What the hell?

Believing friend and reader of this blog Julie Ferwerda sent me a copy of her book hot off the press. It’s called, “Raising Hell; Christianity’s most controversial doctrine put under fire.”

Julie deserves all kinds of accolades for this achievement, and I might not be the first to congratulate her, but I will rank among them. This is an accomplishment, and I can tell from its notes and citations that she put more scholarship into this book than Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel put into any one of their books.

I haven’t read it yet, so I have no real review yet. I flipped through it last night in bed, and it struck me in a couple ways.

One. I thought how cool it must feel to work on something and have it arrive in print. It’s almost as if there is an instant elevation to your feeling of worth and security. And this book isn’t mine. I can’t imagine how Julie must feel. Well done.

Two. Julie approaches the book that a person must be childlike in their curiosity. I couldn’t help but wonder how often we don’t do that. How often do we shed our minds of preconceptions to look at something fresh? It becomes almost impossible the older we get, right?

I can’t count how many times I was told that something was wrong thinking. Teachers, parents, friends. They all thought they knew what Jesus wanted, and told me to stop thinking and wondering and accept what they were saying.

“Why can’t you criticize Jesus?”
– “That’s wrong thinking”
“What if there’s not a heaven?”
– “There is a heaven.”
“What if we’re wrong?”
– “We are right.”

This isn’t a direct Criticism of Julie, but why even should a person believe in god or gods in the first place? Why the Christian god? Why not the Hindu gods or Buddha?

Julie obviously spent a lot of time researching. The book is likely much deeper and better researched than Rob Bell’s recent book “Love Wins” which she recognizes in the preface as well.

But what if Julie wasted a ton of research and life researching a book based on the idea that the Christian god is real, when he’s not? If the doctrine of hell isn’t right, what else is wrong?

I will likely approach this book as an adult with adult views. It will be hard to approach it without other research about Christianity. Hell was the first doctrine I stopped believing in as a young adult. It’s the easiest Christian doctrine to stop believing in. Once it went, the rest was just as easy to debunk. But hell is a tricky son of a bitch. Christianity is a tricky son of a bitch.

I skyped with regular-reader George W. last week. And we talked about how difficult it is to stop praying. The conditioning for religious activity is deeply engrained in the psyche. I’ve pretty successfully stopped. That doesn’t mean I don’t think, “Well, maybe God is out there listening to my thoughts” or “Maybe god is doing this to tell me something.”

I can admit I have doubts, and not just in private conversations. I am not sure of anything, because it’s then when I have given up. It’s then when I’m too lazy to check out all the information.

My believing friends, I wonder if they ever give credence to their curiosity. I wonder if they would put 1/5 or 1/6 of the effort Julie has into questioning one Christian doctrine through a pile of research.

My answer is no, they would not.

And that makes me sad.




Ahhh Hells Bells, the battle is raging over Rob Bell

The moment I saw the video I posted about Rob Bell’s forthcoming book “Love Wins,” I emailed a link to my brother Jon and said, “I think you’ll like this video from Rob Bell.”

He responded and said, “Cool. Looks great.”

Then a few minutes later, he emailed and said, “I ordered a copy!”

I posted here a couple times about it. Over the weekend, it landed many hits here at Le Café. I wasn’t aware that it was trending on twitter. But throughout the weekend, Rob Bell got eclipsed by drunk-driving bitch whore Debra Oberlin, who apparently is more popular than hell.

You see, Jon and I talk about once a week, sometimes more. My family is Christian and I’m the black sheep atheist. Jon is not thrilled (no one is) that I’ve gone the route of a non-believer, but he has made a great effort to be the same best friend he was to me before. I’m so grateful for that. Over time, he’s become more comfortable, and I’ve asked that he behave in all the same ways as before. He tells me when he’s praying for me, and he tells me when he feels attacked by the devil. I’m so glad that he feels that comfort level again.

Earlier this week, Jon and I talked on the phone. He said he’s been following the battle within the Christian camp (which is dizzyingly vast). Real Christians™ believe in hell, heaven and the resurrection. That trinity is more important than the father, son and holy ghost.

The quibble over the invisible is never ending.

Without hell, Christians can’t scare children into holding onto the gospel through adulthood. Jesus just ain’t good enough to latch onto. They NEED hell.

So for a pastor with the notoriety of Rob Bell to insinuate, “Hey, there might not be a hell.” This is big stuff. If a pastor of a little, po-dunk church in rural Wyoming said it, no one would bat an eye. But Rob Bell has influence over many thousands.

Rob Bell saying it is an iPad 2 announcement game changer. Rob Bell is the Steve Jobs of Christianity … and frankly (and I hope it’s true), he could change EVERYTHING.

Back to my conversation with Jon. Jon sounded deflated about it. He said, “People are criticizing Rob Bell, calling him a Universalist … and they haven’t even read the book yet.” He paused and then he said, “Just read the freaking book.”

My dad sent me an article from Christianity Today (link) yesterday that spells out more of the controversy. Dad reads this blog just as closely as anyone I know, and I he’s a mighty solid Christian, too. He’s one that the world can admire, especially because he puts up with all the shit I write here. But more so because he’s very well read and articulate about what he believes.

That Christianity Today article also calls Bell a Universalist. Apparently calling a “Christian” a universalist is a pejorative. Thems are fightin’ words!

If Jesus were so goddamn clear, why the hellfire are there so many sects and so many interpretations of the bible? I know this isn’t a new question and Christians have a hundred different ways to respond … but it doesn’t change the fact that they can’t agree on damn near anything.

