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Lutheran Leader joins It Gets Better campaign

Timothy Kincaid

October 29th, 2010

Some conservative Christians are dismissive of the notion that their campaign against “the normalization of homosexuality” contributes negatively to the mental health of young people. They may say “no one should be bullied,” but this brief aside is quickly drowned out by protestations of innocence and further denunciation of gay people. Take, for example, the statement released by a coalition of some anti-gay activists led by Linda Harvey:

“Gay” activists nationwide are fueling an effort to indict traditional moral values as “guilty until proven innocent” in some bullying incidents involving teens. Their proposed solutions end up sexualizing teens at young ages into known high-risk behaviors and silencing concerned parents.

In debate, they loudly insist that those children who go to church are taught not to bully, and that the guilty parties in most of the cases were not regular church attendees. We do not have any way of knowing the extent to which bullies do or do not attend regular services, but considering that anti-gay activist have taken their culture of condemnation of homosexuality outside of the boundaries of their sanctuary and into the public square, it really doesn’t matter.

It is, one would assume, incontrovertible that statements which rail against “homosexual activists” (defined as any self-identified gay person) in terms of contempt and loathing would have some impact on kids who recognize within themselves same-sex attraction. Any person working from logic would have to recognize that national organizations who claim that God doesn’t want a same-sex attracted kid to be able to have a support group in school has to play havoc on that kid’s self-worth.

Yet, the loudest voices who claim to speak for Christianity deny any fault. They are only speaking “the truth in love.”

We are not fooled by this, but they really don’t believe it themselves. They know – though they may not admit it – that bullied children are a victim in their war on our lives, freedoms, and civil rights. They know that those kids who commit suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying are a direct consequence of their political and social endeavors.

They simply believe it to be a sad but acceptable collateral damage. Yes, it’s a tragedy, but it’s better that that some kids be dead than that others think it is okay to be gay. As one anti-gay activist (who, to their credit, did not sign on to Linda Harvey’s statement) responded in private correspondence to my concern, “You are willing to put children through suffering in the assumption that your understanding of scripture is correct. Because of what you believe, others get to suffer.”

Timothy, you are affirming homosexuality to children based on your assumption that your understanding of Scripture is correct, and if it’s not, your facilitating their eternal suffering and separation from God. Eternity is a very long time.

But the blame does not lie solely with those who come bringing accusations of “abomination” and fears about the destruction of society. It also lies with those who let such statements be credited as holy. And for far too long, those less hostile within the Christian faith have been complicit in this message; they have stood aside lamenting the pain that was being caused, but doing little to counter-act it.

Those who read here regularly know that I defend Christians and others of faith from blanket accusations. But let me be bold to say that the Christian Church in America, collectively, is the primary facilitator of the message of condemnation that young gay kids hear, be it by active denunciation or by failure to counterbalance those who do.

So it was with a great deal of joy that I watched the contribution of Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the It Gets Better campaign.

YouTube Preview Image

Hanson speaks of love, he speaks of being the person God created you to be, he speaks of nothing being able to come between you and God. And at no point does he feel compelled to temper his comments with denunciation of “homosexual acts” or rants about agendas. He even acknowledges the hurt caused by some Christians and takes ownership for the pain caused by the silence of others.

I truly hope that every gay kid out there who is being raised in a Christian family and has equated their own person as being immoral or vile or ungodly will hear this message.

It is of tremendous importance that the inclusive Christian denominations find their voice in the debate over the place of gay men and women in society and the church. I welcome Hanson’s contribution, and hope that it is but the first of many positions on which the Lutherans, along with the other mainline churches, will be willing to speak out in favor of love and inclusion and in opposition to those who would usurp the authority of Christendom to engage in evil against our community.

Comments

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Timothy (TRiG)
October 29th, 2010 | LINK

MaJeff, a frequent commenter on Pharyngula, maintains that dead kids are “a feature, not a bug” of the Religious Right’s worldview. These people actually do want us dead.

Anyone who follows my posts will know that I’m no fan of any form of religion: all occlude critical thinking, and all favour “faith” over evidence. Most teach that morality isn’t primarily about people, and that may be the worst religious perversion of all. But to a gay kid in a religious household, this video may be far more helpful than my rantings. And that’s what matters right now.

