About the only joy in the holyday season is that the ABC takes to running old episodes of Ira Glass's This American Life, such as the 2005 piece on Carlton Pearson, titled Heretic (reported by Russell Cobb - you can find the transcript here).
Pearson is an evangelical preacher who made the mistake of asking sensible questions about his faith:
The way the God of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is presented, he's a monster. The God we've been preaching is a monster. He's worse than Saddam. He's worse than Osama bin Laden. He's worse than Hitler the way we've presented Him, because Hitler just burned 6 million Jews, but God is going to burn at least 6 billion people and burn them forever. He has this customized torture chamber called Hell, where he's going to torment, torture, not for a few minutes, or a few days, or a few hours, or a few weeks, but forever.
Startled by this notion - the patriarchal female-hating, gay-bashing god as an Über-Hitler - Pearson arrived at a different, inclusive theology:
Russell Cobb: He started formalizing his thinking into an actual doctrine, what he calls the Gospel of Inclusion. Everyone's going to heaven. Atheists, Muslims, gays, Jesus died for them all ....
Pearson: Here's what makes me right. I'm sitting next to a little Tibetan monk. He's been a Tibetan monk for the fourth generation. Here's a monk that all he does is every morning he milks the goats, takes them to another pasture. He works in the garden. He says some prayers. He burns some incense. He's never married. He doesn't kill, cuss, fight, lie. He never heard the Gospel, never seen a television, or a radio, or a track. He lives way up there in the cold. He's taking the goats to one pasture, slips off a cliff, falls into a valley, and dies. Is there a Jesus anywhere to receive that man? Or is the devil there sucking them all into Hell? And I would say no, no, no. My God loves you.
This is of course an old question, but always a good one.
The pond remembers in high school asking a priest the same sort of thorny question about people who - through time or historical circumstance - never get to hear about Jesus, and what happens to them, and getting only blather and dissembling in response. The Tibetan monk is a refined version of that discussion, one that led the Catholic church to invent limbo and purgatory, routines which can only fool the foolish.
So for Pearson, it got worse:
Russell Cobb: The more Carlton started to think about it, the further away from conventional teaching it led him. If there was no Hell, then you didn't need to accept Jesus to avoid Hell. And if you didn't need to accept Jesus, it didn't matter if you were a Christian. It didn't even matter if you came to church. Everyone in the world was saved, whether they knew it or not.
Naturally Pearson was banished and ostracised and assigned to hell - as any good, hating Christian would do. Love? Go the hell ...
And naturally the evangelical Christian establishment reacted with fear and loathing (and none of them were willing to go live on the program).
But a few stayed solid:
Steve Palmer: Threat of judgment day sure is easy to pack a church out. [laughs] That and a good fried chicken meal, you will get people to come. That fear factor definitely is effective. And I think if we take away the requirements of coming to church and paying your dues, and say that that's nice but it's not necessary, you can put some guys out of a job. Here I am. I'm believing this stuff, and I may be putting myself out of a job.
Indeed. Where would Sydney Anglicans be without hell?
Russell Cobb: Carlton Pearson says that if he'd known when he first started preaching the Gospel of Inclusion that it would cost him so much, he would have never opened his mouth. To the man he was then, the life he leads now, consorting with sinners, and gays, and Unitarians, was terrifying. But he says that God doesn't show you everything at once for a reason. And now that what's done is done, there's no way he'd go back. After all, when you get down to it, it's a lot easier to believe in a world without Hell.
Not quite. Human beings dedicate much ingenuity and energy to making a world full of Hells, and instead of dreaming of pie in the sky in the bye and bye, how much better if they spent that ingenuity and energy trying to get a little more heaven on earth.
Anyway, you can find out more about Carlton Pearson at his wiki, here, and you can catch him on YouTube, and so forth and etc, and how nice to start the year by noting how churches rely on the simple-minded fundamentalist tactic of fear.
Based on the worship of a god who preaches a permanent, eternal holocaust (and has already self-confessedly indulged in at least one genocide).
You won't hear much about this sort of heresy at the conventional churches, as we wing our way over to those pious souls, the angry Sydney Pellists. The best Cardinal Pell could note in his pre-Xmas message was that the world was passing strange:
Life is strange. History and expanding scientific knowledge confirm the wonders and variety of human life and the universe. It is strange that God should come among us by sending his Son to be born into the original Covenant, the Jewish people and religion. But it is also strange that humans are the only thinking persons in an immense universe and that so many different factors have combined since the Big Bang to make life possible on our tiny planet. (The Meaning of Christ)
Strange days indeed, and even stranger when you remember that Cardinal Pell is a climate scientist of some standing, and even stranger that he seems to have done an entire tour of the entire universe, and so determined that humans are the only thinking persons in an immense universe ...
That arduous trip to Hoth, involving some 50,250 light years, to check out that the planet has been abandoned, must have exhausted the prattling priest ...
We keed, we keed, but how remarkable that an expert climate scientist should be given to unprovable assertions.
Never mind, let's just drop in on the hopeless new Sydney Anglican website for a dash of easy sexism. Here's the now rather aged front page illustration for a rather aged story, still hanging around into the new year:
Uh huh. On the surface it seems fine. Pretty young Anglican women, graduating in 2012, and caught by the camera celebrating.
Then you look a little closer and wonder, why are there no handsome young Anglican boys?
Quick, quick, for the love of the long lost Jesus, click on the story, Graduation day for Year 13 2012:
Phew, that's a relief, there they are, those handsome young Anglican boys, only they've been shunted off the front page, and even on the story page, shunted down below the girls.
Hugh Hefner made a career out of this sort of treatment of girls v boys, and it's grand to note that the Sydney Anglicans have learned the lesson well. Always put the smiling girlies on the front page, and then they won't mind doing the hard yards in the kitchen later ...
What, you object to the pond using the word "girl". Why, lordy lordy, the story itself notes that a scholarship is being made available, not to one young man and woman, but to "one guy and one girl". So hip, so now, so real ...
Never mind, with things really slow amongst the angry Anglicans, and to provide a little symmetry, let's just head back to Phillip Jensen scribbling furiously in June 2012 What Joy in Hell?
Expecting a little Pearson-style softening? Tough luck:
Yep, it's good old hellfire, and brimstone, and eternal damnation, and fear, fear, fear:
Jesus teaches us about hell to warn us of behaviour that would take us there. In Matthew 5:22 he speaks of hating and despising our brother in such fashion as to be liable to the hell of fire. And in Matthew 5:29, 18:9 and Mark 9:43-47, he portrays the horror of hell in such terms that it would be better to lose and eye or a hand than ever to be thrown there. In Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:5 he warns us to be more fearful of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell rather than the one who can only kill the body.
Whatever we do or do not know about the details of hell, it is clear from Jesus’ teaching that it is so terrible and terrifying that we should do all in our power to avoid it.
Tough luck Tibetan monk and godly heretic Pearson. Prepare to writhe in hellfire for all eternity, or maybe tear out an eye or chop off a hand ...
And now, before we go, we can't help but note another Ira Glass show, which has a particular appeal to the pond, because it's titled House on Loon Lake.
It first aired in 2001, and while the transcript is a fun enough read, it's actually worth a listen because of the way it's presented.
Needless to say, Loon Lake is as dark and perhaps even more mysterious than Loon Pond ... but the show did help pass the time over Xmas trapped amongst the rellies ... speaking as we are of hell.
(Below: just remember hell has a special place for those who read girlie magazines. Illustration found here).