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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Slog Bible Study Bonus: The Gospel of Redemption

Posted by on Sun, Feb 10, 2013 at 12:05 PM


I've been meaning to post a link to this for some time—it's the This American Life episode featuring Reverend Carlton Pearson, an Oral Roberts protege, mega-church preacher, and one-time Pentecostal rising star, who was ultimately cast out by his colleagues, congregation, and church as a heretic, after he rejected the notion of Hell:

I was watching the evening news. The Hutus and Tutus were returning from Rwanda to Uganda, and Peter Jennings was doing a piece on it. Now, Majeste was in my lap, my little girl. I'm eating the meal, and I'm watching these little kids with swollen bellies. And it looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains. Their hair is kind of red from malnutrition. The babies, they've got flies in the corners of their eyes and of their mouths. And they reach for their mother's breast, and the mother's breast looks like a little pencil hanging there. I mean, the baby's reaching for the breast, there's no milk:

And I, with my little fat-faced baby, and a plate of food and a big-screen television. And I said God, I don't know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into Hell, which is what was my assumption. And I heard a voice say within me, "So that's what you think we're doing?" And I remember I didn't say yes or no. I said, "That's what I've been taught." "We're sucking them into Hell?" I said, "Yes." "And what would change that?" "Well, they need to get saved." "And how would that happen?" "Well, somebody needs to preach the Gospel to them and get them saved." "So if you think that's the only way they're going to get saved is for somebody to preach the Gospel to them and that we're sucking them into Hell, why don't you put your little baby down, turn your big-screen television off, push your plate away, get on the first thing smoking, and go get them saved?"

And I remember I broke into tears. I was very upset. I remember thinking, God, don't put that guilt on me. You know I've given you the best 40 years of my life. Besides, I can't save the whole world. I'm doing the best I can. I can't save this whole world. And that's where I remember, and I believe it was God saying, "Precisely. You can't save this world. That's what we did. Do you think we're sucking them into Hell? Can't you see they're already there? That's Hell. You keep creating and inventing that for yourselves. I'm taking them into My presence."

And I thought, well, I'll be. That's weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves. Then I saw emergency rooms. I saw divorce court. I saw jails and prisons. I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell.

What happened next—how this simple, compassionate epiphany ended up unraveling both Christian orthodoxy and Reverend Carlton's career—is a fascinating and touching story. Well worth a listen.

 

Comments (25) RSS

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Pope Peabrain 1
This is what happens when a single fragment of logic, a shred of humanity, cuts off an inner dialogue that has been forced on you. You suddenly see the real world staring you in the face. And it's far, far more awesome than any religion.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on February 10, 2013 at 12:30 PM · Report this
rob! 2
The utter folly and ridiculousness of anyone setting himself up as the emissary, proxy, or arm of god is as blindingly obvious as the sun to anyone not already in the tank.

If you think you know something about being a "good" person, show by example and live your convictions; word will spread without your having to harangue other people.
Posted by rob! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZBdUceCL5U on February 10, 2013 at 12:34 PM · Report this
3
I rejected Catholic doctrine at eight after being told that unbaptized babies and the heathens who had "never heard the word of God" (Catholic theology) couldn't go to heaven.

They'd br relegated to Limbo, where they'd never see the face of God.

"Heathens" who had heard of Catholicism and hadn't converted, would be sent to hell.

I remember thinking that not only wasn't fair, it didn't make sense.

If there was a God, He couldn't possibly be that petty and picayune.

Didn't take me 40 years to figure that out, either.

Posted by judybrowni on February 10, 2013 at 1:05 PM · Report this
4
That's a nice conversation he had with himself. Oh, sorry, I mean "the voice of God".
Posted by catsnbanjos on February 10, 2013 at 1:30 PM · Report this
Sweeney Agonistes 5
This is one of my favorite episodes. Last summer I was driving from Colorado to Mississippi, and stopped overnight in Tulsa. I spent Sunday morning there driving around, drinking coffee, and listening to this story one more time.

I was raised Unitarian Universalist. This story didn't teach me anything about Pentecostal or evangelical doctrines that I didn't already know. But it renewed my hope that we can find common ground. Still does.
Posted by Sweeney Agonistes on February 10, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 6
@ 3, I didn't hear that myself until I was going through confirmation, and it led me to make the same rejection. That, and the fact that basically everyone in the Old Testament who had done God's work was condemned by Original Sin, since there was no such thing as baptism before that point. (I may have gotten that one wrong, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out if that's what they actually believed.)
Posted by Matt from Denver on February 10, 2013 at 1:38 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
Originally, in America, more than twice as many people believed in Hell as believed in our official religions.

Now, fewer believe in Hell than believe that the GOP is not an al-Qaeda terrorist offshoot determined to destroy America.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 10, 2013 at 1:50 PM · Report this
8
I've always been bemused at the notion of Hell. What? Failure to achieve Heaven wasn't a threatening enough concept to keep the sheeples in the fold, so the sheeple-herders needed to escalate and cobble up a formal Hell?

No way in hell, to coin a phrase, is the concept of Hell compatible with the notion of a loving God. So, paradox alert.

I don't even see how empowering an imaginary Satan is compatible with monotheism. For all their talk of Satan, I often wonder if certain denominations aren't spending more time being in awe of Satan than of God, in effect worshiping the big red imaginary bastard, elevating him to the status of another godhead.

As for my own denomination, I'm pretty thankful, and often amazed, that it manages to function just fine without a formal dogma.
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on February 10, 2013 at 1:54 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 9
I always chuckle when I hear people say, "Why are you GOD allowing this?" Well because have you ever tried to tell anyone that the way they are living is wrong? They fuck all over you and call you names. God, who ever she or he is, is no idiot. And remember, it's NOT God who is committing the evil. Put the blame where the blame belongs.