To be fair, most of the Christians I know are decent people who are not only “tolerant” but actively speak up against homophobia. That’s a good thing.

TRiG.

Matthew Gatheringwat
October 29th, 2010 | LINK

While I appreciate Mark Hanson’s statement, I think it is misleading. The ELCA’s position on homosexuality is anything but unambiguous. The ELCA has no policy or rite for blessing same-sex relationships, for example. A 2009 position statement basically left it up to individual congregation to decide how to respond to gay marriage and sexually active gay pastors. A number of churches decided this was a step too far and broke with the ECLA. There are still plenty ELCA churches where young people are exposed to a message of hate. And even more were the message of acceptance is lukewarm.

Piper
October 29th, 2010 | LINK

I LOVE BISHOP HANSON!!!!! I’m going to email this clip to my church friends! It is so awesome to find when he does stuff like this.

Matthew, as an ELCA member my entire life I know we still have some major issues to fix, believe me I’m working myself as a congregant to get my backwater congregation to look open our recent call to LGBT pastors. Our church is probably one of the lukewarm churches you speak of right now, but about 1/3 of the church is actively working to change that.

Lutherans don’t do well with change, seriously, you should have seen our church when we got a new hymnal, we almost lost a few members because of that. But the thing I like about being in my church is that despite our biblical disagreements, my church is moving in the right direction. yes, it is as slow as molasses, I’m not making excuses for that, but we are a huge denomination, and with that comes a wide variety of different opinions, and everyone feels theirs is just as important as every other one. If we push the conservatives to hard they’ll never come over, and I have seen anti-gay congregants change their minds because of respectful conversations about biblical history and faith in my 25 years. I’m not going to abandon that path just yet.

That one vote took 8 years to get to, I remember being SOO frustrated every year when the national convo would come back with another recommendation to have a panel study it for another year. When the vote came down my synod ALMOST lost a church, but they voted to stay, and this is a very conservative synod (north Texas, northern Louisiana)

Sorry this was so long, this is a very big issue for me right now, and I will send Hanson’s office an e-mail thanking him for this as soon as I can. (I’ve got a church Halloween Carnival to get ready for right now) Night all!

Matthew Gatheringwat
October 29th, 2010 | LINK

Piper, I’m glad your church and the ELCA are creeping in a more accepting direction. Too bad it isn’t soon enough for the gay kids who are there now. Oh yeah, and sorry about all those gay and lesbian pastors drummed out the congregations in the meantime. Honestly, what do you get out of the church that is worth all those ruined lives?

Chris McCoy
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

Timothy’s anti-gay activist said:

Timothy, you are affirming homosexuality to children based on your assumption that your understanding of Scripture is correct, and if it’s not, your facilitating their eternal suffering and separation from God. Eternity is a very long time.

This argument is only valid if you believe that there is only One Correct Interpretation of Scripture, which sets up a False Dichotomy. But then, how many sects of Xianity are there that do just this – claim that their version, and only their version, is the correct version, and the members of all other sects are doomed to eternal damnation. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than picking the “correct” version of Christianity.

It also requires that you believe that God has not spoken to a single other living person in over 1900 years; which, when considering the vast quantity of people in the Bible to whom God did speak, makes it statistically unlikely that God would suddenly fall silent for 2 millennia.

Aaron
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

@Chris McCoy

mreh….. I don’t want to speak…. I shouldn’t speak…. okay okay, I will reeeeeeeeally quick, and this is all I’ll say and you can hang me for it in the next post, but it’s hard for me not to respond as a seminary student…

All sects of Christianity will by nature think they are most accurately representing God’s will for the Church on Earth (unless they’re Denominationalist which is increasingly common). But there are almost no sizable Christian faith traditions that believe that they hold the only ticket to the pearly gates. Sure, they may hold reservations about the practices of other denominations, but they cannot name a group of people as certainly going to hell without falling into error. Hence why the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Churches (roughly 65% of Christianity) can say, “We know where the Holy Spirit is, we know not where he is not.”

And, actually, we believe that God has spoken to loads of people over the last 1900 years! It’d hardly be interesting if He didn’t. I suppose one of those people you may have heard about was Mother Theresa, whose personal diaries were released after her death and revealed the visions and dialogue which she experienced during a very brief period at the beginning of her ministry (this was the reason why she went on to do what she did in Calcutta).

