It continues to amaze me that those who claim to love the Lord the most, insist on remaining the least read, or the most ignorant, in regards to this very person they claim to love. Church is not the place to have a restlessly curious intellect.
However, that is not the point of this article. I said all that to explain how we ended up one Sunday in the "Lighthouse Baptist Church." This church was, and still is, an Independent Baptist Church of the "Sword of the Lord" variety. Very fundamental in both rhetoric and practice, none of the woman wore pants, and all the men sported short haircuts. Based on the accents of most of the parishioners, there was a strong contingent from West Virginia dominating the membership rolls. To accuse the bulk of the members of being rednecks, would be to state the obvious.
We ended up visiting this choice assemblage of elected saints because some friends invited us. We were assured that this place was where we could finally find the rest for our tired minds and souls.
From the start of the service we knew we were in trouble.
This church had a bus ministry which would scour the less prosperous parts of town, recruiting and busing as many of the poor unsaved children they could find, to church, so that these mis fortunates could be fully indoctrinated in various important aspects of Baptist, theological fundamentals.
As I mentioned, the members of the congregation hailed primarily from West Virginia, with a striking propensity toward being redneck. The children being bused to the church, could rightly trace their roots back to the wilds of Africa.
After the opening remarks by the pastor, one of the children, a 10-year-old boy, was brought forward to the front of the church. The pastor was a portly man who gave no apparent evidence of having ever completed, or even having attempted to complete, a spiritual "fast." He bellowed out to the congregation that this skinny young boy had decided to repent and believe the gospel. He towered above the scrawny youngster, gesturing at him pointedly, and boomed out a question for the rest of the children in attendance:
"DO YOU WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN?" "IF YOU WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN, RAISE YOUR HAND!"
The little boy, looking extremely awkward and a bit confused, tentatively raised his hand to the sky, along with several other of the dark-skinned children. As if on cue, the whole congregation let loose with peals of "Praise the Lawd" and "Thank you Jeezus" and "One more pulled from the jaws of HELL," and so on. The rest of the poor black kids who were there looked around with expressions of mild fear and confusion.
The children were eventually segregated away from the adult service and confined to another room where they could be given more detailed indoctrination. Meanwhile, the people continued exclaiming and remarking how glorious God was for turning the hearts of these little local heathens toward HIM.
The message was clear: Wanting to go to heaven = wanting salvation.
Christianity is not about loving or serving the Creator of the universe. It is not about gratitude for creation, or even the supposed gift of either temporal or eternal life. Christianity is not about loving your fellow man, or giving to the poor. It is not about compassion. Christianity is, pure and simple, about avoiding hell.
There is no real fear of death in Christianity because no one is believed to ever really die. According to most Christian doctrine, everyone will live forever—period. Those who happen upon the right formula, and perform the proper incantation, using the right words, with the most believable sincerity, are allowed to live forever in a place called heaven. All the rest of humanity still lives forever, but in a terrible place called hell. Although humans may reside in different spiritual countries, so to speak, everyone still keeps right on ticking away. Since there is no fear of death, then a fear of hell must be instilled to capture converts. Hell must be so unbelievably bad that no one would ever want to go there, but not too unbelievable to be believed to actually exist.
The Bible is chock full of verses threatening punishment for the wicked and describing the horrors of hell. In evangelical theology, there are only two classes of people: believers and unbelievers. Believers are the righteous, and unbelievers are the wicked. Sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, heaven and hell. The world's population is split into two camps that are easily identifiable to the truly born again Christian.
There is a tendency of some of the branches of the modern Christian cult to distance themselves from the concept and the teaching of an eternal torture chamber. The modern sensibilities of justice strongly resist the easy acceptance of the gross attributes purported to adorn the halls of hell—and rightly so. Any deity that would consider it proper to condemn millions upon millions of people to unending horrific agony for the simple crime of unbelief, is nothing less than a monster. The atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, etc., all combined together, fade into comparative insignificance in the face of this god and his "holy" wrath.
What will hell be like? Here are a few collected verses:
- "Total separation from God" Matthew 25:41 2 Thessalonians 1:9
- A "bottomless pit" Isaiah 14:15 Revelation 9:1, 2; 20:1-3
- "Fire" Isaiah 33:14; 66:24; Matthew 5:21, 22; 13:41, 42, 49, 50; 18:8; 25:41 Mark 9:43-49; 10:43-49; Luke 16:24; Jude 7; Revelation 14:10; 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8
- "Torments" Luke 16:23-25, 28; Revelation 14:10, 11
- "Wailing and gnashing of teeth" Matthew 13:41, 42; Luke 13:28
- A "decaying worm" Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:44, 46, 48
- "Eternal—for ever and ever" Exodus 34:7; Isaiah 33:14; 66:24; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 18:8; 25:41, 46 Mark 3:29; 9:43-46, 48; 10:43-49; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 6, 7, 13; Revelation 14:11; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8
- "Outer darkness" Matthew 8:12; 22:13
- And "mist of blackness (or, darkness)" 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13
A "great furnace" Matthew 13:41, 42, 49, 50 Revelation 9:1, 2
According to the gospel writers, Jesus, who supposedly loves us so much that he died for us, plainly taught that hell was a real physical place of unfathomable torture. He said that hell was so bad, even the lasting pain of self amputation and mutilation would be better than going there.
- Matt 5:22: (NASB) "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty [enough to go] into the fiery hell.
- Matt 5:29: "And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 "And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.
- Matt 10:28: "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
- Matt 18:8: "And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire. 9 "And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell.
- Matt 23:15: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
- Matt 23:33: "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?
- Mark 9:43: "And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,
- Mark 9:45: "And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than having your two feet, to be cast into hell...47 "And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell,
- Luke 12:4: "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!
Modern Christians try, and try, to soften the teaching of the Bible on this subject. I don't know how many times I've been told that God does not want any one to go to hell, he wants everyone in heaven, but he won't contradict mankind's free will in the matter. What mental gymnastics I had to go through to have that make sense to me when I was all twisted up in the Christ cult. God gives us free will, but if we choose against being a religious drone, then eternal torture is the only alternative. Where is the freedom of choice? There is no free choice in Christianity. Free choice would allow for differences. Christianity allows no such thing. All people must either become believers or suffer the consequences of being an unbeliever. It is just that simple.
As tastelessly rude as the "Lighthouse Baptist" service was, it occurs to me now that in their overly simplified way, they did actually present the true essence of Christianity. "Who wants to go to heaven?" is contrasted in the hearer's mind with: "Who wants to go to hell?" That is essentially all that Christianity is about: Living forever in heaven or living forever in hell. Hell is bad, and heaven is good, and we know all this because the Bible says so.
I no longer have any false hope that my life will endure past the death of my body, as I once embraced as a Christian. However, I no longer fear the jealous reprisal of an insanely sadistic deity either. I am convinced that when I lie down for the last time, I will not get up in another dimension where millions cry out in ceaseless agony. I no longer see unbelief as having a hopeless future where life ends and nothing follows. I now view death as the eternal rest that it really is. Last night I had a dreamless night. I closed my eyes and suddenly the night was over—it was already morning. Although hours had passed, my conscious mind was unaware of the passage of time or of anything else. While I was asleep I felt nothing, knew nothing, and suffered nothing.
Death is the last and final sleep and nothing more.
What do you think?