I must have been around 12 years old when my liberal minded parents handed me over the fundamentalist Christians. Every Sunday, and sometimes during school holidays, the youth leaders taught us catchy songs and explained how we could avoid spending eternity in hell. My mum used to refer to the guitar-toting male youth leaders as ‘Hairy Christians’ because so many of them wore beards.
To people like Ken these Hairy Christians are "a small fanatical bunch of sanctimonious, narrow-minded, sexually-repressed, god-bothering arseholes." But as I remember it they were mostly decent, responsible, and easy to like. A few of them were musically gifted and some were extraordinarily witty. It was because I liked and respected them that it was so hard to come to terms with what they believed.
The story they told went something like this…
It’s true that God is loving but he is also just. Just because he cares about you it doesn’t mean he can overlook the fact that you are a sinner and he is required to punish you for eternity. You see, like everyone else on this earth you have been disobedient to God. It might have seemed like a little thing at the time but to God it was an act of rebellion. The technical term for this rebellion is ‘sin.’ It started with Adam and Eve and it’s been going on ever since. God would like to overlook it but he can’t.
This puts God in a bind. Being a loving God it would hurt him immensely to have to torture you for eternity. But as a just God he can’t just let you off – even God has to obey the rules (that’s what being good means). So by now you may be starting to understand why stealing Iced VoVos from your granny’s bikkie tin was such a bad idea. Imagine God’s anguish when he realized that he was going to have to cast your cute little 6 year old butt into the lake of fire along with Satan and his wicked child molesters.
Your disobedience meant that God had to resort to desperate measures. The thought of punishing someone he loved so much was almost impossible for him to bear. So at this point God does something rhetorically spectacular. God’s metaphorical selves – the loving father and the just ruler literally split apart. To save your ass God becomes a flesh and blood human being. As a human being God can now take your punishment on himself. So just imagine this – the suffering you endured having to sit through Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ multiplied by infinity.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, imagine how God would feel if you knocked back his offer of salvation and decided to make him punish you instead. But strangely millions of people do this to God every day. They refuse to accept the gift of Christ’s love. They look at the oncoming train and refuse to get off the tracks.
If you really believed this then you’d be a pretty poor human being if you didn’t make some effort to warm your friends and neighbors about what was in store. Personally I’d be extremely suspicious of any fundamentalist Christian who kept this kind of thing to themselves. I don’t mind people trying to convert me. To me it’s a sign that they care. But at the same time I’m appalled by the way fundamentalists reduce right and wrong to something as banal as obedience to authority.
To me this seems a thoroughly debased understanding of morality. The idea that there is a cascading hierarchy of authority with God at the apex and animals at the bottom – where beings at every level must obey those above them or face righteous wrath – misses the whole point of right and wrong. Sexually molesting children or torturing political prisoners is not wrong because some Bible passage says so. You can see why it’s wrong by looking into the faces of the victims. How would you feel if someone did that to you?
In the end my fundamentalist friends and I share a similar problem. They are appalled at the way I reject Christ’s sacrifice and I am appalled by the inhumanity of their morality. But when we talk about fast cars, electric guitars, or movie stars, we get along just fine.