Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hellvangelicalism

It came to my attention today as I was watching The Root of All Evil -- a documentary by famed atheist biologist Richard Dawkins -- that religious fanaticism in America is indeed a sick and grotesque parody of the message of love, and non-judgmentalism that Christ demonstrated. Dawkins brought to light the oppressive, fear-based tactics of a particular group of fundamentalist evangelicals who caper about under the name Hell House Outreach. This particular brew of insanity purposefully sets out to frighten people -- children in particular -- into belief in God.

Really, it's not unlike the equally distorted, and fear-mongering tactics of Canada's Heaven's Gates Hell's Flames. A shameless, base production that feeds off of people's confusion, ignorance, and (like has been said already) fears.
I do have to wonder what drives a person to the point where they find it morally acceptable to make a circus display out of separation from God? And why is it permissable to promote hellfire and the cruelties of the demonic world to particular target audiences -- more specifically, children 12 and up? Are they mature enough at 12, suddenly, that depictions of callous hatred, malevolence, torture, and brutality are reasonable psychological tools to win their minds over to Christ? Is that what Christ said would display the love of God the Father? Are we looking to fashion the theater after the Inquisitions? And why do these kinds of productions always present good and evil, God and the devil, heaven and hell in such simpleminded, hackneyed ways? Haven't we exhausted the market on binary notions of good and bad, light and dark, God and the devil, etc.?
I put this kind of stuff on level with Fred Phelps and his band of bigoted butt-holes.

14 comments:

Gregory said...

While I (a former Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames alumnus--I once played the drug dealer who gets dragged off to hell by Satan himself--and it scared the hell outta me!) would agree that using hell as a horror-movie-esque means of conversion is rather extreme, especially, as you said, when marketed to children, I would, however, say that there is some good to be achieved in teaching on the reality and the horror of hell. It is, after all, a reality, as is the Devil. Proclaiming that is not all scare tactics.

Christopher said...

Gregory,

I'm firmly of the belief that the implication of not accepting the forgiveness that Christ offers is enough education on hell: not accepting Christ's forgiveness means, biblically speaking, eternal separation from God. From where I sit, that's enough of a scare. After that, it's just details of which we really know nothing about. And you know what they say about the details: the devil's in them. ;)

Christopher said...

p.s. Gregory, I'm also a HGHF alumnus. In the infancy of my conversion, I played one of the demons that dragged people into hell. I was also a car-crash victim that was dragged into hell. After the production was over and people were crying, shaking in fear, and some people were muttering in disgust, that's when I first started having my doubts about the merits of such productions.

Gregory said...

I quite agree that eternal separation from God is the consequence of not accepting Jesus. However, the full implication of what that means may not be enough of a scare from where a potential convert sits. There is a reason why Jesus spent more time talking about it than about heaven...

Christopher said...

Gregory,

You could be right. Your understanding is not unconvincing. But I wonder, are you ready to accept the possibility that Christ spoke in a culturally necessary way? That is, it may have been a necessity in His culture to speak more of hell than heaven? Our current culture has seen enough of the world's most horrific atrocities that perhaps a greater emphasis on Christ's love, the love of the Father, might go further than a macabre freak-show meant to elicit and capitalize on people's fears. That might be the cultural necessity for our times.

What do you think?

Gregory said...

In proclaiming the reality and severity of Hell, Chris, I would never desire it to boil down to "a macabre freak-show meant to elicit and capitalise on people's fears." Should people have a healthy fear of Hell? I would think so, as this can often be the beginning of a spirit of true contrition, just as it is part of the beginning of the Act of Contrition: "I am heartily sorry for my sins, for I fear the loss of heaven and the pain of hell..."

However, the better part of contrition is the sorrow for offending the God of Love, and not simply forfeiting a reward or incurring a punishment. Hence the act continues, "but most of all, I detest all my sins for by them I have offended thee, O my God, who art all good and all worthy of my love..."

