A Christian Heretic, What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Post 11 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Controversial Christian leaders. Often they make headlines of late around pedophilia, endorsing political leaders from the pulpit, linking tragic events around the globe to atheists, gays, you name it if the group isn’t Christian it must be their fault. Now a Michigan Evangelical paster is stirring up trouble, but not for any of these tried and true reasons. Rob Bell is preaching about God’s love and the saving power of Jesus to tens of thousands of people.

Huh? He is Evangelizing thousands of people to be Christian and still he is in trouble. The trouble surrounds his notion that it isn’t all about Heaven and Hell, it is also about what you do while you’re here on Earth oh and not as many folks go to Hell as other Christian leaders claim. The other heretical notion that guess what no one really knows what happens when we die. So his crimes are also tried and true, just a bit older in form. He is a true heretic: calling into question religious dogma and asking his followers to question it to. He is one of the most interesting Christian leaders I’ve come across lately. I can’t wait to read and review his new book: “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

Trailer for the New Book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODUvw2McL8g

Background on the controversy: http://www.religionnews.com/index.php?/godfactor/is_rob_bell_a_heretic/

Rob Bell’s response: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/19/rob-bell-punches-back-against-claims-of-heresy/

I hope that more Christians like Bell get the press and have the courage to speak loudly, there are a lot of other people trying to make their faith look horrible, bigoted, and full of fear and hate. There is such a thing as a good, love-filled, and love-driven Christian — they just get in trouble when too many people notice.

P.S. Thank you to my friend Lily who is in a theology program for first telling me about the Rob Bell controversy being discussed in her class.


Evangelical Disbelief

Post 7 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

I’m struggling with Evangelicals lately. Not Evengelical Christians, some of whom are greatly problematic for me on multiple fronts, but with Evangelical Atheists. This is something I encounter directly within the humanist/atheist/nontheist community and when I’m in multifaith settings is often the biggest hurdle to overcome to get to productive dialog. The chasm between believers and nonbelivers, where the headlines and big stories are largely Christians vs. Atheists or vice versa is something that causes me concern given that both camps have gotten more and more angry in their language and less able to have any sort of civil discourse. Sadly this sort of inability to even hear let alone consider the other side is becoming the norm in religious, political, and just about every other kind of debate leading to dangerous places. A post from a Christian perspective on this issue can be found at Meg Hitchcock’s blog.

The Background:

Yesterday a video continued to make its way around the internets with a young woman basically saying that God made the tragic events in Japan happen to show atheists he exists. It was largely an anti-atheist message tied to the Lenten Season of Christianity. It was later reported by the creator to be a troll video (something made to be intentionally upsetting or to cause chaos). Here are two posts with the original video and then the coming-clean video. The user’s youtube account was shut down as well.

While the original video seems to be a fake, the ideas behind are not. Groups that fall outside conservative Christendom are often blamed/tied to natural disasters and seen as inherently evil, corrupt, or untrustworthy – a Salon.com article about the last Presidential campaign has some nice summaries and links to other articles and this line:

Thus, white evangelical Ministers are free to advocate American wars based on Biblical mandates, rant hatefully against Islam, and argue that natural disasters occur because God hates gay people.

The view that atheists are inherently bad isn’t just held by a group of evangelical leaders that have a national podium/pulpit to speak from either. While not going as far as saying that nonbelievers are the cause of natural disasters, around half of all Americans say they would refuse to vote for a well-qualified atheist candidate for public office, more than any other minority group in the United States (source: Good Without God by Greg Epstein).

A friend of mine posted the statement “So if I wasn’t ready to say I’m an atheist before, I sure am after watching this video” along with the original troll video linked about above. Which started a firestorm of comments (currently at 52) throughout the day. The first few posts weren’t out of the ordinary with people mostly saying how out of line the post was or how her viewpoint wasn’t what Christianity was really all about. But then the below quoted post happened and I had to keep reading and then write a long (2 comments worth) of response which became this post.

Urg… I dont get what the fuss is. She is christian. This is what ALL Christians think, that its gods will. We should never be disgusted with one christian in particular was should be disgusted with all of them all of the time. Dumb Christians are nothing new. More Christians need black eyes and broken teeth. People tend to re think what they say after you punch em in the mouth.

And later:

Religion breeds willful ignorance. Some people like the warm fuzzy feeling of going to heaven so they say they believe, others kill women and children because they believe. I am as passionate on my position as the most dyed in the wool faith head, the difference between us is I’m fighting for equality and the end to the ridiculous ideas of faith. Religion is just stupid.

My Response on Facebook:

I’m sorry you’ve drawn such a firm line in the sand. I think clearly this person has had a life and childhood that I can’t imagine or may also have actual mental illness. I’m also sorry to the general facebook community for this long post, I promise I have a point. To address something brought up before, many ideas bring about death of innocent people but also save lives at the same time.

Take guns for instance, created to end lives (either of animals or people) which can be used to protect ones home, take down corrupt governments, or murder someone in cold blood. The gun isn’t inherently good or bad but a tool for doing good or bad.

Now take a more abstract idea like money. The idea that one object has some sort of value complete because we as a society say it does and that object can then be traded for other objects. I would say a lot of modern society would be difficult if not impossible to make sort without a concept of money (whole other conversations could be had about this) but lets pretend for a moment that having the ability to quickly earn and spend and trade the time we spend doing things for the resources we need or the things we want is good. Now the same concept is rife with problems, people die because of money, do and have done to them horrible things because of money. But once again these are societal or individual choices on how money is used not something inherent in the concept of money.

I think belief in god/G-d/God(s) and the supernatural in a larger sense to be similar to other concepts. Humans are able to think in the abstract and symbolize, this is what makes humans so special as a species. The idea that there are things beyond what we can see and powers out there that we can barely imagine and yes even possibly an entity that has a plan or motive of some kind isn’t inherently going to cost human life. I would say it is this great amount of imagining that led us as a species to be able to think of things like atoms, quarks, air planes, electricity, viruses, bacteria. All of them are also unperceivable to varying degrees but our obsession with what makes things happen led to our varying degrees of understanding of these and so many more amazing things in the world. And to bring it back closer to the point, the concept of a personal knowable god has led to amazing works of art, architecture, philosophy, and charitable works in the world. I like living in a world with the American Red Cross, and Hospitals in general. Yes, horrible things are done in the name of Christianity and other religions but once again it isn’t the idea that we should get together once a week in a small community of folks that believes in an invisible force that is looking out for humans that is causing these good or bad things. It is the believers that believe them, it always comes back to personal responsibility not the identities we claim, the things we believe, or the tools we employ.

My Takeaway:

As you can imagine with 52 posts and counting there was a lot of discussion around this topic which I think is the real value in this troll video happening. The debate was well underway on many websites before being revealed as a troll video but I don’t think its status as a troll video really matters in the end. Yes it was staged and yes it was offensive, but the ideas, beliefs, and prejudices behind the video and the comments are all real and something to think about and work through not as Christians and Atheists but as human beings with many differences but many more similarities.

The enemy of Humanism is not faith – the enemy of Humanism is hate, it is fear, it is ignorance, it is the darker part of man that is in every Humanist, and every person in the world… But faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God means believing absolutely in something, with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers. — Joss Whedon