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.

 

 

 

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Apropos to the Rob Bell conversation


I’ve posted a couple times about what’s now known as RobBellapapalooza™. It’s the controversy that is stemming from the publishing of his new book, and whether or not he thinks everybody goes to heaven or not.

I don’t have anything personal to add. I haven’t read the book yet, but I look forward to breezing through it if I get my hands on it.

But Hemant Mehta posted on it early this morning and I thought I might redirect you toward Mehta’s post (here). It’s solid.

I love it when “friendly” gets strong arm-ish.

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.

Honk.

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.

Last night’s dinner, Hoisin-Glazed Boneless Ribs with a side of … Rob Bell


Last night I made hoisin-glazed boneless ribs with garlic broccoli. It was supposed to be broccolini, but my local grocery store was out of broccolini, and I didn’t feel like driving to a Whole Foods to find some.

I have determined that my local grocer is a broccolini hater.

The hoisin-glazed boneless ribs was a first-time recipe for me. I tend to feel like I screw up first attempts at recipes, so I don’t put a lot of time into the photo of a first-time recipe. It ended up being okay. The dark bits on the meat weren’t burned. They were places where the hoisin clumped up.

While I was cooking the pork, it seemed the recipe was lying and I lowered the heat before it said to do so. It was a mistake, and I kicked myself for it later.

I have learned that I should have trust in recipes from experts, because they have done this very act a thousand times and they are the professionals.

It’s like airline piloting or … science. The professionals in those fields are usually trust worthy. I almost wrote that I should have “faith” in professionals, but that’s not accurate. “Faith” isn’t the same thing. Faith isn’t even in the same ballpark.

Trust is different than “faith.” Faith is belief in something unseen. But I can see, taste, smell and hear the cooking experience. I can verify with my senses that a professional is communicating a recipe for a successful meal. Faith, on the other hand, has no such provable outcome.

Last night, the skeptic in me took over and it almost cost me the recipe. I ended up having to cook the meat longer, thus drying some pieces out. Trust the recipe and the meal will be a success. Doubt the recipe and the results may suck, and pizza delivery or making a sandwich may be the only salvation.

This is where I shove a wooden square in a round hole.

This may be contrived to say, but many believers see the bible as a recipe book for success. And in some ways, there are some good bits of advice in the book. But the book is also littered with a LOT of bad advice. So one part of the recipe says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the next bit says, “Hate your family and love Jesus.”

This is not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe that can’t be saved with a pizza delivery or a sandwich.

As opposed to cooking (or science), world religions require faith in the unseen and the unprovable. I criticize people for not acknowledging that. Religious people should recognize what it really is, and I think Rob Bell sort of does that for Christians — which is why people like my uncle think he’s full of shit.

Religion recipes often result in bad-tasting social behavior, which is why I don’t trust it. I want to trust that the outcome of my thoughts and behaviors are going to have positive results on my neighbors both near and far.

Chew on that for a second. Or don’t.

Last night, I checked my site stats before turning out the light. Le Café got a nice hit boost yesterday thanks to the post about Rob Bell.

I added a comment this morning to lure people into a conversation. I would imagine that anyone who likes Rob Bell isn’t a typical believer, and therefore might be worthy of a conversation.

Who knows if it will do any good.

Happy Sunday!

Rob Bell: Love Wins


There’s a new book from Rob Bell, a Christian pastor from Michigan, called “Love Wins” coming out at the end of March. I’ve read Rob Bell before, and he’s not horrible.

One of my uncles doesn’t think he qualifies as a Christian, so that means he must be doing something right.

Here’s what the book is about:

[Love Wins is a] Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

Rob Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing, would a loving God send people to eternal torment forever…? With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly hopeful—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

Resident regular-reading believer Julie Ferwerda posted this video on facebook the other day, and I thought I would at least act as a sort of proponent of the book here. I certainly don’t agree with the message, but I can see the value in the message. It appears more and more Christians are sincerely trying to bridge the gap between Christianity and other ways of thought. And for that, we have to at least give it a nod.

WordPress won’t let me embed these videos, but give it a watch. It’s worth it at least for the photography and production value.

If I get my hands on a copy, I’d love to at least review it here.

Above is a screen cap.