Mind you, we may all just be nuts, but nevertheless, the point is made that the same phenomena happens now as it appears to have for God knows how long (psychologically questionable or not).

And yes, before you say it, the Church is full of homophobic bastards, I know this very well. I can only say that many of us see examples such as the above video as a movement of God throughout the Church to rid it of this wicked cancer.

justsearching
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

The anti-gay activist wrote “Timothy, you are affirming homosexuality to children based on your assumption that your understanding of Scripture is correct, and if it’s not, your facilitating their eternal suffering and separation from God. Eternity is a very long time.”

Chris wrote “This argument is only valid if you believe that there is only One Correct Interpretation of Scripture, which sets up a False Dichotomy.”

No, this argument is valid only if you believe that two mutually contradictory descriptions can’t be simultaneously true. Either people go to Hell for living the gay lifestyle, or they do not. There is only one correct interpretation of scripture (that matches some supposed future reality) and the anti-gay activist is entirely correct to say that either his or Tim’s (but not both) interpretation is the correct one.

justsearching
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

“I can only say that many of us see examples such as the above video as a movement of God throughout the Church to rid it of this wicked cancer…”

Reason and facts are moving through the churches of America and some religious people are susceptible to reasons and facts.

Aaron
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

Occasionally, and with great restraint I fear.

Joyce L. Arnold
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

I am glad to see Hanson doing this, and for the steps forward the ELCA has taken regarding lesbians and gays (generally I see little to no mention of bisexual and transgender persons).

However, I am one of the former ELCA clergy who was removed from the clergy roster years ago — I was literally told I had a choice, my partner or my ordination. I was curious, then, what the ELCA would do when they finally decided one can be lesbian or gay, and have a partner. Would they make efforts to contact the many who were removed from their clergy roster? To date, at least in my experience, and those of others I know in the same position, the answer is, they do nothing.

That doesn’t make Hanson’s words any less important to those for whom they have meaning, but perhaps it provides some context.

Pomo
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

Wow MATTHEW… i’m sorry the ELCA isn’t taking a strong enough stance for you. Perhaps you should have been in on the 7 years of research and planning the ELCA went through to arrive at the 2009 Human Sexuality statement and vote.

The ELCA is the largest denomination in America to be LGBT friendly. It is the Lutheran way to be a big enough umbrella to allow those who disagree with a position (women, homosexuality etc.) to all live together. I haven’t seen any other denomination head create a video like this. Even many Lutherans who do not believe homosexuality to be morally acceptable will stand up for bullying in schools. I don’t know many Lutherans who you’d ever catch at an anti-gay rally.

Kudos Bishop Mark!

@JOYCE, there have been many LGBT pastors in relationships who have now been received into the church. I do not know about those who left. Lutherans Concerned would probably have more information for you.

Priya Lynn
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

“In debate, they loudly insist that those children who go to church are taught not to bully, and that the guilty parties in most of the cases were not regular church attendees.”

Assuming for the sake of argument that that’s true, that still doesn’t absolve them of guilt. The non-church going bullies still hear their message that gays are inferior wrongdoers and it still provides motivation and justification for bullying.

swampfox
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

I would hope that a number of accepting churches would make similar statements. I guess that we can’t even expect any Muslim clergy would make a similar statement.

JandyA Says
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

Hello People. I sit here on the verge of tears as I comment on this issue of Youth Suicide and the stance of the Church in America of demoralizing our gay youth. To YOU “holier-than-thou” PEOPLE of this Christian cult, I would say “Anathema”.

It is FOR CERTAIN the teachings of some churches have nothing but hatred and condemnation in their doctrine to the homosexual. Either change and denounce who you are… or suffer excommunication forever.

I say FOR CERTAIN because I was one of those youth. And I personally know several other boys of the congregation who could also attest to this. Our Preacher molested boys… on a regular… in great numbers… and NOBODY EVER NOTICED.

Excuse ME, But I don’t care for THAT KIND of “love and truth”. (Small Case Intended)

Idiotic Thinking…
WOW

Kid… some people truly will accept you as beautiful. Diverse does NOT EQUATE to deviance. We love you, kid. LOVE Yourself :)

PS… in some congregations you already ARE accepted… find your spiritual nurturing there.

