June 27th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Christians Who Choose Not to Burn in Hell; Ghastly Evangelism at Funerals

Real Christians: About six months ago, I wrote a long, impassioned, frequently angry, and thoroughly footnoted series of essays in which I proved, to my satisfaction at least, that if the literal word of the Christian scriptures is true, then most of today's "Christians" in America are attending churches that are under the control of pastors and boards who received their religious education from a generation of formerly-Christian leaders who chose, overtly, to sell the Church out to Satan because they trusted Satan's political party to do a more competent and fervent job of protecting them from Communism: "Christians in the Hand of an Angry God." At the time, several of you asked me why I wasn't doing more about it, why I wasn't the voice going out to Christians and reminding them of what their gospel truly says about the path to salvation, about judgment day, about morals and the holiness code, about abortion, and about what a truly Christian response should be to great poverty or great wealth. What I said at the time was that if I tried to do it, it would do more harm than good. As a Hellenic Reconstructionist Pagan, no matter how bad a case I have of Engineer's Disease, nobody inside the church was going to take my word for it, not even enough to check for themselves.

They're going to have a hard time saying that about the Christian Alliance for Progress. A coalition of Christians has formed specifically to stand up against the pro-Republican perversion of Christianity. Thursday, they gathered in Jacksonville, Florida (and issued a press release) where they made the first officially public declaration of what they call "the Jacksonville Declaration," which they're encouraging both congregations and individual Christians to sign. (It won't surprise anyone, I suppose, that the founders are two Episcopalians and a Presbyterian.) My only concern with their effort is that I worry that they'll miss a lot of their intended targets because of a design issue on their web page: you have to go two links deep before you find any doctrinal defense of their politics from a Biblican viewpoint, quoting actual Scripture. Christians who actually follow and worship Jesus Christ need to remember that they can not allow themselves to be "out quoted" by their enemy. The scriptures warn that the Devil himself can quote scripture to his own ends; don't let him monopolize that high ground in the debate.

People who want to impugn the motives of those who preach the true gospel are going to have an even harder time when one of the Christian pastors who's confronting the church for substituting Republican Party politics and social reactionary prejudices for the words of Jesus Christ is a retired Republican Senator from Missouri, John Danforth, who wrote an editorial that was in the New York Times about a week and a half ago: "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers." Excerpt:
"Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers. But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws."
It's a worrying sign, though, that so far all of the denominations I've heard of taking the truly scriptural line are all from the steadily-shrinking "Mainline" denominations, the ones who've been clobbered over and over again, cultishly recruited from and generally preyed upon, by the fast-growing falsely-called "evangelical" denominations. This would sure as heck pick up some steam, gain some traction, if some of the Baptist churches that are in growing schism with Baptist leadership over these same doctrinal issues would sign the Jacksonville Declaration.

The Unwanted Evangelist at the Funeral: On an almost completely unrelated subject (but still relating to Christianity), I've had many years to stew over the habit that I consider offensive, insensitive, and deeply obnoxious of evangelical Christians getting up at the funerals of non-evangelicals, and even non-Christians, to preach the evangelical version of the funeral service: "We know that (name of the deceased) is in Heaven with Jesus right now. When you die, will you be with them?" I try really, really hard to understand what makes people do the things they do. And having had the subject back on my mind lately, I think I may have finally figured out what's going on here, and it's two things (in a ratio that varies from bad example to bad example).

I've long suspected that it was a, well, ghoulish effort to capitalize on people's grief to save their souls from damnation. Never mind the facts, never mind the ghoulishness of holding an altar call for a religion that the deceased opposed at their funeral, this is eternal damnation in Hell that we're trying to save people from here. No matter how despicable the tactics, they'll thank me later when they find out what an awful fate I rescued some of them from if it worked on them. But I knew this couldn't be all of it, because it seemed so obvious to me that this was a tactic that was as likely to backfire as to work. After all, the grieving loved ones know what the deceased's religious beliefs were; preaching an enemy faith over their corpse seems to me more likely to further alienate them from the gospel than to make them want to embrace it. And if they know you're lying about what the deceased believed, then even if they believe you that damnation is at stake, their grief and loneliness would drive them farther away from God as they chose to spend all eternity with the loved one they knew rather than with a God they never really did. I'm not saying that nobody would be that insensitive or counter-productive, just not enough people to explain how often I've run into this form of ghoulishness.

Lately I have a new theory: they don't think that they're lying, because they're lying to themselves. Let's face it, the central doctrine of Christian theology of salvation is monstrous. It says that some horrible genocidal cannibal who repents in his last breath, far too late to make any difference on Earth, will go directly to eternal bliss, but that your beloved wife, or husband, or parent, or child who never hurt anybody and who tried their best to make a better world for everybody, but who might have been mistaken about their state of Christian grace or devoted to another faith altogether, is sentenced to an eternity of pain and torture. No evangelical would stand up at somebody's funeral, not somebody they knew, and say, well, "Jim was a great person and a great father, who knocked himself out for decades even after a pentuple bypass to provide for his family. Too bad he was a lapsed Catholic New Ager and not a born-again Christian, because that means he'll burn in Hell for all eternity." Well, OK, Randall Terry and Fred Phelps would -- but not very many others. Do the rest lie to be polite, knowing that eternal damnation is at stake? I suddenly don't think so. I think they lie to themselves about the spiritual state of the deceased, so that they don't have to think about someone they knew and loved roasting in Hell.