Christians Love Hell More Than Heaven

March 9, 2011

In a previous post, I wrote about how religious believers use Heaven and Hell .  Basically, they can't enjoy Heaven unless they are sure others must suffer in Hell.

Sure, believers may feel offended by this analysis.  If you ask them, they probably would deny enjoying the idea of hell.  People deny all sorts of things if admission makes them look bad. 

Does this atheist have some special insight into religious minds that believers themselves don't have?

Actually, plenty of Christians know exactly how Heaven and Hell is supposed to work in the minds of believers.  Just days after my post, The Christian Post published an article saying that real Christians must believe in Hell, or else they will go to Hell.  This article, "Universalism: For Whom the Bell Tolls? – It Tolls for Thee" by Kevin Shrum , is an attack on the idea of Universalism -- that everyone eventually receives salvation and goes to heaven. 

The notion of universalism is as old as organized Christianity .  Its contemporary forms, such as Unitarian Universalism , remain small and marginal in numbers, yet theologically strong and potent.  Next to atheism, universalism may be the doctrine that causes the most outrage and contempt among traditional believers. 

In Kevin Shrum's hands, Hell becomes just about the most important part of all of God's creation.  And he claims to know -- according to his bio, he "has been in ministry for 29 years, currently pastors Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and is an Adjunct Professor of Theology for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee."  So he knows about Christianity, all of genuine Christianity, I guess.  Well, at least he knows Hell, and he likes what he sees.

Shrum announces his contempt for anyone favoring Universalism, such as the Universalist he is addressing in this article, megachurch leader Rob Bell :

"Don’t you realize that the beach of universalism on which you’re stepping has been tried before and that, just as before, a tidal-wave of biblical truth and historical/theological consensus will sweep you away? You will become a footnote in the history of the church as just another well-intentioned ‘theologian’ who tried to spit into God’s powerful whirlwind of truth."

Shrum goes on to explain why Universalism cannot be God's plan:

"... if Love Wins in the way you are reported to say that it does, why be a Christian at all? I don’t get it. If, in the end, nothing really matters (how I live or who I serve) because God will save the worst of us even if we refused to follow Jesus in this life, why follow Jesus in this life at all? Why live holy or make any attempt to really love my neighbor?"

Wow -- Schrum actually just said that you can't really love your neighbor unless you can hate another neighbor enough to send them to Hell.

Maybe Schrum can also help confirm the other major claim that I made in my analysis: Believers love both Heaven and Hell because it confirms their childish moralism.  This childish moralism thinks that being good is about winning approval from some parental figure, approval that must be won over someone else who doesn't get that approval.  Like a six-year-old who can't feel praised unless the other child gets punished.

This crude moralism is there in Schrum's own words:

"If universalism is true, I’m going for the best of what both worlds have to offer – eat, drink, and be merry in this life for tomorrow I will die, and when I do die I get heaven no matter what happened this side of eternity. And what’s my reward? I get away with it! Fantastic! Again, please don’t tell me that I should still follow Jesus in this life because it will make my life better. Are you kidding! I’m a ‘stinkin’ sinner’ who is already uninterested in and struggling with changing my ways, so if I don’t have to and I can still get heaven and if thumbing my self-important finger in God’s face has no eternal consequences, this is awesome and I for one am all about it. If universalism is true I may or may not be faithful to my wife, depending on if it benefits me; I may or may not love my kinds, etc."

Evidently, being worthy is all about pleasing an authority figure who demands sacrifice, and one's sacrifice is worthless unless others are punished for not making that sacrifice too.

I'll say one thing about this pathetically childish way of being "moral" -- it uses an objective basis for moral rules, based on this Authority Figure who cannot be reasoned or bargained with.  I'll grant that reach for objectivity, a kind of objectivity that no atheism can match, but the resulting morality is worthless.  And this worthless "morality" is what Universalists are trying to avoid.

As for me, I'm a kind of universalist myself (no salvation for anyone, sorry).  I do sympathize with religious Universalism to this extent: traditional Christianity is indeed tied to a embarrassingly childish and cruel kind of morality.  The theological contortions of Universalism to avoid Hell are regrettable, though.  That tough struggle would be much easier by just giving up Heaven too.  If things can't get much worse in an afterlife, why suppose they could get better?  Just more wish-fulfillment fantasy at work.  Give me a morality, a humanist one, that finally centers on the one life that we all know we have.