Eternal hell and conditional immortality: an interview with Chris Date

 

 

Hell (understood as eternal torment) has been widely soon as Christianity’s most damnable doctrine by many atheists and skeptics. Very few people, however, ask themselves if that teaching can truly be found within the page of the Bible.

In what follows I interviewed Chris Date, a prominent proponent of the view of conditional immortality about this hot (if not burning) topic.

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Lotharson: Hello Chris, thank you very much for having accepted my invitation.
Could you, for the benefit of my readers, sum up your personal and religious background?

Chris Date: Sure. I was raised without any influence to believe in God (that I recall), although I found out later in life that my parents both believe in Jesus Christ. While very young, I expressed fleeting interest in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism, because family members and friends were among those groups. I also had some brief interest in Wicca as a teenager. Otherwise, however, I was an atheist into adulthood, and mocked Christians and Christianity. My now wife and I got married as atheists when I was 20, which was 14 years ago, and around 2 years later I became a believer in Jesus and quickly became interested in theology and apologetics. My wife was born again a few years later. I’ve been a software engineer at a prestigious Northwest software company for the past 12 years or so, though one day I hope to move into full-time ministry, or to become a University professor of Bible and theology.
I should say I also have four sons, ages 12, 8, 4, and 5 mos.

I really wish you will reach that goal 🙂

Eternal conscious  torment and annihilationisn

Let us focus now on the topic of that interview.
What are (in a nutshell) the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment and annihilationism/conditional immortality?

 

The traditional doctrine of hell, or final judgment, or personal eschatology–however you want to put it–holds that the day is coming when all the dead will rise bodily from the graves, and those who have saving trust in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in the blissful presence of the Lord with the saints. Those who deny Jesus Christ, however, will be judged and punished according to their sins, which will entail an eternity of spiritual, psychological, and/or physical torment separated from God and his people. It’s important to emphasize that this is not a disembodied eternal state. The formerly dead bodies of the lost will have arisen, blood once again pumping, lungs once again expanding and collapsing, muscles once again flexing, etc. And it is in this immortalized body, incapable of dying, in which the lost will suffer for eternity somewhere in the physical universe. Annihilationism, on the other hand, more historically known as conditional immortality, is the view that immortality and everlasting life are not intrinsic to our nature, and that it is instead a gift which God gives only to those who have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, we believe the lost will rise from the dead with the saved, but those who have not united themselves with the source of life will not live forever, but will instead die a second, permanent death–annihilation. Traditional “dualist” Christian annihilationists or conditionalists, who believe humans are comprised of an immaterial soul united with a physical body, would say that in the first death only the body dies, but that in the second death both body and soul will die (Matt. 10:28). Many other conditionalists are “monists” or “physicalists” who believe man is a physical creature who does not live in any sense while dead, and that their hope in an afterlife is found only in the resurrection. Either view–dualism or physicalism–is compatible with the biblical teaching that eternal life is a gift given only to the saved and that the risen lost will die a second death.

Thanks for your summary!

 

Mortal souls of the Old Testament

1) I think that a sound interpretation of the Bible should first seek to understand the oldest texts in order to interpret the most recent ones.
Critical scholars believe that many writers of the OT did not believe in an afterlife.
The dead do not praise Yahweh, nor do any that go down into silence. But we will bless Yahweh from this time on and forevermore. Praise Yahweh!
Psalm 115:17-18:

Turn, O Yahweh, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your covenant faithfulness.
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?”
Psalm 6:4-5

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Psalm 30:9

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
Ecc. 9:10

“The grave cannot praise you, death cannot celebrate you: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for your truth.”
Isaiah (38:18)
I personally find these passages extremely compelling.
How are those texts interpreted by Evangelical traditionalists and conditionalists?

Traditionalists would say that either those passages reflect a yet underdeveloped understanding on the part of the biblical authors, and that via progressive revelation the Lord revealed more about the afterlife in the New Testament, or they would say that they are talking mostly about goings on in this world, of which the dead will not have a part, without excluding conscious activity in another realm. Some conditionalists would say the same thing, particularly the dualist conditionalists I mentioned in answering your previous question. Other conditionalists, however, the physicalists or monists I mentioned, would say that these texts indicate that man is not conscious in death, that death is like a “sleep” in which one is unconscious. However, there are hints of an afterlife to be found in the Old Testament, hints pointing toward resurrection and eternal life. Definitely, though, whatever understanding and expectation they had of a future life was underdeveloped, and the New Testament provided more detail.

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Divine threats in the old covenant

 

2) If eternal torment is far worse than a violent death, then why did not God clearly warn the Isrealites during the overwhelming majority of the OT time? Would it not be loveless and irresponsible to give them the impression that the wage of sin is “only” destruction?

Boy, I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of a traditionalist, and it’s tough. I’m not sure how one might answer that question. I suppose a traditionalist might say that the ancient readers of the OT understood “death” and “destruction” differently than we do, that they viewed it as some form of conscious separation, from one’s body or from one’s God, and so therefore they wouldn’t have necessarily ruled out the traditional view of hell. Traditionalists might further say that there are hints of the traditional view of hell to be found in the OT, such as in Daniel 12:2 and Isaiah 66:24 (neither of which supports their view, as perhaps we’ll see in a bit). And so in the interest of charity, I’m not prepared to concede that God would have been unloving and irresponsible in not fully revealing the traditional view of hell (if it’s true) in the OT; he may have done so more clearly than we moderns think. That said, it does seem clear to me that throughout the OT, the punishment for sin was seen as death, being cut off from one’s people and from life on earth. And eschatological punishment was seen in the same way, such as in the aforementioned passage in Isaiah in which God’s people are vindicated in the valley of Gehinnom when God slays his enemies and leaves their corpses to rot and smolder in fire. I would not say that the absence of the traditional view in the OT would make God unloving and irresponsible if it’s true, but I would say the fact that there is such an utter dearth of evidence for it in the OT, and an overabundance of evidence for conditionalism in it, that therefore my view is heavily favored.

Yeah precisely.

Unquenchable fires and dying worms

3) Quite a few passages in the Old Testament speak of an unquenchable fire consuming the wicked and of worms eating them.
““…rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. …you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. The strong shall become like tinder, and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together, with no one to quench them” (Isa. 1:28, 30–31)
“But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.'”
Jeremiah 17:27
” 47 … Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it. 48 All flesh will see that I, the Lord, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.”
Ezekiel 20:47-48
“1 For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze … so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name … 3 You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing”
Malachi 4:1-3
“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” Isaiah 66:24
Likewise we find several references to the “gnashing of teeth” within the OT.
“The sinner shall see and be angry, he shall gnash his teeth and consume away” (LXX-Psalm 111:10″
“”All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee. They hiss and gnash the teeth; they say, We have swallowed her up; certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it (Lamentations 2:16).”
Many centuries later, Jesus used a similar language for describing the fate of the wicked.
“The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42).”
“Luke 3:17
His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
The traditionalist claim is twofold:
a) Jesus saying can only be interpreted as meaning that the damned will be literally eternally tormented. Conservative Jews of His time only interpreted these passages in this way.
b) the OT itself refers to the destruction of the bodies of the wicked, but it is actually also a metaphor for their everlasting pain
Did I correctly characterize their position?
If so, does it hold water?

