Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fire Insurance

I'm still working on a post which compares the authoritarian ex-bishops who now claim the protection of the Primate of the Province of the Southern Cone of the Americas with cult leaders, but it's a complicated subject and I want to do it right.

HOWEVER, while I was walking to the church this morning I was listening, once again, to a podcast of This American Life about the Rev. Carlton Pearson. He was a big star in the Charismatic/Fundy/Evangelical Protestant Christian world. Then he started preaching that there was no hell, that Jesus died for EVERYONE, and that everyone was saved by Jesus' sacrifice. He started preaching the Gospel of Inclusion, which has resulted in his being declared a heretic by those who once sang his praises (yeah, being declared a heretic by spittle-flecked, fundy heretics must be hell!) and his mega-church lost many members. Now his congregation is meeting in an Episcopal church (so you KNOW he's in trouble!).

I grew up in the Assemblies of God church, and I was saved some twenty-five times. I wasn't so much worried about Eternal Damnation in the Fires of Hell, as I realized at a young age that one was supposed to end up in hell when one was dead, and, since one was dead, one didn't have a body, so how the heck were the fires of hell supposed to hurt? I mean, what exactly were they going to burn? This was not the kind of questions encouraged in that particular faith tradition. No, I wasn't worried about hell, I was worried about being left behind in the Rapture. THAT was my motivation for getting saved so many times!

Personally, I don't think that the fear of hell should be the motivating factor in one's faith. I believe that one should decide to have that change of mind and heart and follow God's way instead of one's own way because it is the right thing to do and because things certainly go better for one when one tries to treat others with love and kindness. While following God's way instead of one's own way because one doesn't want to burn for all eternity in a lake of fire may work for some, it seems to me that such motivation really doesn't work for most people. A fear of being punished is more of an authoritarian mind-set, along with the desire to inflict punishment. Having been influenced heavily by Origen, I have problems believing that a Loving God is really into punishing everyone.

So, I want to know: how many of our Gentle Readers' faith is motivated by a fear of Eternal Damnation? If an eternity spent with weeping and gnashing of teeth is not what brought about your conversion, what IS the motivating factor in your faith? Talk to da Padre in the Comments.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

My initial conversion came when i was three. I sensed that there was a God, and I wanted to belong to him. So I told him that. End of story.

However, I spent many years after that feeling great anguish about not pleasing God or being good enough for him. I've never once worried about going to hell, but I've been very, very afraid of harsh judgment when I meet my maker. Only as I moved away from fundamentalism / evangelicalism did those fears ease and I begin to know grace.

However, when my oldest brother died a few months after converting to Islam, I had to think long and hard about what my view of hell was. And what I came up with was this. Everyone is called. Salvation is offered to everyone. Not everyone responds. There is no physical hell, but those who chose in this life to be distant from God will feel in the afterlife the pain and regret of that choice. And the sharpness of those feelings are what constitute the "fires of hell." (That doesn't mean I'm putting my brother in that category. He was searching for God as best he could given the wounds of our Baptist upbringing. I figure God can best figure out his heart.)

Anyway, this is what I believe.

Padre Mickey said...

Thank you, Ruth. I like to hear people's stories.

RevGal said...

I like this prayer---
not for fear of Hell nor hope of Paradise but for Your Own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.” (Rabiyah Basriyah)

Don't know if I ever had a big conversion - always been in the Episcopal Church and it suits me. We never heard much about heaven or hell. For me my faith makes my life go better here and now. I wrote about it here

Ann said...

Weird - my blogger account came up with a group account. This is me!! and so is RevGal above.

Ann said...

Probably my heretical comments!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to a near-death experience, I do not have the luxury of doubt in the existence of God. Which sometimes? Really, really is annoying.

Being of a practical bent, I figure that once I'm dead, per the theology, I'll just have to trust in God's mercy. So until then, I've got work to do here and I don't waste too much time and energy worrying about What Happens Next.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I think I'm like most people--I respond better to love than to fear. I have experienced the overwhelming love of God in my life--including at a time when I was nearly out of my mind with grief and despair and was contemplating ending it all. God was quite adamant that She was concerned with my continuing to live and that She wanted me to be happy.

I was pretty much a universalist before that, but that very brief conversation sealed it.

I try to worship and serve God in THIS life because I have been loved and blessed. I'll let The One determine what happens next---I trust that it will be good.


Matthew Hubbard said...

No real fear of hell. I think about weasels getting off scot free in this lifetime, like some about to leave high office in this country and some who about to cash big bonus checks, and I kind of wish there was a hell, but I recognize that as wishful thinking and not a serious thought about the nature of the universe.

Anonymous said...