Ray
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

HELP! Does anyone know of a transcript for Bishop Hanson’s video so deaf people can read it?

Ray
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

Whoa! If found a page where you can download a transcript of Bishop Hanson’s video.

Here: http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Office-of-the-Presiding-Bishop/Messages-and-Statements.aspx

Tom
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

As nice as this video is, it has nothing to do with Christianity. Telling gay kids that they are “beloved children of God” who have “a place in this world” is in direct contradiction to the Bible that is the basis of Christianity. That Bible makes very clear that man is but dust, to be killed or hurt by God for any reason or no reason. Moreover, all who do not accept the undeserved gift of salvation through Christ will burn in hell.
Thus, biblically, at this very moment, Jesus Christ is not weeping for the deaths of of Asher and Billy and the others, but rather is picking up where their tormentors eft off. None of these “sinners” accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and so each is doomed to eternal torment.

This is not a fringe belief. It is an integral component of Christian theology. Indeed, the Gospel or “good news” is that a relative few souls will be able to escape the mass torture that awaits nearly all of humanity at God’s hands. If there is no hell and if hell is not the default destination for most people, then there isn’t a need for a Savior and Christianity collapses.

To a normal person, this theology is readily seen as deranged, violent, and evil. But the Christian is so far gone as to be able to apprehend God as a mass torturer while at the same time affirming His boundless love. You can’t argue with them. You can’t reform them without destroying the essence of their theology. You can only fight them, and hope that there is a real God out there who will help us defeat them.

Tom
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

“Timothy, you are affirming homosexuality to children based on your assumption that your understanding of Scripture is correct, and if it’s not, your facilitating their eternal suffering and separation from God. Eternity is a very long time.”

The above quote is almost to a word the same justification that was put forward in Spain to justify the Spanish Inquisition. “Why not inflict a little torture on the Jew today in order to save him from an eternity in hellfire? This life is short and eternity is long; the Jew will thank us for torturing him once he is saved.”

At base, these people have not changed in 500 years. If it were socially acceptable to do so, they would own slaves. Tim, man up and print the name of the sociopath who sent you that message. As a Christian, he should be boldly standing behind his words, and should not desire anonymity.

Timothy (TRiG)
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

Tom, I’ll readily agree with you that Calvinism is sick and perverted and perhaps actually evil (indeed, Barbara Ehrenreich presents evidence that it actually makes people ill), but not all Christians are Calvinists, and saying they are doesn’t help. Nor is the Bible amenable only to a Calvinist interpretation. In fact, the Bible is a shoddy mess with little to no internal consistency, and is open to almost any interpretation you wish to put upon it.

Your juxtaposition of Timothy’s quote from his acquaintance with the one from the Inquisition was powerful. That should be highlighted. This line of thought has all the strength of Pascal’s Wager. It’s not only disgusting and immoral, it’s also intellectually shoddy.

TRiG.

Timothy (TRiG)
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

In some congregations you already ARE accepted … find your spiritual nurturing there.

Yeah. Don’t stop to question your beliefs, to subject them to rigorous analysis, and to determine whether they’re true or false. Don’t try to examine the world around you and to build up a moral code based on what you understand to be reality. Don’t worry about backing up that understanding of reality with solid evidence and reasoning. Just find somewhere you feel comfortable and don’t bother with all that effort of thinking for yourself.

TRiG.

Timothy (TRiG)
October 30th, 2010 | LINK

Tom, I’m trying to find a source for that Inquisition quote, and can’t. The exact phrase returns nothing. Bits about torture get me Christian justifications for Guantanamo. Bits about Jews give me anti-Semitism. I even tried searches based on Torquemada without success.

TRiG.

justsearching
October 31st, 2010 | LINK

You think the guy who wrote Timothy is a sociopath? But what he says is true. Timothy affirms gays in their lifestyle, and he does this because, based on his understanding of scripture, he is not endangering the eternal fate of their souls. Believing that Hell exists and that people go there for eternity does not make one a sociopath (though creating/sustaining such a place might.)

Joyce L. Arnold
October 31st, 2010 | LINK

Pomo wrote: “JOYCE, there have been many LGBT pastors in relationships who have now been received into the church. I do not know about those who left. Lutherans Concerned would probably have more information for you.”

