Belief systems (many of which are religious) motivating conversion, worship, and practice based on extreme views on both rewards (prosperity in this life and/or beyond such as heaven) and threatenings of punishment (suffering in this life and/or beyond such as eternal-conscious-torment-in-hell) can be hazardous to your health.
TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF MALIGNANT BELIEFS BEG FOR BENIGN ALTERNATIVES
Beliefs can lead to actions, some good and some bad. It is important to scrutinize beliefs and systems of belief. If beliefs can be shown to be likely false, then an important part of seeking truth can also be determining those which are false. A truth movement also needs a falsification movement.
I was formerly a hard core fundamentalist Christian of a certain evangelical, dispensationalist, Zionist flavor. That was my belief system.
I am going to explain some particular beliefs within my former belief system and give two real life examples of how those beliefs led some people to tragic results. I will also suggest a more reasonable belief system that might have helped to prevent such tragedies from occurring. By doing so I am not implying that my proposed alternative is the only alternative belief system, or that it is “the truth.” I am simply suggesting it as a more reasonable alternative belief system that might have helped these people.
In addition this also ends up being a good illustration of the principle of taking certain ideas to an extreme, especially in terms of application, to help reveal the soundness of the ideas. And it would be much better to have this be a simple thought experiment, rather than having it be a real case where people suffered real consequences. Taking ideas to extremes in thought experiments is also useful in science and other disciplines. And the important principle “first, do no harm” from the Hippocratic Oath comes to mind as well. If a belief system seems to be causing harm, it should be scrutinized thoroughly to determine its validity. And also the principle of “by their fruits you will know them” comes to mind.
Three aspects to the flavor of fundamentalist evangelical dispensationalist Zionist Christianity that I was heavily involved in are described to provide the necessary background to understand the two real life examples to follow.
ASPECT 1 OF MY FLAVOR
JESUS CHRIST ONLY WAY TO BE SAVED FROM HELL BUT ONCE-SAVED-ALWAYS-SAVED
My flavor was of the “believe in Jesus Christ as your savior who died for your sins in order to be saved from going to hell forever,” and additionally of the “once-saved-always-saved” viewpoint, i.e. there was nothing you could possibly do to lose your salvation, even committing suicide and/or murder would not cause you to lose your eternal salvation, and that God could not even punish you after you die.
ASPECT 2 OF MY FLAVOR
MUST REACH AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY TO BE ELIGIBLE TO GO TO HELL
It was taught and believed that if a child died while young, before reaching the so called age of accountability, they would automatically be saved and go to heaven. It was not clear exactly at what age this was. Apparently intelligence was a factor. The theory was that one who was more intelligent could reach the age of accountability at a younger age. On the other hand, someone who was mentally retarded might never reach the age of accountability, no matter how old they got, so they would automatically be saved and go to heaven. I remember the saying that it would be better to be an idiot and go to heaven than a genius and go to hell.
ASPECT 3 OF MY FLAVOR
ONCE YOU ARE SAVED BUT LATER TURN AGAINST GOD AND PERSIST ON THAT PATH THE HARDER IT BECOMES TO RECOVER AND GET BACK ON GOD’S GOOD SIDE DURING YOUR LIFE ON EARTH
This belief relates to God’s discipline or punishment of the believer during this life for failing to follow God’s plan for their life. The idea here is that since God cannot punish the believer once they die, if they fail to follow His plan, God will bring great suffering into that person’s life in order to try to get them to turn around and follow Him, but if that fails, God will eventually take that person out of this life in a most horrible manner of death with maximum suffering. A key factor of God’s discipline of the believer is that the further they have gone down the road of not following God’s plan the harder it becomes for them to turn around and recover. They are actually in a worse condition than if they were an unbeliever. The unbeliever can simply believe in Jesus Christ and that supposedly wipes the slate clean, but for the believer who has strayed from God’s plan, they have to intensively submit to listening to Bible teaching (a form of brainwashing where they must believe everything that is taught in order for it to work) over a long time in order that they might get back on God’s good side. Wiping their slates clean takes a lot of scrubbing over time.
