1
    Some of what we’ve been debating is a matter of opinion — but on this one, you are flat-out, factually, demonstrably wrong. The fact that you refuse to admit it doesn’t strengthen your case — it considerably weakens it. And it considerably weakens your assertion that you walk in the direction of the evidence and are open to the possibility that you might be wrong.
    As to the question of whether predicting the fall of a great city or nation is remarkable, you say, “nothing could have seemed more unlikely, since those nations were what we would call superpowers.” Nonsense. Superpowers rise and fall. Anyone who pays attention to history knows that. The Roman Empire rose and fell; the Ottoman Empire rose and fell; the British Empire rose and fell. America is a superpower — and I hereby predict, right now, that America will not always be a superpower. I’ll even make it falsifiable: Within 500 years, America will cease to be the most powerful nation on Earth. And I’m not divinely inspired. I’m just someone who was occasionally not stoned in my college Humanities classes. (Only occasionally…)
    “Coincidence?” you say “Depends on how you see it. Athiests and believers are seeing the same evidence, but we’re just giving it different interpretations.”
    No. No, no, no. That’s exactly the point. If you’re going to use Biblical prophecy as evidence of God’s existence and the Bible’s divinity, it can not “depend on how you see it” or be given “different interpretations.” That’s the ENTIRE POINT Ebon Muse made in his “Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists.” Scientists make predictions every day that can’t be interpreted in different ways — why couldn’t the Bible? Prophecies that can be interpreted in a hundred different ways — such as the prophecy you keep citing in Matthew 23: 37-38, where Jesus says, “Behold, your (Jerusalem’s) house is forsaken and desolate,” and you interpret that as a prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D. — that’s no more useful as a prediction than Nostradamus. If Jerusalem hadn’t been destroyed, hundreds of other historical events could still be seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy. As evidence of the Bible’s astonishing predictive powers, it’s just silly.
    Trust me on this one. There are much better arguments for the existence of God than the accuracy of Biblical prophecy. The accuracy of Biblical prophecy is not only falsifiable — it’s BEEN FALSIFIED. Dragging it out doesn’t prove your point — in fact, it goes a long way to proving mine. It looks like desperation, an unwillingness to acknowledge physical facts that are right in front of your face.
    Finally: I think you misunderstood my point when I asked, “Is there anything that would convince you that you were mistaken? Is there any possible piece of evidence that could persuade you that God does not exist?”
    I didn’t mean, Have you ever questioned or doubted your faith?
    I meant, Is there any possible evidence that would convince you that you were wrong — not that would make you doubt or question your faith, but that would convince you that your faith was mistaken?” You say that faith is walking in the direction the evidence points — is there any possible evidence that might arise that would convince you that you’re walking in the wrong direction?
    And if so, what is it?
    Your answer to this question seemed to be, “Yes.” Yes, you said, you could be wrong about the God hypotheses. Yes, there could be possible evidence that would persuade you that God does not exist. But then you didn’t finish answering the question.
    If there is the possibility of evidence that would persuade you that your faith in God is wrong — what would that be? What — specifically — could happen in the world that would make you change your mind?

  35. Rev. Cawley says

    Greta asks, “If there is the possibility of evidence that would persuade you that your faith in God is wrong — what would that be? What — specifically — could happen in the world that would make you change your mind?”
    Unanswered prayer! Specifically, when I’ve prayed for certain things that I felt were God’s Will and those things didn’t happen…especially when it involved someone’s else’s terminal illness.
    Jesus is so often quoted as saying that we can ask for anything, and if we have faith, we will receive! Even if the faith is only a “mustard seed” size faith, we are told by Jesus that we will receive it! So when I pray with faith and I DON’T see a sick person healed, that makes me think my faith is wrong.
    Most Christians respond by saying, “Well it must not have been God’s Will!” But Jesus never gave “God’s Will” as a condition for answered prayer. Christians are of course quoting Jesus in Gethsemane, “Not my will but Thy Will be done.”
    I understand their (the Christians’) logic, but again, Jesus never gave “God’s Will” as a condition for answered prayer.
    So when loved ones with cancer or other illnesses have been incessantly prayed for…and have stayed sick or have died, I am tempted to think that my faith in God is wrong.

  36. Rev. Cawley again says

    Greta asks, “If there is the possibility of evidence that would persuade you that your faith in God is wrong — what would that be? What — specifically — could happen in the world that would make you change your mind?”
    Another thing that bothers me is the Second Coming of Christ doctrine. The New Testament writers (especially Paul, and especially John in Revelation 1: 1) clearly expected Jesus to literally arrive on the earth and SOON!
    Obviously He didn’t, not in a literal sense. So, yeah, that has tempted me to think that my faith in God is wrong, or at least that my belief in a literal Second Coming is wrong.

