arguing the hell out of someone

On my Facebook feed, I saw that Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta posted about a John Shore article regarding two people discussing the possibility of hell. If you don’t know John Shore, he’s a flamboyantly liberal Christian who advocates things like LGBT rights and tells people there’s no hell.

On the surface, the John Shore post is a good discussion. It’s one of those ideas I let go of long before letting go of faith. Hell is one of the easiest ideas that has little basis in biblical rationale. It’s an idea perpetuated by extra-biblical folklore and legend, namely Dante’s inferno and Hieronymus Bosch paintings.

Believe all you want about salvation, but hell is so, let’s say, silly.

And when I read the John Shore article, I thought, this is pretty good. But then I started scratching my head. The lead-in reads:

(While sitting at Starbucks yesterday I overheard the following conversation between two men I’ll call Christian and Tom. Christian was trying to evangelize to Tom. As you’ll see, Tom ended up wiping the floor with Christian. Why? Because Tom was right: the whole concept of the Christian hell is manifest nonsense, for the reason he so well articulated. Here’s hoping that more Christians hear what the Toms of the world are trying to tell them.)

So what’s written below the lead in, I’m under the impression John Shore dictated the entire conversation onto his laptop or a legal pad.

You can read it here. Here’s a snippet to whet your whistle:

Tom: But what you’re saying simply doesn’t make any sense.

Christian: What doesn’t?

Tom: That if I don’t believe in the reality of the same God that you just told me loves me, then that God will condemn me to hell for all eternity. How could God love meand do that to me?

Christian: Because God loves you enough to let you decide your own fate.

Tom: But that doesn’t change the fact that if I choose to not believe in God, God could, if he wanted, still not send me to hell. He could commute my sentence. He could forgive me for the mistaken choice I made. God has that power, right? Because he’s all-powerful?

Christian: God can do anything.

Tom: Which means he can certainly choose not to send me to hell. And that can only mean that if I do end up in hell, it was God’s will that made that happen. Ultimately God wanted me in hell—so that’s where I ended up. God actively chose hell for me.

Christian: You chose hell for yourself by refusing to accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

Mind you, I’m all for perpetuating the non-existence of hell. But I have a problem with people perpetuating the idea that John Shore dictated this conversation directly from two strangers’ discussion.

Doesn’t it read a little like one of those stories a preacher tells in a sermon? You know, one that is so obviously made up or embellished that it couldn’t possibly have happened exactly the way it happened in the retelling.

I’m under the impression that the two people were all in John Shore’s mind and it’s a conversation he had with himself based on other conversations he’s had online or read about.

It felt that way, because the Tom character’s dialogue is so long and detailed. There’s absolutely NO way that Shore could ever grab every word and nuance and put it down on his laptop.

So, while I’m down for the no-hell argument, I’m calling bullshit on John Shore that this probably didn’t happen.

But if the following was true to what someone told another person, then high fives to Tom. That guy knows what he’s talking about (emphasis mine):

Christian: Hell is just God’s judgment upon the sinner who refuses to accept his love.

Tom: You’ve got to understand that you’re using words to mean what they don’t actually mean at all. In fact, you’re using words to mean the exact opposite of what they mean. You don’t choose an eternity of torture for someone you love. And if you do choose that for someone for the reason you’re saying your God does choose that for people, that is not justice. That’s injustice. Look: After I’m dead, God either has the power to send me to heaven instead of hell, or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t have that power, then he’s too weak to matter. If he does have the power to send me to heaven instead of hell, and he wills me to go to hell, then he is without compassion–or at the very least he certainly doesn’t love me. But those are the only two choices. By your own definition, God is either not all-powerful, or not all-loving. But he can’t be all-powerful and all loving, if I—a nice guy, a loving guy, a guy who gives to charities and actually does help people in the world—can end up in hell. It just doesn’t make sense. I can’t love somebody and shoot them in the head because they refuse to answer my phone calls.

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