When the new issue of TIME magazine arrived a few days ago, my wife noted the cover story blurb -- "What if there's no Hell?" -- and said, I can't understand how anybody can believe in hell.
My reply to her: I can't understand how anybody can believe in Christianity, yet lots of people do.
Well, actually I do understand, because I've also believed weird spiritual stuff that now seems untrue to me. So I was speaking from my current churchless perspective.
For many years I entertained a belief that the only way back to God was to become a disciple of a "perfect living guru," so if hell is being separated from God, then I guess I was a believer in a sort of Christian'ish damnation: some are saved, and some aren't; if you haven't chosen to get on the Salvation Train, tough luck, because you're going to be left at the Bad Karma station.
Still, Christianity's hell is stranger than the maya of Eastern religions. Unquenchable fire. Torment. Damnation for eternity. That's truly hellish.
So I was pleased to read Jon Meacham's "Is Hell dead?" and learn that Rob Bell, an evangelical pastor, is urging Christians to adopt I don't know as a core tenet of their faith. Here's how the cover story starts out:
As part of a series on peacemaking, in late 2007, Pastor Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church put on an art exhibit about the search for peace in a broken world. It was just the kind of avant-garde project that had helped power Mars Hill's growth (the Michigan church attracts 7,000 people each Sunday) as a nontraditional congregation that emphasizes discussion rather than dogmatic teaching. An artist in the show had included a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi. Hardly a controversial touch, one would have thought. But one would have been wrong.
A visitor to the exhibit had stuck a note next to the Gandhi quotation: "Reality check: He's in hell." Bell was struck.
Really? he recalls thinking.
Gandhi's in hell?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?
So begins Bell's controversial new best seller, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
And here's a few more excerpts:
Bell insists he is only raising the possibility that theological rigidity — and thus a faith of exclusion — is a dangerous thing. He believes in Jesus' atonement; he says he is just unclear on whether the redemption promised in Christian tradition is limited to those who meet the tests of the church. It is a case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude.
Fundamentalists are irked at Bell. For good reason: if the existence of hell is uncertain, then why isn't heaven also merely a speculation? (A 1997 TIME cover story addressed this very question.)
Going further, how about Jesus' resurrection? And his being the Son of God? Heck, why not question the very existence of God? Isn't God as mysterious, uncertain, and speculative as hell?
I say, absolutely.
If that sounds, well, absolutist, that's how I intended my "absolutely." Uncertainty when it comes to the nature of ultimate reality is the only thing we can be certain of.
So it's great that more Christians are joining the Uncertain Club. Welcome! Us members enjoy not knowing what happens after death. That keeps us focused on living life, now.
(If you're not certain that my uncertain view of certainty is correct, read my blog posts on this subject here, here, here, here, and here.)
Old myths always seem stupid. Zeus, Thor and Jehovah, once mighty gods have given way to Schwarzenegger, Gibson and Willis. The Pantheon is just a slum these days.
But the main reason we feel safe to dis heaven and hell is because of science....science rules. Science permanently ripped god from nature. And albeit one has to think about this a little bit, it is impossible to imagine gods or God, outside of nature....the physical cosmos we find ourselves in. Science has shown it has The Power to Kill everything on this planet...and "He" does not appear to care. Ah Oh. Maybe "He" does not exist! God is dead.......Duck and Cover boys and girls
The current challenge is seeing the myths we invent and live out right now, i.e., I WAS superstitious -- but yesterday promised myself ("myself" being a big myth) I'd live, ya know, myth free.
-- interesting exploration of self-myth in the book "The Stories we Live By" by D. MacAdams.
Posted by: Jon Weiss | April 18, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Existence itself is hell. Some people enjoy it. Some do not. Heaven is what those of us cursed with an introspective tendency fear the most: non-existence.
Enlightenment is when it is realized that there is no such thing as hell. Then, anything goes - just as it always has.
Posted by: Willie R | April 18, 2011 at 12:30 PM
I've dropped a lot of my "certainties" through the years (to the horror of my Calvinist father). All just mental assents to what I was told was true and to what made sense to my reason at the time based on whatever my life situation was. Could never really prove anything though.
I guess I've chosen to believe one main thing, though (notice I said chose to believe): That God is Good. This is based on my observation that, I think, deep down every man desires to be good. And as I believe that there is only One person in the universe, well.....
And this is what keeps me searching. Always looking to come to know this One Good in a more experiential way. As St. Paul prayed, "that you may know Him". To know him is, I believe, heaven.
Posted by: Chuck De Vries | April 18, 2011 at 06:45 PM
"I believe God is Good"
It is true one must "believe"
God is Good, since there is no
Searching for "Him", because one
"believes" he is Heaven, is the only
reason one searches.
If you find "Him" and "Heaven", could
you please report back.
I have failed in my endeavor. Maybe you
can lead me to the promissed land.
Keep posting, your interesting ....
and thankyou for your spiritually
Posted by: Mike Williams | April 18, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Having been brought up in a "us and them" mentality as far as salvation goes, I came to the realization that it just didn't compute with me anymore by just observing peoples' hypocracy.
The church I attended had 2 types of people: the arrogant who thought they were doing enough (or not doing a certain list of "bad" things), to merit or keep them "saved". And the condemned or depressed who new that the way they were living was never good enough to merit or keep salvation.
So my questioning let me to come TO CHOSE TO BELIEVE that all men were in Christ or "saved" (and always were) and it never had anything to do with what we do or don't do.
It was because of this belief and faith in this belief that I have gained assurance of my being SAFE (hid with Christ in God). In other words, because I put faith in this belief, I was rewarded with assurance?
This assurance, I've come to sicerely believe, is the starting point for growth. I guess all I can do is call it a feeling or a knowing (and, of course, I can't prove it).
Now, I was free to start my search without any threats of being thrown into hell because I just new I was SAFE. I went east to Zen and to Alan Watts(my personal favorite) and even to a wonderful life-changing book called, "Return to the One").
I've found that these sources, along with many others outside traditional Christianity, have done nothing but increase my faith in the Goodness of God and my resolve to keep on searching.
In the meantime, I really believe (there's that word again) that I'm going in the right direction. I have this "feeling" that "I know that I know".
As I tell my wife, even if I'm wrong, at least I'm easier to live with now that I'm no longer under such religious condemnation. And that might be a good sign.....?
I'm just thinking aloud. I'm sure some of you think I'm all wet. And that's O.K. Maybe I am....but my wife is glad I'm all wet.
Posted by: Chuck De Vries | April 19, 2011 at 12:45 PM
The world would be a better place
if religious people were like you.
Thankyou for your honesty and always feel
free to share your feelings.
It seems everyone likes
Alan Watts. A few years ago some
radio station would play his old
It seems the cream floats to the
top no matter how obscure.
Posted by: Mike Williams | April 19, 2011 at 10:14 PM
In his new book "Love Wins" Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from "the greatest achievement in life," my ebook on comparative mysticism:
(46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.
(59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.
(80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.
Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote "In God we all meet."
Posted by: Ron Krumpos | April 20, 2011 at 11:20 AM