There is no such place as "hell" the Bible does not teach a literal physical place like that. Death is compared to sleep in the Bible. "Hell" is a wicked tool, created by people.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on February 10, 2013 at 2:12 PM · Report this
10
"Fascinating and touching" isn't often what you aim at with your posts, so I gotta say, when you do it, you really do it right. Fucking outstanding, sir.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 10, 2013 at 2:22 PM · Report this
11
I listened to this a few years ago. I think TAL reran it. Pretty sad that all his underling pastors left him and a good chunk of his parishioners did the same. I had two evangelical friends who when I asked if Mother Teresa and Gandhi were going to hell, they said "yep." I caught up with these two recently and I thought they may have grown up but nope, they were talking about celebrating Jeeezus when they went to Chik-Fil-A during the gay marriage hubbub. You can't change stupid.
Posted by warren terrah on February 10, 2013 at 3:10 PM · Report this
12
@6, it bothered many medieval theologians as well, leading to the doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell. Supposedly, that's where Jesus was for the three days he was dead...releasing the righteous unbaptized. It's a fairly common topic for quite a bit of impressive artwork actually.
Posted by Corydon on February 10, 2013 at 3:44 PM · Report this
seatackled 13
I remember hearing this years ago. I think of it from time to time, and I remembered this story the other day when I read about the two women who left Westboro Church.
Posted by seatackled on February 10, 2013 at 4:59 PM · Report this
14
I've heard this episode twice now, and I still can't bring myself to feel bad for the guy. He got rich and famous selling fear and lies. Then, he claims god spoke to him directly and told him there's no hell, so he lost all of his sheeple. Now he has a sad. Big deal.
Posted by Keenan C on February 10, 2013 at 5:34 PM · Report this
15
"Heathens" who had heard of Catholicism and hadn't converted, would be sent to hell.

To me, that bit of doctrine always seemed like a darn good argument against missionary work.
Posted by Joe Glibmoron on February 10, 2013 at 5:42 PM · Report this
Tacoma Traveler 16
Ten Commandments

No gods, no heroes. Just people.

All life is sacred

This life and this world are enough

Life your life as much as you can. It is a mistake to do otherwise

Be a lantern unto yourself.

Try to be happy

Everyone has a responsibility to help everybody else.

Do not seek pity

Never trust anyone who tries to coerce you or control you, either by fear, or by guilt, or by promising you what they cannot deliver.

It is important to do what you are good at. Focus on one thing at a time, and do it better than anybody else.
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on February 10, 2013 at 5:54 PM · Report this
17
I loved this episode! It made me sad that he has a much smaller microphone now that he actually has something constructive to say, though.
Posted by gingerwreck on February 10, 2013 at 5:57 PM · Report this
Ballard Pimp 18
You can tell who listened to the program and who didn't by the comments. Pearson never expresses sadness; his work now is different, but as good for him and his family as when he was famous. And, as a fallen-away Quaker, I can certainly understand people who describe their internal dialog as the voice of God.
Posted by Ballard Pimp on February 10, 2013 at 6:36 PM · Report this
19
Christianity really can't exist without a hell, because with no hell, no one needs "saving".
Posted by sarah70 on February 10, 2013 at 6:41 PM · Report this
Tacoma Traveler 20
19,

Christianity can exist without a hell. It then becomes a matter of the individual seeking to become a better person through faith.
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on February 10, 2013 at 9:07 PM · Report this
21
If Goldy will quit trying to parse Christian sects, I'll quit trying to figure out the differences between Jewish orthodox, conservative, reform, and reconstructionists, and will stop asking myself why the right-wing Likud has such a hold on American foreign policy.
Posted by Unbrainwashed on February 10, 2013 at 10:47 PM · Report this
McJulie 22
@19

It depends on how you see hell -- primarily as a literal supernatural thing, or primarily as metaphor. Evangelicals are very literal-minded, and their thinking has informed the pop culture view of hell.

But another way to look at it is that hell and heaven are both present now, in the world, and you can participate in creating one or the other. I think the latter is actually closer to the original message as intended.
Posted by McJulie on February 11, 2013 at 8:17 AM · Report this
23
@19 Maybe it depends how you define Christianity.

Jesus' message was all about treating people as equals, elevating the downtrodden, healing the sick, practicing peace, telling the truth, not being a fucking greedy bastard, living a simple life and, optionally, finding a deeper spiritual meaning in it if you're capable of it.

As Ghandi said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." This is true, to the extent that most of them are focused elsewhere.

However, different denominations focus on different things. Some are less involved with Dogma and instead go back to the earliest stories. Equality, Peace, Simplicity, Truth/Integrity may be completely compatible with a secular life, but there are those who find it essential for seeking the Spirit, and choose to concentrate on those teachings.
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on February 11, 2013 at 10:34 AM · Report this
24
This broadcast was lifechanging for me when I heard it about 7 years ago. It still gets me. Unless you've been raised in that kind of evangelical world, you don't fully realize the hold that hell has on you. The fear of it, constantly there in your subconscience, is hard to describe. But once you've been shown that fear is based on nothing, it is so freeing and such a relief- you cannot believe you ever fell for something so dumb. Don't feel sorry for Carson- he's got another congregation and he preaches the gospel of inclusion- but don't mock the path to freedom he gave alot of us out there.
Posted by Duvall-ite on February 11, 2013 at 11:44 AM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 25
@20- Faith has nothing to do with becoming a better person.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings http://www.reddit.com/r/spaceclop on February 11, 2013 at 3:35 PM · Report this

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