Probably anyone who is remotely familiar with Christian Orthodoxy as a religious faith, most certainly the evangelical variety, would know of two very prominent elements in its
theology. Amazingly, these two tenets of the faith are diametrically opposed. One is the threat of eternal punishment for non-Christians, and the other is the Golden Rule- do unto others as you would have them so unto you.
Naturally one would expect those who claim this faith to embrace its basic teachings and attempt to mold their lives accordingly. Having personally, at one time, ascribed to this religion, I now must ask myself whether I ever really reacted to these two aspects of my supposed belief system with any consistency and evident commitment to all that they imply.
To some extent, this question of commitment to the message of Christian Orthodoxy is often repeated from the church pulpit. Preachers routinely admonish their members to step up to the challenge of evangelism, which is the church's program to address eternal punishment. The question of compliance with the Golden Rule also gets some attention but usually as a very secondary issue. Preaching the Gospel or evangelizing does not involve any mention of the Golden Rule, so among the evangelically minded the Golden Rule is a distraction from the more important message. If the evangelical message actually states the reality of eternal punishment, which it does not always, any notice of the Golden Rule would be wildly confusing and contradictory.
Returning now to the question I ask myself about my previous faith I must conclude that the answer is no. My conclusion is that I thought I truly believed what was taught but never actually considered what believing meant in terms of a logical reaction and commitment. First of all, to fully believe in eternal punishment would represent a terrifying state of mind with horrific implications for my personal life. Trying to avoid this fate for myself and loved ones would necessarily require all my attention, subjugating all else in life to this threat. Bringing children into such a situation would be unthinkable. Wasting time on any activity beyond those essential to maintaining life would be a crime. Supporting any program which exposed another to being killed and tormented eternally would be unconscionable. The reality of hellfire would actually so focus one's life that what remained would amount to a state of insanity.
Moving on to the question of my commitment to the Golden Rule, I must again answer no. In countless ways back then and even yet, I treat others in ways that I would decidedly find unpleasant if treated that way myself. Sometimes this treatment involves my personal conduct and behavior and at other times its involves a proxy. That proxy is most often the secular government, but it can be any organizational power broker- commercial, administrative, or religious. The public policies I support, the business activities in which I engage, and the religious affiliations I endorse, all potentially result in a violation of the Golden Rule. I can hardly claim to uphold that rule by supporting these surrogates in a violation of the rule. However, I have done that often and continue to do so.
Admittedly, I am unsure as to how to structure society around the Golden Rule, but that admission does not dismiss the inconsistency. When coupled with the even larger inconsistency of preaching eternal punishment while sanctioning the taking of human life, I must conclude that in my former affiliation with Christianity Orthodoxy I was in a state of denial. Subconsciously, I harbored mental reservations about what the church had taught me while consciously trying to convince myself that I actually believed and acted appropriately. A slowly developing deeper reflection eventually forced me to drop all pretense and move on.