Hot and God Bothered

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.

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Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

The somewhat odd thing for me about the notion of Christ’s sacrifice as redemption through pain as illustrated in the appeal of Mel Gibson’s film (which I didn’t see) is the resonance it has for fundamentalist Christians – given that it’s grounded in a deeply reactionary form of Catholic theology – the same mindset that Mother Theresa had when she denied cancer patients access to proper medical care on the grounds that their suffering would be deeply “acceptable to God”. By contrast, if one actually reads the New Testament (as opposed to taking passages from the Olt Testament totally outside of their histocial and exegetical context in order to condemn particular behaviours), the message is one of absolute acceptance and love.

There has always been a strain in Protestant theology of “obedience to appointed authority” which has its social and historical context in the appropriation of the Lutheran Reformation by Princes resisting the authority of the Catholic Emperor, and the parallel (but more nuanced and gradual) Henrician and Swedish Reformations which were very much State-led (there are also parallels in the practice of the Hapsburg Emporers and Gallicanism in France – the latter somewhat more deeply rooted).

Max Weber in his sociology of religion made the point that religion – as such – is neither politically radical nor conservative. He analysed Leibniz’ theodicy (“the best of all possible worlds”) and compared it to the practice of the Muenster Anabaptists, who prefigured the Liberation theologists’ notion of “structural sin” and called for massive social upheaval – in the name of the Gospel on the side of the oppressed. What is deeply troubling in the last 20 years or so is the resurgence of authoritarianism within Catholicism as well as the growth of anti-modernist theologies within Protestant denominations. Weber would have argued this is a pointer to some deeper underlying cause.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Sorry for the typos – though I’m over the election depression, I thought barramundi and four glasses of riesling would be very restorative tonight.

mark
2022 years ago

This brings to mind two completely separate things I read once: “Can God create an object even He cannot destroy?”, and “Daddy drinks because you cry!”.

Apparently God the Father is not some unknowable, all-powerful ineffable being. No, He’s your stereotypical 50s dad, loving provided you bring Him his pipe and slippers and don’t disturb Him while he ruminates over the newspaper. But if you do wrong, be prepared for the strap; don’t worry, God still loves you, He doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

It seems that God has obligations, too. But they’re not the obligations you’d think an ever-loving Creator would bear; rather, He’s required to be the ignorant, arrogant abuser of corporal punishment every fundamentalist wishes they, too, could be.

Amazing how everything that Joe Fundie dislikes is a sin, isn’t it? How can the AoG be so in tune with what God wants, with the rest of us getting it all so horribly, horribly wrong? In their quest to ensure the morality of those around them, the fundies debase God and the teachings of Jesus. They pervert the essential goodness of the Word of the Lord to their own unholy, inhuman wishes; of all the crimes that one could commit!

Alan Green
2022 years ago

Thanks for the tamer words.

Yes, some Christians believe that God has delegated his authority to individual humans that the rest of us must obey. And yes, some Christians also believe that (their version of) biblical standards must be held by everybody, regardless.

But not all do. There are swags of protestants out here (like me) that value pluralism, understand that people in our country draw their morality from many different sources, and don’t go in for simplistic authoritarianism.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I guess I’m feeling just slightly regretful of the strong words used in my previous post. But not all that much. As far as I can see, the Pentecostalists are mostly a reactionary, self-satisfied bunch of social-climbing materialists who’ve responded to a brand of fundamentalism that legitimises their aspirations and soothes their consciences, while providing a warm, accepting community atmosphere as long as they succumb absolutely to the pastors’ authority and keep donating lots of money.

That wouldn’t be utterly obnoxious if they used all that money for welfare/social justice purposes. But they don’t. They use it for ever larger and flashier facilities for the pastors and their flocks. To me it’s utterly immoral and a betrayal of Christ’s teaching, and contrasts starkly with Catholic liberation theology or even the christian charity of mainstream bodies like Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army.

So to Alan and Saint and Homer and other sincere, loving Christians out there, let me say I’m not talking about you when I heap deeply civil abuse on the Pentecostals. The latter might be really nice people to hang out with and “talk about fast cars, electric guitars, or movie stars”, but their message and actions are a betrayal of Christ’s word as I understand it. The trouble is, history shows you can interpret the Bible to justify almost anything at all, and these people use it to justify an inhuman, self-satisfied, rigid, conservative, excessively judgmental set of beliefs that they now apparently seek to impose on the rest of us.

I come from a mainstream Christian background, and I even still go to Mass occasionally. But I don’t take communion, because I no longer believe in much of the dogma. I still believe in some sort of Higher Power though (but not an anthropomorphic, interventionist, paternalistic one), and I certainly support Christ’s message of love, forgiveness and charity. The Pentecostalists seem interested only in the first of those, and only if you give the pastors lots of money and submit to their unquestioned authority.