I never had the least worry about hellfire and damnation. I was so fortunate growing up in Methodist and Anglican churches in the Rocky Mountain regions of the US and Canada where God's power and grandeur were so beautifully symbolized for us by the great peaks, and Heaven by the immense Western sky. I was nourished by the music and liturgy, the Biblical stories (especially the stories of Jesus), the warmth of the community. As a lonely introverted child who had lost her mother and was always getting moved around, I found church to be a home base I could trust, Jesus a friend who would always be there no matter what, God a father who would protect me and uphold the moral order of the universe. When ugly and unjust things happened I had a higher and wider context in which to view them. The words of the prophets affected me deeply and I felt a great sense of calling to be on the side of justice and mercy rather than vengeance, punishment and destructive criticism. I guess there must have been some preaching and teaching about hell, but I took it as metaphor or archaic thinking. What was REAL to me about the religious teaching I got could be summed up in two hymns: "Jesus loves me, this I know" and "Praise Him, Praise Him, all ye little children, God is Love, God is Love".

Paul said...

At the age of three I invited Jesus into my heart and believed he honored the invitation. I tended to buy whatever I was taught or told. Since my religious ethos was of the once-saved-always-saved stripe I did not bother getting saved over and over again. I did believe God loves us.

That vision was debased over time by fire-breathing fear-driven haters. Somehow (grace, surely) something inside me resisted and perdured.

I had a mystical experience at age fifteen and have never since that moment doubted that I was safely in God's loving embrace, no matter what.

There were many years of theological struggle after that. Now I devote much of my ministry to helping people heal from bad religion.

Leonard said...

I believed in God...I never believed in the fires of Hell...I thought God was good...I was confused about Baptist types who discriminated against Blackpeople...I knew intuitively that these folks were full of doubletalking b.s...I wasn´t interested in anything they misrepresented to me...however, when I listened to homilies as a kid I simply stared at the various symbols, windows, alter decor...I thought about God being so BIG that God created eternity and infinity (and that scared the Hell out of me)...the vastness of God humbled and scared me...but then, I didn´t know how interested God was in me...I didn´t think I really counted as I sorta seeped through the cracks of humanity...afterall, I was different...I knew that was I thought I´d hide from my fears...that didn´t work so I appealed to God to let me let me be me (and found out that had always been Gods ¨will¨ for me)!

Leonard said...

Defiance...I never liked being threatened...that would include Biblical stuff...the God I know doesn´t need to rely on terrorfying followers into worshipping God.

it's margaret said...

I can logically prove that God does not exist....

A. God created all that exists.
B. God did not create God's own self.
C. Therefore, God does not exist.

Perfectly logical. And I can say the above without fear, so I guess I am not afraid.

I was converted (the first time) by a blue-moon vision of what I call Mary. (Yes, I was very sober--but full of despair.) Her only words were "love." I believe her.

Anonymous said...

[Damn! (literally, in this case) How did the spammer, above, get through "them likkel lettahs"?]

I'm an Episcopal lifer . . . but didn't mean I didn't have my doubts (I mean, that there WAS a Hell. Not enuff 'piskies are small "u" universalists, like me. And you can better believe those *sshats prompting your rant yesterday, Padre, are of the NON-"u" sort. Not that many of 'em are 'piskies any more).

Where was I?

Oh, my youth. I found a "Chick Tract" at the Skating Rink, and that scared the Hell into me, for a bit. (Could that happen to ME????)

But basically, I've come to see how we ALL create God in our own images (returning the favor, I s'pose). Hence, *sshats create the Big Bully Damner, while I choose to create the Loving Universal Savior!

[But then, I think I only "create" a Universal Savior (JCF-version), because I'm responding to the REAL Universal Savior (It's all very meta *g*)]

So anyway: No Hell.

Or rather, there IS a Hell, IF you make one (and those willing to see others go there, are just ITCHING, unknowingly, to go there themselves!). But it ain't Eternal. One day, the *sshats will FINALLY say "Yes!" to that Universal Savior who's been TRYING to save them, like, FOREVER.

And then One Fine Day, we'll ***ALL*** get to the Eternal Par-tay! (wif dancin' n' such ;-p)

Bill B. said...

For the longest time I held the theodicy that God would "get even" with me if I didn't do right by him. The fear of hell was the motivator. However, I now no longer believe in hell either. We make our own hells and they are what can kill us. I also believe in eternity as an extension of what we live in the here and now and that we can choose to live or to die in that reality. But everlasting fires of damnation? That just doesn't stack up with a loving God. Instead, it sounds more like a major transference with an abusive father.

Padre Mickey said...

Sorry, Mberenis, but your comment had nothing to do with the subject. Only Dance Party products may be peddled at the Dance Party.

Watch for our line of Friday Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito Bloggin t-shirts and mugs!

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Hey! I'd buy some of those...

Ann said...

me too -- I want Gallito Mescalito

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