Chris Date: Well many traditionalists simply aren’t familiar with several of those OT references you mentioned. Their claim is that Isaiah 66:24’s unquenchable fire means a fire which will never die out, burning forever and ever, never consuming its fuel, and that its undying worm is a maggot which will forever have food to eat, never consuming its host. That host, in the minds of most lay traditionalists, is the living bodies of the lost in eternal torment in hell. Traditionalists more familiar with the debate recognize that that passage explicitly identifies the maggot’s host and the fire’s fuel as corpses, but as you suggest, they would say nevertheless that the unquenchable fire and undying worm can only be understood as promising everlasting torment in risen bodies in hell, by means of metaphor or analogy (since what Isaiah refers to are corpses, not living bodies). However, as you have noted, there are many passages in the OT in which unquenchable fire is used, and in the vast majority of them–certainly all the ones which are relevant to this question, since they involve the fiery wrath of God–unquenchable fire is not a fire which will burn forever, never dying out. Rather, it’s a fire which is irresistible, inextinguishable. It is unstoppable. What would happen if you arrived home from work to find fire fighters trying desperately to put out a fire, and one of the fire fighters told you they are not going to be able to quench the fire? Well, obviously, it would burn up the house. That’s what this idiom of unquenchable fire means throughout Old and New Testaments. The same is true of the undying worm. It’s an unstoppable scavenger, much like two other places which I can’t recall off the top of my head, in which Israel is told that her corpses will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth and that no one will frighten them away. The fact that the scavengers can’t be frighted away does not mean that they will forever have food to eat, but that they won’t be stopped from fully devouring their food–the corpses. Likewise, the undying worm is a maggot which won’t be prevented by death from fully consuming its food–corpses. As for the other passages you mentioned, many traditionalists seem to have this strange idea that I quite frankly can’t relate to, that the mere presence of texts which speak of some sort of conscious experience in judgment rules out any possibility of annihilation. And yet, violent death is immediately preceded by sorrow and anger, and its infliction entails pain and agony. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that these experiences will last forever. Finally, yes, traditionalists tend to think that Jews of Jesus’ time all believed in eternal torment, and interpreted OT passages as saying so. Yet, this belief is based on old, outdated research based on limited access to ancient Jewish literature. Modern research, with its access to numerous Dead Sea Scrolls, has revealed that ancient Jews of the afterlife were mixed, that many of them believed in annihilation, and that none of Jesus’ language would have been universally understood by his audience as referring to eternal torment.

Okay, that makes a lot of sense.

Lazarus and the rich man meet sheep and goats

4) A current argument for endless torment looks as follows.
a) The parable of Lazarus shows that hell involves pain
” The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 ”
Luke 16:22 -23
b) this pain will last eternally in the same way the bliss of the chosen ones will be forever.
“46These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 25.46
What problems do you see with this?

Well the problems are twofold. First and most importantly, the parable isn’t even set in hell. It’s set in Hades, the underworld, the place of the dead. The rich man’s brothers are still alive, and he, dead in Hades, pleads that someone would go and tell his still-living brothers to repent. None of this would be possible in the eschaton. Besides, the text explicitly states he’s in Hades. And we know that one day mankind will be raised up out of Hades, given once again living bodies, at which point they will be finally judged. So there’s simply no good argument to be made for the traditional view from this parable. Secondly, there’s little reason to believe Jesus intends for the parable to be taken as a realistic description of the afterlife in the first place. Scholars of ancient Jewish literature have found several very similar stories that are sort of life fairy tales, or folk tales, not intended to be taken literally, but communicating a moral point. And Jesus appears to take these and turn them on their head, sort of telling his hearers that they’ve got things all wrong when it comes to the rich and the poor. Imagine, if you will, if Jesus were to come to us today and tell a story very similar to Humpty Dumpty, but whereas the king’s men in the original could not put Humpty back together again, in Jesus’ version the king himself puts Humpty back together again, as an illustration that God will one day raise his people from the dead. No one would think that Jesus was saying the afterlife would literally be like what happens in Humpty Dumpty. We’d all recognize that he was co-opting a common fairy tale of our day in order to communicate spiritual realities, like he does in all his parables. So I don’t see any reason to take the parable literally. But let me reiterate that that’s only secondary. Even if one is inclined to take Jesus’ parable as a generally realistic account of the afterlife, the most it could lead one to do is embrace dualism and a conscious intermediate state awaiting resurrection. Again: The parable takes place in Hades, not hell.

And what about the paralell between eternal bliss and damnation?

Chris Date: Oh, sorry. Yeah, Matthew 25:46 says only that the punishment will be eternal. It doesn’t say what the nature of that punishment will be. Conditionalists affirm that the punishment of the damned will be as eternal in duration as the bliss of the saved. Where we disagree with traditioanlists is when it comes to the *nature* of that eternal punishment. Traditionalists see it as an eternity of conscious suffering of some sort; conditionalists, on the other hand, recognizing that the Bible says the wages of sin is death, believe that the punishment awaiting sinners is death, and that when they die the second death at the final judgment, they will be dead forever. It is, therefore, an eternal punishment. Now, traditionalists will tend to push back and say that “eternal punishment” necessarily entail some sort of everlasting process of punishing (even though the text provides no such indication). At this point, I point them to places in the book of Hebrews in which the author speaks of the “eternal salvation” and “eternal redemption” purchased for us by Jesus Christ. Jesus is not and will not be forever undergoing the process of saving and redeeming; he accomplished that once and for all by his life, death, and resurrection. Rather, “salvation” and “redemption” in these passages are nouns that refer to the outcome of the verbs “save” and “redeem,” respectively. “Eternal salvation” and “eternal redemption” thus speak of the eternity in duration of the results of a saving and redeeming process. Likewise, “eternal punishment” speaks of the eternity in duration of the results of a punitive process. The process is execution; the outcome is death.

 

The killer of body and soul

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5) A famous prooftext for annihilationism is
“28 And fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10:28”
There are two traditionalist strategies for dealing with it.
a) “Kill” is actually a mistranslation of the greek word which could also means “ruined” or “lost”.
According to your own experience, do most traditionalist argue that one should not fear those who can “ruin the body”?
Or do they accept that it means “kill” in this part of the sentence while meaning the ruin or desolation of “body and soul” in the second part?

Well actually, it’s not “kill” in the first clause that traditionalists question. It’s “destroy” in the second. Oh wait, that’s what you said 🙂 Yes, you’re right. They think that the Greek word translated “destroy,” which is apollymi, means something like “ruin” or “desolate,” and they’ll point to some places where food spoils (apollymi), or oil is wasted (apollymi), or a sheep is lost (apollymi). However, as Dr. Glenn Peoples explains in an article at Rethinking Hell (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/the-meaning-of-apollumi-in-the-synoptic-gospels ), the word is used in a particular way by Jesus in Matthew 10:28, and in every other relevant occurrence in the synoptic gospels when the word is used in this way, it means something like slay or kill. And of course, context determines which meaning in a word’s semantic domain is the intended one, and in Matthew 10:28 Jesus is contrasting those who can’t do something–kill the soul–with those who can. So we have every reason to understand “destroy” in the second clause as meaning something like “slay” or “kill,” and the traditionalist “ruin” explanation just doesn’t hold muster.

b) the second strategy consists of recognizing that “destroying” is the right meaning, but that it is a threat that God is never going to actually carry out, it just describes His ability to do so.
What’s your take on this view?

Chris Date: I think it’s silly. I’ll say the same thing Glenn Peoples said when he addressed this response in episode 4 of our podcast (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/episode-4-the-case-for-annihilationism-with-glenn-peoples): Jesus might as well have said, “fear the one who can turn you into a chicken.” Of course, the threat doesn’t carry any weight if it’s not something he might, in fact, do. What’s more, the disciples whom Jesus was warning faced the real danger that people might kill their bodies. So I think we have good reason to believe that there are those who face the real danger of being destroyed in body and soul. And of course, this conditionalist understanding of Matthew 10:28 is consistent with myriad and varied passages elsewhere in Scripture which promise the same fate for the lost.

 

The smoke of their torments will rise forever

 

6) the apocalyptic imagery of John speaks of eternal torment in a very vivid manner.
“And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
Revelation 14:11
Is that not a clear proof that at least the exiled apostle thought of hell as endless pain?

