Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Christian Memes on the Battlefield: Is Gandhi Going to Hell?

Pastor Rob Bell, a leading liberal Christian, dropped a bomb on the Evangelical right-wing faction of Christianity. Bell is calling the right-wing evalgelical ideas of Heaven, Hell, redemption and torture misguided and toxic. He is calling out the Evangelical right for their preposterous and indefensible concept of the afterlife.

Bell is saying that there are (*gasp*) other ways to Heaven than Evangelical Christianity! The blasphemy!

The Evangelical right's vision of Hell is one of the best tools in their toolbox, and it's no wonder they're upset about Bell's challenge. Of all the tricks that keep people going to church, the idea of eternal damnation and torture is one of the best. Sure, people like the idea of being good to start with, and of being rewarded for it later. But without Hell they could still have a beer or two, bet $100 on the Super Bowl, have sex before marriage and still feel like things were OK with God. "Maybe I'll get slapped around a little in purgatory, but hey, it was worth it!"

But Hell? There's no way you can spin that into an inconvenience. According to the conservative Christians, you have to follow their formula exactly: Go to church, accept Jesus as your personal savior, follow all the rules and so on. Miss any step of their formula and you're screwed. Royally screwed. You're screwed even if nobody ever told you the rules.

According to the Evangelicals' reckoning, Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest men of peace in history, is going to Hell. And it's stuff like this that's driving Christians away from Christianity. It's just ridiculous on the face of it to claim that a loving God would torture a man of peace like Mahatma Gandhi forever. Even the average Jane or Joe sitting in the pews can figure that out.

You can see why the Evangelical right of Christianity is objecting so strenuously. Bell is one of the most popular preachers in America and a well-known author. If his philosophy starts to take hold the Evangelical right will lose one of the best tools in their toolbox.

They're hitting back hard. Bell's theology has been described as "moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity" and "unspeakably sad." The Reverand Albert Mohler Jr. (whom I've written about before) called Pastor Bell's idea that Gandhi might go to Heaven a "theological striptease." I have no idea what Mohler means by that but it sounds nasty.

(Hey, do you suppose I could get into Heaven? I'm actually a pretty good guy, except for this atheism thing! Nah, forget it.)

I'll be watching this battle-of-Christian-memes reality show as it unfolds. I love watching memetic evolution in action. Which side will win? Like all evolution, only time will tell.


  1. There's already a swell of criticism against pastors like Joel Osteen for "playing down" the concept of an afterlife of eternal suffering. After all, what's a good religion without the bite of eternal damnation? It's all bark, that's what, and that religion won't last.

    I'm torn on issues like this. On one hand, I get that it's an improvement to stop talking about mystical afterlife, especially as Christian afterlife is the ultimate trade in values: you act selfless during your mortal life, but you're doing it for eternal payoff and/or God-given approval. It's not truly altruistic.

    On the other hand, it's still the same religion trying to wriggle and squirm its way into modernity. I like my religions with a lot more action. Give me Greek polytheism or give me atheism.

  2. Judgment Day:




    converted *MILLIONS*







  3. This seems really simple to me.

    If people gets convinced that everyone can go to heaven by just being a good guy, religion would be royaly screwed!

  4. Hehe, you got a David Mabus drive by comment! Weirdo is in the dungeon over at Pharyngula. Maybe this is some sort of compliment?

  5. As a Christian myself, I'm glad that someone as influential as Rob Bell is bringing this up, because the fire-and-brimstone-if-you-don't-sit-in-my-pews concept of Hell is a toxic lie. But I doubt he's advocating "being a good guy" as our path to eternal joy. It isn't that "being a good guy" in that sense wouldn't work; it just can't be done. Is there anyone who hasn't violated their conscience? Even Ghandi? People might refer to themselves as "good," but they have no real basis for making that judgment. Jesus himself said: "Why do you call me good? Only the father is good."

    Much more likely, Bell is taking the same position as C.S. Lewis and even some interpretations of Dante: that people who honestly and humbly seek Christ will find him, even if they do not know him by name in this life. Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. Was Ghandi asking, seeking, knocking? Would he have followed Christ if he had not been thrown out of a church by racist scumbags?

    Though I am not the judge, I think so. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, but he is not passive; "he is not a tame lion." He is not a mere method, but a person, and a person who will reach out and open the door for those who knock. So, like many Christians, I think it is quite unlikely that Ghandi is burning in Hell. But that does not mean that other religions are equally true, or that Jesus isn't the only way. It means that while Jesus is the only way, he's a wonderful way and doesn't abandon those who love him. This is no contradiction with scripture as far as I know. And even if it is a contradiction with scripture, the truth of scripture isn't self-evident; the only self-evident reason to believe in God is his felt personal presence.

  6. The idea that you must have heard of, and accepted, a local man as the messiah is just ludicrous. What if you live in rural China, a satte that actively tamps down on missionaries? What if you never hear of Jesus, or the thousands who had no way to hundreds of years ago? Then what?

  7. Nathan – What does it mean to have "felt personal presence"? That makes no sense. People convince themselves all the time that things are true that plainly aren't.

    One of the greatest advances in the history of civilization is the concept of a verifiable reality. I believe in objects I can see and touch. I believe in a great deal of science that I can't see and touch but that I can sense through sophisticated instruments that I understand. I believe that the tiny dots in the night sky are actually huge suns. All of these thing can be verified, directly or indirectly, through our senses.

    These things all have a verifiable external reality. "personal feelings" are nothing. They're still nothing even when millions or billions of people share them. They're less than nothing when the only people who share them are people who have been told that they should feel them. If you'd been born in China, you'd have gone your whole life without feeling God's presence. If you'd been born in an Islamic country, you'd be praying to Allah.

    How can that be proof of anything?


Dear readers -- I am no longer blogging and after leaving these blogs open for two years have finally stopped accepting comments due to spammers. Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to write to me, click on the "Contact" link at the top. Thanks! -- CJ.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.