TRAGIC REAL LIFE EXAMPLE 1
SHE KILLED THEM TO SAVE THEM
So the first example I want to give relates to this age of accountability belief. There was a mother of 5 young children who was suffering from postpartum depression and mental illness and she was despairing that her children would likely end up suffering in hell forever, so she decided to kill all of them to make sure that they would go to heaven. She killed them to save them. The extreme belief system she was exposed to programmed her to do this.
I want to offer a more reasonable belief system that could have prevented her from doing what she did. Suppose that God were viewed as both love and justice, that all people would ultimately be saved by God and that no one would go to hell forever. God in justice would punish wrongdoing in this life and beyond for the purpose of correction and ultimate salvation. But God would never give an infinite punishment to a finite creature for a finite sin. That would be as unjust as anything could possibly be. The mother even in her depression and mental illness would not have a reason to despair over her children because she could trust God’s love and justice to eventually save them to Himself no matter how tortuous the path.
TRAGIC REAL LIFE EXAMPLE 2
MURDER SUICIDE MOTIVATED BY DESIRE TO AVOID SUFFERING AND GO STRAIGHT TO HEAVEN
The second example I want to give relates to the once-saved-always-saved belief mentioned earlier, as well as the teaching of how extremely difficult it can be for a believer who has strayed from following God to recover. This was a case of a man who murdered his wife and then committed suicide. I knew of this case based on testimony of someone who knew him and was aware of some of the happening that preceded him shooting his wife and then turning the gun on himself. It occurred in the mid 70’s about the same time that I was becoming a hard core follower of a particular dogmatic Bible teaching fundamentalist. So it just so happened that this man who committed the murder suicide had been a follower of this same Bible teacher, but he had neglected the Bible teaching long enough that he felt that God was punishing him, and apparently he even had a phone call with the Bible teacher before he committed his crimes, and it seems he was motivated by his belief that since his wife and he were both believers in Jesus Christ and therefore saved, he could send his wife directly to heaven by killing her and then do the same for himself. The extreme belief system that this man had bought into programmed him to be susceptible to taking the kind of extreme actions that he did.
I want to offer a more reasonable belief system that could have prevented him from doing what he did. In addition to the things I already described of the alternate belief system in the previous example, suppose that instead of the once-saved-always-saved idea combined with the idea that even God could not possibly punish him once he died, that he viewed God’s justice as truly just and that God could punish someone after death for the purpose of correction and in keeping with the principle of reaping what one sows. With a more balanced and less extreme view of God and His love and justice, he might have realized that he really had nothing to gain from taking the extreme actions that he was contemplating, and that he and his wife would have been much better off if he had instead reaped what he had sown while still alive, with the hope and possibility of recovery and restoration even though it would not be easy. With this viewpoint he could have felt that he still had options in life. But instead, for him, murder suicide became a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
MIND CONTROL OATHS OF ALLEGIENCE / THE GOD VIRUS / DR DARREL RAY / THEOLOGY IS GOD THEORY / KISSING HANK’S ARSE / GEORGE CARLIN ON GOD / JOHN CALVIN HAS MICHAEL SERVETUS BURNED AT THE STAKE
It’s hard for me to think how best to finish this post.
It just goes to show how dangerous and destructive dogmatic belief systems can be. We hear about the concept of how someone could supposedly sell their soul to the devil, entering into an irreversible agreement that cannot be changed. I am not going into the issue of whether the devil is a real “person” or simply the personification of evil. But if someone could convince someone else that they could go through some sort of ritual or process to sell their soul to the devil in exchange for some worldly gains and that to do this would be an irreversible act, and they decided to go ahead and do this, it is easy to imagine the power of entrapment and control this could have on an individual, even if the devil were not real.
So aren’t these dogmatic Christian belief systems potentially the other side of the same coin here? You have evangelical Christians using multi level marketing techniques and scare tactics to get people to hastily make a decision to believe and then you teach them that whether they even realized it or not, they have entered into an irreversible agreement with God, that is impossible to ever change, so they had better follow God or else, but once they die, they will still go to heaven.