I appreciate the response. lutherans Concerned has done great work on this, for decades. My leaving wasn’t by choice, though given how I was treated by the ELCA Southeastern Synod and the ELCA Chicago offices, it was clear they wanted me gone. My conclusion after multiple letters and phone calls, and after NOT being provided a face to face conversation with the Southeastern Synod bishop, was that I was consistently told: “These are the rules and we can’t do anything about them until somebody else changes them.”

I say that to honestly indicate my own perspective on this: I’m glad the ELCA finally – if after years and years of “study” during which they kicked out or lost a lot of good people — came to the new policy. I do think it’s telling, however, that (to my knowledge) they’ve made no attempts to reach out to those they removed from the clergy roster.

Again, I appreciate your reply to my earlier comment.

Tom
October 31st, 2010 | LINK

Tim:

I am sorry if my post was misleading. I wasn’t quoting anyone in particular; I was putting into quotes my plain English paraphrase of the well-known theological justifications for the Inquisition, as well as other systematic Christian violence.

To wit:

“The notorious hatred between Jews and Christians led the inquisitors to believe that their actions actually saved Jews from the hideous fate awaiting them in the underworld; since the Jews were dying at the hands of God’s children, their spirits would be pervaded by the wisdom and knowledge of God’s followers, and they would therefore be spared from hell and rise to heaven.”

http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/history/inquisition.asp

“I answer that, Among unbelievers there are some who have never received the faith, such as the heathens and the Jews: and these are by no means to be compelled to the faith, in order that they may believe, because to believe depends on the will: nevertheless they should be compelled by the faithful, if it be possible to do so, so that they do not hinder the faith, by their blasphemies, or by their evil persuasions, or even by their open persecutions. It is for this reason that Christ’s faithful often wage war with unbelievers, not indeed for the purpose of forcing them to believe, because even if they were to conquer them, and take them prisoners, they should still leave them free to believe, if they will, but in order to prevent them from hindering the faith of Christ.

On the other hand, there are unbelievers who at some time have accepted the faith, and professed it, such as heretics and all apostates: such should be submitted even to bodily compulsion, that they may fulfil what they have promised, and hold what they, at one time, received.

Summa Th II-II Qu.10 a.6, St. Thomas Aquinas

“We must remember that the main purpose of the trial and execution is not to save the soul of the accused but to achieve the public good and put fear into others.”

Francesco Pena (1578) “The Spanish Inquisition: a historical revision”
By Henry Kamen p. 174

Sometimes the violence is justified to save the sinner himself from Christ‘s torture chambers. Other times the sinner is written off, but his torture or execution serves as a valuable means to save the souls of others who might be tempted. In the context of Timothy‘s email correspondent, this would mean either that it is not so bad that Asher Brown is hounded and tormented, since it might put him on the right path, and anything he experiences at the hands of his peers would pale in comparison to the sadistic delights awaiting him when Christ personally casts him into the lake of fire. (Matthew 25:41) Alternatively, Asher Brown and the others might be written off as so much kindling, but at least their torment and suicides will be instructive to any of their classmates who might be tempted into “the lifestyle.”

Either way, once you accept the Christian premise of eternal torture as the default destiny for everyone except those who accept Christ, it is pretty easy to justify almost any action or inaction to prevent that fate.

Piper
October 31st, 2010 | LINK

Joyce
I am so sorry that the ELCA treated you like that. I know that nothing I say can change that. I don’t know anything about your synod, and I know my synod has angered me in the past, although not to the degree of kicking me out like yours did.

Have you sent e-mails or tried to contact Hanson’s office? Or contacted any of the more accepting Synods? I know that the ELCA needs to step up and reach out to the Pastors kicked out during the old rules. I sent Hanson an e-mail thanking him for the video, I’ll send him another asking what the church plans to do about the issue you raised. It is very important, and troubling that LGBT Pastors kicked out haven’t at least been contacted now. In my experience (my synod at least) the leadership sometimes has to be forced to do things they need to do, they get overwhelmed by all the things they are doing, and forget that they are leaving others behind, which is not acceptable.

Tom
October 31st, 2010 | LINK

Tim (TRIG):

“In fact, the Bible is a shoddy mess with little to no internal consistency, and is open to almost any interpretation you wish to put upon it.”

