In a recent lesson I heard a preacher admit what I truly believe many other preachers would say, if they were perfectly honest, namely that he did not like the idea of Hell and wondered about anyone who really did enjoy that reality. Of course, this preacher went on to state that he was forced to believe in Hell because the Bible spoke about it. In expressing these sentiments, he undoubtedly verbalized the position of many who claim Jesus as their spiritual guide and, in so doing, exposed perhaps the most troubling of all aspects of Christian Orthodoxy.
The supposed reality of eternal punishment for non-Christians is the basic doctrinal tenet upon which the church exists and functions. As another preacher tellingly concluded- without a Hell, the church has no meaning or purpose.
Thoughtful Christians have to ask how it is that they are forced to accept and embrace an ethical concept which is so obviously reprehensible. No matter how the church and its leaderships would attempt to paint over the doctrine of eternal punishment with glib words, bald assumptions, and appeals to traditional thinking, the reality remains unchanged- Hell is not nice and a god who operates that way isn’t either.
How can something that is reprehensible become compelling, something that we must be believed and accepted? What makes a book capable of forcing people to embrace what they find to be repugnant? An even more important question might be this- When a people claim to believe something which they hesitate to believe, can that result from anything other than indoctrination, cultural conditioning, and, perhaps, just plain old brainwashing.
When someone admits that they believe something unbelievable because they read it in a book, I must conclude that this book is their idol, a physical representation of some divine being who demands unquestioning obeisance to that icon. The book becomes the god, expressing demands which cannot be avoided no matter how difficult or troublesome.
How did the Bible become Christianity’s god? The historical process by which that happened is well documented. Ancient men assembled a book and pronounced it to be divinely inspired and unimpeachable in its accuracy and completeness. Then the institutional church sold it as such to countless generations who didn’t have the book and couldn’t read it if they did. In so doing the church confirmed for itself a prominent and powerful role in western societies, assuring its ability to mold and manage all religious discourse for centuries. Thus we have what we experience today, a church which worships the Bible, or at least their interpretation thereof, because by limiting all debate to the words therein, they exercise absolute control over the spiritual understanding of those under the church’s influence.
In all its aspects, the church has managed to inject itself and its biblical interpretation between God and man, making itself and its holy book the true god or gods. The average church member cannot see or hear God with the physical senses, so they rely on what they can see- the institutional church and its divine text. Of course, in reality, the average member only knows what the church happens to say about the book in those carefully crafted sermons. Rarely do those messages address anything troublesome in church doctrine or anything which demands critical evaluation, as in the example cited above.
Church members are beginning to wake up from their centuries’ long spiritual slumber, seeking ever more frank discussion of worrisome and confusing doctrinal issues. When even the occasional preacher can venture to be publically honest about how he feels versus what he thinks the Bible demands, it is obviously time to reconsider what really should determine what we believe and what should be discarded as rightfully unreal.