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Hell is Terrorism
Last fall my family and I were taking a walk around town when we saw this church sign:
Emma read the sign and we discussed it as we walked. Sara quickly noted a grammatical problem with the sign, but I will leave that aside for now and focus on the meaning and the goal of the sign. There may be other possible meanings, but I think that this sign was put up to send the message that people who "live like there is no God" will be tortured in hell for eternity unless it turns out that they are right and God does not exist. The sign belongs to a church in the Southern Baptist Convention, which broke away from the rest of the Baptist Church in 1845 so that SBC members could continue to own slaves. Someone in the church decided that the doctrine of hell should be used to threaten the public but hell should not be mentioned by name on a public sign.
First of all, if someone is convinced that God does not exist and the Bible is not true, then they almost certainly don't believe that hell exists. So, even if threats of torture were a good way to bring people into your church, the sign would still be ineffective because it threatens the reader with a nonexistent punishment.
Hell is a bad way to make and keep converts because it relies on fear. There is a name for the tactic of using irrational fear to change a person's beliefs or actions: terrorism. When a religion uses hell (or any other threat) to scare a person into line, they're using the same tactics as Al Qaeda, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Hezbollah and the Ku Klux Klan. Just to make myself clear:
Hell is terrorism
Terrorism is an act of desperation. It is used when a group is unable to convince others based on the quality of their ideas. Remember that when you see or hear the threat of hell from a religious group. I'm happy to report that my 7-year-old daughter is already very skeptical of the doctrine of hell. I hope that she'll be immune to this kind of fear mongering if anyone ever tries to use it on her.
Those who believe in the Christian hell rarely lose any sleep worrying that they've chosen the wrong religion and they'll end up in Jahannam, Naraka, Tartarus, Xibalba or the hell of any other religion. Even (or maybe especially) those who preach hell know that it's easy and useful for a religion to invent stories about hell, but impossible to prove or disprove them.
There are plenty of Christians and churches who have left behind sadistic doctrine of hell and the tactic of terrorism in general. Of course, the easiest way to rid yourself of the fear of hell is to realize that the Bible is a collection of stories composed by humans to further a religion. It makes perfect sense that those ancient yarn-spinners would cook up the idea of hell. "Do what we say or the invisible man in the sky will make you go down to where it's hot and you're eaten by worms forever!" When their promises of pre-death punishment or blessing were shown to be empty, they shifted to promises about what happens after you die. We know better than to be moved by spooky stories like that today, right?
Awesome! Now we need to isolate via sanctions the nations that condone this sort of thing :)
Threatening or warning someone of something, anything, even if it doesn’t exist, is the same as blowing up buildings, pulling people out of their homes and killing them?
If using fear to manipulate is terrorism, then every parent should be rounded up and sent to guantanamo.
It seems to me that you make allowance for you belief, but not theirs. Although the intentions of every single person in that church are probably skewed in some way, your intentions are not 100% pure either. I appreciate your honesty, but I think the blindness you show to the feelings and motives of the people in the church doesn’t do you credit. As I have lived a little longer, I become a little more understanding of why people do things, and what the world is like. I know it is the same for you, because I read your blog. But I challenge you to extend that same understanding back towards the church that you so obviously despise. They are not perfect. Many believe the way they do from tradition and their parents, but I believe that the same could have been said of you (I say this from your writings, not as an accusation). Like I said, I appreciate your blog, and your honesty…please keep up your devotion to truth. You don’t hurt my feelings and I am not upset by your misunderstanding of my intentions. I just don’t think you do your blog credit when you don’t explore both sides in your post.
And as a side, there is no concrete proof on either side for the existence of hell, which is the whole premise of the sign. If you don’t believe it exists you better be right.
well this is uplifting. LOL
i need to think about this. BUT if we determine that parents are going to gitmo, i’d better start packing. and i hear the health care there is awesome.
That reasoning does work for me, but I do believe I am right, and strongly enough to not be afraid. There is a general fear of death that almost everyone has. The fear of the unknown. I think we don’t talk about it enough. I can see that it could bring fear, and fear does move people to action, but that action depends more upon the person than the person exciting the fear. Just as it did with you. It made you anger. It didn’t do a darn thing to me, because I believe so strongly in one direction. Just like you saying that I better be right about the existence of Jahannam. Doesn’t do anything for me. I can understand that since it was Emma, though, that it is more concerning. I am concerned about the stupid Dream Girls billboard that is posted on our way home (that has practically naked women on it). I wish I could convict them for being terrorists because they are influencing my girls in a negative way. But all I can do is talk to the girls about it and write a letter (or a blog post). Or, if I wanted to be a terrorist I could find out where they live. Anyway, now I am ranting, so I better stop.
Ok, I thought about this a little.
Let me pose this question:
Would you consider it fear-mongering to warn teens about the possible dangers of drunk driving? In other words, do you think that there is a role for fear in life? I mean, if none of us were afraid of anything, what is to stop us from eating broken glass or setting fire to ourselves?
Well, I suppose the real conundrum exists for the person who believes in hell, but isn’t sure they aren’t going there then. I mean, someone like you would not be afraid thanks to a sign like that, right?
To be perfectly honest, I would not want a sign like that outside my church. I believe in the existence of hell, but it’s not my fear of hell that motivates me to be the person I am. It’s my fear of God.
Hell is a tricky doctrine that I don’t claim to completely understand. I certainly admit that it can and has been used to manipulate people for selfish ends. At the same time, let’s assume for a moment that there is such a thing as eternal life. The “problem” with the New Testament teaching on the afterlife is that, pretty consistently, it claims that there is a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. If all the selfish, manipulative, thoughtless, bitter people are raised up again and allowed to continue living exactly as they did without ever changing the trajectory of their lives, it seems to me that the society that would exist in millions or billions of years would be a place of torment for everyone (heck, we sometimes seem pretty close to that now). So, it makes sense to me that there should be a place of quarantine to isolate those who would never change (or in King James terms, repent).
Now, why a perfect God wouldn’t either leave those who would not repent in unconscious death, or else transform their will “by force” I don’t exactly know. Certainly, some in the early church thought God would do one of these things (and there is even some evidence for this in the Bible…1 Timothy says Jesus is the savior of “all, but especially of those who believe” and Romans claims “all Israel will be saved")…passages evangelicals have to work pretty hard to smooth over. But Jesus, at least, seems to use Hell as a motivator in exactly the way you seem to find distasteful (that is, he threatens those who don’t care for those in prison, or naked, or hungry with everlasting torment). Maybe that makes Jesus a terrorist, but again, only if the danger he threatens is non-existent. In any case, what Jesus hopes to accomplish by the threat (a society in which the oppressed are cared for) doesn’t seem all that similar to the demands of most terrorists.
I would prefer you guys wrote - H E Double Hockey Sticks.