Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our Heavenly Grandfather and the BK Theory of Christianity

The National Catholic Reporter, that haven of mostly-dissident Catholics (with the saving exception of John L. Allen, Jr.), has a regular section called “Eco Catholic”. The most recent installment—a hysterical screed against the doctrine of hell—shows that writer Carol Meyer has trouble distinguishing conservation from nature worship.

I’m writing about hell because it is an unthinkable, horrible, destructive concept that can’t possibly be true. I frankly can’t even imagine how anyone came up with something so horrific. Could any wrong merit the terrible pain of burning in fire, while fully conscious, for a week or a year, much less eternity? What kind of a monster would inflict that on anyone? How could such cruelty and sadism be consistent with a God of love? I don’t buy it for a minute.

I don’t care if scripture mentions hell or Jesus talked about it, if saints had visions of it, or if it’s a time-honored Catholic teaching. It simply can’t be justified on any level. [Emphasis mine.—TL]

Sic volo, sic iubeo: the perpetual chant of what Kate of Australia Incognita calls “the Magisterium of Me”. So Martin Luther said when asked to justify throwing out certain epistles from the New Testament: “Thus I will have it, thus I order it, my will is reason enough. … Doctor Luther will have it so, and … he is a Doctor above all Doctors in the whole of Popery.”[1] We can call it the Burger King Theory of Christianity, where you can “have it your way”.

Her opposition to the doctrine is based on a “Care Bear” vision of a benign universe and a God who is less a Father than an indulgent Grandfather:

When we look at creation (and thus at God), we see that it is essentially benevolent, kind, and nurturing. Yes, there is some pain and certainly death, but it is part of a beautiful process of life, growth and rebirth, not some never-ending punishment for being imperfect. I’m not sure where we got the idea that the meaning of life is about judgment, that it’s some kind of cosmic test almost impossible to pass. Nature is about harmony, balance, compassion, unity, interdependence, joy, and all life coming to its fullest potential. That is surely what God wants for us, not to toss us into the trash bin of hell because we missed Sunday mass or had sex.

“Nature is about harmony, balance, compassion, unity, interdependence, joy, and all life coming to its fullest potential.” That may be the universe she wishes to inhabit, and it’s a pretty picture typical of the nature-worshiper. The rest of us, however, live in a universe that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any of that, where life is a continual struggle against the entropic tug that breaks everything down in the end, where things are perpetually discordant, unbalanced, uncaring, divisive and competitive … where joy is episodic and life too often never reaches its full potential.

Yes, her core argument is silly, na├»ve and unrealistic. But more to the point, it isn’t Christian, let alone Catholic. “When we look at creation (and thus at God) …”. Oh, what a giveaway. Here we have the “emergent God” typical of nature-worship, where all things not only participate in divine life but actually come together to “create” Divinity.

But the God of Christianity isn’t an emergent phenomenon: He is totally Other, the Absolute Being (“I AM WHO AM”) upon which all contingent beings depend for their existence, the Creator of all things (Gen 1:1), Who exists unbounded by time or space (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27). He is radically omnipresent within the universe, but He isn’t part of it. Whatever else may be said of Meyer’s God, it isn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … or of Ss. Peter, Paul, Thomas Aquinas or Francis of Assisi.

Furthermore, as humans we only reach our fullest potential in striving for sainthood; to become whole, we must become holy. The problem with this is not that it’s “some kind of cosmic test almost impossible to pass” but rather that it’s a necessary precondition for heaven that we can’t achieve by our own efforts. Nor does the universe kindly assist us in this matter; the demands of survival and self-interest, combined with our fallen nature, conspire to defeat us.

Finally, despite the fact that the doctrine of Hell has been misunderstood and misused throughout history, Hell itself is still as much a fact of the universe as is Heaven. Meyer quite wrongly claims that there’s no proof of its existence, though the evidence we have is beyond the reach of the empiriometric sciences. Indeed, although it’s more than just a state of mind, some people alive are already anticipating the pains of Hell: locked within themselves, despairing, hating, lusting and enslaved to their base desires in a never-ending cycle.

God loves us: this is a fact. But God desires us to become holy, for that is what’s best for us. To reject the path to sainthood because it’s difficult and causes us inconveniences — even suffering — is to reject Heaven. There is no third option, where we get to have our own way and still go on to some blessed comfort in the afterlife.

There are many people out there that wish God were more like Grandpa … someone who smiles indulgently at their antics and never punishes them for their outrageous behavior. But to deny Hell is to deny God’s justice entirely. This in turn denies Him His mercy, by gutting the substance of it and leaving a hollow shell of benign indifference to human acts of evil.

Heaven isn’t Burger King: We get it God’s way or no way at all.

[1] Henry Acinar, Luther’s Own Statements, 3rd ed. (New York: Benziger Bros., 1884), p. 25; cit. in Stephen K. Ray, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church, pp. 56-57, n. 84.


  1. People like this are always shocked when a Tsunami happens in Indonesia or an earthquake happens in Haiti. It just does not fit with the idea that God is nice and predictable. In fact, their caricature of God is not even as complex as the average person. We can be nice sometimes and we can be quite aggressive other times. Why can't God be at least that interesting? Why can't He do things that totally blow our mind? If you think He can the argument against hell falls apart.

  2. I'm with you there, Randy. I'm not even sure such events even compute for them. More to the point, though, the Heavenly Grandfather of Meyer's Care Bear Universe is incapable of exacting retributive justice for Dachau or the killing fields of Cambodia, or even for the rape and murder of one small child. It's just in that sense that denying Hell makes God's mercy meaningless.

  3. Randy oversimplifies and generalizes about an equally complex belief system as your own. A nature-worshiper (I'd prefer to say pantheist) can respect negative events as being of God along with the things we do like. There's a whole scheme of the universe that's going on beyond my influence and understanding and whether I'm trying to avoid going to hell. I've been managing to be a good person without threat of eternal damnation so far. Love, compassion, and what goes around comes around keeps me in line.


Anyone can leave a comment. Keep it clean; keep it polite! (As a rule, I automatically delete comments that use non-Roman alphabets,i.e. Greek, Chinese, Cyrillic, etc.) WARNING: If you include more than one link in your comment, it's likely the comment will end up in my spam folder!