  37. says

    Thanks very much for your honesty, Rev. Cawley. Not all religious believers are willing to be so open about their doubts and questions. I appreciate it.
    And I think the questions you bring up here are good ones. It’s true, Jesus did say that all faithful prayers will be answered, which clearly isn’t true. And Jesus did say he’d be returning soon — within the lifetime of some of the people who were listening to him — which also clearly didn’t happen.
    So that raises a couple of questions for me. The first one: How do you respond to those questions and doubts? You apparently still have faith in God in spite of them. Why?
    That leads me to the second question. The Ebon Musings question/ challenge to theists doesn’t ask, “Is there any possible evidence that would make you temporarily question or doubt your faith?” The question is, “Is there any possible evidence that would make you change your mind, that would convince you that you’re mistaken about God existing?”
    Here’s what I mean. When scientists do an experiment to test a hypothesis, they say at the outset, “If X happens it’ll show that I’m wrong, if Y happens it’ll show that I’m right, if Z happens it’ll mean more research is needed.” And if X happens, then they change their mind and give up their hypothesis. (Often they’ll repeat the experiment to make sure they did it right, and sometimes individual scientists won’t let go of their pet theory no matter what; but if repeated experiments show a theory to be mistaken, the scientific community will let go of the hypothesis. Refusing to give up your pet theory no matter what don’t get you any respect in the world of science. It’s one of the things that makes it different from religion — for many believers, arguably for most, holding onto your faith in God no matter what is seen as not only acceptible but virtuous and admirable.)
    And that’s why I keep asking, “Is there any possible evidence that would make you change your mind, that would convince you that you’re mistaken about God existing?” I’m trying to point to the difference between beliefs based on faith and beliefs based on reason and evidence. If your answer is, “I sometimes have questions and doubts, but ultimately I have faith in my God and will continue to have faith no matter what” — then that’s not a belief based on reason and evidence. If there is any possible evidence that would make you change your mind and convince you that your belief in God is mistaken, I’d be very interested to hear it.

  38. Rev. Cawley says

    Dear Greta,
    I was getting ready to answer your question (“What would make me think that my belief in God was wrong?”) and I cannot find that discussion anymore on this page. Am I missing something? Did a ssection of our discussion get erased or deleted?
    Rev. Cawley

  39. Rev. Cawley says

    (Disregard my last post. There was something wrong with the way my computer was scrolling down this discussion.)
    Greta asked, “How do you respond to those questions and doubts? You apparently still have faith in God in spite of them. Why?”
    When it comes to Jesus’ teachings on faith and healing, I have made peace in my heart because I don’t think that Jesus meant that we can literally ask for anything and if we believe we will receive it…just like Jesus didn’t teach literal bodily amputation in the “hand-causes-you-to-sin-cut-it-off” type passages.
    So what do I think Jesus point was? I think that Jesus was speaking like a sports coach, like, “Have faith!” “Don’t give up!” You can do it!” “Anything is possible!” Surgeon and author Bernie Siegel, whom you may know, says similar things to cancer patients…but Dr. Siegel doesn’t mean that cancer patients can literally have anything or do anything just because they believe. He knows that some will die of the cancer. But he stil gives the same “positive thinking” message. Anyway, that’s how I reconcile myself to Jesus’ “faith and healing” teachings.
    As far as the “Second Coming of Christ” teachings in the four Gospels and NT epistles…I don’t really believe that Jesus taught that He would “come again.” I think that Jesus was focuing on the Kingdom of God that was at hand…the blind seeing, the lame walking, the poor getting good news, etc. I believe Jesus was trying to bring renewal to Judaism and Israel. The Gospel writers HOPED that Jesus would return in an apocalyptic manner and crush God’s enemies (according to 1st century Jewish apocalyptic eschatology). So I believe the Gospel writers most likely “put words in Jesus’ mouth” so to speak regarding the Second Coming teaching.
    Greta said, “If there is any possible evidence that would make you change your mind and convince you that your belief in God is mistaken, I’d be very interested to hear it.”
    Thank you Greta for clarifying your question. I’ve given your question a lot of thought.
    The only evidence that would make me think that my belief in God is mistaken is if I know longer had subjective experiences of God guiding me in my life.
    Throughout my life, I have had the sense that God/Higher Power was shaping my life experiences. I’ve had jobs that seemed tailor-made for me, I’ve had friends come into my life in the exact time that I’ve need them (even now). I’ve had experiences that were such HUGE coincidences that I couldn’t just chalk them up to fate, chance, good luck, or my doing. I could go on and on.
    So if I went through life and it DIDN’T seem like God was with me, guiding me, helping me…if I just had problem after problem after problem and it didn’t seem like God was encouraging my heart or helping me in ANY kind of way, and if this went on for years …then THAT is the thing that would probably get me to think that my belief in God was wrong. I hope that helps to answer your question.
    Because as a United Methodist, my faith is not based just on Scripture, but is based upon Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition (called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral…named after John Wesley)
    BLESSINGS!

  40. Rev. Cawley says

    You said on September 6 that you’d be very interested to hear if there is any evidence that would make me change my mind and convince me that there is no God.
    I gave you my response in the above post on September 7th. Sooooooo, I’m just curious, what do you think of what I wrote? Or are you no longer interested.

