Debating heaven & hell

I quite enjoy debating my Christian faith with mates who are atheists. One mate I REALLY enjoy a good, hearty, robust debate with is Rich Mulholland. Besides the odd face-to-face conversation (we’re overdue for lunch), Rich takes me on when I tweet about Christian stuff. Tonight I tweeted this quote from CS Lewis, “Christians don’t think God will love us because we’re good, but that God will make us good because He loves us”. Rich responded in his ever incisive manner:

There were a few more tweets, but the debate is too big, even for Twitter. So, here I outline some more thoughts and invite Rich to carry on the conversation here …

In my original tweet I mentioned “God” and “good” in one sentence, which was enough to elicit a response from Rich. His response got a chuckle from me. Quite witty it was. I’m not an overly sensitiveĀ Christian, so I can appreciate the sarcasm. There were however some assumptions that Rich made about God that I believe were faulty, and challenged him to provide some proof, in a scientific kind of way (which was a little naughty of me šŸ˜‰

Now Rich, I’m fascinated that you chose to use scripture as evidence in this debate. I would think someone with such fervent objections to the idea and reality of God would not see the Bible as evidence of God’s character (after all, if God doesn’t exist, he doesn’t have a character, right?). Using scripture as evidence in a debate like this says something about the supremacy the Bible has in your view (albeit probably a sub-conscious view). Nonetheless, it does show how even atheists subscribe to the supremacy of the Bible.

Why do I use such a strong word such as “supremacy”? Well, because Wesley rated the Bible as primary in discerning the nature of God and how to live a Christ-like life. There were other aspects that Wesley considered important (reason, experience & tradition), but they are considered to be secondary to scripture.

Now, a little about the John 14 reference that you quoted Rich …

In my experience I have found atheists to be the most literal readers of the Bible, even more so than ultra-conservative Christian literalists i.e. those who believe the Garden actually existed. Rich, I would encourage you to read the John 14 verse again more literally than you have. It does not say that to get into heaven you need to believe in God (which may be a requirement), it simply says that no-one comes to the Fatherly aspect of the triune God except through Jesus.

You may have assumed that the Father is in heaven, therefore to get to heaven you’ve got to go through Jesus as some supreme gatekeeper (kinda like a bouncer at a club ;), which is fair enough logic. The Father is indeed in heaven, but He is also here on earth with us through the presence of his Spirit.

This John 14 verse is also often misread to say the following, “If you do not believe it Jesus you cannot commune with God the Father”. It does not say this, but it does say that if you have a relationship with the Father God, it is made possible because of Jesus. (This has interesting ramifications when you consider non-Christians who have a relationship with God, and how Jesus may be present in their lives without a recognition of the fact).

But then Rich, you acknowledges that the John verse is not the best evidence you could come up with, and then points to another source

It is pretty evident when considering the sometimesĀ appallingĀ historyĀ of humankind, that it is possible to justify almost anything using scripture, just as this website can claim that you’ll burn in hell if you don’t believe in Jesus as Saviour. This post would be way too long if I had to get into what IĀ believeĀ to be faulty in the theology espoused within the website, but let me just say that they use Revelations incorrectly (actually, it’s a gross misinterpretation!).

Revelations is based on a series of visions that John had. It is a significant question to debate wether these visions were allegorical or actual visions (say, of the lake of fire). My own opinion is that it is the former AND that the origins of Revelations are found in Christian protest-writings used in the face of the Roman empire to communicate truths about faith behind the veil of allegory.

(Wow, many Christians I know would want to lynch for saying what I just did).

One of the last points I want to make Rich, is around the assumption that any piece of content you find about faith, written by a Christian, is as authoritative and accurate as another. Nope. I’m afriad there is a very real continuum of belief within Christianty (as there is in any ideology, philosophy and religion). You have to ask yourself wether what you come across fits more on the fundamentalist/extremist side of the continuum? I believe the “evidence” you found fits exactly there.

I don’t believe that “You are going to hell my friend if you don’t get saved” is consistent with the teachings of Jesus. A cornerstone of my theology is that Jesus is part of the triune God, and thus his teachings are the truth when it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven (which happens to be near, at hand, andĀ availableĀ to all).

The blokes who host this website are punting an over simplification, an equation-based theology if you will. This is what I mean: Life minus belief in Jesus equals eternal damnation. Faith and Jesus are not this simple. There are many who do not believe in Jesus right now who are not damned.