I am thinking of a book I once read quite a few years ago, but gave my copy away. “The God Virus,” by Dr. Darrel Ray. It would probably be useful for me to get another copy and read it again with my current perspective.
I can really relate to the virus concept for when I became a hard core follower of the dogmatic fundamentalist Bible teacher back in the mid 1970’s. It was kind of like I agreed to allow some software to be installed on the computer of my soul, and the software had at least one virus in it. So I just could not shake loose from the idea that this Bible teacher taught “the truth” and that he was one of a very small group of people in the entire world who taught true Biblical truth. There was no way that I would consider any possibility that anything that this Bible teacher taught could in any way not be the absolute truth from God.
So recently I was searching the web for information about the negative effects that the belief in hell as eternal conscious torment can have on people. I found this quote from Dr. Darrel Ray, author of “The God Virus.”
“Just like it’s hard to unlearn English, it’s hard for people to unlearn the concept of hell.”
So in keeping with the computer virus analogy, I would say that religions, philosophies of life, even including atheism, are all like operating systems for one’s life.
This is another reason why I feel I have to be a pluralist in all of this stuff. And there are different flavors of everything.
There is probably enough diversity in flavors of theism and atheism that these terms in and of themselves without further qualification are not very specific. I was reading recently in a book on religious history that there was a time when Christians were considered atheists because they did not believe in the Roman Gods.
Theologian Dr. David Ray Griffin has even written a book with the title “God Exists, But Gawd Does Not,” where he uses the term Gawd for the widely accepted view of God among many religious fundamentalists where God is viewed as omnipotent, all powerful, among other attributes. So here you have a world famous theologian essentially saying that he is both an atheist and a theist, depending on the definition of God.
I never ever again want to be pressuring or trying to convince someone to follow my particular beliefs and especially not adding threats of unending punishment from God as a motivational factor to convince them to convert. This is nothing more than a monstrous fear based multilevel marketing scheme. The one doing the selling has already been enslaved within a prison of fear due to the soul virus they have been infected with, and the virus has actually programmed the one infected by it to take actions to help spread the virus far and wide to infect as many other souls as possible. (For a satirical parody illustrating this sort of fear based multilevel marketing approach, I recommend that you watch one or more of the “Kissing Hank’s Arse” Youtube videos, the oldest one being around 15 years old, but I only discovered it recently.)
Instead I would want to understand people for who they are and where they have been and where they are at in their lives and if appropriate and they are interested share with them some possible directions that I am aware of that they could take without trying to steer them in some particular direction that I think is right for them, or right for everybody.
Just to illustrate what I am talking about here, suppose an individual had been through a fear based religious system and was seeking to become free of that. If atheism seemed to them to be a path to freedom, I would not attempt to discourage them or sway them away from that at all. Given what they have been through and where they are at in their life, atheism might be the best operating system for them to install on the computer of their soul at that time, and perhaps for the rest of their life.
I might actually have more in common with atheists including those who are atheists because they ended up not being able to accept the over-specified Gawd version of God they were exposed to, than I do with religious people whose faith is still in Gawd, the angry punishing God who loves us as long as we worship Him in precisely the correct way, although believers in this God just can’t seem to agree on what the precisely correct way is, and have even killed each other over disagreements they have had in these areas.
I am reminded of George Carlin’s description of man’s diverse views on God, which I will simply paraphrase. He said that God has been the greatest cause of death in history. Do you believe in God? No. Bam dead. Do you believe in God? Yes. Do you believe in my God? No. Bam dead. My God has a bigger Dick than your God.
John Calvin is considered by many Christians to be a great Christian leader and theologian, and a form of Christian theology (think of theology as God theory) is even named after him, Calvinism. He actually had a lot to do with getting fellow Christian believer and theologian Michael Servetus put to death (burned at the stake) because his God theory was different than Calvin’s.