  41. says

    Yes, I’m interested. I’ve just been (a) travelling, and (b) getting caught up on my work backlog left over from travelling, and haven’t been able to reply to several comments that deserve replies, including yours. I’m hoping to do that in the next few days.

  42. says

    The claim that Jesus was referring not to Hell but to the Jerusalem garbage dump is pretty old and familiar to me, GC, but then I guess I’ve been reading Christian apologetics for longer than you have.
    The trouble with the claim is that it doesn’t really fit the evidence. Examples like the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which you quoted, show Hell/Gehenna as a place of endless torment to which a person may be sent after death, not a place in the world of the living. In some cases, maybe, the historical garbage dump may be what the evangelist is referring to, but in most cases it really can’t be.
    As for the relative accuracy of John versus the other gospels (called “the Synoptic problem” by biblical scholars), this is still up for debate. Confident claims that John is the most accurate are usually, in my experience, a sign that the speaker is relying on fundamentalist apologetics, not an acquaintance with scholarship. But, GC, you say “it was written later, after the other three, and there’s serious dispute as to whether the person who wrote it was really there or was merely a follower of someone who was there. At the very least, its accuracy is very questionable.” The objections you raise to John, while correct, also apply to the other gospels. We have no idea who wrote any of them, but it is unlikely that any was written by an eyewitness or a “follower of someone who was there.” (That presumption, by the way, underlies most modern biblical scholarship, even the most conservative.)
    As for the New Testament / Old Testament distinction, you (GC) said early on, “there’s plenty of hellfire, damnation, and judgement messages in the New Testament as well” as in the Old Testament. This is not quite true. Sure, there are references to judgment (as well as mercy) in the Old Testament, but there is little if any preaching of hellfire or damnation — the OT has little to say about afterlife of any kind; the judgment is usually this-worldly in nature. That’s not to say that the OT isn’t full of cruelty and bloodlust (like the Iliad or the writings of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris), but eternal damnation is a distinctly Christian, as opposed to Jewish teaching. Mark Twain wrote somewhere in Letters to the Earth that in the New Testament God got religion and decided to pursue people beyond the grave, instead of merely killing them as he had in the OT.
    Oh, and the pinhead who wrote that “ALL religions INSIST that … ‘”WE are the chosen people, we will go to heaven, and all those who don’t agree with us, and believe what we believe, will go to hell.'” This is false. At best it applies only to Christianity and perhaps Islam, though I’m too ignorant about Islam to say for sure. But it’s not true of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, the old Greek and Roman paganisms, and probably other religions as well. Someone has her ethnocentric blinders on, and thinks that “religion” equals “Christianity.” I’ve seen this sort of claim before, by people who clearly think they know more than the ignorant masses. No doubt they’re among the 80% of Americans who consider themselves above average.

  43. says

    Christians,
    I am currently putting together a group of christians to assist me with
    a national news story. A publishing organization affiliated with Salem
    communications has recently published their official press release which
    openly declares my biblical discovery to the public.
    http://www.eternaltruth.net
    This web sight can provide enough evidence for you to investigate the
    validity of my claim. I recently published this discovery which opens up
    a chain of clues dealing with King Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance
    process as recorded in Daniel chapter four. This recorded event resulted
    in God blessing Nebuchadnezzar and his ancient land located today in
    Iraq. That particular blessing involved future promises of freedom in the
    end times through great eagle’s wings. The eagle today is certainly
    the symbol of the United states currently bringing this freedom to Iraq
    as predicted in the Bible.
    I am contacting people who represent different denominations who can
    understand and explain type and shadow prophecies.. I am confident
    that a common continuity of opinion by such persons can validate my
    discovery to media sources as a worthy news story. This requires a non
    denominational approach to succeed.
    The interest factor for the media would be common agreement upon a
    specific biblical interpretation coming from differing faiths who agree
    upon a sound interpretation concerning one of the most important issues
    for this coming election about Iraq. As you know religion has become a
    central issue for presidential candidates opening up a rare opportunity
    to promote the importance of God and moral issues.
    Some of the top conservative sights in America currently have my video
    presentation posted and available for public view. You may view my video on
    the Rush Limbaugh’s official myspace page. You may view it on Laura
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    President Bush also has a sight on myspace. Each individual submission
    into the sight must be examined and carefully qualified before being posted
    publically on the sight. My video was approved yesterday and is posted
    where it can now be seen on the President Bush sight.
    The Iraq war will be of major political interest during the election. This is
    rather timely and important. This may be a way for you and others to gain
    national recognition by helping us unite christian denominations during a
    critical election year. This is also a chance for people of faith to show our
    troops a united support for their mission as one christian voice. If you are
    interested please feel free to view our video and test my biblical claims.
    Please call concerning any and all questions. Looking forward to hearing
    from you soon.
    Author Paul Gregersen
    208-251-3519
    http://www.eternaltruth.net

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