Thomas the Tout
Thomas the Tout
2022 years ago

Praise be! An interesting blog, with intelligent comments, and only one ‘post mortem’ of the election.
Thank you Don. Neatly articulated: likewise the commentators.
Having spent 8 years at boarding school, with twice weekly compulsory chapel attendances (where we were issued with a sixpenny bit that we then had to put in the plate) I left adolesence with not much idea of Christianity ( but with the senior religious prize clutched firmly in hand). I did know that the authority figures (chaplains) annoyed me with their sanctimoniousness; and no-one had yet explained the core of this religion- we could not see the forest for the trees.
So now, in late life, I come across an objective summary of Christianity. But I am still a card carrying tolerant agnostic. Despite the boarding house master shouting that he despised agnostics for their vacillation whereas atheists, at least, had the courage of their convictions.
Apropos of not much, the scripture prize allowed us to chose a book from a city bookshop. I selected “A Dictionary of Wine”. There was some debate as to whether it should be presented to me in a wrapper so that Lady whoever (the presenter at speech day) would not be offended by the book. That was 1968.
And as a catharsis, the housemaster was a functioning alcoholic, who administered the cane to a group who poked mild fun at a chaplain; and who forbad me from inviting a girl from a high-school to the boarders dance -” heavens Smith minor, if you want to do that why don’t you leave Grimstone and go to the local high-school down the road”. I still talk to people from high-schools. His son is now a senior ALP parliamentarian. Shades of Animal Farm!

Rob Graves
Rob Graves
2022 years ago

The key to fundementalist theology both Gibsonesque and protestant, is that it is about shame. This is why there is a grotesque focus on christ’s shaming by the authorities. Implicit in the theology is the fear of punishment at the hands of God and/or the authorities, if one steps out of line.

Of course the mannor of Christs death is the demonstration of a powerful association with those who are shamed by political and religious power. The cross in the New Testament provides a rhetoric for the acceptance of those “shamed” that is marginalised or excluded. It New Testament is not interested in the cross being a symbol of the punishment that the unrepentant will receive if they do not follow the rules. This authoritarianism is the key to understanding fundemetalism both Catholic and protestant.

Of course shame is the crucial link between fundamentalism and capitalism. People who fear punishment and exclusion will compete with each other to avoid this pain, and to gain the blessings of prosperity. Webers thesis about Calvinism underpinning capitalism, can be extended with another chapter on how twentyeth century Arminianism has ended up underpinning consumerism.

Of course the New Testament and the Old both advance and ethic of hospitality towards the “other” and only ever see the individial in terms of a community. The cross in this sence is rightly understood as shamed – that is those who are marginalised paradoxically being embraced by God himself as a sign of His acceptance of the shamed (that is those excluded from social and economic life).

This ethic of hospitality, obviously is a long way from the “little flock in a frightening world” mentality of the evangelicals and Pentecostals. It is also present in the historical links between Christian socialism, the Chestertons, and early communitarian ideas.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Ken I demand an apology. how dare you say I am sincere!

Don has wriiten an article which is typical od people who are confused and have not grasped the essential message of the Bible.

I have neither the wisdom nor the time to show how don is wrong however let me say one thing that Christianity is not a religion.

Religious people need to do something to get where ever they think they are going.

In christianity Christ has already done it.

Christians should always be humble as we have only gotten the message through grace.

Alan there is no such thing as in christianity.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

make that alan there is no such thing as PLURALISM in christianity.

TJW
TJW
2022 years ago

Mark Bahnisch

I can’t find that allegation against Mother Theresa anywhere. Where did you hear that?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

TJW

I hadn’t heard that story about Mother Teresa and cancer sufferers either, and had only read occasional slightly negative things about her. But I did a quick Google just now on seeing your comment, and found this article. It DOES seem to provide some support for Mark Bahnisch’s observation. It also seems that Christopher Hitchens, the Right’s new darling since Iraq, has written about Mother Teresa in scathing terms. I haven’t read any of his stuff about her, however, so I’m not in a position to comment or evaluate. I certainly know from experience that the Missionaries of Charity sisters in Darwin are wonderful, loving women who devote themselves selfessly to the poor, so I’d certainly be inclined to cut them a lot more slack than I would the god-bothering, self-satisfied hypocrites of Hillsong and the Assemblies of God.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Here’s an article by Hitchens in MSN Slate, which certainly confirms his scathing opinion of her, but doesn’t mention the story about letting cancer sufferers go untreated.

peggy sue
peggy sue
2022 years ago

The concept “Christianity” is rather slippery.

Those who call themselves Christians cannot agree on the most fundamental point.
Is salvation through faith, works or predestination?

Christians cannot agree on the nature of God, or the nature of Christ, either.

To paraphrase Chesterton, “Morality, like art, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” I dare say even pluralists think some things are intrinsically wrong.

Judgementalism and authoritarianism have never gone away – political correctness being just one example.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

There’s a famous story about MT telling a cancer patient in the terminal stages of illness that his pain was “Jesus kissing him.”

“Then I wish he’d stop”, the patient replied.