The last point I want to make, well its’s not a point but rather a plea, is for Christians to consider the messages they put out regarding salvation through the lens of a non-believer. I mean, how counter-productive it is to Jesus’ heart to start off by saying, “You will burn in hell” and then to use the word “friend” in the next sentence. Theses guys need to learn a little something about friendship evangelism.

Their take on the Gospel is not my take I’m afriad.

I look forward to your responses Rich šŸ˜‰

Tags: , , , , , ,

4 responses to “Debating heaven & hell”

  1. Rich...! says:

    Sorry dude, this reply is as overdue as our lunch.

    Okay, so to address your first point on me quoting the bible and your belief that this means something. It doesn’t, promise. The bible is misinterpreted fiction. As such when discussing points derived from that work of fiction I have to refer to the source.

    Let’s say we were debating something equally implausible, like Harry Potter. Had you discussed Dumbledore’s love for his students, I could only comment using material from that book. You see that’s all you, me, or anyone else has to go on. Truth be told, I’d sooner believe in Hogwarts than in the christian concept of Jesus.

    Now, as for the issue regarding context. There my friend is your big dilemma. The bible is completely and utterly open to interpretation. Written in an ancient language with no punctuation. People can read pretty much anything into what it says (I remember once watching E.T use the bible to justify racism and apartheid).

    The question remains, what makes you believe that your interpretation is correct? The fire and brimstone belief goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s only really in modern times that we’re starting to doubt/question this.

    The book is inaccurate, dated, contradictory and amazingly the foundation of many people’s entire belief system. Why? Indoctrination.

    Sorry bro, that’s all I have for now. Until you can give me evidence regarding the validity of the source, any argument is meaningless… it’s all just fiction to me…!

  2. Trevor Mey says:

    What Hogwarts isn’t real!?

  3. Jules Yim says:

    The book is inaccurate, dated, contradictory and amazingly the foundation of many peopleā€™s entire belief system. Why? Indoctrination.

    I am listening to the Open Yale courses on New Testament History, and boy was my mind blown during the simple pop quiz the lecturer sprung on the students. In a simple Y/N quiz as to whether or not certain things are in the Bible, I scored only 3 out of 10. As someone born and raised in a Christian household, I *should be* ashamed of myself…and that proves to me that what Rich says about indoctrination is so very true.

    I do not believe there is any scholar, secular or otherwise, who can claim that the Bible as we know it today is entirely without error. History shows the Bible was humanly written and assembled, and with everything human it is my motto to ‘de omnibus dubitandum est’.

    Do I believe, however metaphysically or scientifically improvable it is, in a Supreme Deity? Yes. Do I believe in the metaphysical constructs of heaven and hell? Not really. Do I believe the human-assembled ‘Bible’ is without error? NO.

    However those 3 stands of mine might contradict each other, that is what I’ve come to believe in.

  4. aiden says:

    Rich, the thing I like most about debating faith and religion with you is how much I find I agree with you … there are many realities of the Christian faith and questions that need to be asked that are often left abandoned because of brittle faith.

    The bible is certainly open to interpretation (many Christians would disagree vehemently, but I have a concern about why they believe it is not open to interpretation), as is any religious text. It’s the linguistic dilemma of a text being generated in a certain context and then becoming context independent. This does not however mean that the bible is entirely an interpretative text. There are basics to the language that are firm and non-debatable in terms of meaning. To not realise this (about any text) would constitute a post-modern/social construction view of text and language … which we know not to be true about reality.

    My answer to what makes me believe that the interpretive aspect of my reading of the bible (in addition to what it actually says in parts)is correct is 3-fold: experience, reason and tradition. I can never fully know that my interpretation is absolutely correct, but my experience of God, of Jesus’ teachings in my life and the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life provides me with a discerning direction in this regard. My reasoning ability allows me to filter out the aspects which are unhelpful misinterpretations, and tradition is hugely helpful when considering how the theologians through the ages have applied and read the bible.

    On the indoctrination point, I would argue that we are surrounded by indoctrination … it is the way we come to live out the culture we live within. Sure, there are extreme’s of indoctrination that have hurt history (and Christian indoctrination and power dynamics have been to blame), but it is when one voluntarily assumes a culture, faith and belief system that real power emerges.

    I cannot give you evidence, just like you cannot provide me with evidence that God does not exist. This is why I prefer to debate with you on an experience and reasoning level – there are things we share in common on those levels that don’t polarise our debate like views on the Bible do. So, based on this, I know there are ways in which you experience God which I would love to talk to you about šŸ˜‰

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *