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Does the Bible Say “Thou Shalt Not Judge?”

thou shalt not judge

The short answer is this: no, it doesn’t.

And if it actually did, it is the one command every Christian breaks on a daily basis.

I am sure you have been in one of THOSE arguments, debates, or discussions; the one where you express your opinion about a matter and someone shrieks, YOU ARE JUDGING!

Why of course you are judging.

We all judge each and every day of our lives. Common sense tells us this is so.

People who use the stop judging line are trying to control the debate and stifle any opinion other than their own. If you agree with the person you are a wonderful person, but if you disagree with them you are judgmental.

I wish these don’t judge people would at least be honest when they open their mouths, post something on Facebook, write a blog post, etc. They need to preface each public pronouncement with:

I am not interested in what you think. If you disagree with me, I will consider you to be a judgmental person, and if you continue, I might even throw a fit, and if you really, really keep at it, I will SHOW you . . . I will unfriend you on Facebook. TAKE THAT!

Let’s settle one thing right here, right now. You judge, I judge, we all judge. What matters is HOW we judge, what standard we use for judging.

And that, by the way, is exactly what the Bible says.

Evangelical Christians, by far, are the whiniest people on earth when it comes to judging. With Bible in hand, they make all sorts of judgments. They judge who is saved and who is lost. They judge what sin is and isn’t, and they really like to judge sexual sin (a sign that they have not gotten laid lately).

Yet, when others turn their judgment back on their heads, they loudly protest, saying, the BIBLE says, thou shalt not judge.

Let’s look at what the Bible actually says:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Most people stop at Matthew 7:1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?  Don’t judge others if you don’t want to be judged yourself.

This one verse is foundational for those who think we should tolerate any and every belief a person might have. The toleration at all costs crowd thinks every person is autonomous and has a right to say whatever he or she wants. Free speech reigns paramount. And that’s true. However, that does preclude others from saying your beliefs are irrational, anti-science, racist, bigoted, hateful, stupid, ignorant, hilarious, or that you personally are full of shit. Free speech applies to everyone, does it not?

Generally, I think toleration is a good idea, but when individuals or groups bring their ideas into the public square, any notion of toleration must be put aside. In a democracy like ours, we fight our battles in the public arena. Citizens bring their ideas to the public square in the hope of finding like-minded people to join their cause. Often they do, but in the public square they also find those who oppose their cause. And so competing causes, ideas, and beliefs clash with one another and wage war against each other in the public square. Over time, it is hoped the best cause, idea, or belief wins (and I speak with gross generalization here).

It is likely the winner’s cause, idea, or belief will have been altered by those who challenged it. Through this bloody give and take, we progress and move forward as a people.

Religion does not play well in this kind of environment. Religion is based on revealed truth, on dogma. In the United States, the dominant religion is Christianity, a religion founded on truth that cannot be altered or changed. This is why Christians do not fare well in the public square. They have little capacity for change. To contemplate change, they have to consider that they or their God are wrong. Now we know, as we look through the lens of 2,000 years of Christian history, that the Church has indeed adapted and changed. But, it should be noted that this kind of change takes a much longer time than it does with other people and groups. Christianity is nothing if not arrogant and intractable about its truth.

On the other hand, the scientific method fits well in this kind of environment. Scientist A says _____________________, and Scientists B, C, and D take exception, and through the scientific method set out to challenge, refute, or modify what Scientist A said. It doesn’t take centuries to root out error.

Note what the Bible says in Matthew 7:2-5, the verses few Christians ever bother to read. (Many Christians subscribe to the ignore what doesn’t fit my agenda, worldview, way I want to live, or my personal rules of interpretation.)

Verse 2 says:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

For WITH WHAT JUDGMENT YE JUDGE, ye shall be judged. The Bible is quite clear. It is a given, we all make judgments, so when we judge, whatever standard of judgment we use, that same standard of judgment will be used by others when they judge us.

The Bible even addresses the method we use to judge when it says with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. In modern vernacular the Bible is saying, however you dish out judgment, expect it to be dished back to you the same way.

Over the course of my thirteen years of blogging, people have left tens of thousands of comments on various iterations of this blog. Currently, almost 30,000 comments have been left on this blog since December 2014. A small percentage of comments were left by Evangelical Christians with nasty dispositions, people who were so filled with certainty that they had no tolerance for any differing viewpoint. (I can count on one hand the non-Christians who acted similarly.) They knew the truth and their objective was to tell me that I was wrong, deceived, blind, lost, headed for Hell, an enemy of God, etc. In their worldview, there is no room for doubt or not knowing.

These know-it-all Christians tend to be arrogant, bombastic, and lacking in basic social graces. Of all the different types of people I have met on the Internet, theirs is the type that most often gets under my skin (perhaps because I was just like them at one time in my life). At one time, I responded “in kind” to this kind of commenter. Using Bible terms, I just meted out to them what they meted out to me. These days, I tend to follow another biblical admonition: don’t cast your pearls before swine.

Well, enough of chasing that rabbit trail. (The preacher in me still lives.)  Back to Matthew 7:1-5.

Verses 3 and 4 say:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

The Bible teaches that we should first consider our own lives, our own faults, our own inconsistencies, and for my Christian readers, our own sins, before we consider the deficiencies of others.

As is often the case, we tend to be able to see the smallest of matters in the lives of others (the mote, the small sliver), all the while not being able to see the biggest of matters in our own lives (the beam). Before we judge others, we should carefully judge ourselves, engaging in self-reflection – taking an inventory of our own lives. As the old Baptist evangelist once said, draw a circle on the floor, stand in the middle of the circle, and judge everyone in the circle. This kind of judgment will fundamentally change how we judge others. As we carefully plumb the depths of our own being, we will likely become more understanding of those with whom we disagree. This doesn’t make the disagreements go away, but it does help us to see that we are ALL capable of embracing ideas that are faulty or dangerous.

judge not

Does this mean we shouldn’t judge others? Of course not. Notice what verse 5 says:

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

If we judge ourselves first, we will then be able to better judge the actions, words, ideas, and beliefs of others. The hypocrite ignores his own life and focuses on others. We see this all the time with Evangelical pastors. You know the type: they thunder against sin, most often sexual sin. They eviscerate all those who dare transgress the Bible’s sexual standard. Yet, in their own lives, they do the very things they condemn. (Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Bob Gray, Jack Hyles, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Jim Bakker, Eddie Long, and too many Catholic priests to count, just to name a few. Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

I am of the opinion that those who shout the loudest over the peccadilloes of others often commit those very same sins in the privacy of their home, office, motel room, or back seat of their car. They are hypocrites of the first degree.

The Bible, from start to finish, clearly teaches that Christians are to judge others. It never teaches, thou shalt not judge. It DOES teach judging righteously. It does teach using a proper standard of judgment. It does teach a judgment that begins with self.

“But, Bruce, you are not a Christian.” No, I am not. I wrote this post to tell those Christians who love to scream “DON’T judge” to shut the Hell up. They need to read the Bible they say they believe. Better yet, they need to PRACTICE the teachings of the Bible they say they believe.

As an atheist, I can glean some helpful guidance from Matthew 7:1-5. It stresses the importance of self-judgment before taking on the task of judging others and their ideas and beliefs. I need to be reminded of my own shortcomings (sorry Christians, no sins for me) and motives. I need to be reminded that I am, as those I oppose, a fallible, frail human being. I can be w-r-o-n-g.

The comment section awaits your judgments of this post.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

After I am Dead

walking by graveyard

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

As soon as Christian Fundamentalists read this headline they will shout at their screen:

  • You will be burning in Hell!
  • You will know there is a God!
  • You will know I was right!

They will see my death as vindication of their belief system. I wonder how many of them will say to themselves, I bet Bruce wishes he had listened to me! I can hear a Calvinist saying, now we know Bruce was not one of the elect! They will speak of the preacher-turned-atheist who now knows the TRUTH. (Please see Christopher Hitchens is in Hell.)

If they bother to read beyond the title of this post, they will see that this post is not about my e-t-e-r-n-a-l destiny. I have no concerns over God, judgment, or Hell. I am confident that Hell is the creation of religious leaders who want to control people through fear. Fear God! Fear Judgment! Fear Hell! Since Christianity and the Bible no longer have any power over me, I no longer fear God or Hell. I am reasonably certain that this is the only life I will ever have, and once I die, I will be . . . drum roll please, d-e-a-d.

The recent Coronavirus pandemic and the lethal nature of COVID-19 — especially for senior adults with health problems — certainly has refocused my attention on death. Not only my own death, but that of my wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, and siblings. I can’t help but think about my editor, Carolyn. She’s older than I, and I wonder what I will do if Loki calls her home? 🙂 Who will clean up my writing? And I could say the same thing about other friends of mine. I genuinely want them to live long lives. At the very least, I want them to outlive me. 🙂 I hate funerals.

Here’s what I want to happen after I draw my last breath.

First, I do not want a funeral service. Waste of time, effort, and money. No need for fake friends or distant family members to show up and weep fake tears. No need for flowers. I want Polly to spend as little as possible on disposing of my dead carcass. Trust me, I won’t care.

plus size cremation

Second, I want to be cremated. No special urn. A cardboard box will work just fine. If Polly wants to show her love for me, a Hostess cupcake box would be sweet.  As I jokingly told my children, when I am cremated I will go from ass to ashes. None of them disagreed with this assessment. 

Third, I want my ashes to be spread along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Polly knows the place. I hope my children, daughters-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren, and close family will be there. Maybe my newly discovered step-brother will be there. I want no prayers said, and as few tears as possible. Perhaps those who are gathered will share a funny story, one of their many Butch/Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories. I hope they will remember me for the good I have done and forgive me for those moments when I was less than I could or should have been.

And that’s it.

Life is not about dying, it’s about living. Since I am on the short side of life, I dare not waste the time I have left. When death comes, the battery in my life clock will be depleted. Much like the Big Ben clock beside our bed — the one I listen to late at night as it clicks off the seconds — I know there is coming a day when I will hear CLICK and that will be it.