Chris Date: Quite the opposite. Revelation is, as you say, a genre of apocalyptic imagery. Its interpretation requires careful exegesis. The picture of smoke rising forever comes straight out fo the Old Testament. In Isaiah 34:10 smoke rises forever from the remains of Edom, which in the prophetic picture is destroyed; Abraham saw smoke rising from the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah, which had been destroyed. This picture, of smoke rising forever, is kind of like today’s mushroom cloud. When one sees smoke rising forever in a mushroom cloud, one doesn’t think of everlasting flames, but of utter destruction. That is what this image communicated in John’s vision. You can see this where it’s employed elsewhere in John’s vision. The harlot, Mystery Babylon, is said to be tormented in flames in the vision (Rev 18), and the great multitude in heaven cries, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Rev 19:3). Yet, when interpreting this vivid, perplexing imagery, the angel takes a great millstone and throws it into the sea, explaining that all of this imagery communicates that the city represented by the harlot will be destroyed, and will not be found any longer (Rev 18:21ff). What’s more, the imagery of drinking God’s wrath is imagery communicating slaughter (Job 21:20-21; Jer 25:15-33). And the imagery of sulfur and fire comes from those passages I already mentioned–Gen 19:24-28; Isa 34:9-10–in which cities are destroyed. ALL of the imagery in this passage would have communicated to its first century readers the idea of utter death and destruction.

 

Eternal torment and the redemptive death of Christ

7) If the traditional view is true, Christ was just ready to suffer a violent and painful death (limited in time) in order to save people from eternal torment.
Yet the apostle Paul would have been ready to eternally suffer for the sake of the salvation of his fellow Jews.
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ,
for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
(Romans 9:3)”
Since traditionalists argue that eternal torment is far worse than a violent execution, should we conclude (given the truth of their assumptions) that the Apostle Paul was infinitely more noble and heroic than the Son of God Himself?

Chris Date: To be fair to traditionalists, no, I don’t think we should. Jesus, by virtue of being the Godman, divine and human, was of infinitely greater value than Paul, and a traditionalist could say that Jesus’ death was of infinite value and therefore he didn’t need to suffer eternally, and nor was his sacrifice any less profound than the one Paul was willing to make. However, it’s important to recognize that over and over again the Scriptures indicate that as our substitute (whether one thinks of him as a penal substitute like I do, or as some other form of substitute as many critics of penal substitution do; either way, the atonement was substitutionary) what Jesus did in our place, in our stead, was die. He died, in our place, so that we won’t have to. And he didn’t die in some vague, esoteric, metaphorical sense; no! He physically died, was rendered a corpse. How different from the traditional view of hell in which the risen lost are punished by suffering pain in immortalized bodies that live forever! In conditionalism, on the other hand, Jesus suffered the death penalty in our place so that we can be given life that lasts forever, and those for whom he didn’t die (in a Calvinist view like mine), or those to whom the merits of his sacrificial death are not given (in a non-Calvinist view), must therefore suffer death.

One last thought on this point. I think the danger of traditionalism is not that it risks making Paul more sacrificial than Jesus. Rather, I think it risks coming dangerously close to heresy when it comes to the atonement. You see, when traditioanlists are asked why Jesus didn’t suffer forever on the cross, they’ll typically say that the few hours of suffering he experienced is equivalent in some way to the eternity of suffering awaiting the risen lost. But consider what that does! If the eternity of punishing awaiting the lost was entirely paid for in the finite duration of Jesus’ suffering, why did he go on to die? His death would have been arbitrary and unnecessary, when it’s what the Scripture emphasizes as the central aspect of Jesus’ atoning work. That’s the problem with traditionalism.

 

The apostles and fiery brimstone

8) Why did the apostles almost never mention hell, let alone eternal torments, if it were of such importance?

Chris Date: Good question! Paul speaks of “everlasting destruction” in 2 Thess 1:9, and more generically of wrath and so forth in places. But you’re right, they don’t speak much about final punishment. So I don’t know a traditionalist would answer your question. I would answer the question by saying that the most serious aspect to final punishment is in what is missed out on: eternal life. And so by talking so much about the gift of life, the apostles were implicitly warning of final punishment which entails the everlasting deprivation of life.

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Reconciled with God but agonizing

9) New traditionalists (such as Phil Fernandez or French theologian Henri Blocher) argue that only the saved ones will inherit eternal life. The damned will EXIST (but not live) and suffer eternally, but be utterly reconciled with God who is obliged to torment them endlessly for justice’s sake. Does this picture of “victory” hold water?

Chris Date: Well regarding the first of those two issues, as I explain in an article at Rethinking Hell (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/10/obfuscating-traditionalism-no-eternal-life-in-hell), the Bible explicitly says that resurrection entails bringing a formerly dead back to life, and so by biblical definition, the traditional view of hell entails the lost inheriting eternal life. There’s simply no escaping that. It may not be the same “eternal life” spoken of in the NT, but it is a form of eternal life, and I think honest traditionalists need to own up to that without trying to dodge it. The risen lost, in their view, will NOT merely exist forever, they will live forever in bodies which never die again. As for the lost being reconciled with God, that’s something a few modern “reconciliationists” believe, and I’m frankly not familiar enough with the nuances of their view to say much about it other than that their reconciliation with God does not entail their being united with him and his people forever. In other words, they remain lost, and eternally. Of course, this view fails for the same reason all other variations of the traditional view fail: the Bible says everlasting life will be given only to the saved, and that the risen lost will instead die, perish, be destroyed. As for the biblical picture of God’s victory, and which view of hell is most compatible with it, I’d encourage your readers to listen to episode 4, to which I already linked above. In it, Glenn Peoples explains why the biblical picture of eternity is most compatible with conditionalism. He also lays out the case briefly in our upcoming publication, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, which we expect to be published by Wipf & Stock this Spring.

Degrees of punishment

10) Can conditional immortality account for degrees of punishment?

Chris Date: Yes, and in a variety of ways. One way is by allowing for an infinite number of combinations of type, intensity, and duration of suffering involved in the destructive process. The ultimate punishment they pay is death, but its infliction involves degrees of suffering, accounting for degrees of punishment. Another way is by allowing for degrees of shame. Some may be remembered forever in far greater contempt than others. Either way, degrees of punishment are completely compatible with conditionalism–in fact, more so, I think, than with traditionalism. After all, any difference in degree of torment fades into nothing after a trillion trillion years of it.

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Aggressive rhetoric and emotional bullying

11) I deal quite a lot with the New Atheists (anti-theists) on my blog. Their arguments are generally extremely shallow, but they often sound quite convincing due to their use of a very aggressive rhetoric involving a huge amount of emotional bullying.
It looks like that many (though not all) traditionalists uphold the strength of their position by resorting to a similar strategy.
This seems quite clear to me after I watched a “discussion” between Michael Brown and Edward Fudge and many callers which rang like a true inquisition.
Do you think it is a fair assessment of the situation?

Chris Date: In some cases, maybe even many, yes. I’ve experienced it; many other conditionalists have as well. But I think this is something we all, as human beings, tend to do. We’re fallen sons and daughters of Adam; we’re prideful and we want to be right. And so we tend to bully others into thinking like us. Traditionalists aren’t the only ones guilty of it; we all have to repent of it in certain areas of our lives, including myself. Our primary goal at Rethinking Hell, and the thing I’m passionate about that drives me to invest time and effort into this topic, is to nurture Christian unity and charity. Too often Christians treat the issue of hell as a topic worth dividing over–and not just dividing over, but worth treating one another with contempt and with disrespect. We want to do what little we can to remedy that, but encouraging frank and honest disagreement, as well as intellectual rigor, but done with brotherly love, respect, and charity. If traditionalists, conditionalists, and even universalists can present a united front to the world, including those New Atheists you mentioned, treating each other with respect and charity when we have our in-house debates over hell and other secondary issues, I think we’ll be far more effective agents for change in the world.

That’s entirely true and I also need to constantly keep myself in check for avoiding intellectual pride and self-righteousness.

Annihilationism and emotional reasoning

12) How often do you hear the complain that conditionalists are liberals who reject the “clear teaching of Scripture” on purely emotional grounds?

Chris Date: Ha! I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that. But it’s simply untrue. In my case and some other conditionalists, emotions never played a role. We were convinced solely by exegesis of the text. In fact, my emotions tugged me in the direction of the traditional view I had already held. I desperately wanted to avoid adopting a position that would close ministry doors to me and would cause apologists and theologians I respect and admire to think poorly of me. But my commitment to Scripture forced me, kicking and screaming, to become a conditionalist. Many conditionalists, it is true, first began questioning the traditional view for emotional or philosophical reasons, but they didn’t simply embrace conditionalism on those grounds. They returned to Scripture to see if perhaps they and most other Christians had gotten it wrong. And having done so, they discovered the utter dearth of biblical support for the traditional view, and the overwhelming reams and reams of evidence in support of annihilation.