OK, but if that’s your defense of Christianity, then you have destroyed the village in order to save it. If the Bible is a shoddy mess – and I agree that it is – then there is no reason to believe the Resurrection or the Sermon on the Mount or any of the other “good” aspects of Christianity, all of which are sourced in that same shoddy mess.

If you want to argue that you can have Christianity without hell, then you would have to explain what Jesus claimed to be saving us from.

Timothy (TRiG)
October 31st, 2010 | LINK

Thanks, Tom. I’m somewhat familiar with the general arguments around the Inquisition: I’ve seen that argument before, but yes, I did think you were making a specific quote. Thanks for the clarification.

***

What on earth makes you think I was defending Christianity? It’s clearly nonsense, but it isn’t all Calvinist nonsense. There are Christians with quite different beliefs, but questions about how they defend those beliefs should be addressed to them, not me.

My family are Christians who don’t believe in Hell. (Well, technically, they do believe in Hell, but (a) their beliefs about Hell are very different to most Christians’ beliefs about Hell, and (b) they very rarely call it Hell, preferring the words Sheol and Hades.)

All I’m saying is that Christianity is, if you’ll excuse the expression, a broad Church. The God of the Bible is, I agree, a disgusting genocidal sociopath, fond of disproportionate retribution to violations of his petty regulations. The God many Christians believe in is, by contrast, rather nice. How the liberal Christians overcome that contradiction is their problem, not mine, but many do. If you want to take pot-shots at Calvinists, say that that’s what you’re doing. If you claim to be talking pot-shots at Christians in general, you’re arguments should be broad enough to cover all of them.

TRiG.

Timothy (TRiG)
November 1st, 2010 | LINK

you’re/your

Yikes, I must have been tired last night.

TRiG.

Joyce L. Arnold
November 1st, 2010 | LINK

Piper,

I appreciate your response. I’m realistic enough — including about my own perspectives on this — to realize that the good of the policy change is what’s most important here.

I made efforts through contacting the bishop of the synod in which I now live, someone I actually knew and worked with many years ago. I’ve yet to receive a response.

The synod bishop who was involved when I was given the choice between my partner and my name on the ELCA clergy roster had, a week earlier, asked me to serve as one of his assistants.

Your point is well made, that the people in charge are very busy, and likely not thinking of those who are, as you say, being left behind. Passing along that concern helpful.

An acknowledgement of the people for whom the policy change came too late seems like a reasonable thing to ask.

Thanks again for taking time to respond.

Tim Fisher
November 1st, 2010 | LINK

Hi Joyce,

I encourage you to contact us at Lutherans Concerned, Joyce. We might be able to help.

Tim Fisher
http://www.lcna.org

Tom
November 1st, 2010 | LINK

@Tim (TRIG):

I hope I didn’t come off as attacking you in any way. I wasn’t. One thing I love about BTB is that there is a lot of good discussion but a minimum of name-calling and attacks.

My only point was that a belief in hell (or some painful, terrible fate) for most of humanity is integral to Christianity. Christians may dispute a lot of things in both the Old and New Testaments, but if you don’t have a hell, then there is nothing to be saved from. If there is nothing to be saved from, there is no need for a Savior, and God’s great “sacrifice” of His Son would really be for no reason, and certainly not the reason that the Son himself gave.

So it seems to me that, to the extent that one wants to drop the idea of hell (which is a very good thing, in my view), then one is no longer operating within Christianity. How do you reconcile this conflict?

Tom
November 1st, 2010 | LINK

@justsearching:

What are you searching for?

“Believing that Hell exists and that people go there for eternity does not make one a sociopath (though creating/sustaining such a place might.)”

Believing that Hell exists doesn’t make one a sociopath any more than believing in Venus does. But believing that little children not only will be – but should be – thrown into fire where their flesh will burn for eternity, and feeling no remorse over or resistance to such a violent act does make one a sociopath. Moreover, when belief in Hell becomes a justification for guiltlessly perpetrating or abetting violence against children, that too makes you a sociopath.

Tim was corresponding with this unnamed individual about bullying prevention. That is what they were discussing, and the unnamed Christian is concerned that some kid might glean from a prohibition on bullying that somehow that means that gay is OK. Given the premise of Hell as eternal punishment for uncleansed sin – even for 13 year olds – it is far better from a Christian perspective for Asher Brown to be tormented and tortured until he repents or otherwise be killed and killed quickly before he can imperil the souls of others.