It seems to me that our culture as a whole has a rather myopic vision of Hell, turning it into either some sort of horror fetish or else into the foundation of jokes. How many times do my unbelieving friends quip that Hell will be where all the cool people are? Where all the fun is? The world at large seems to have no conscious recognition of the presence of God here and now. Simply telling them that rejecting Him now means spending eternity without His presence is not something that really means anything to them, unless one explains just what that entails--namely, the "loneliness, a place of wondering ... of despair" that J mistakenly used to describe Purgatory in that other thread.

But you know me, Chris. I'm all about the balanced approach. And glorifying the horror of hell to save souls is not a balanced approach. Trying to save souls without proclaiming God's superabundant love is not giving them the Gospel. On that we both surely agree.

Anonymous said...

In light of this excellent conversation, one might be interested in checking out this link:
http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/god-essays/judgement/the-case-for-annihilationism/

Since the basis for the HGHF's form of evangelism is the belief that the unimaginable horrors of hell are an eternal form of punishment ordained for those who reject salvation through Christ, it might be somewhat shocking to know that scripture is not black and white on the issue of eternal punishment. It might also cause a re evaluation of the reasons for evangelism.
Challenging stuff.
Wyatt

Gregory said...

Hi Wyatt.
Haven't read Dr. Boyd's article yet, as I don't have time at this moment, but I've come up against the argument for annihilationism before, and have rejected it based both on Scripture and the unchanging Tradition of the Church since the beginning.

If you're interested, I wrote a response to another organisation's claims for annihilationism here.

God bless,
Gregory

tag-photos said...

Makes perfect sense to promote Christianity like this. After all aren't you all good "God FEARING" Christians?

Christopher wrote:

"But I wonder, are you ready to accept the possibility that Christ spoke in a culturally necessary way? That is, it may have been a necessity in His culture to speak more of hell than heaven? Our current culture has seen enough of the world's most horrific atrocities"


I would like to comment on that.

With the exception of increased globalization of media and news in general current cultures have not been exposed to more atrocities than any other culture in recorded history.

Genocide, slavery, oppression. Those are all timeless things. And while we would like to think progress has been made in some of these fields they are all still rampant.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gregory,
I'll read your response. I am not a proponent of the annilhilism (man, how do you spell that word?) theology. It's just one of those thoughts that is and has been out there for some time.
Cheers,
Wyatt

Gregory said...

Hey Wyatt.
Having read Boyd's article now, I have to say that I believe that I covered most of his arguments for annihilationism (the root is "nihil" from the Latin for "nothing". From that, it's easy to add the pre- and suffixes--if that helps you with your spelling) in my article linked above.

Boyd makes some points that I don't address specifically in my own article, since, obviously, I wasn't responding directly to him. I'll take a stab at some of them here:

First of all, when Boyd deals with texts (particularly from the Old Testament) supposedly in support of Annihilationism, he draws frequently from the Psalms as well as Isaiah, and every passage he cites is poetical. In fact, pretty much every description of Hell in the Bible must be at least somewhat metaphorical, since we have no tangible experience of it with which to offer a literal description. As such, when Boyd answers objections to the Annihilationist argument at the end of the essay, and rejects Revelation's description of eternal torment as poetical and symbolic, he undercuts every text that he has previously cited in support of his own view.

Second, when he suggests that our notion of the soul's immortality is simply a Hellenistic accretion into Christian thought, he commits two errors in thinking. The first is that he never actually offers any sort of demonstration of this claim or any proof in support of it. He simply states, "Unfortunately, some (but not all) early Church fathers accepted the Hellenistic view and consequently read into Scripture the view that the wicked suffer unending torment." He doesn't adequately demonstrate that the early Christian fathers who did so were wrong in doing so, other than by quoting yet another bit of poetry (1 Tim 6:16) to support his position.