13) Is there a hope that annihilationism will soon be considered as a respectable Evangelical position in the near future?

Chris Date: Yes, I think it’s inevitable. It’s already becoming one. Christian scholars like Basil Atkinson, E. Earle Ellis, Dale Moody, John Stott, John Wenham, Richard Bauckham, David Instone-Brewer, Gordon Isaac, Douglas Jacoby, I. Howard Marshall, Preston Sprinkle, and John Stackhouse (to name just a few) have embraced the view, and as more and more of them continue to do so, traditionalists will be less and less able to treat annihilationism as if it’s a fringe movement held only by liberals, sentimentalists, and cultists.

14) How many percent of conservative Evangelicals hold to conditonalism?

Chris Date: Oh I have no idea. We’re a minority in America, but a growing one. Actually, we may not be a minority in conservative Christian academia; John Stackhouse and Edward Fudge have said that many Christian academics have told them that they are persuaded by our view, but can’t say it for fear of losing their jobs. In Britain I think we’re an even larger minority, if not a majority. But again, in terms of numbers, I can’t begin to guess.

15) I want to talk a bit about Calvinism. I am strongly opposed to this doctrine but realize that many of my arguments could lose much of their strength if hell means the cessation of existence.
Yet I have not (until now) dealt with reformed condtionalists because I consider their number to be extremely small.
Am I justified in that assumption?

Chris Date: Yes, I think so.
And…Let me just say that while I am Reformed…Many of the Rethinking Hell “staff” are not. Rethinking Hell does not official endorse any view of soteriology over another.But yes, you’re right, there aren’t many of us Reformed conditionalists.

16) To conclude, I want to say that while I reject the teaching of Biblical inerrancy, I really find that your exegesis and that of Dr. Glenn People is very serious, scholarly and intelligent. You represent the very best of Conservative Evangelicalism to my mind.
Could you please sum up the most useful ressources my readers interested in the topic could take a look at?

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Thanks! I appreciate that. I recommend your readers purchase either Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes, in its 3rd edition now with Wipf & Stock, or his Hell: A Final Word. The former is more scholarly; the latter more popular-level. They would also benefit from purchasing his two views book with Robert Peterson, Two Views on Hell. It’s available on Kindle for cheap, I think, and your readers will get both sides of the debate. I also highly recommend your readers keep an eye out for our upcoming Wipf & Stock publication, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism. They can learn more about it here: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/12/rethinking-hell-book-announcement. It’s in the final stages of editing and we expect it to be published this Spring. It’s not yet available for preorder by itself, but if you have any readers that are anywhere near Houston, they can preorder a copy of our book as part of their registration for our inaugural Rethinking Hell Conference this July, which they can learn more about and register for here: http://www.rethinkinghellconference.com/2014/. And, of course, we have a bunch of resources available at http://www.rethinkinghell.com. There are a ton of articles on a variety of related issues, and for your readers not yet familiar with our view, they should probably start by listening to episode 4 of our podcast (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/episode-4-the-case-for-annihilationism-with-glenn-peoples) in which Glenn Peoples gives a positive case for our view, and then episode 7 (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/episode-7-traditional-objections-answered-with-chris-date) in which I answer common objections from traditionalists.

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Alright Chris! Thank you for all the time you gave me, and I truly hope this was not too exhausting for you 🙂

You’re very welcome. I enjoyed it.

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Leaving fundamentalism: an interview with Jonny Scaramanga

 

 

In a previous post I pointed out the harmfulness of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), an international fundamentalist “educational” system aiming at producing “godly” children.

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Here I had the immense opportunity to interview Jonny Scaramanga who is campaigning against this abusive and harmful system.

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Accelerated Christian Education in a nutshell

Lotharson: Hello Jonny, thank you very much for being with us!
Could you please tell a bit about your background for the benefit of my readers?
Jonny Scaramanga: Sure.
I was born into a family that was majorly into the Charismatic Movement and also the Word of Faith “prosperity gospel” of preachers like Kenneth Copeland.
I can’t remember a time in my childhood where I didn’t believe in God. The truth of the Biblical creation story was just one of the facts of my childhood, as true as the colour of the sky.
I was praying in tongues by the time I was 6 or 7.
I went to a creationist pre-school when I was 3, which used the ACE system, because some of my parents’ friends had started an ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) school.
My parents decided to send me to an ordinary primary school, though, so I got a proper education until I was 11.
Then part way through my final year of junior school, I went back to the ACE school, and was there until just before I turned 15.
Is that enough background?

That’s a good beginning, thanks 🙂 What happened next in the ACE you attended?

Well, I loved it to begin with. It’s completely unlike any other school you’ve ever seen.
Each student has their own desk, and it’s separated from the other desks by two dividers, so you can’t see or interact with your classmates during work time.
That suited me fine. I hated teamwork anyway.
So I really enjoyed having a private desk with my own possessions and just getting on with my work. The room didn’t have a teacher – the staff member was called a supervisor. If we needed help, we raised a flag to get her attention, but otherwise we were teaching ourselves from these books…
Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs)
which incorporate Bible lessons into every subject.
And I thought this was heaven. I felt so lucky to be surrounded only by good Christians, away from the evil and the temptations of the world. I wouldn’t have used the word ‘lucky’ at the time, because I was taught ‘luck’ came from the root word ‘Lucifer’, as in Satan.
There was quiet music playing in the background, and I was where God wanted me to be. Everyone was so polite and so friendly. I find it sinister now, because I think it was unreal, but it seemed wonderful to me then. And I felt so lucky to be learning the truth about Creation…
…because everyone else in the world was being taught these ridiculous lies about evolution, and I was one of a fortunate few who was hearing the truth about how God made the world.

It seems that many people really appreciate the absence of peer pressure and other positive aspects so that they don’t immediately realize all the crappy things being taught.

Well, there was peer pressure. I just thought of it as positive peer pressure. It was pressure to be the right kind of Christian, not to be worldly.

How did this “godly” peer pressure play out?

Well, for me it was a big thing to be the first to the door at break times so I could hold the door for everyone on the way out…
… to show what a good servant I was.
In the last year I was there, we had morning prayer meetings for the older students, and because the church was very Charismatic (even though ACE isn’t at all), it was a big thing to show how spiritual I was by praying in tongues ecstatically and delivering prophecies.
I was very judgemental of a girl in the school who was curious about the occult. She was just doing typical teenage stuff, reading Interview with the Vampire and trying to learn how to read minds, and I told her she was in league with Satan.
On days where we didn’t have to wear uniform to school, some of the girls came in wearing very short skirts, and by break time the staff had made them change into tracksuits, so there was a lot of shaming of girls, shaming of women’s bodies.
I was conflicted because I liked seeing girls in short skirts but I also judged them for being ungodly.
So I was misogynistic from both angles!

 

Sexism and creationism

Some fundamentalists such as Calvinist preacher John McArthur go as far as teaching that it is a sin for a woman to have a professional job.
Can we find the same kind of extreme sexism within ACE?

Compared to some fundamentalists, ACE is relatively progressive about women. I mean, they have a female president, although that only happened because the founder’s wife divorced him, and she had obviously been planning this for a long time, because she managed to gain majority control of the company, and then divorce and fire her husband.
Some of the Social Studies PACEs have a picture on the cover of what appears to be a woman working as a vet! Amazing – an actual woman doing an actual job!
So by fundamentalist standards, that’s quite progressive. By my standards now, I consider it very misogynistic.
There are cartoons emphasising how girls have to be ‘pure’ by not exposing skin when they dress, and in the PACEs about career choices, there’s a massive section on being a ‘homemaker’, and that’s the only time in the whole curriculum they use ‘her’ and ‘she’ to refer to a nonspecific person. The rest of the time it’s always ‘he’.
In Norway, the gender equality ombudsman found ACE to be in violation of the Gender Equality Act
because the students were having to underline the correct verb in sentences like “A wife will be happy when (he, she, it) obeys the husband.”
Among other things.
The sexism is a big problem. I haven’t written enough about it. It’s next on my agenda.
Is creation science taught there a bigger issue?
The creation science permeates everything. People don’t think about this. It doesn’t just affect biology. It’s in chemistry and physics too, because they reject the findings of cosmologists, and they have their own creationist interpretation of the laws of thermodynamics.
It affects history, because they take the Bible as literally true, and because they believe humans didn’t exist 7,000 years ago…
So 200,000 years of early human history has to be compressed into a few years before and after Noah’s Flood.
They talk about the Flood in Geography and History. Their English literature course has anti-evolution books on it, and their general English course includes learning about William Jennings Bryan’s speech, which I think is called “Evolution vs God”.

