Celebrating Hell

Here is this church’s response that they posted on their website:

5/30/12 – The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason. We believe and hope that every person can find true Bible salvation and the mercy and grace of God in their lives. We are a strong advocate of the family unit according to the teachings and precepts found in the Holy Bible. We believe the Holy Bible is the Divinely-inspired Word of God and we will continue to uphold and preach that which is found in scripture.

I wonder how this church reconciles it’s exhuberant jubilation for an entire group of people going to hell with its expressed hope that “every person can find true Bible salvation”? While the bigotry of this church is apparent and disgusting, there’s something going on here that I think often gets lost in this issue. The reality is when no one’s looking, fundamentalists don’t really care all that much if homosexuals don’t get into heaven. Not only do they not care, but it’s critical to their sense of salvation. For the fundamentalist, if people who they deem unworthy of heaven’s reward could potentially be allowed into heaven, it would diminish their sense of salvation and even self-worth. Put more simply, if a gay person can get into heaven then heaven isn’t quite heaven any longer.

This is the true dark side of fundamentalism that often gets airbrushed on church websites. Publicly they’ll use bullshit cliches appear more loving than they truly are but when they don’t suspect their true feelings will be published to the outside world, the idea that millions of gay individuals will suffer conscious, eternal punishment is a cause for great celebration and dancing. Isn’t that lovely?

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Why Mark Driscoll Is So Compelling

Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on twitter would know that I like to poke fun at Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle, WA. Before I get into why I think Driscoll is such a compelling figure for many Christians, let me say some good things about him. First, the dude is smart. There’s no question he’s a sharp guy. Secondly, he’s pretty damn funny. He’s certainly got a “dark humor” streak that often times lacks pastoral maturity but that doesn’t mean what he’s saying isn’t funny, even if he’s poking fun at people like me. Third, he’s an effective communicator which isn’t a stretch considering the fact that’s he’s both smart and funny. Ok, with the nice stuff out of the way it’s time to consider the reasons why Driscoll so attractive and repelling to many in the Christian world. Here’s my theory:

I start with the observation that Calvinism is a strange theological system. It may not seem strange to those who consider themselves Calvinists but if you ask Joe Blow on the street what he thinks about the notion of a god who creates billions of human beings knowing beforehand that they will suffer eternal torment in a place called hell because he chose not predestine their good fortune…..you’d probably get a blank stare. Now I get that Calvinism is trying make sense of the problem of evil and the Fall of mankind and so it goes on to frame a way in which it all goes down and I appreciate that, but on the face of it, it seems odd. Fair or unfair, it’s hard for people who don’t find themselves devoted to Calvinism to see how it doesn’t make God into a kind of controlling monster that loves all humanity but not enough to predestine them all for reconciliation.

While I’m sure Calvinists would object to my characterization of their beliefs, I’ve never heard a reply of theirs that made God seem like less of totally soveriegn being who allows a vast majority of his created beings to be tortured endlessly. Because of this peculiar view of the nature of God, I suspect there is a burden a Calvinist might bear. There is an uphill battle for any Calvinist attemtping justify this view of God to the outside world. Instead of carrying the full weight of this understanding of God, at times it might seem easier to skim over these harsh realities about God, just be “missional,” be nice and talk about God’s grace and sovereignty and conveniently leave out the part where God creates souls for the purpose of eternal pain and suffering. When I put myself in their shoes, I can relate to what that burden might feel like.

So imagine you’re a philosophically weary Calvinist, tired of tip-toeing around the one-two punch of God’s ultimate sovereignty and his limited atonement. In walks Mark Driscoll into your life and you see a guy who doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the oddities Calvinism. Not only does he not beat around the bush but he doubles down on every Calvinistic eccentricity other teachers with the same view might conveniently skip over. He’s bold and he’s brazen and he’s exactly what a weary Calvinist might desperately be searching for. He’s a cold drink of water in the desert of philosophical exile. He’s the big brother that comes with you to school to confront the skeptical bully on the theological playground. If I were a Calvinist I’d be eternally grateful for what Driscoll does and I’d be the first in line to dismiss the criticism aimed his way as a result of all the crazy shit he says.

