As most of you know, I came from a pretty strict Roman Catholic household and attended church services and education classes throughout my youth. While it wasn’t until I was around thirteen that I found a path that spoke directly to me, I was no stranger to questioning the faith in which I grew up. In fact, it would drive my CCD teachers (and my parents!) insane, all the questions I had and the skepticism I held.
My long-standing question has always been: Why does God want us to suffer? What’s with the amount of violence that surrounds Biblical stories and the stories of human nature?
Don’t get me wrong! The entire of the Catholic/Christian belief system is not all doom-and-gloom, you’re-gonna-die-and-burn-in-HELL. But for all the talk of love and compassion that their followers eschew, there sure is a lot of violence surrounding two pretty poignant parts of this faith that set up a pretty stark future for Christian-associated violence: The crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the inherent or learned evil tendencies of our souls.
Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
I have always wondered what kind of parent would demand such a sacrifice from their own child, especially God and his only Earth-bound living Son and for the purpose of providing salvation for His followers at the cost of someone’s life. This leads to really uncomfortable follow-up questions, like if this sets precedent for parents to kill their own children in the name of God. (And in some cases, yes, this has happened. While I realize these people were not all mentally there, I’m so sad that there are so many appropriate links for this subject.)
The fact that Jesus was sacrificed, whether by divine hand or not, was not at all a surprise: Considered a heretic in his day, there were a lot of people (righteously or otherwise) genuinely pissed at the idea of some hippie coming in and saying, among other things, that you didn’t need temple or church to pray to God, you just needed to talk to Him yourself, and that he was indeed the Son of God. To usurp that kind of Roman power and to make what anyone would imagine were wild claims pretty much deigns you nothing more than someone who must be eliminated to keep their idea of peace.
In fact, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection (perhaps he saw the writing on the wall?) in Mark 9:30-37, telling his followers that his death and resurrection were to come. While it makes perfect sense that Jesus could tell something was coming (I mean, most opponents of the Romans often ended up dead), the mention of his resurrection and how detailed he was in how his death would play out suggests that this wasn’t just the work of humans, but of a higher power with a bigger purpose than we could imagine.
That is to say, it was divine, that God set out to do this long before His own Son was born.
Creepy, innit? To think that a parent, even a divine one, would consider how his death would save so many of us, and to base an entire faith off this death.
You would think that, considering this is God we’re talking about, there would be a more peaceful solution than offering a blood sacrifice, especially His own Son. That there would be a better way than to give his Son’s life to the hands of a powerful culture hellbent on taking him out, and especially to get the wheel turning. Especially since this means to an end necessitates His Son experiencing some of the most graphic, almost Machiavellian displays of the human race’s ability to destroy.
Despite this display, the New Testament repeatedly says something that continues to elude me to this day: That Jesus’ crucifixion was actually a way by which God could save humanity, that the death of one could save so many others. It gives reason for something as gruesome as death, especially by such a measure.
It almost makes me wonder if this kind of violence really did normalize and even encourage violence as a means to peace. Not that this was at all a new concept. But no faith has been able to permeate modern culture the way Christianity has, and it’s important to acknowledge that there has been an uptick in religious violence since the dawn of Christianity.
Does God like violence? Does He have no issue with using divine violence as a way to counter human violence? If neither of these, why does it feel like He resorts to or is complacent with the idea, especially when it comes to His own Son? Why not lay down the arms and fight violence with peace instead?
There is one interesting thing that comes out of Jesus’ crucifixion: The fact that, in light of the foreshadowing that he will be killed at the hands of the powerful, he encourages his follows to let go of their own desires for power and to welcome those who are vulnerable and overlooked, to be the peacemakers after his ultimate sacrifice.
Now if only THAT was the focus rather than on his death, we may be living in a much different world today.
Hell (and “Hellbound?”)
(Based off a new documentary that I hope to catch soon: Hellbound?)
Does hell exist? If so, who ends up there, and why? Featuring an eclectic group of authors, theologians, pastors, social commentators and musicians, “Hellbound?” is a provocative, feature-length documentary that will ensure you never look at hell the same way again!
Despite this ultimate sacrifice given by Jesus, meant as a way to save us from eternal damnation, there sure is a hell (ha!) of a lot of talk about gnashing of teeth and licking of flames surrounding our inherent natures or by predestination. After all, I thought most of this was mitigated when Jesus died for our sins, right?
Apparently not, according to some pastors. Mark Driscoll, for instance, says that “God created the world and people chose to rebel against him. And God came and died to save some of them from the death they deserve.”
… doesn’t really sound all that redemptive to me.
The idea of hell has always bothered me, that there could be a place with no hope and nothing but darkness and eternal torture for the rest of your afterlife. Why would a God, who so loves His children and creates us in His image, be okay with allowing this kind of torment for the rest of… well, forever?
Brian McLaren probably said it best: “If I believe that a small percentage of human beings were created to enjoy bliss eternally and another group of beings were created to experience eternal conscious torment, then I look at human beings differently than if I say, `Every human being was made in the image of God. Every human being is beloved by God. God is at work to save every human being.’”
Yup, two starkly different ways of looking at the world. One sees people as inherently good or inherently evil, and that they are destined to an afterlife regardless of their individual lives. The other says that all are special, all are loved, and all are destined to enjoy the afterlife.
I have an issue with these ideas on afterlife in general, the idea of hell and heaven as a way to divide us after we’re dead and gone. I will full admit that I have no idea what happens, and live my life according to what is right, not based on fear of where I’ll end up afterward.
But hell is something we generally don’t escape in modern times. Whether it’s an idea or part of our vernacular (how many times have you said, “Go to hell!” “What the hell?” “Hell no/yes!”), it’s all around us, and has almost become normalized in today’s culture.
Much like crucifixion, hell serves as yet another tool used by Christian faiths to control its followers, to market for new adherents, to give promise of something better after — ahem — “hell on Earth”. And if God can control where we end up — or if the Devil snatches us up and no way in… ah, hell is anyone going to come to our aid — then there appears more cause for violence in society.
Having a belief in hell, at least in my experience, can fundamentally change the way people look at this world and how they end up treating themselves and their brethren, especially if one believes in predestination. There’s some kind of horror that accompanies the thought that many that we love and care about suffer eternal torment, and the nonchalant way in which some Christians accept the idea that a great majority of us are, indeed, going there in a handbasket.
For some, the belief in hell should push us into being moral people, that the existence of a place where bad people go for all eternity might get us to wise up and get our shit together. But if one’s motivation is fear, and that fear is perpetuated either by the idea that God can send us there, God doesn’t give a crap if we end up there, God treats those of different faiths or different races or different personalities with so much disdain that we’re headed there simply because we are, or God has already set that path for us before we were born, what kind of belief does that give us about a God who is all-loving?
And even worse, to deny the existence of hell is, in some people’s eyes, to deny the Christian faith itself. So it really is a no-win situation.
Whether hell is fire or hell is nothing; whether we are to end up there based on our actions or by predestination, our very definitions of self; whether we are judged or we are saved… to believe in hell is, at its very core, to believe that some just aren’t as good as others. And if that’s the case, then why bother finding ways in which we can find the worth, good, and faith in others?