I want to point out that Bell discounts hell in his book “Velvet Elvis” which was published about 6 years ago. So it’s not new for Rob Bell to say this. It’s just that this new book puts it in the title. And since most Christians don’t read anyway, they would never get past the front of the book.


Also, I want to point out that hell is the simplest Christian doctrine to discount. I was able to do it as a Christian … long before I stuck a flag in atheism. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for topic to dry up … but it never will entirely … because Christianity NEEDS it.

I was reading the article in Christianity Today, and it ends with a quote from the Christian Deity named Rick Warren. Warren is a god among Christianity, and anyone who says Christianity is a monotheistic religion is blowing smoke up your ass. Warren says, “I believe in hell because Jesus says it’s real & he knows more about it than anyone.”

I laughed so loud when I read that that my neighbors sent a squad car.

The non-biblical tradition that guys like Warren tell their mega-churches is, “When Jesus died, he spent three days in hell.” What a load of malarkey. So Warren tells everyone this and it is gospel.

The short of it is, Christianity needs Rob Bell, and it desperately needs to follow his lead. If there’s a guy who models a form of Christianity that I started to agree with as a Christian … it’s the version he writes about in his books and talks about in his video series. He’s what I consider a smart Christian … and it’s high time Warren got on his weepy knees and asked for an ounce of the smarts that Rob Bell has.

Warren’s purpose-driven life focus should be, “Become more like Rob Bell.”

Hey Christians … you’re making a HUGE mistake by demonizing Rob Bell. You should stop. Rob Bell actually makes you guys look cool.

But who am I? A humanist with an atheist voice who has no following as large as Rick Warren’s or Rob Bell’s. I’m easily discounted. If only there were a way to become a hugely adored Christian … and then break the news. I’m doing this all wrong.

You’re all fools!

On facebook, a pastor “friend” — named Shannon (a male) from high school posted a prayer request this morning. It seems someone has died and the pastor asked for prayers for the loved ones that the deceased has left behind.

Oh, did I fail to mention the deceased died in a plane crash and he left behind his wife and two small children.

I cannot be sarcastic enough when I say, “And this was god’s plan?”

Just a few minutes ago, Shannon updated again. This time, he posted Ecclesiastes 10:2.

A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish (A)man’s heart directs him toward the left.

Surely he didn’t say whether he was speaking politically, but there is a movement of right-y tighties to use this verse to validate their political affiliation.

Shannon and I have battled over politics before on facebook. I blogged it, but I can’t find it now. He advised his flock via facebook about a local story and how it reflected what they were teaching about Christianity and its connection to right-wing politics. I was appalled, and one of his Christian buddies and I laid into him.


The Ecclesiastical verse is referring to the ancient notion of good and evil. The ancients code named good and evil, right and left. Hence why sitting at the right hand of Jesus is considered special. Culturally it has no relevant context in terms of American politics. Tell that to a tea-baggin’ loud mouth.

It’s where you get the term “righteous” in English. It even informed the notion of left-handed wickedness, before science could do a great PR move on that one (My left-handed brother thanks you, science.).

So I responded to Shannon with a simple verse reference. He responded immediately. Screen cap:

To be clear, Matthew 5:22 says:

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before (A)the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘[a]You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before [b](B)the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the [c](C)fiery hell.

The great thing is, there’s a couple things wrong with my response.

One, I was being a dick. Calling people a fool is contradictory in the bible. Ol’ Solomon seems to be fond of the term. Jesus chastised those who used it. I lean toward calling people out who favor calling people a fool. Which makes me a complete dick.

Two, I used the Matthew verse out of context. I was hoping to scare Shannon into not calling people fools by threatening hell on him. We all know that hell doesn’t exist. So why use it as a threat?

If there’s one thing you can find out beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s that hell — as a supernatural place for torment and punishment — is a complete cultural ruse. And this verse is one of the greats to point to.

The footnote connected to the “fire of hell” in the verse says, “Literally Gehenna of Fire” (wiki link).  When Jesus refers to hell, he’s referring to an actual place outside of Jerusalem. It’s literally on the map. It’s not some mysterious place found in the supernatural afterlife. It’s not a place where the devil lives. Even Jesus — taken in context — taught this. Hell makes much more sense once you read the bible that way. I’m not sure how many times I need to address this.

Gehenna was a dump where outcasts and homeless people started fires, and they seemed to burn constantly. Even at the time, the place was considered a shithole. Why? Because it’s where people threw out their shit. Mythologies developed over the centuries and turned the notion from a literal place to a supernatural dwelling for the devil and bad people.

So to Shannon and any of you Christian readers out there, I apologize for misleading my readers to thinking that 1) I was a dick and 2) the supernatural version of hell exists.

Many apologies.

And if “hell” is the recompense for calling someone a fool … surely, you’re all fools.


Make it a point to call someone a fool today. You’ll feel great!

Photos from the Creation “Museum”

Security at the museum approached me midway through our tour and told me that any photos of children that I posted to the Internet could be considered a felony. Regardless of what I understand of the rights of photogs,  I strategically cropped or blurred all children out of the shots I’m posting only because I want to keep the peace after our visit on Friday. Although I’m not sure how I can crop out the screams of baby’s crying while their parents forced them through the horror-filled rooms at that place from my memory. That, too, is felonious.

Here are some shots from my wife and I. Enjoy.