Sheldon’s note: Though I use the word “Christianity” in the title when talking about the Christian doctrines of salvation and hell, I am primarily referring to understanding of these doctrines from a fundamentalist perspective; I do understand that some Christians, especially Christian universalists, don’t even believe in the doctrine of hell at all.
My understanding of Christianity primarily comes from my fundamentalist upbringing and former beliefs, so that is my frame of reference when discussing theological matters.
Though fundamentalism both annoys and repulses me, few strains of fundamentalism (other than cults like the Independent Fundamental Baptist group and Sovereign Grace Ministries of course), annoy me more than people on the more extreme end of Calvinist theology, what the writers of the Christian website The Wartburg Watch like to call “Neo-Calvinists” or “Calvinistas”.
There’s many reasons why I find their theology highly repulsive (and probably still would feel the same way if I had become a more moderate Christian instead of leaving Christianity altogether), but primarily it’s the way they view god, and the way they view humanity. This line of thinking, to me, completely strips away all sense of human dignity, and free will, all while claiming to believe in free will at the same time.
Due to the popularity of ministers/theologians like John Piper and R. Albert Mohler, and the influence of the denomination’s deep connections to the cult Sovereign Grace Ministries, which I mentioned earlier, Neo-Calvinism has become extremely popular among Southern Baptist churches, including the one I am undercover in.
“Jason”, my Sunday school teacher, and co-worker, who makes quite a few appearances in my Undercover Agnostic series (I talked about him just last week), has fully embraced this kind of theology (sometimes I can almost hear John Piper’s voice instead of him when he is speaking about theology).
I was having a discussion with him a few weeks ago about theology, it’s odd that whenever we are outside the church, he still wants to talk about and debate theology, I suppose it’s because he’s one of the few people I have come out to about my change in beliefs, and it’s like a fun challenge to him, he wants to know if he can hold his own in a debate with an agnostic.
I was debating with him the concept of a just, loving god, and one of the major points that really disgusts me about fundamentalist theology: the idea that you must either accept Christianity, or suffer in hell if you refuse to do so. I had made the point of asking how a “loving” god could do that to people, condemn people to hell, not merely because of what they had done in their lifetime (I could understand a god sending an unrepentant serial killer, or a dictator who had ordered acts of genocide to hell, for example), but just simply because they for some reason, chose not to believe in him at all, or believe he does exist, but reject Christianity.
He then goes into the standard talking points about the concept of “free will” in Christianity, god offers the choice to us whether or not to believe in him, he offers his forgiveness, and way out of hell, if we just merely make the choice to accept Christianity. Some fundamentalists, especially, more moderate Calvinists, and people of other theological camps in fundamentalism kind of shrink back a little when discussions of hell come up.
They do in fact believe that non-Christians are in fact going to hell, but they don’t necessarily like to say so, they almost seem apologetic about it, because they know just how unpopular the idea is to more liberal Christians, and non-Christians. They approach the idea almost in a way that makes it sound like they are saying “I don’t like this, I wish life were different than this, but this is unfortunately the way the world works.”
That’s not how neo-Calvinists approach it, they practically love and embrace the concept of hell. They see absolutely nothing wrong with it all. In the discussion with Jason, I knew since this the perspective of where he is coming from; I tried to get him to see how outsiders viewed this kind of perspective on hell. I tried to make the point that it’s not truly free will, a free choice of whether or not to love god and choose Christianity if the consequences of not doing so is eternal torment.
I told him, “Let me put it to you this way. Suppose someone were to tell their spouse: ‘Honey, I love you, and you have the absolute freedom to choose whether or not to love me, and to stay with me, but if you do ever decide to leave me, I will track you down, no matter how far you run, and kill you.’ What would we call that kind of person? “
His response was that it’s not a fair comparison, because god created us, and so therefore, he has the right to do anything he pleases with us, since we are his creation. He said that if he had built a robot, and it didn’t function the way he wanted to, or he simply got bored with it, he would have the right to destroy, dismantle, or alter it in any way he chose to do so.
That is a highly disturbing way to view god. On one hand, they claim that god is a loving god, but portray him as this cruel, uncaring malevolent creature, who views us as his playthings, his toys to toss around, roughhouse with, and do whatever he wants to with, after all, he created us, he owns us. I found Jason’s robot comparison to be especially striking because here he is promoting a rather distorted view of “free will”, and yet, he compares humanity to a machine that has no will of its own, no capacity to make decisions of its own accord, much like we do.
What I don’t understand is how someone could view god in such a way, and yet not only still choose to believe in him, and freely worship him, but believe that their god is somehow a loving god at the same time. How can they believe that humanity has free will in choosing to accept or reject god when they also believe that it’s a forced choice, with eternal suffering in hell being the penalty for the “wrong” choice? How could god truly be loving god if he are forced to love him, don’t they hammer into young people that love is a choice and not an emotion?
Their entire concept of god is so contradictory of itself that it reminds me of one of my favorite books, 1984, and the Party principle of “doublethink”. It would take about that level of bending your thought processes into horribly contorted shapes just to believe it all, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how I did it then. I guess I became an expert in doublethink myself.
If you want more insight into the Neo-Calvinist perspective on god, humanity and hell, check out my recent interview at the blog You, Me and Religion, (scroll down to question 19, if you don’t want to read the rest of the interview.
Also, this video from Southern Baptist leader R. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in
Louisville, can help explain this mentality
more: Remolding Hell (Part
3). It’s a segment from a show he has on local radio in Louisville.
If you can’t listen to the video for some reason, or don’t have the time to watch it, here’s a few highlights:
“If we start from the assumption that we do not deserve Hell, and our neighbors do not deserve Hell, and that God would be wrong to send us to Hell, then we have a fundamental misunderstanding of ourselves, a fundamental misunderstanding of God, and inevitably, we will fundamentally misunderstand the gospel.”
“It is God’s grace to be told that you are going to Hell”
“If you being to reconfigure a doctrine like Hell, before long, it leads to a total renovation of the Christian body of truth, all doctrine is interconnected, no doctrine stands alone, it is not as if they are separate cards in a deck, and you can put them down and say, ‘I’ll play this card here, and this card there’, no, they are all interrelated. It is the superstructure, the architecture of one great system of truth”
He clearly feels that disagreements with doctrine of hell, and his understanding of it, comes from misunderstanding the entire concept of Christianity itself, and doubting/questioning it leads to Christianity itself crumbling.