Could you please give us the sentences you find the most laughable?

Ha! Good one. OK, bear with me on this. We might need to keep talking about some other stuff while I think.

 

Escape from hell

 

How did you escape this crazy “school”?
Well, I told you I loved it at first, but about 18 months into my stay there, that flipped and I began to hate it.
I felt that I had no friends in the world, and going to this tiny school (at its biggest there were 70 students, aged 3-18) where I mostly worked in silence was limiting my social opportunities.
I felt that there was such a thing as a good education, and although I had no idea what that was, I knew that this wasn’t it.
Bear in mind at this point I was still a creationist and a right-wing Christian, so my complaints had nothing to do with that.
I just thought the system was academically awful. I was reading books with titles like “When Science Fails” instead of real literature, and everything was fill-in-the-blank. The form of Christianity was making me miserable, but I had no words to articulate that because the language in the PACEs was so loaded I had no way to express those thoughts.
I just had this vague sense that everything was terrible.
I spent a summer locked in my room feeling suicidal.
When I went back to school that September, I snapped one day. I had this major freakout, and I couldn’t see for a couple of seconds. Next thing I knew I was shouting at everyone in the room.
So at that point my parents thought it best to remove me, and I was free!

It must have been an extremely liberating experience, a feeling almost indescribable by words.

For a week or two I was euphoric. I went to a normal school and started studying Shakespeare, and getting to use science labs instead of just reading about science in a (mostly incorrect) book, and we studied history by looking at primary and secondary sources and learning to evaluate them,
so it was a total revolution. But soon I was depressed again. I really struggled to make friends because I had no idea how to relate to anyone who wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian.
I didn’t have the cultural reference points. I didn’t watch the same TV or listen to the same music. I refused to swear, and I was a total prude. Since all teenage boys ever think about is sex, this was a massive problem. They all had posters of glamour models on their desks, and I was trying to find anywhere else to look, because I thought it was a sin for me to see pictures of women… not even naked women. Just women being sexy.
Then I told them they were going to hell, which didn’t help.
OK, I’ve found the most laughable section of a PACE.
I’m trying to figure out how to condense it down to a couple of sentences for you.
You kind of need to see the whole thing.

I’ll do 🙂

They’re trying to show that all modern people are descended from Noah’s three sons…
and the way they’re doing it is to find very old people (possibly legendary) with similar-sounding names
and go “YOU SEE! THAT’S NOAH’S SON!”
So, for example:
“Japheth and his seven sons may clearly be seen as the progenitors of the Indo- European limb of the human tree. Japheth himself may be identified with 1) lapetos (the legendary forebear of the Greek tribes) and (2) lyapeti (supposed ancestor of the Aryans of India).
End quote

But this is truly an amazing coincidence! This proves God’s Word beyond any reasonable doubt! 🙂

There’s loads of this. It goes on for PAGES.
And now they have an entire book called After the Flood, which you can find on line…
It’s by Bill Cooper BA (hons).
He’s very keen that you include the BA (hons) part.
He wants everyone to know he managed to get an undergraduate degree.
Anyway, it makes the same argument, but over a whole book. And it also claims that stories of dragons (including Beowulf) are real, and that’s proof that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, which proves the Bible is true.

There is a mighty creationist INDUSTRY feeding such books and teaching materials.

It’s mind-blowing.
People ask me now if I’m angry, but I’ve never really felt angry about being taught creationism for myself, because I discovered it was bullshit very gradually, over a period of years, and it didn’t seem to matter. It makes me angry that they’re teaching it to kids now though, because most of them won’t get as lucky as me, and escape to a good education.
The thing about creationism is that it tells you evolution is *impossible* and that science *proves* the creation account true. And that means that when you’re in a situation like I was, where your faith is making you miserable, you don’t have any options.
Because if creationism is true, according to their dogma, which I didn’t have the critical thinking skills to reject, then all of it is true. And if it’s true, you can’t leave, because you’ll be rejecting God and, like it or not, walking into Satan’s arms.

 

Eternal torments and child abuse

You know, I take folks such as Dawkins et al. to task for asserting that ALL religious educations are child abuses, because there are clear examples of progressive and liberal religious movements where it is not the case.
However I consider it as extremely abusive to teach to small children that all people dying as non-Christians will be eternally tortured.
I think that the harm inflicted on young minds is far greater than that stemming from creationist non-senses.
Would you agree?

I find it hard to separate the two, in this instance. It’s all part of Biblical Inerrancy (which is really MY DOGMA IS INERRANT) and that’s a club used to beat people with.
As well as also endorsing beating children with clubs, by coincidence.
And the thing about creationism is that it is built entirely on logical fallacies, so to teach creationism, you have to teach people AT BEST not to think critically in this particular area. In ACE’s case, it wasn’t compartmentalised like that. There was no critical thinking anywhere.
And that meant I didn’t have the tools to think about the harmful stuff. I was indoctrinated into believing in hell, and not given the mental skills to question that.
How did you finally leave fundamentalism?
I think it was because of listening to secular music. Some girls came to the ACE school who had attended a secular secondary school for a year or two previously, and they brought a tiny bit of that culture with them.
I mean, they were still hardcore Christians by most standards. But to me they seemed very worldly.
And I think partly because of them and partly because of an older boy who listened to the radio, secular songs started to impinge on my consciousness, and I began listening to the radio.
Then one day the supervisor gave a massive lecture to the whole school. She said singing secular songs was the same as rubbing dog dirt on your friends’ faces.
She used that specific phrase. “Dog dirt”.
And that was so ridiculous that I think I listened to the radio MORE after that.
Also, a Christian band called Sixpence None the Richer had a big hit with a song called “Kiss Me”. So I was listening to the radio to hear their song, and of course hearing all the other devil’s music at the same time.
And enjoying it.
Eventually I figured if it was OK to listen to it on the radio, it was OK to buy it. So I started buying secular CDs. And I discovered a few things.
One was that this music was a *lot* better than Christian rock.

Yes 🙂

And a lot of Christian rock was blatantly plagiarised from secular songs.
So there went my theory that the bands were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I also discovered that this music made me feel AWESOME. I felt incredible listening to these secular bands, full of joy. It was like the ecstatic worship services I’d experienced, but better.
I’d always been taught that secular music was inferior because it was the devil’s counterfeit…
but here, clearly, was not just something that was a counterfeit. It was the real thing.

Or maybe Evangelical rock itself is the devil’s counterfeit 🙂

Ha! That sounds about right.
And finally, I think it was listening to secular music that opened the door to reading secular books. When I was 17 I began reading philosophy.
I would never have done that just a few years before.
I would have thought even considering those ideas was exposing myself to the devil.
Now I think that after I’d been listening to Steven Tyler for a few years, I realised that there was no danger in considering other ideas. They weren’t going to control me. I could still decide what to accept and what to reject.
I figured that the truth would stand up for itself.
That was it, ultimately.
The reason I was angry at ACE was that they wouldn’t let me consider alternative ideas or beliefs.
I still agreed with them about religion, politics, and “science” at that point.
But I thought that if something was true, it would stand up to scrutiny. So I thought they should have given me an education where I got a chance to decide for myself.
And they had done the opposite.
So secular music was the wedge that allowed me to consider other ideas.
That and eventually making friends with my non-Christian schoolmates
and discovering that non-Christians weren’t demon possessed drug taking gangbangers.

