Last night, as I was working on a post about my experiences with fear-based religious beliefs, I decided to see if I could find a few pictures to illustrate my point. I ended up on a website that sells tracts and I read through several. The spiritual and emotional manipulation and the theological fallacies in them brought up so many thoughts and feelings that I realized they deserved a post of their own.
The last tract I read was a very recent one, published just this year. A guy asks his pastor about hell, and the pastor fumbles around for an answer and tells the guy that hell isn't real and God is too loving to send people there. At some point after this conversation, the guy is in a car accident; his wife is killed and he is in critical condition. He calls his pastor to the hospital, and here is the scene that follows:
He dies a couple hours later, and the doctor says it was a terrible death.
That's only the first half of the tract. In the second half, the pastor is shaken by this whole scene and he talks to a retired pastor, who tells him, "Billions of souls are down there because no one warned them. And billions more are on their way. Their blood is on our hands." Then the retired pastor asks him if he's ready to face judgment, and reminds him that there's "only one way to avoid hell," so the pastor who didn't believe in hell before has a conversion experience.
There's more to it than that, but I'm going to stop here before my head explodes. I felt sick after reading this. Let's begin by assuming that the Dante-inspired interpretation of hell represented here is accurate; if the guy was "dead in the ambulance" and saw it all, why on earth, in the two hours he was alive again, wouldn't he seriously examine his faith? Why would he use his time to call in the pastor and make accusations that it's the pastor's fault he's going to hell?
That was bad enough. But the scene with the retired pastor really bothered me. The last I checked, people were responsible for their own decisions and beliefs, and our role is not to terrify people into believing in Jesus; our role is to show others the love of God. That's what Jesus did. However, those who embrace the theology in this tract would say that scaring people into believing in Jesus is loving, because they're being saved from hell. But that brings up another point. Is the gospel-- the good news-- about escaping hell or about being able to have a relationship with God? About a year ago, I drove past a church that had "Amazing Grace" in its name-- yet under the church's name, the sign read, "Turn or Burn." Is this actually the point? The last scene of this tract basically implies that without having certain beliefs about hell, you do not really have a relationship with Jesus, and that the real reason for turning to God should be to avoid hell. The pastor believed in God and in what Jesus had done, but since he didn't believe in a particular interpretation of hell, his salvation didn't count? That isn't Jesus' message at all!
Having faith in God's love and forgiveness sounds too simple to be true, but it is true. Why do so many Christians insist on making it more complicated and putting burdens on people that they cannot bear? Why add on guilt trips and emotional manipulation? Why terrify people into believing, and then terrify them into scaring other people so they won't have blood on their hands? Where is the love in that? How is this not highly works-based? How is this a loving, Christlike way of interacting with our fellow human beings?
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." -John 13:34-35