Timothy Kincaid
November 1st, 2010 | LINK

Tom,

I caution against lumping the beliefs of all Christians together. While a great many Christians believe in the existence of a hell, there are significant variations between what that means or even what qualifies one to “go” there.

A not-insignificant number of Christians believe hell to be less about “painful, terrible fate” and more about separation from God. And I am unaware of any Christian sects that believe “that little children not only will be – but should be – thrown into fire where their flesh will burn for eternity.”

But you are quite right that a great many Christians operate under the assumption that their belief in hell entitles them to interfere in your life. They even think that it makes them “loving” to do so.

justsearching
November 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Tom, it’s precisely because some Christians feel some level of remorse (a sentiment antithetical to those felt by a sociopath) that homosexuals will be burning in Hell that they try to ensure homosexuals don’t live out that lifestyle. They believe strongly that their views on Hell (and what causes people to go there) are right and they act upon those views. And Tim’s right, some Christians (some family members included) honestly think they are being loving for trying to interfere in people’s lives. As much as this makes me cringe, I can understand the rational behind their actions.

The views expressed by this correspondent probably match the views of 10-15% of Americans (maybe more, maybe less) and it seems pointless to me to characterize this sizable segment of our opponents as sociopaths.

Timothy (TRiG)
November 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I am unaware of any Christian sects that believe “that little children not only will be – but should be – thrown into fire where their flesh will burn for eternity.”

What about Jonathan Edwards, prominent Calvinist theologian and, it seems, thoroughly nasty man?

TRiG.

Timothy Kincaid
November 3rd, 2010 | LINK

TRiG

When Edwards wrote Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, I don’t think he had little children in mind.

werdna
November 3rd, 2010 | LINK

How old *do* you have to be to go to hell then? I’m not just being snarky, just being unchurched myself I’m totally ignorant about what various sects (the one’s that do believe in hell) believe about when or how one reaches the age of damnability.

Priya Lynn
November 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Werdna, hell is the default destination for all people regardless of age.

Timothy Kincaid
November 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Werdna,

Priya Lynn is misinformed about Christian theology.

At the core of the “hell” doctrine (for most Christians) is the notion that reward or punishment are tied to free will. The doctrine includes what is generally called “the age of accountability” and refers to the point beyond which a person is of significant maturity to decide to do good or ill and can comprehend the eternal consequences.

There are widely diverging opinions about the age of accountability and about hell itself (look up what the Adventists believe and how that differs from what Calvinists or Catholics believe) and most of that can be found on the internet.

Timothy (TRiG)
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

The belief that the default destination for the vast majority of humans is torment in the fires of Hell has been Christian Orthodoxy for years. It justified the Inquisition. It was certainly believed by Calvin, who thought the elect were very few in number. Sects differ, and many modern Christians have toned down both the torment of Hell and the proportion of people who go there.

And Edwards thought that people in heaven would positively enjoy watching the suffering of the damned, because it would make them feel more blessed.

When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are …; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, … and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how they will rejoice!

Edwards was not a nice person.

For the full horrors and disgust of the Catholic belief in hell, I’ll recommend the passage in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist.

As a further anecdote, in The God Delusion Dawkins tells the tale of a woman who was sexually abused as a child. Also, her best friend died when she was young. She was told that her friend was now in Hell, because she had belonged to the wrong religion. This woman now feels that the hellfire stories were a worse form of child abuse than the sexual abuse was.

Timothy Kincaid is misinformed about Christian theology. Whatever the beliefs of his own sect, it is certainly Christian orthodoxy that the vast majority of humans go to Hell. It may be less commonly believed these days, but it remains the belief of a great number of Christians.

TRiG.

Timothy Kincaid
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

TRiG,

While your selection of specific historical writers would seem to validate your assertions, a more thorough review of current theologies is readily available to anyone who wishes to review it.

Your views are certainly valid from your perspective. But those who are not anti-theistic may find a broader range of views and more complexity than anti-theists present.

Timothy (TRiG)
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

There’s plenty of diversity of belief. I was brought up to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (it didn’t work). The Witnesses beliefs about Hell (and about a number of other things) are rather heterodox.

TRiG.

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