How about you? As an atheist or non-Christian, what do you want to happen after you die? Have you made funeral plans? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why I am Not Interested in a Nicer, Friendlier Christianity

hell

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

I often write about the extreme right of Evangelicalism, the end of the Evangelical spectrum inhabited by churches and sects that nice, friendly Evangelicals like to call Fundamentalist nut jobs. However, as I clearly show in my post titled Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?, ALL Evangelicals are Fundamentalists. Evangelical belief requires theological fundamentalism, a core set of beliefs that one must adhere to be a Christian and considered an Evangelical in good standing. Some who deny this fact are really liberal/progressive Christians living in denial. Raised in the Evangelical church and familiar with its worship and practice, these liberal/progressive Christians don’t want to abandon the only church they have ever known. Their theology puts them squarely outside of Evangelicalism, yet they refuse to accept this, digging their heels in when attempts are made to drag them into the liberal/progressive church. There’s not much anyone can do for these folks. In time, the keepers of Evangelical truth will expose and embarrass them and they will be forced to leave. For now, they play pretend Evangelical.

There’s another subset within Evangelicalism that thinks they are what I call a nicer, friendlier version of Evangelicalism. They are convinced that legalism, rules, moralizing, and the like are the problem, so they attempt to advertise their churches as places that are judgment free; places where sinners can come to find healing and deliverance. However, these nicer, friendlier Evangelicals hang onto theological fundamentalism. While their lifestyle or what they consider a sin might be different from their legalistic brethren, theologically there is very little difference between the two.

Here’s how you force nicer, friendlier Evangelicals to show their true colors. Forget this or that doctrine. Forget everything except what I share next:

Evangelical: The church I go to, First Church of the Most Awesome People in Town, is the nicest, friendliest church in town. We love everyone, and I am sure that if you come to our church you will feel right at home!!

Bruce: Let me ask you several questions. First, do you believe in a literal Hell?

Evangelical: Yes, that’s what the Bible teaches.

Bruce: Who ends up in Hell?

Evangelical: Well, um, uh, I am not the judge, only God is. But the Bible does say that a person must know Jesus as their Lord and Savior to go to Heaven when they die.

Bruce: So, since I am not a Christian and I refuse to acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I will go to Hell when I die, right?

Evangelical: (looks down to ground) Uh, well, um, yeah, if you don’t repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you will go to Hell when you die.

Bruce: How long will I be in Hell? Is it like Catholic purgatory where I’ll suffer for a time and then be taken to Heaven?

Evangelical: Well, uh . . . (long, long, long pause) if you die without knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior you will spend eternity in the torments of Hell.

Bruce: Fire and brimstone and where the worm dieth not?

Evangelical: Yes.

Bruce: Since this body I currently have would burn up if I was thrown into a pit of fire and brimstone, does this mean God gives me a new body that will withstand the torments of Hell?

Evangelical: (silently praying the Rapture would happen)

Bruce: And doesn’t this mean that your God created me, killed me, and sent me to Hell with a new body fashioned by him to withstand day and night torture for eternity?

Evangelical: (God, won’t this atheist go away)

Bruce: Is this the God you worship? Why would anyone want to worship such a horrible deity?

Forget all the other doctrines, this is the only one that matters. I don’t care how nice or friendly Evangelical churches thinks they are, if they believe in Hell, then they are party to their God’s savage, endless torture of billions of people. They might smile more or practice friendship evangelism, but the result is still the same: those who don’t repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ go to Hell when they die. (Please see We Love People and Are the Friendliest Church in Town.)

The next time you run into a nicer, friendlier Evangelical, go for their jugular. Ask them point-blank if they believe in Hell. Their answer(s) to this question will tell you all you need to know. Personally, I have no interest in being a part of a group or being friends with anyone who thinks that I will burn in Hell for eternity because I am not like them. This kind of thinking is no different from the thinking of the demented killers portrayed on Criminal Minds. Our God is an awesome God, the Evangelical says, and He loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. And if you refuse to accept his gracious, wonderful offer of salvation, our God will someday torture you for all eternity.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

This Is Your Life! Judgment Day

great white throne judgment 2

A Guest Post by ObstacleChick

Great White Throne Pictures presents: “This Is Your Life, ObstacleChick”
Presented in Technicolor

Starring:

ObstacleChick

Co-Starring:

ObstacleChick’s Mom
ObstacleChick’s Grandparents
ObstacleChick’s Extended Family
ObstacleChick’s Friends
ObstacleChick’s Dog

Special Guests:

ObstacleChick’s Schoolteachers and Administrators
ObstacleChick’s Sunday School Teachers
ObstacleChick’s Pastor, Youth Pastor, and Music Minister
The Pious Girls from Church & School

Limited Engagement Showing ONLY at Great White Throne Cinema   

When I was an adolescent and teen attending a Southern Baptist Church and Evangelical Christian school, my friends and I were taught as much fundamentalist evangelical doctrine as possible. Those who grew up in evangelical fundamentalist Christianity know that the number one priority of Christian parents is to make sure their children are saved; the sooner the better. Every teaching is geared toward indoctrinating children and making sure they know that they are sinners in need of salvation through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. There is no more important message that Christian parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Christian schoolteachers, and Christian staff can spread than this one. All children need to know that if they do not repent of their sins and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will spend eternity tormented in hell in the afterlife. And because you could be hit by a bus in the next few minutes, you’d better do it NOW. After death, there will be no do-overs. There will be no further opportunities. There will be no appeals granted. Nada. Zilch. End of the road.

