“It is a horrible thing for a man to be so doctrinal that he can speak coolly of the doom of the wicked, so that, if he does not actually praise God for it, it costs him no anguish of heart to think of the ruin of millions of our race. This is horrible! I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard visages, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal desiccation: all the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher creates none, and the people sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements, until they come to value him for being ‘sound’, and they themselves come to be sound, too: and I need not add, sound asleep also, or what life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy and making earnest men offenders for a word. Into this spirit may we never be baptized!”
Earlier this month I met up with my Former Fundamentalists Meetup group at a coffee shop in Saint Paul. It was a larger turnout than usual, about ten altogether, with several new faces there, and some of our meetings are usually devoted to sharing our “coming out” stories of how we left Christianity or religion. (Not all are atheists, but the majority is probably nontheist.) The purpose of the group is really to provide a sense of community and belonging, and a safe place for people who have been abused or had negative experiences in religion to share their stories—and there are some sad and even horrific stories amongst our members.
One of the guys is a former member of Bethlehem Baptist Church, my old church, so we have fun comparing stories about our experiences there and with John Piper, the lead pastor there, and the awful things that he says and does. In all honesty, it’s not at all productive or helpful and not in line with my current proactive kick, but it does feel good to be able to vent once in a while and feel understood.
In trying to find one quote from the eighteenth century preacher Jonathan Edwards, I came across the above passage from Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century British preacher and evangelist. I was really struck by how antithetical his statement is to what normally passes for conservative Christian attitudes today and how indifferent many of those Christians are to the thought of hell as regards the “damned.”
At Pride last month I met a Christian couple who was going around handing out Bibles and having conversations with people there. To my surprise they weren’t concerned at all with preaching or converting anyone to Christianity—or away from homosexuality, which was kind of a shock. Mainly they wanted to share the “love of God” with anyone and everyone there, and find out where people were at since they figured that so many of us at the festival probably had negative experiences with and perceptions of the church. They didn’t believe that homosexuality was a good thing, but also didn’t believe that it was their place to judge or tell anyone how they should be—which was also a bit of a shock since most Christians I know see it as their duty to “proclaim the Truth” (yes, with a capital ‘T’).
What Spurgeon describes is almost exactly what passes for “compassion” in most churches now. Oh, they’re sorry that some people won’t enjoy the pleasures of worshiping God in Heaven for all Eternity, but it doesn’t really keep them up nights. They seem to take a secret enjoyment in knowing that they’re on the winning side, on Team Jehovah.
Johann Gerhard wrote that “the Blessed will see their friends and relations among the damned as often as they like but without the least of compassion.” Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The sight of hell’s torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . . Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.”
And this is supposed to be the more moral worldview? The one that encourages parents to take sadomasochistic pleasure in the damnation of their own children, and of their friends and neighbors? This is the loving God that supposedly sent himself to die for the supposed sins of the sinful people he created?
Now, I would be remiss in not saying that there are plenty of Christians who do not subscribe to this doctrine. All in all, they are good, kind, compassionate people who believe that their God is one of love. But I have yet to hear from them a satisfactory answer to why, according to their own holy book, their God has done such horrific things—ordering the mass slaughter of entire cities in order to populate them with his “chosen people” (Deuteronomy 3, Joshua 6), ordering kidnapping and rape (Judges 21), slavery (including selling your own daughter as a sex slave (Exodus 21:1-11)), child abuse (Judges 11:29-40 and Isaiah 13:16), and human (including child) sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-19, Deuteronomy 13:13-19, Judges 11:29-40, 2 Kings 23:23-25), to name just a few of his crimes against humanity.
No wonder the Christians are so lacking in genuine compassion when they see examples like this from their God in their holy book.
In a recent editorial in the New York Times, Frank Bruni takes on the perennial subject of Michele Bachmann and her very public image as an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. He quotes Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who said: “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.”
Christians are quick to quote John 3:16, but seem to forget what follows it— “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…”