Yeah 🙂 And how did your worldview evolve after that?

Deconversion and atheism

Well, I read philosophy books and – oh, I’d forgotten this, I didn’t intend to read philosophy of religion. I intended to read philosophy of mind, but the religion section came first in the book I bought, and I felt duty bound to read it in order.
So the devil tricked me!

Or God 🙂

And I found the arguments against religion uncomfortably persuasive. A lot of people don’t like Dawkins’ essay “Viruses of the Mind”, but it is a very effective description of fundamentalist religion, if not all religion.
It applied exactly to my beliefs.
That scared me. So I read the pro-religion essays to try to comfort myself, and I found myself inwardly arguing against them.

I think that all hateful and irrational ideologies can be viewed as “virus of the mind”. This concept has a huge explanatory power.

Right, exactly.
So I couldn’t handle it at all, I just buried those thoughts and started living as… I guess a functional atheist.
I tried not to think about it.
Occasionally I felt guilty and wondered if I was going to hell.
Sometimes I’d feel an urge to pray, but I felt that I couldn’t because I would need to repent first, and I didn’t want to repent.
This dragged on over a period of years. I’m writing a book about it.
I bought the God Delusion when it came out. I was like “Well, Dawkins started all my doubts, maybe he can finish them!” But I found the God Delusion put me on the defensive. I found myself sticking up for God as I read it.
I haven’t read it since. I don’t know what I’d think now.
At this point, my beliefs were essentially superstition. I was just terrified that God might exist. I was persuaded by Dawkins’ argument that the God of the Old Testament was evil, but not by his argument that this God didn’t exist.
So I’m just wondering around afraid of what’s going to happen when I die.
And I think that’s all pretty clearly a product of just poor thinking skills on my part.
Which I relate partly to an education and upbringing which discouraged thinking.

My memory’s a bit blurry after that. I’m not exactly sure how I got from there to atheism, which is where I am now.

A fundamentalist universe is an absurd and gruesome farce, given that billions of humans are going to suffer forever.
Would you say you feel rather convinced that the ultimate reality (whatever it is) is impersonal?

I don’t really think about that; I don’t find it a useful concept. I would say I have little grounds for speculation about the ultimate reality.

Historically, you would have been called an agnostic in France and Germany
where most people hold such a view
Einstein said that our human mind is so small than we cannot fathom the ultimate mystery beyond the universe

The harmfulness of Biblical inerrancy

Yeah. I didn’t mean to turn this into a conversation about atheism!
But here’s one thing I think your Christian readers can get on board with:
I never really considered other forms of Christianity, because I’d just been brought up to think they were absurd.
I was always told my options were fundamentalism or atheism.
Looking back, in my late teens and early 20s, they were the only paths I considered.
I’ve considered other things since then, but at the time it was all or nothing.
I was told you have to believe every word of the Bible or none of it.
And that’s a recipe for producing atheists.

Fundamentalism is destroying Christianity, this is why moderate Christians CANNOT stay indifferent
If people care about the future of Christianity, they’ve got to stop teaching children Biblical inerrancy is the only option.
Because Biblical inerrancy is completely untenable.

Absolutely 🙂

Legal actions against fundamentalist brain-washing

But now I have a more practical question
Many people tell that in an open society we ought to tolerate ACE
What is your response to such an assertion?

Well, I haven’t finished making up my mind about that yet. There’s an excellent book called Religious Schools vs Children’s Rights by James Dwyer, and I’m still thinking about his argument.
He thinks there is a case for state regulation in cases like ACE. I want to agree with him, but I’m still thinking over all the implication.
implications.
But I will say these things:
Even if we accept that ACE schools have the right to exist, we should still criticise them. I believe that racist groups and neo-Nazi political parties have the right to exist, but I will still oppose them in any way I can.

Second, even if ACE schools have the right to exist, school inspection bodies should take an uncompromising stand on pointing out where they are failing children from an educational point of view.

You know Jonny, I really admire your careful thinking and moderation. Giving your background it is truly fantastic 🙂

Thanks. You’re very kind.

What are the main evidence clearly showing that ACE is harmful for the well-being of kids?

Well, there isn’t any, really. That’s why I’m doing a PhD looking at ex-students, because no one’s ever undertaken that kind of research.
I can say, however, that ACE’s vision of education goes against everything that psychologists and educators currently think about what makes for effective schooling.
So it’s profoundly unlikely that it’s helpful.

Have you been accused of being too biased for carrying out such a research?

Yeah, of course. I think about that a lot. The truth is that nobody is neutral, though. And also, in some cases ACE schools have actually abused children very seriously.
And to be neutral in cases of abuse is a moral failure, in my view.
I would never want to be accused of being neutral about that.

Absolutely!

But still, I accept that it’s important to carry out research which is rigorous
So what I do is I always think “What would prove me wrong? What evidence would weaken my argument?”
Then I go looking for that evidence.

This is the scientific method at its very best 🙂

So in the case of ACE, I’m looking for people who say it has benefitted them. Most of them don’t want to speak to me, because I’ve campaigned against ACE so much, but I’m trying.
If I can’t speak to them, I still think I can make some useful points. I mean, I am in touch with more than 100 people who say they were abused by ACE. Now, even if those are the only 100 people in the world who feel that way (and I know they aren’t), those people still matter.
It makes me angry how dismissive ACE and the schools have been about the people who feel wronged by the system.
It’s so unchristian of them.

Precisely.

I am a teacher.
If someone came to me and told me they had been harmed by my teaching, I would bend over backwards to listen to them and try to put it right.
So when my old teachers won’t even agree to meet me or reply to my letters (and I’m thinking of one in particular here), that strikes me as cowardice.

Well said!
Do you believe that ACE can be improved in such a way that the harmful elements are removed? Or is it beyond any hope of redemption and should cease to exist altogether?

I see it as pretty much without redeeming features.
The individual study thing seems to work for some students, but I think even those students need a greater breadth of educational activities.
Under ACE, the majority of your academic life is spent studying alone, in silence, from books which contain all the answers.
I think students need to be trained to do more group activities, teamwork, and research.

I am very thankful for all the time you have accorded to us. What final thoughts would you like to convey to my progressive Christian readers?

Thanks for caring. Thanks for not preaching at me and the ex-ACE people who have heard enough sermons for two lifetimes. Please speak out against creationism. A lot of people won’t listen to me because I call myself an atheist. A lot of those same people won’t listen to progressive Christians either, because they say you’re not True Christians. But there’s a chance they’ll listen to you, and it’s a much bigger chance than I have.
I guess that’s it! Thank you for having me; I appreciate this opportunity.

It has been a true delight. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming book and PhD dissertation!
Thanks! I’ll try to finish them sometime this decade!
Have a good night 🙂
Thanks! And you.

Accelerated fundamentalist education

 

The harmfulness of ACE

Jonny Scaramanga, a former British Christian fundamentalist, called my attention to the abusive nature of a particular form of conservative Protestant education called “Accelerated Christian Education” or ACE in short.

Jonny’s blog should really be viewed as an example of how Christians and atheists ought to interact with each other.
Despite all the traumatic experiences he went through, he remains extremely respectful and kind, and I highly advise Christians to visit his blog and Youtube channel in order for them to realize the real ordeal a fundamentalist upbringing can be.

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ACE aims at furnishing an individual Biblical education adapted to the abilities of every child. In comparison to high schools which are supposed to produce illiterate teenagers, ACE presumably leads kids to develop a Christ-like personality.
Of course, most Christians should view this promise as deceitful since it is obvious that children have always the choice to decide themselves against the Good and lead a selfish lifestyle.
I strongly doubt that statistically speaking, there is a real difference between children raised in a good Christian home and children raised by loving godless parents having a commitment for humanitarian causes.

In another video, it is pointed out that God has created every kid with his or her unique features and has a wonderful plan for him. Consequently his academic needs to be “diagnosed”.

Even if it is off-topic, I cannot help but remark there is a huge irony here. Proponents of ACE emphasized the value and worth of the human individual but fail to tell us that, according to their theology, a huge number of the wonderful babies they show us are going to end up in hell where they will be tormented forever.

