Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rob Bell's Hell: A Threat to the Evangelical Business Plan

The twin pillars of conservative Christianity are hate and fear. Hate towards those labeled as "other" and fear of Hell which makes the faithful sheep hand over their hard earn money without questioning the self-anointed holy men. The goal of all of this hate and fear? Power, control and money. Pretty much the same pattern described in an earlier post today on David Barton's rewriting and bastardization of American history. It's a pattern that makes one truly question the Bible since its final composition was determined by those seeking control of the Christian message and power and control over the would be faithful. Now, theologian Robert Bell has propounded the proposition that there may be no such thing as Hell - the center of all scare tactics to make the sheeple turn over their cash and follow the holy men like lemmings. Time magazine has an article (photo is via Ocean/Corbis) that looks at the intense brouhaha that Bell's thesis has ignited among the Christofascists and evangelical Christians. Yep, those same folks who have turned Christianity into a message of hate. Here are some highlights:
There are more reasons than mere theology why Evangelical Christian leaders are raising Cain over the message now being wholesaled by the Rev. Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church, featured in TIME's current cover story, "What If There's No Hell?" Bell's I'm-O.K.-you're-O.K., we're-not-going-to-hell-today spin is not merely a refutation of a basic belief. If this piece of theological reordering takes hold, it's the Evangelicals' business plan that's going to hell.
Fire and brimstone has been one of the Evangelicals' main product lines. It's based on a zero-sum outcome: heaven or hell. Believe or perish. And part of the deal, at least in practical application, is that you can't get spiritually right without monetarily supporting the church. Pay to play, in other words. It's the same with most religions. No one says so in those crude terms — it's all about the mission — but a sales pitch is a sales pitch, even one accompanied by a choir.
But what happens if Bell is right? Is it possible that the return on eternity on these contributions has dropped compared with other spiritual investments? For instance, maybe there's a bigger ROE in giving to the poor or volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Tithing your church may be too much of an investment risk if the returns are less certain.
Churches operate in a marketplace of spiritual ideas, but they're directly connected to the temporal economy. The competition for the faithful can be downright unholy. Churches can and do go bankrupt if they cannot attract enough participants.
The adverse reaction to Bell's hell among some Evangelical leaders is based first on deeply held belief, not economic consequences. But it should really put the fear of God in their accountants. There are plenty of other reasons to invest in your church other than buying eternity insurance. There's the spiritual fulfillment that faith can bring, the sense of community, the built-in support group for when you need it most. Even those awful church suppers. But these are not the zero-sum, repent-or-burn outcomes that have underwritten the business so effectively over the years. Indeed, there's no hell to pay anymore.


Scott said...

Good catch on this. Two of the local "Christian" radio programs in my area both went "guns a blazing" after Bell last weekend. Nothing riles up the nutsy end like a well spoken liberal.


Jean said...

For the few Christians who sound to be full of hate and fear and money-grubbing I am truly sorry. Jesus came for a people who would become like Him and He is not like that.

For 35 years I have lived with and near Christians from New Mexico to Pennsylvania, and Texas to Canada, and the majority, who don't have a big public voice, are kind and would be good neighbours to you.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...


Thank you for the comment. I do understand what you are saying.

Unfortunately, the Christians who would be good neighbors - and I do know many - tend to yield the field to the hate merchants crowd. The net result of this silence is that for many LGBT individuals generic "Christians" become the enemy since that's the only voice one hears.

This needs to change and I hope the "good Christians" will become more forceful in clling out the haters.

Jean said...

I was glad to read your response.
We could try to have a louder voice to cull out the haters, but, on the radio in Texas many years ago I was very moved while hearing a soft-spoken Baptist preacher talk about how his son who lived a gay lifestyle and got AIDS came home to live out his remaining days, and how their love for one another grew in that time.
This is how the world is changed, with the Ghandis and Mother Theresas quietly laying down their lives and pride to reach out in love as Jesus would. Some make it to the spotlight, many don't, and that's alright - Jesus said there would always be haters; we can only learn to live in spite of them and hope they will see in us a better way.
But I am also hopeful about Rob Bell's book shaking things up in the theological foundations, giving people 'permission' to finally ask those dangerous questions, and find affirmation for thoughts they have had for so long, but were afraid to face before.
I am glad to have come upon your book review.