As we teens grew older, our youth pastor made sure to impart to us as much information as possible about salvation, eschatology, and the afterlife to us so we would understand the urgency of making the right decision regarding salvation. He also made sure we understood that certain behaviors were unacceptable for young Christians growing in Christ and presenting a witness to the “world.” As the majority of students in the youth group attended public school, we heard less harping on “sins” of rock music, movies, magazines, etc., than those of us who attended Christian school heard, but it was clear that participating in many of these activities could hurt our “witness” to our peers, and they did harp on premarital sex and alcohol as mega-evils. At the Christian school, they didn’t hold back any punches preaching against the evils of rock music, the evils of dancing, the evils of alcohol, the evils of premarital sex, the evils of attending the roller-skating rink, the evils of movies, etc. There wasn’t really much left that wasn’t evil except for Classical music, the Beach Boys, Christian movies and books, church, and Christian school activities. (Yet two girls at my high school were still expelled for getting pregnant, and three boys were expelled for attending a party where alcohol was served.)

The eschatology is fuzzy to me now, with concepts of the rapture, pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, the mark of the beast, the anti-Christ, and so forth, but I did understand that at some point after death everyone would have to go to the Great White Throne Judgment where our fate would be determined. Would it be eternity in heaven, or would it be eternity in hell? (Cue music: DA DA DAAAAA!)

My teenage understanding of the Great White Throne Judgment was that that there would be God on a throne, Jesus on a throne, and somehow the Holy Spirit would be there too, though I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to see him as he was a spirit and whether a spirit could sit on a throne. Maybe we would get special afterlife vision that would allow us to see spirits. There would be angels and seraphim and cherubim and all people who had ever lived would be there, waiting to be judged, waiting to hear their fate.

At the Great White Throne Judgment, the way it was explained to us, each person’s life would be shown for all to see, and then the judgment would be handed out. As an avid reader, I was well-versed in visualizing scenes, and for the Great White Throne Judgment I envisioned a scene in which everything was white, the Trinity (were? was?) located on thrones on a raised platform, and masses of people stretched out before them. There was a very large movie screen near the Trinity, and when each person’s name was called that person would step forward so their life movie could be played on the movie screen. The Trinity would then render (their? his?) verdict, and the person would be escorted by seraphim, cherubim, or maybe St. Peter (I wasn’t clear on who the escorts were) to the proper exit to their eternal designation.

As we teens envisioned this Great White Throne Judgment, we were exhorted by youth ministry staff to make sure our movie was G-rated so we wouldn’t stand up there embarrassed before the masses of humanity. Who wants their sweet Grandma to see them participating in evils such as (gasp) dancing, or drinking alcohol, or — dare we even mention it — premarital sex? Surely not!  Not only did we need to keep our actions G-rated, we must also keep our thoughts G-rated as somehow those would be shown on the Great White Throne Movie Screen.

As the whole sequence of events was still confusing to me, I believed somehow that when people died, they could see what was happening on earth. When my great-grandmother Granny died when I was twelve years old, I was upset for several reasons. First, I really liked hanging out with Granny. She lived down the street, and she was my nice great-grandmother, not mean like Grandma F who lived with us. Granny would make biscuits and ham for me, and we enjoyed cleaning and rearranging her numerous knick-knacks while she told stories. Second, the only time I ever saw my grandfather cry was when he came home to tell us his mother died. That tore me up, and I cried too. Third, because I thought Granny could then see me that she would be able to see me taking a shower and doing other embarrassing things. In addition to grieving for the loss of Granny, I was upset for a long time just knowing that Granny was watching me all the time.

Not understanding the whole timeline of when the Great White Throne Judgment was, I thought maybe there was some sort of neutral after-death holding place where Granny and everyone else could see what people on earth were doing. My mom said when you died you went to sleep and woke up in heaven, but I knew there was a Great White Throne Judgment in there somewhere. And there had to be some sort of holding place because thousands of years might pass before the END TIMES. Another issue was how long would this whole Great White Judgment Movie Festival take? I mean, I knew eternity had no limits, and that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day, but what were the logistics of this Great White Throne Judgment Movie Festival? It must take thousands of years, or days in deity terms. My mom said God wasn’t bound by time, so it didn’t matter, but I still couldn’t comprehend.

But what I did comprehend was how much I DREADED the Great White Throne Judgment. I was fearful of dying. I was afraid I would die and wake up in the Great White Throne Cinema with billions of other people, waiting in agony for my movie to be played and for everyone I knew to see all the naughty, mean, jealous, lustful thoughts I harbored. The Pious Girls at school and church would learn what I REALLY thought of them. My teachers would know that I sat in the back of class and talked and passed notes and then would be on the phone at night with my friends explaining what they’d all missed in class while I was bored and entertaining us all. My grandparents and mom would know that I had listened to rock music and watched MTV at my aunt & uncle’s house. It was going to be bad.

I dreaded death. The greatest relief of my existence would be if the Trinity told me I was destined for eternity in heaven. But getting through the movie viewing . . . I dreaded it beyond everything. Maybe I would get lucky and be last and everyone would have been sent to their fate, but I knew chances were slim to none.

What a damaging thing to teach impressionable youth, to manipulate their fear of hell and judgment to impress upon them the need to believe the right thing and to stay away from certain activities.

As an agnostic atheist, I don’t believe in any of that anymore. It took a long time to get over my fear of hell though. That was the last thing to leave me when I deconverted — even though I didn’t believe in god anymore, I was still afraid of hell. I had to literally reason with myself about my unrealistic fear of hell.  But now, I no longer fear death. Do I want to die today? No, because there are still things I want to do in life. But I don’t fear the Great White Throne Movie experience.

A Social Media Discussion Between an Evangelical and an Atheist

pascals wager

What follows is a discussion between an atheist friend of mine and an Evangelical. I no longer engage in such discussion on social media, choosing to focus on my blog, but the following discussion reminds me of the discussions I once had with Christian zealots on Facebook and Twitter. In just but a few comments, the Evangelical trots out an interesting version of Pascal’s Wager, threats of judgment and hell, with a zesty seasoning of you are angry and bitter to round out the discussion.

Enjoy!

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Death and the Afterlife: Things Christians Say That Aren’t in the Bible 

heaven and hell

One thing the religious have in common with non-believers is the fact that they will someday die. Death is the great equalizer. No matter our wealth and status, or lack thereof, there will come a day when each of us will draw his or her last breath. No second chances, no do-overs. All of us, at one time or the other, have pondered our mortality. The older we get, the more we think about death.

It should come as no surprise then that most people turn to religion to find answers about death and the possibility of an afterlife. All the major religions of the world teach that there is life after death, be it in a resurrected or reincarnated form. Being the rational creatures we are, we can’t bear thoughts of no longer existing. Countless Evangelicals have asked me, surely you believe that there is SOMETHING after this life? Other Evangelicals have told me that they would have no reason to live if there weren’t life after death.

Sunday after Sunday, millions of Americans gather in church buildings to worship a God that purportedly not only forgives their sins, but gives them eternal life in heaven after they die. If religious belief was only of value in this life and paid out no after-death benefits, I suspect many of the people pledging fealty and devotion to the Christian God on Sundays would instead spend the first day of the week engaging in recreation, working in their yards, or relaxing. Remove sin, fear, judgment, and eternal life from the script and I have no doubt that most churches would find themselves not only without congregants, but without preachers too.

Generally, the orthodox Christian belief about the afterlife goes something like this: each of us dies, physically remains in the grave until judgment Day, at which time God will bodily resurrect the just and unjust from the dead, judge them, and either send them to God’s eternal kingdom (Heaven) or the Lake of Fire (Hell) for eternity. The former is a blissful place where there is no sin, pain, suffering, or death, whereas the latter is a dark place where its inhabitants face horrific pain and suffering. Both the just (saved) and unjust (lost) will be fitted with new bodies (creations) that never die, and for those cast in the Lake of Fire, their bodies will be able to withstand never-ending torture and torment.

Now, seek out one hundred Evangelicals and ask them about death and the afterlife, and they will tell you something like this: after death, Christians go to Heaven, and non-Christians go to hell.  Does what I have written here remotely sound like what I wrote in the previous paragraph? Nope. Most Christians believe that the moment after they close their eyes in death, they will awake in Heaven and be in the presence of God. The Bible, supposedly the final authority on all matter pertaining to life, death, and the afterlife, does not teach that Christians go to Heaven the moment they die. Neither does it teach that non-Christians go to hell after death. Every person who has ever died presently lies rotting in the grave, awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

It’s not so sexy to tell people that their reserved rooms in Heaven and Hell will remain empty until Resurrection Day.  Peter? James? Judas? Moses? David? Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? Adam? Eve?  John, Paul, George, and Ringo? Your parents, grandparents? None of them is or will be in Heaven or Hell until the trumpet of God sounds and Jesus returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

Yet, every Sunday, Christian preachers remind congregants of what awaits them after death: Heaven for the saved, and Hell for the lost. Unsaved people are implored to get saved lest they die and split hell wide open. Christians are encouraged to work hard for Jesus and promised great rewards in Heaven if they do so.  Preachers tell wonderful stories about Heaven and horrific stories about Hell, reminding people that the sum of life is knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Attend Christian funerals and you will often hear preachers outright lie about the afterlife. I have yet to hear a preacher say that the dearly departed went to hell. In every instance, preachers found some sliver of faith/belief to hang on to, thus justifying their preaching the subject of their funeral sermon into heaven. Worse yet, preachers and family members will speak of Granny running around Heaven or Mom, Dad, and Rover too looking down from Heaven watching their loved ones. I have heard countless Christians say that some close family member of theirs was “with them” as they did this or that. None of these hopeful ideas is supported by the teachings of the Bible. Granny isn’t running in Heaven. Her bodies lies in the grave, awaiting the Resurrection. As nice as it sounds, and the warm, fuzzy feelings such thoughts give, no one is watching us from Pearly Gates.

Of course, as an atheist, I am firmly persuaded that death is the end-all. To misquote Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this … nothing. I have one life to live and it is quickly passing by. It seems like yesterday that my wife and I, ages nineteen and twenty-one, were standing at the front of the Newark Baptist Temple altar, reciting our wedding vows to one another. Youthful in body and ready to take on the world, we had no thoughts of growing old. Yet, here we are, soon celebrating our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and in less than a month I will turn sixty. Now our thoughts turn to end-of-life matters: retirement, healthcare, and what to do with the few years we have left.  My older readers know exactly what I am talking about. Who among us hasn’t lain in bed listening to the beat of our heart or the ticking of the clock. We know that each beat and each tick take us one moment closer to our last day among the living.