The second error he commits in saying that belief in the soul's immortality is a hellenism is what's known as a genetic fallacy. That is, it's a fallacy to disregard a position based on its origins. The fact that the Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul before Christianity came along does not automatically make that belief wrong.

Finally, my problem with the annihilationist view and with Boyd's article is that it contradicts nearly 2000 years of Sacred Christian Tradition. Now, I assume that I'm talking to a Protestant, Wyatt. Correct me if I'm wrong. The fact that annihilationism contradicts the Tradition of Hell may not hold much weight for you, as it does for me, a Catholic, but the thrust of my point is here: I can approach Scripture and find ample evidence for an eternal hell, just as an annihilationist can find ample support for his theory. If we both use the Bible alone as our authority, how do we decide between us? I, however, as a Catholic, have an historic Tradition to which I appeal to guide the interpretation of Scripture, and throughout the Church's history, it has been unanimous in its belief in a real, eternal Hell. Annihilationism, on the other hand, seems to be a much more recent idea, the modern Annihilationist movement having begun in the mid-60's.

God bless,
Gregory

Christopher said...

TP,

"Makes perfect sense to promote Christianity like this. After all aren't you all good "God FEARING" Christians?"It doesn't make sense to promote Christianity like this, I suggest, precisely because we're "God-fearing" Christians, and not hell-fearing Christians. If we want people to share our joy, our comfort, our love, then it would seem to me to make much more sense to promote Christianity through messages of love, not-so-much through messages of escatological brutality, and damnation.

"Genocide, slavery, oppression. Those are all timeless things. And while we would like to think progress has been made in some of these fields they are all still rampant."It is because I don't think any moral progress has been made that I suggest that human atrocities have increased, not decreased. For example, the two world wars of the 20th century combined amount to 109-million. That amounts to 90% of all deaths caused by war since 1700. And while that doesn't seem like such an impressive figure, consider that the human population has grown exponentially since the 1700's, and so has our ability to kill each other in new and fanciful ways. The very fact that we continue to develop more and more inventive ways to destroy ourselves on larger and more grandiose scales is testimony to the fact that we are not progressing morally, and that we are increasing surplus atrocities as we increase our technology (and population) to do so. Basic inductive reasoning.

So, since our morality has not changed a lick to deter us from genocidal mania, I don't see any benefit in Christians creating a play that promotes human grief and supernatural terrors as a method of marketing a loving God. The message seems contrary almost, and insensitive at least.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gregory,
Thank you for your comments. Your points concerning Boyd's article are well spoke. In one of his own books, he points out that he himself is not 100% clear on what Hell exactly is or is not from scripture. As you say, "we have no tangible experience of it with which to offer a literal description". I have no doubt there is a place like hell. Since I don't have road map to the hell's stars, I am always hesitant to attempt to define it. I usually choose, when asked, to describe Hell as a place where God is, since His presence is everywhere (according to Psalms), but where were you can not interact or communicate with him because you are unable to. This being, of course, because Jesus is the mediator, the one way by which we connect with God. I can't say how theologically correct my statements are, but it works for me... at this point in my journey.
I am, by the way, a dyed-in-the-wool Pentecostal/Charismatic hybrid, with some Ecumenical leanings. I am of the age now where I tend to not label myself anything other a Protestant (depending on the company) or simply a follower of Christ.
Blessings,
Wyatt

Gregory said...

Hey Wyatt.
Interesting thoughts. I once heard a priest describe hell in similar terms.

He described Heaven as being so utterly free of sin and open to the love and the presence of God as to enjoy His face and intimate union with Him.

Purgatory, according to his description, consisted of being open to God, but still clinging to things of the world, or to sin, which ultimately is selfishness. Yet our openness to God allows Him to purify us of those other attachments.

Hell, then, for this priest, was to be so selfishly closed in on ourselves that we've completely turned inwards--almost inside out--shutting God out completely, and even though He is present, we have rejected Him and are incapable of receiving His love and presence, and are left then, totally alone, without that blessedness. Which, of course, is suffering.