Jonny criticizes both the secular (methodological) and religious aspect of ACE.

He pointed out that the ACE of fundamentalists is based on the radical behaviorism of B.F. Skinner, which I find extremely ironic since Skinner was a hardcore materialist denying mental causation.
Jonny rightly exposes the unethical aspect of raising children with rewards and punishments as if they were animals to be tamed.

He also correctly notes that ACE (and fundamentalist homeschooling in general) really hinders children from developing a social life, leaving them with a big handicap as they will enter the professional world.

As for the religious aspect, he showed how ACE teaches creationism and presents many non-senses (springing out of a literal reading of the Bible) as established facts. He also explained that ACE teaches people what to think and to learn (most often fictional) facts instead of showing them how to think by themselves and critically analyze data and ideas.
He went on and pointed out the obvious truth that such a “knowledge” is of no use whatsoever since people will have forgotten all these things as adults.
Jonny summarizes very well what a good education should be: learning to evaluate truth claims instead of learning their content.

Globally I have a very positive impression of his blog which is far from websites of hateful anti-theists such as Dawkins or Jerry Coyne. He makes a real effort to understand the fundamentalist mindset and seems really willing to help persons going through the same ordeal instead of just expressing his frustration and anger (like folks at DebunkingChristanity usually do).

Finally, I want to point out that progressive Christians such as myself also constantly combat the abuses and atrocities caused by fundamentalist education and brain-washing.

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser wrote an excellent article exposing all the flaws of the “Truth Project” which is a fundamentalist “education” for adults.

As a rule, I think that everyone ought to fight abuses and injustices wherever she finds them, especially if they are committed by individuals sharing her worldview.
There are Christian, Muslim, capitalistic , communist and antitheistic extremists and all people cherishing liberty and love should join their forces to keep them at bay and limit the psychological damages they cause.

I know that some of points are controversial and I’m looking forward to having an interesting dialog with people having other opinions.

Jesus and a dinosaur

A Lesbian coming out as a commited Christian

Interview with Kimberly Knight about progressive faith and tolerance

I had the immense opportunity to have a chat conversation with Kimberly Knight, who spoke of her experience as being a passionate follower of Christ while being gay in an American context.

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I report it as vividly as it happened. Both of us would be glad if her testimony would be of help for other struggling Christians.

Kimberly Knight: Hi there, so sorry. I took a little nap and it went a bit longer than I planned :$

Lothars Sohn: Alright I know that all too well :=) One feels kind of frustrated after that, doesn’t one? 😉

Kimberly Knight: 🙂

Lothars Sohn: Anyway I’m so glad and thankful you’ve accepted my invitation!

Kimberly Knight: my pleasure

Lothars Sohn: So I would like this to be more a conversation than an interview. So if you wish you can ask me things back

Kimberly Knight: ok – sounds good

Lothars Sohn: What would you tell us if you were to sum up the most important steps of your life?

Kimberly Knight: Wow, that is a big question…When asked, a few key places in my journey come to my mind: my childhood with my parents, though not perfect, was formative in good and challenging ways.I was fortunate to have both of my parents together until the day my mother died in her 60s…

Lothars Sohn: I’m sorry for that…it must have been very painful

Kimberly Knight: I was raised in the southern US and much of our lives revolved around food – holidays, daily meals, friendships.

Lothars Sohn: Is that not the case EVERYWHERE in America? 😉

Kimberly Knight: indeed but there’s nothing as good as southern fried chicken, buttermilk cornbread and a huge potof collard greens…I felt loved by my parents even if over the years it was clear we were so very different.

Lothars Sohn: I know that feeling all too well.

An important part of my faith journey happened when I was a teenager, we attended a church named Confederate Ave. A Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta. We worshiped with an all white congregation and I really felt like I belonged there, I loved the church, the youth group and the Wednesday night suppers.

Well, there is one Sunday that I will never forget.  The church was packed, more than I had ever seen. This was in the early 80s and people who had been members but not attending for some time were present. The reason that everyone came that day was to vote about a membership request and behold, the custodian for the church, an elderly black man, wanted to join the church. I understood that to mean he wanted to give his life to Christ that is how we talked about it, joining the church meant giving your life to Christ.

But when I witnessed the congregation voting, by a show of hands in the sanctuary, whether or not he would be allowed to join, I was devastated because it seemed to my young self that they were deciding whether or not he could give his life to Christ.

So in that instant I understood for the first time what religion looked like – and it looked like humans deciding who was worthy of God and who was not.

Lothars Sohn: Yes!

So I walked away from the church that day not to return for a decade but – i went to college and studied religion

Lothars Sohn: to a secular college?

Kimberly Knight: yes I thought a wholly academic approach would appease my mind and my heart

[Lothars Sohn: I had a similar feeling…

Kimberly Knight: well, that is what i told myself

Lothars Sohn: you were young…

Kimberly Knight: yes so I took my sweet time in undergraduate school and I was starting to understand who I was – well, i was confused and was trying to NOT understand who I was Through a series of bad and then somewhat better choices I was now attending a United Methodist church in my neighborhood

Lothars Sohn: and then you probably wondered: does God really want that for my earthly life?….

And my pastor (who would later come out too and start a UCC church) introduced me to my now partner and it was like God smacked me in the head with a cosmic frying pan. As I began to enter seminary I also started coming out and  I could feel God walking with me in such a tangible way like I had never felt before. 

When I kissed my wife for the very first time, I knew I was home though I kept waiting for it to feel bad, dirty and wrong – gross even, but it only felt more right every time she kissed or touched me and so I began the long process of shedding my old life and claiming the next part of my journey as God wanted it for me.

That is a long answer and there are many more points on the journey but – there you go

Lothars Sohn: of course, it was very poetically described :=)

Kimberly Knight: thank you – I have never blogged about that – not yet but likely will soon

Lothars Sohn: I’m looking forward to it! Now would be my next question

It is clear that (conservative) Evangelicalism in America is facing a great crisis. An increasing number of clever young people are leaving conservative and fundamentalist churches and oftentimes become very resentful atheists. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Kimberly Knight: That we are in a great shift….some are calling it another Great Awakening in America

Lothars Sohn: For me it would be a Awakening if those folks gave up their wicked theological beliefs and worshiped a truly loving God instead of becoming militant atheists.

Kimberly Knight: I believe some people, with hungry minds and open hearts are engaging the Bible in ways they were specifically trained not to – with questions and faith rather than certitude and dogma

Lothars Sohn: I hope so, but I have experienced all too often how people who were fundamentalists turned into nasty antitheists who want to destroy every religion and oftentimes even Socialism for that matter

Kimberly Knight: indeed but that is not what I am seeing in the Emergent movement

There are plenty of atheists who are really just angry at religion and God but in the emergent movement something else is happening and it is becoming more progressive and it is moving toward activism.

Lothars Sohn: That’s also what I am aiming at with my blog.

Kimberly Knight: me too, exactly

Lothars Sohn: I am sure that fundamentalism is destroying Christianity

Kimberly Knight: well, in some ways – but it also may end up saving it, that is a weird thing to say, let me explain… perhaps the best thing to happen for LGBT rights is Westboro Baptist nonsense

Lothars Sohn: I understand but feel sad about them, often angry but also sad. I wish them to get “saved” from their wickedness.

Kimberly Knight: me too…but, if American Christianity had just idled along as bland and ineffective that might have killed it and was killing it, since that is not Christian either. But with the willful ignorance and the twisted rendering of the bible, people had something to get mad at – to awake from and were so tied to a life within the church they had to seek for answers that still equaled God

Lothars Sohn: This leads us to my next question

On of the purposes of my blog is to defend a form of progressive Christianity which is intellectually honest and rationally and morally acceptable.

One complaint of militant atheists (the so-called New Atheists) is that liberal and progressive Christians are dangerous because they legitimize the existence of fundamentalism. I believe that in quite a few cases they are unfortunately right since many liberals AVOID confrontations to preserve “the Christian unity“.

What should we do about that?

Kimberly Knight: Oh, well I do not avoid confrontation as you see 🙂

Lothars Sohn: yep!