Bruce, if you don’t think there is life after death, why then did you spend most of this post talking about what Christians believe about death and the afterlife? This post is a plea to preachers to tell people the truth about life after death. First, preachers should tell people that they cannot know for certain whether there is life after death; that all that Christians have to go on is what is written in the Bible; that the belief that people live on after death is solely a matter of faith; that there is no evidence for claims that people live on in eternity after they die. Second, preachers should stop telling people lies about what happens the moment after someone dies. Stop with the whimsical stories about what dead people are doing in Heaven. Tell the truth: Granny lies rotting in the grave until Jesus comes to get her. If preachers are going to tell mythical stories about the afterlife, the least they can do is accurately state what the Bible says on the matter. Of course, doing so might cause people to lose hope, but Christians need to know that there is NOT an immediate payoff after death.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a Time Magazine interview of Christian theologian N.T. Wright:

TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a “distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope.”

Wright: It really is. I’ve often heard people say, “I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it’s unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?

Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

TIME: But it’s not where the real action is, so to speak?

Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I’ve called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will “awake,” be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.” That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God’s presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ’s kingdom.

Wright: Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.

TIME: That sounds a lot like… work.

Wright: It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it’s a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation.

TIME: And it ties into what you’ve written about this all having a moral dimension.

Wright: Both that, and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their “souls going to Heaven.” If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.

TIME: That’s very different from, say, the vision put out in the Left Behind books.

Wright: Yes. If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.

TIME: Has anyone you’ve talked to expressed disappointment at the loss of the old view?

Wright: Yes, you might get disappointment in the case where somebody has recently gone through the death of somebody they love and they are wanting simply to be with them. And I’d say that’s understandable. But the end of Revelation describes a marvelous human participation in God’s plan. And in almost all cases, when I’ve explained this to people, there’s a sense of excitement and a sense of, “Why haven’t we been told this before?”

What are some of the other things that Christians say about death, heaven, and hell that either aren’t in the Bible or are distorted by preachers? Please share them in the comment section.

Christians Say The Darnedest Things: John Piper Advocates Threatening Children With Hell

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John Piper

A question from Michael: “Pastor John, how can I talk to my 6-year-old son about hell? When any loved one has died who has also been a Christian, I have told him they have gone to heaven. But if somebody dies who is not a Christian I do not want to lie and say they have gone to heaven, but I do not know how to teach him about hell. He has extreme anxiety about death and I am afraid talking about hell may make him more anxious. He also gets very upset when he makes any kind of mistake or when I have to correct him. I do not want him to worry that if he disobeys that he will be sent to hell. How in the world can I teach him this?”

Let me start by turning the tables and saying, we should be one hundred times more concerned about a 6-year-old who has no fear of death [Yes, because it is absolutely “normal” for children to fear death and hell.] and hell than we are about a child who fears death and hell. One of the reasons we may not feel that is because when a child has no fear, we tend to go along as though all is well. He’s such a happy little fellow, and she’s such a cheerful little girl. [Pity the happy, joyful, well-adjusted child, right?] When a child has anxieties, nightmares, fears, then all of our parental instincts and mind go into gear, and action, because we want to help them, not realizing perhaps that the child with no fear needs even more help from parental vigilance and concern than the child with much fear.

I want to encourage Michael that the problem he is dealing with is a good problem to have. If he were not dealing with it, there would be more reason to be concerned than there is now. How do we help a 6-year-old child deal with the terrifying reality of hell and death? The main thing is to realize that God intends for our real and wise fear of hell to be a means of clarifying and establishing in our hearts at least five great realities.

….

1. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity for treating God as big and glorious and utterly real. It is hard for human beings who are sinful to feel the reality of God, but if God is the one who created hell, and whose majesty makes hell just and understandable, then this is a golden moment. The reason hell is so terrible is because God is so great that despising him is so evil that it deserves this terrible punishment.

In other words, the horror of hell is a signpost concerning the infinite worth and preciousness and beauty and goodness and justness of God. If he were small, if God were small, hell would be lukewarm. Because he’s great, scorning God is a horrible thing. This is a golden moment for how to teach a child about how real and how great God is.

2. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity to teach about the nature and the exceedingly great seriousness of sin. Hell is all about the outcome of a life of sin, and therefore a child needs to understand what sin is. Sin is all about falling short of God’s glory; that is, failing to see God as glorious and to honor him and thank him as glorious, and to follow him and praise him and glorify him. We need to make sure that our children see the direct connection between hell and sin.

The great and frightening tragedy of growing up feeling no fear of hell is that in a life like that, children will not be able to see sin as serious. It just won’t ever get to the point where sin is ugly and outrageous, because they haven’t schooled themselves on the penalty for sin, namely hell — that they will not see it as a great and horrible offense against God. Fearing hell is a golden opportunity for bringing our children into the light concerning the horrible darkness of sin.

3. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity to bring the child to an awareness of the reality and justness of God’s final judgment. This is a great and central biblical teaching that all human beings will stand before God to give an account of their lives someday. Hebrews 9:27, “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

What a gift for a child to grow up deeply convinced that the whole world will face judgment someday. This will give seriousness to the child’s life. Parents worry far too much that their children will be unhappy in the fear of judgment when they ought to worry that their children will be happy with no fear of judgment. Hell is a golden opportunity to bring children into the light and the reality of God’s final judgment.

….

Don’t run away from this opportunity. Don’t miss this golden moment of using the fear of hell as a means of clarifying and establishing the truth of 1) a great and glorious God, 2) a horrible nature of sin, 3) the reality and justice of future judgment, 4) the greatness of the cross and Christ’s rescue from hell, and 5) the glory of a fearless life of faith.

— John Piper, Desiring God, Explaining Hell to Our Children, May 2, 2017

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: If God Doesn’t Get You Now, He’ll Get You Later by A.W. Pink

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The sinner sees little cause for alarm and fails to apprehend his imperative need of promptly accepting Christ as his Saviour. He imagines himself secure. He goes on in his sin, and because judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily he increases in his boldness against God. But God’s ways are different to ours. There is no need for God to be in a hurry – all eternity is at His disposal. He is in no haste to execute judgment because He knows the sinner, cannot escape Him. It is impossible to flee out of His dominions! In due time every transgression and disobedience shall receive “a just recompense of reward.

— A.W. Pink, The Wrath of God

The Final Judgment

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Guest post by Melody

Heaven and hell are big in Evangelical Christianity. One might say larger than life even. As a believer I was told over and over again that I did not have to fear hell. Jesus had saved us all. He had saved me and I was bought and paid for forever. Despite officially being part of a more Arminian background, predestination did figure in our beliefs as well. From our side (humans) we had free will and a choice, but from God’s side it was still predestination. I tried to understand this conundrum but failed to. Since I knew quite a few people in high school who were Calvinists, I figured we actually were quite Arminian, despite these caveats. The Calvinists I knew were not able to decide for themselves: they had to be elected by God and even then they were put through serious tests of faith to determine their worthiness and the truth of their claim.

As I was quite convinced I would go to heaven, I did not fear hell for myself. For other people, however, I did. What I did fear for myself was Judgement Day. It scared the living daylights out of me. The idea of standing before God’s throne and have every sin you’ve ever committed read out, or shown, before you; it was an unbearable thought. In our specific explanation of the Bible, there would be two moments of judgement: Christ’s judgement and God’s judgement. After the Rapture, we Christians would be judged by Christ. This was not to determine if we’d go to heaven or not, however, it was about the number of cities we would reign, based on The Parable of the Ten Minas. We’d be judged for our fruits: for the outcome of our Christian lives. Only after the End Times and perhaps even after the Thousand years of Christ’s reign would the ultimate Final Judgement take place: God’s judgement. This was the moment where it would be determined who went to heaven or to hell. Since we would already be living with Jesus for a long time by then, it would not be clear what the outcome would be for us. We would still have to be judged though, just like everybody else, which was only fair.

For true Christians these two moments were not meant to hurt or humiliate us, instead they were meant to increase our love for Christ even more. If we were faced with all our sins, including the long-forgotten ones, we would understand even better and deeper the love and work of Christ for us. Despite being told this positive spin on the judgement, seeing it as an evaluation rather than as a trial, I couldn’t shake my fear of it. I did not want to be confronted with all my failings and sins. I didn’t care if the one who defended me would also be the one judging me, i.e. Jesus. It was scary and something I feared immensely. I looked forward to being in heaven and living with Christ but this moment would inevitably come as well. What would I see? What sins would be shown? Would other people get to see all my sins too? Would they hate me or mock me for it? The answer to that last one would be no, since heaven is all about happiness and no-one would be bullied there.

Still, the Bible wasn’t all that clear on the specifics so my imagination had room to run wild. Judgement Day featured in my fears both for others and myself. Whatever attempts were made to sugarcoat the whole thing, in the end it was all about sin and heaven and hell. It was about the failure of the human race, about Adam’s fall and, in particular, about all my wrong-doings. I couldn’t lighten up about it. Looking back that makes perfect sense. If you take your religion very seriously, you won’t be able to lighten up about it. If sin features so heavily in your beliefs, judgement over sin will too.

Sometimes I was a little angry at God/Jesus over this. We were saved for ever and ever, but we would still be judged over our past mistakes. Did that mean that we even were fully forgiven? Shouldn’t forgiveness mean that you don’t mention it again? That the burden is completely lifted? Of course, it didn’t mean that and I was wrong to ask. We were not going to hell and we should be (and would have to be) eternally grateful for it. The short, small pain of going through a divine judgement should not have to faze us. However, it did faze me enormously and didn’t help my trust in God either. My questions and longing to understand were met time and time again with even more questions and non-answers. Paradoxes and doublethink are a huge part of Evangelical Christianity and I did not fare well with them. When claims about the One Actual Truth are made, they do not serve any clear purpose and shouldn’t play a role. If the truth is clear and self-evident, it should be just that.

What kind of teachings did you learn about the Judgement? Were there two or one of them and did they intersect with apocalyptic teachings as well?