But the reality is I’m not a Calvinist. I simply can’t accept Calvinism as a theological concept because it points to a nature of god that I find unpraiseworthy, but that’s just me. With that said, Driscoll is a compelling figure to me because he’s the perfect embodiment of the pathologies of Calvinism. Certain statements he makes remind me of what some call an “overshare”. Other Calvinists voices might choose to avoid telling people that “God personally and objectively hates you!” even though that’s an accurate depiction of what their theology reflects. But not Driscoll. He doesn’t leave the crazy out. He doubles down with confidence and boldness. These kinds of extreme declarations from Driscoll represent a bubbling up to the surface the pathologies of Calvinism. With his declaration that “God hates some of you,” Driscoll is simultaneously relieving the burden of weary Calvinists and providing shining examples for critics to use as evidence that the underpinnings of Calvinism lead to dangerous and hurtful outcomes.

The Unlikely Disciple

I recently picked up Kevin Roose’s new book “The Unlikely Disciple” on a whim at the book store. If you haven’t heard of it, at the time he wrote the book, Roose was a early in his college career at Brown University. He was A.J. Jacobs’ research assistant for his book “A Year of Living Biblically” and in preparation for that book, both Jacobs and Roose took a trip to Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world which was founded and presided over by the late Jerry Fallwell.

While on their visit Roose came up with the idea of embedding himself, a run-of-the-mill liberal Ivy League student, in the Liberty University culture for a semester in order to see what the real, day-to-day experience was for a student at Liberty. This book is a recounting of his experience and it’s both incredibly hilarious and fascinating. I really appreciate Roose’s openness and intelligence in the book. He neither over simplifies the experience and is always thoughtful in processing his surroundings. I highly recommend you check it out. It’s an entertaining and thoughtful read.

Quote of the Day

“In a church dedicated above all to the principle that gays are evil, the single, Jewish hippie who founded it all gets to be an embarrassment after a while. Muhammed would be more their style.”

Andrew Sullivan, in response to Mark Driscoll’s complaint in the NYT that, “The mainstream church has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that … would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”

Mullah Mark, that has a nice ring to it.

The NYT gets up to speed on the Randy “Macho Man” Savage of American Fundamentalism

macho-man-randy-savage

And who else could that be other than Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Seattle. Here are some of the tastier bits:

Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.

and…..

Mars Hill — with its conservative social teachings embedded in guitar solos and drum riffs, its megachurch presence in the heart of bohemian skepticism — thrives on paradox. Critics on the left and right alike predict that this delicate balance of opposites cannot last. Some are skeptical of a church so bent on staying perpetually “hip”: members have only recently begun to marry and have children, but surely those children will grow up, grow too cool for their cool church and rebel. Others say that Driscoll’s ego and taste for controversy will be Mars Hill’s Achilles’ heel. Lately he has made a concerted effort to tone down his language, and he insists that he has delegated much authority, but the heart of his message has not changed. Driscoll is still the one who gazes down upon Mars Hill’s seven congregations most Sundays, his sermons broadcast from the main campus to jumbo-size projection screens around the city. At one suburban campus that I visited, a huge yellow cross dominated center stage — until the projection screen unfurled and Driscoll’s face blocked the cross from view. Driscoll’s New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.

You can read the whole article here.

The narcissism of Driscoll drips off the page. “They sin through their questioning.”? Ugh. But I suppose this attitude is common place in the Calvanist crowd, you know….. being one of the chosen few and all. The funny thing is is that I’ve never met a Calvanist that doesn’t claim they’ve been “elected” to “savlation.” I’ve always found that to be a fascinating coincidence.

Jon Stewart Schools Huckabee on SSM

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If you are opposed to same-sex relationships, you might want to prevent Huckabee from making your case. If you’re a former pastor and you get worked on national TV by a stand-up comic in matters of faith and sexuality, you should just stick to peddling your bad logic to your Fox News demographic.

Huckabee fears that allowing SSM will redefine what’s already been redefined many, many times. The idea that marriage has always been one thing is a myth and it’s bewildering that religious conservatives can’t see that. If Huckabee’s argument here represents the basis of the religious right’s attack on SSM, they are headed for big doodoo.