Kimberly Knight: and yes, plenty of my progressive sisters and brothers criticize me for not being gentle and loving (which I am) or for not being a bridge builder (which I am)

Lothars Sohn: but Jesus was confronting some of the pharisees of his time all the time those who had a wicked theology and behavior

Kimberly Knight: I feel called, in no uncertain terms, to confront that which has hijacked the gospel. not that God needs little me to defend God but because I feel called to be very clear that what many Americans think about Christians, God and Jesus are obsoletely wrong and it is wrong for me to remain silent when I can speak up

Lothars Sohn: For the readers, could you please put the NALT project in a nutshell?

Kimberly Knight: Hmm, well that is not my project and I have not even recorded a video yet but i can try: it is a project, inspired by the It Gets Better video project where progressive Christians are invited to share a video talking about how they understand their faith, primarily in terms of love and radical hospitality

Lothars Sohn: that speaks to my heart 🙂

Kimberly Knight: Create a video, upload it to YouTube and tag it with the appropriate words and key pharses and then let NALT know it is out there

Lothars Sohn: I am sure this is going to have much success

Kimberly Knight: I hope so and I know it has been criticized (exactly for why you mentioned)

Lothars Sohn: and I hope this will also show to the non-Christian world that we don’t agree with what fundamentalists are doing

Kimberly Knight: but I am a fan of the project if it saves one life, prevents one person from believing that God hates them

So here is a question for you: why the name Lothars Sohn?

Lothars Sohn: I come from Lorraine/Lothringen, a region in France with a German-speaking part, expect that the French government destroyed our culture and language

 Kimberly Knight: I am sorry to hear that

Lothars Sohn: I am proud of my root and have taken “Lothar’s son” as name in honor of king Lothar the founder of my region.

And like the Israelite are sometimes described as being the children of Abraham I am a child of Lothar 🙂

Kimberly Knight: cool

Lothars Sohn: Did you take a look at my theological argument for the acceptance of homosexuality? I think it is extremely compelling

Kimberly Knight: I have not yet, I am sorry – can you resend the link…this latest blog post about my seminary has taken a great deal more energy than I imagined

 Lothars Sohn: Alright! No problem.

Kimberly Knight: and now I am supposed to be writing a sermon for tomorrow

Lothars Sohn: You can perhaps hope that the Holy Ghost will transfer all words to your brain tomorrow at 09 am 😉

Kimberly Knight: that is apparently what I am counting on

Lothars Sohn: But let’s move forward if that’s the case.

Many conservative Christians agrees that homophobia is morally wrong while holding fast on the idea that homosexuality is inherently sinful. They teach that the desires are not sinful but that God demands from homosexual to always remain single but that one should encounter them with compassion.

What is your response to this widely held belief?

Kimberly Knight: LOL, well, that they are wrong

Well, here is why – I believe in a created universe and us as creatures created by our creator in that universe and I know that God – who is love – did not create millions of people that are expcted to remain single and in pain for their whole lives. We are created for relationships.

Lothars Sohn: yeah, I often say to grow in our ability to give and receive love

Kimberly Knight: and some are created to love people of a different gender and some are create to love people of the same gender and there are scads and scads of biblical arguments we could engage in but if in the end we are not acting out of love and compassion, then the answer is always wrong

Lothars Sohn: That’s no problem for homosexuality but I am struggling a lot

with pedophilia which is undoubtedly harmful (unlike homosexuality or trans sexuality)

and people never choose a pedophilic orientation

Kimberly Knight: right

Lothars Sohn: why would a good God allow that…I struggle a lot with that problem…

Kimberly Knight: but that is an orientation that is based on predatory behavior…Ah – that is a good question and that is the theodicy question right?

why does God allow cancer or earthquakes or rape or domestic violence?

Lothars Sohn: it’s part of it but it’s more than that

because human evil is supposed to stem from our free will

but many psychopaths and pedophiles have no such free will, they are evil from their early childhood onwards.

How can God, how can we hold them accountable, if they were wired that way so to speak?

Kimberly Knight: because what they do robs another of their humanity and anything that robs another of their humanity – anything that causes such pain or death even…

One can only be guilty if one have had the choice to do otherwise and psychopaths seem to be machines which have been programmed to kill.

Kimberly Knight: not really and there is a difference between guilt and evil or guilty and wrong

Lothars Sohn: yeah I would say it’s bad, terribly bad what they do

Kimberly Knight: and so, they must be stopped by other humans with free will who understand that what they do harms innocent people

Lothars Sohn: Yes but I believe that no psychopath will end up in hell for having done what his brain was programmed to, God will redeem him

Kimberly Knight: well, I am not sure what I think about heaven and hell

Lothars Sohn: Welcome to the club, I am also unsure about heaven and hell 🙂

Kimberly Knight: All I know is that the life we have to live should be lived with love and compassion and yes, I may have compassion for the murderer and understand that they were broken by the evil free will of others likely

Lothars Sohn: sometimes yes

Kimberly Knight: but I can still believe they must be stopped from perpetuating the cycle

Lothars Sohn: Of course! And I try to take very seriously Jesus call to love our FOES

Kimberly Knight: yes, that is the hardest of all

Lothars Sohn: But to my mind God can only be just and good if He offered eternal life to everyone truly desiring him

I don’t know that but I diligently hope it is true 🙂

Kimberly Knight: me too

Lothars Sohn: Otherwise I am dumbstruck by the fact that conservative American Christians focus most of their attention on homosexuality and abortion. But when I ask them about the communism within the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, they say it was bound to a specific time and place and is no longer valid today.

How do they manage doing this?

Kimberly Knight: the way all humans do – we see what we want and we ignore what we do not, they read the bible through the lens of their desire

Lothars Sohn: Is it not ironic that they pretend they are the ones who take EVERYTHING in the Bible seriously

Kimberly Knight: yes

Lothars Sohn: the people holding the view that homosexuality is sinful are often good persons who are wrong and sometimes even brainwashed. How can we encounter them in a spirit of love while not hesitating to point out their errors?

Kimberly Knight: i suppose it depends on their posture and by that I mean, if they are content to love and not try to create secular laws based on their religion and are not about hurting or changing anyone, then we can likely be in relationship and being in relationship does more to point out errors than telling them so

Lothars Sohn: True enough! But even people wanting to turn America into a theocracy can have a good heart even if they are terribly misguided…

Kimberly Knight: oh yes, and I have met them many times and there is rarely a thing I can say to change their mind so sometimes relationship is not even possible

Lothars Sohn: that’s the real tragedy of fundamentalism of any kind, religious and secular alike

Kimberly Knight: yes and that is what makes it unChristian because if we can not be in relationship and find a way to love one another then we are going against the will of God as revealed in the Incarnation

Lothars Sohn: And they often bully emotionally those they view as their enemies

Kimberly Knight: oh yes

Lothars Sohn: but many militant atheists who are former fundamentalists bully their enemies in the same way, in a very unrighteous manner

Kimberly Knight: yep, equally as wrong

Lothars Sohn: How should we react as Christians when confronted with such bullies?

Kimberly Knight: sometimes it is walking away, sometimes it is confronting them

Lothars Sohn: Consider someone for instance who says that in the LONG term, he wishes “fags” to be put to death. The Westboro baptists aren’t the only ones out there who want the state to murder homosexuals.

Kimberly Knight: then I confront them with truth and then walk away

Lothars Sohn: yes, Jesus did that!

My honest investigation of the Bible has led me to the conclusion that the books considered as Canonical are NOT more inspired than other religious books.

What is your own view of the Bible?

I know it’s a big one 🙂

Kimberly Knight: oh I agree, I have for a very long time…I am reading (off and on) The New New Testament. an interesting collection

Lothars Sohn: and what is the NNT?

Kimberly Knight: a compilation of canonical and non-canonical texts into a new canon but of course it leaves out plenty that could be there

Lothars Sohn: And what kind of texts are those?

Kimberly Knight: it is an extended version of the New Testament including very early Christian texts having been rejected by the Church. Sleep well!

Now we have touched on many topics during this conversation and we would be extremely glad to learn what our readers think about all of this.

 

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