Thanks for reading and thanks to Bruce for posting this post!

Unbelievers and Their Fears of Hell

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I am often asked if I still fear going to Hell when I die. I suspect every Evangelical-Christian-turned-atheist, has had, at one time or the other, thoughts about what happens if they are wrong. If Evangelicals are right about God, Jesus, sin, salvation, and life after death, those of us who have — with full knowledge of what the Bible says — walked or run away from Christianity will surely face the eternal flames of Hell. This is where Pascal’s Wager often comes into play. Since none of us can be absolutely certain that Christianity’s teaching are false, shouldn’t we hedge our bets and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? Of course, the same could be said for EVERY religion. If we really wanted to cover all the bases, shouldn’t we embrace every deity? All any of us can do is make rational decisions about religious belief. I have weighed Christianity, Jesus, God, and the Bible in the balances and found them wanting. Could I be wrong? Sure. But, I am 99.99% certain that I am not. And when it comes to the Evangelical version of the Christian God, I am 99.99999% certain that their God is a myth.

When Evangelicals deconvert, they often minimize the deep psychological marks left behind by their religious past. Intellectually, the notion of an eternal jail in the bowels of the earth is absurd. So is the notion of God fitting non-Christians with an eternal body that will survive endless torture in the flames of Hell (actually the Lake of Fire). And even more absurd is the belief that people who never heard of Jesus will be cast into Hell for what they SHOULD have known. Some Calvinists even think that it is possible that there will be infants in Hell. Since God played a divine sorting game before the world began — you are elect, you are not — there could be infants who are non-elect, and who are therefore condemned to go to Hell.

Rejecting the intellectual absurdities of Evangelicalism frees our minds from bondage, but deep within the recesses of our brain lie thoughts seared into our minds from years of religious indoctrination. Most Evangelicals are cradle Christians, having been born and raised in and around Evangelicalism and its way of thinking their entire lives. Teachings about God, salvation, and Hell make deep impressions on children. This is why many Evangelical churches have programs geared towards “reaching” children for Jesus. Born into sin, these lying, cheating, vile little vipers need Jesus, Evangelicals believe, so they do all they can to win people to Jesus when they are young. Fearing that their children might die before getting saved, Evangelical parents and the churches they attend often psychologically pressure children into asking Jesus into their hearts. It is not uncommon to hear of Evangelical children making professions of faith at ages as young as four or five. Both my wife and I got saved the first time at age five. Evangelicals believe if they don’t reach people when they are young, that it is increasingly likely that these people will NOT accept Jesus as their Savior. Get them when they are young and we will have them forever, the thinking goes.

Former Evangelicals then, must deal with deeply seated beliefs about Hell. Intellectually rejecting these beliefs is one thing; flushing them out of our minds is another. I left Christianity in 2008. I vividly remember nights when I would wake up terrorized with thoughts about being wrong and going to hell. (Christians told me that this was the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention.) These thoughts so bothered me that I sought out the counsel of people who were farther along the path of deconversion than I. I even talked to my counselor about  my fears of being wrong and spending eternity in hell paying for the wrong decision. Everyone told me that my thoughts were quite normal — an Evangelical hangover of sorts. It is naïve for people to think that they can spend decades (or a lifetime as I did) in Evangelicalism and then one day walk away without there being any psychological baggage. Some people can leave Evangelicalism with a single carry-on bag. Others leave with numerous suitcases. Once we are on the other side of faith, it takes time to unpack these suitcases. It is not uncommon for unbelievers to have contradictory beliefs. I know I did. It takes time to sort through these beliefs, discarding those that no longer fit our evolving worldview. Evangelicals raised in evangelistic churches are taught that becoming a Christian is an instantaneous decision. This decision is called being born again — the instantaneous moment in time when people go from lost sinners to saved saints. Deconversion is rarely that simple. While I can remember the moment when I said to myself, I am no longer a Christian, getting to that point was a long — often contradictory — process. And so it is now. I have not arrived. I am still on a journey of sorts. While I know where I have been, I don’t know where I am headed. Christianity taught me that life is all about the destination. Atheism and humanism teaches me that life here and now IS the destination and what is most important is the journey.

Thoughts about hell, for Evangelicals-turned atheists, are vestiges from their religious past. When fear of eternal damnation and punishment arise, attack them with reason. Why am I having these thoughts? Where did these thoughts come from?  Doing this strips these fears of their magical power. Keep doing this, and in time you will learn to laugh at such thoughts when they arise. And just remember as you day by day, month by month and year by year move away from your religious past, these kind of thoughts will eventually fade into the fabric of your past. Come the last Sunday in November, it will be eight years since I darkened the doors of a church. It has been years since I have had a fearful thought about hell. Writing about my past and Evangelicalism has helped to ameliorate my fears. I encourage those who have left Christianity to write about their experiences. Publicly, privately, on a blog, in a journal, regardless of the method — write. There’s something cathartic about putting feelings on paper (or on a computer screen).

I correspond with a number of people who use me as a sounding board. They know that I will never betray their confidences, so they have the freedom to share their raw feelings with me. If you need someone to “listen” to you, please write.

For those of you who long ago left Evangelicalism, how did you deal with thoughts of judgment and hell? Please share your thoughts and substitutions in the comment section.