Mother always got a laugh out of that on lecture tours – and several 100 grand besides. She was a deeply conservative woman fervently opposed to anything that looked like interference with divine will and of course started her mission on the basis that she would offer succour to those abandoned to die in the gutters of Calcutta, with love, care and respect. She basically saw herself as the last staging post on the journey to paradise and wasn’t – at least initially -naturally inclined towards clinical intervention. It was hospice care rather than hospital, palliative rather than invasive. Whether this amounted to “denying treatment” per se, could be the subject of a debate lasting several weeks.

I think that things have changed for the Sisters since.

dan
dan
2022 years ago

The conversation above demonstrates part of the reason why the morally conservative part of the christian church is likely to have a higher profile than the liberal progressive part of the church, as evidenced by Family First and the Fred Nile Party being the premier “religious” parties.

The salvation theology above is quite modernist – there is a “right” answer on most theological, social and moral questions and it can be determined. Everything else is sin. The B christians (which to avoid the use of labels is everyone who doesn’t fall into the above description) will also have strongly held beliefs about theological, social and moral questions. However, the difference is that they will allow that it is not possible to know the mind of God with such certainty, and other positions may also be an expression of a deep faith in and obedience to God. B christians might say that while they believe that members of society at large would benefit from believing in, knowing and following God, to the extent that they don’t, it is insufficient to make the rules on the basis of “God said so”.

There were certainly many B christians running as candidates for all major parties – some of whom I have the good fortune to know personally. The difference was that they didn’t promote themselves as christians during the campaign. Often, christians feel that the church has a role speaking into political discussions on behalf of those that they minister to (the Victorian anti-gambling lobby is a good example). The FF political action is based on the fact that christianity in itself on its own behalf has a voice in the political scene.

Sorry, long comment.

kelli
kelli
2022 years ago

As a longtime atheist, now a Christian, here’s my 2c on what’s missing from the version of the Christian story outlined above:
God created the universe out of love. He creates every person in His image out of love. So what makes a ‘sin’ a rebellion against God is not that it undermines His authority. i don’t believe people can really do that. He’s so much bigger and more fundamental (no pun intended, honest!) than us, so much greater than the material universe – we’re not in a position to undermine Him. What makes a sin a sin, is that it is contrary to the love and order God designed into the universe.

I can’t understand love and humanity just in terms of atoms and the material universe. Looking into the face of a victim of sin, i would know the sin is wrong because i know the universe (and the victim) was created by God out of love and for love, not because i think God is a big “because I said so” authoritarian who feeds off seeing me toe the line.

As an atheist, I knew intuitively that it was wrong to hurt people, that people were to be loved. But i didn’t know why that was true. Now, I want to obey God because i believe He is the ultimate source, and most rational explanation, of love.

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

You would need to preclude with a rational explenation of God before asserting what His existence does or doesn’t “rationally” explain. But anyway…

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, I think the story about Mother Theresa and cancer-sufferers (that she provided no palliative care and made no attempt to obtain painkillers when in short supply) was originally part of an expose by a former Jesuit in the British Catholic paper The Tablet. Hitchens wrote a book on Mother Theresa, can’t remember the title and have to go out so I don’t have time to search now. I suspect, from memory, the story is documented and referenced there.

If you go back to Mother Theresa’s funeral, it was interesting to see how few people turned out in the streets of Calcutta to watch it – a surprise to the Western media – but no surprise to Indians.

kelli
kelli
2022 years ago

red, i’m not sure what you mean by preclude. did you mean i would need to begin with a rational explanation of God? because i’m afraid i can’t preclude (prevent) one… so, to help me aim for 100 words or less (haha), is there a particular aspect of God (His existence, His nature, His relationship to creation) that you find irrational and in need of explanation? no worries if your ‘but anyway…’ meant you’d really rather not hear it ;o)

re mother theresa, apathetic fundies, pentecostals who spend up large on buildings… i think it’s important for people who want to make their own rational decisions about God/no god/the nature of morality not to base their decisions about God on the actions of people. This adds up to saying “i know God isn’t real or relevant to my life because so many people who call themselves christians act like arseholes.” it’s like saying communism is a ridiculous idea because stalin was a pig.

yep, people sure are good at treating each other like crap. people do it and call themselves christians, people do it and call themselves humanists or buddhists or agnostics or atheists. and that doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not God exists, or about who He is.

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

Kelli: Sorry, that was a Bushism (must have picked it up reading debate transcripts). And, yes, I meant preclude as the antonym to CONClude. In any case, it was a hasty, off the cuff comment that doesn’t really relate to the topic at hand anyway. If you really want to know what I think, have a look at the mangled double post I made in the “science botherers”

kelli
kelli
2022 years ago

i’ll have a look, thanks, red. as for bushisms, that man’s proclivity for malapropisms and general distortion of the english language was motivation enough for me to post my absentee ballot. grrrrrr. ; )

trackback
2022 years ago

A story

Ken Parish is dissecting some of the interest in conservative christianity as a result of the Family First phenom in this post. The comments thread got me thinking and I made this comment: The conversation above demonstrates part of the reason why the …