Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)? : BOOK REVIEW

Recently I was contacted by Mike Morrell from Speakeasy to read and review books in exchange for absolutely nothing. Well, I do get a free copy of the books I choose to review and in return I’ve been told I can give my honest opinion of what I think. This could get interesting.

The first book up for review is Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)? by Daniel Meeter, pastor of the Old First Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Here’s the description provided from the book jacket:

Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)? is a warm and friendly tour through the peaceful and positive features of the Christian faith, without judgment of other religions. The book is a practical and down-to-earth introduction for the curious, the inquirer, and anyone who wants to discover Christianity in a new light. It confidently clears away the ever-present and negative motivation for being a Christian: the fear of going to hell. The book argues that the conventional view of people suffering in hell is not part of the original Biblical faith, and that belief in hell is not required of a Christian today. Accessible, readable, and smart, this is the book to consult if you are shopping for a religion, want to develop your spirituality, or just want to know more about Christianity.

This description is spot on when it describes the book as a “warm and friendly” book and looks at the “peaceful and positive features of the Christian faith”. I can certainly see how I might have been open and welcoming of this book as I was moving away from the faith of my childhood, but now to be honest, I just find this book annoying.

The first three chapters of this book discuss the subject of hell and why the conventional view of it is wrong. The last fifteen chapters explain why you should be a Christian once there is no consequence of not being one. The author has failed to convince me of either.

As for hell, Meeter tells us that Bible doesn’t teach that anyone spends eternity in hell. That’s it in a nutshell. If you grew up with a belief that Christians go to heaven and everyone that doesn’t believe in Jesus goes to hell, well, according to Meeter you only got it half right. He says:

People do not “go to hell.’ When people die, they die. That’s all. That’s the punishment–God does not punish them any further.

I agree with the first part of that statement. When people die, they die. That’s all. I would add that there is no punishment since there is no evidence of God… and that’s really good news.

But beyond what I believe, I just don’t think Meeter has a strong case on this. Yes, he’s a theologian with a doctoral degree and I’m not, but how can he say unequivocally that his perspective on what the Bible says is any more the case than those that hold to the view that there is a literal hell. I don’t think he would say that in fact. I find the book wishy-washy and not wanting to offend anyone so whether I choose to believe what Meeter says or not, I’m ok. I find that annoying.

The largest portion of the book is bent on describing all the wonderful reasons  for being a Christian once I’ve decided I no longer need eternal fire insurance. Some of the reasons to be a Christian according to Meeter are:

  • To Be Spiritual
  • To Pray
  • To Save Your Soul
  • To Be a Human Being
  • To Deal with Guilt
  • To Love Your Neighbor
  • To Go to Heaven

As I read the book I found none of these reasons convincing. Mainly because Meeter writes with the conviction of a wet dish rag.

In the chapter entitled “To Be a Human Being” Meeter writes:

Why be a Christian? The answer: To be the kind of human being you want to be, the kind of human being that you’re supposed to be, the kind of human being God designed you to be.

Well I don’t need to be a Christian if I want to be the human being I want to be. I can figure that out on my own. And what does it mean to be the kind of human being I’m supposed to be? Who decides that? God? Which God?

Ultimately, Meeter shows his lack of commitment to the cause by writing the following:

…I am not saying that non-Christians are not human beings or that Jews and Muslims and Buddhists are not human beings. I am not saying this even about atheists and Red Sox fans. I am not saying that Christians are the only human beings, or even that we are better human beings. But what I am saying is that this is why we are Christians, to be human beings, or maybe I should say a certain kind of human being, the kind that reflects a particular image of God.

Let that soak in a minute. Read it again if you must. Now, ask yourself a question. Why should I be a Christian as opposed to a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or Red Sox fan? Based on Meeter’s own words, I can’t find a reason.

So if you are a Christian who doesn’t like the idea that the God you believe in and worship is going to send your grandma who doesn’t believe in Jesus to hell, then get this book so you can feel better when you attend her funeral. If you are a Christian and don’t like the idea of having to recruit your friends and “evangelize” them since it makes you unlikeable at parties, then get this book. But if you find it really annoying to read a book that takes a position and then at the same time seems open to all other positions, then skip this one.

To my chagrin, the one thing I did learn in this book is that Red Sox fans don’t go to hell. I was holding out hope on that one.

UPDATE: I believe this was my first and last book review although I was asked to do so many times. The reason:  I really didn’t enjoy reading any books I’ve received to review. They are poorly written for one thing. Secondly, people seem to be jumping through hoops harder than ever to explain why their version of Christianity is better than the rest.

Everything I read these days by Christians involves them trying to make their version of Jesus cool enough so that everyone else will believe in him. Don’t people realize that all they are doing is creating a God in their own image?

One Nation Under (insert favorite cult here)

I have many Facebook friends and friends of Facebook friends who are conservatives, Republicans and Christians.They are concerned about the course that this country is on and one of those concerns is what they believe is a moving away from the founding fathers belief in the Bible and God. For them, the United States was founded on Christian principles and we have lost our way.

So, in this election, they are choosing to vote for Mitt Romney.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the logical leap. On the Facebook page of Josh’s wife, Ashley, I posted this response to one such faithful Christian and I thought I’d share it here:

I’ve never understood how ultra-conservatives use the founding father’s belief in God and the bible as an argument to vote for someone who is diametrically opposed to all they hold dear. I guess I’ve never understood how bible believing Christians are justifying their vote for not only a cult member, but a former cult leader. A bishop in the Mormon church is NOT just a casual Mormon believer. Romney is heavily ingrained! He gives tens of millions of dollars to advance the cause of Mormonism around the world. If you are a bible believing Christian trust me, Romney does not believe in the same Bible or God that you believe this country was founded on. Not even in the slightest. As a bible believing Christian, the person you should have no problem judging is one who also believes Jesus is the brother of the devil (and if I’m not being plain enough – that’s what Mormons believe – among many other very non-Christian beliefs).

Please chime in here and help me understand.

Jesus Endorses Joseph Smith

1013-romney-religion-Republicans_Conservatives_full_600-300x200I am trying to wrap my brain around something. How do conservative voters who are also evangelical Christians allow themselves to support the Mormon Mitt Romney? I get it in the sense that his politics align closely with theirs perhaps, or maybe it’s just the commonality they share in hating Obama, but I know how Christians feel about Mormons… and it’s not so nice.

To a large portion of Christians in this country, Mormonism is considered a cult. Specifically Southern Baptists (the largest Christian denomination on the planet) teach that Mormonism is no different than Hare Krishna, Scientology or The Unification Church.

I would think Christians would consider it dangerous to have a Mormon in the White House. To most Christians, it would seem, giving the highest office of the land over into the hands of a cult member would be unthinkable. But many are prepared to do it.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. I think Rick Santorum is as much a member of a cult (Catholicism) as is Mitt Romney, and frankly I don’t see the difference. In fact, Santorum spouted much more incendiary religious dogma as he ran for the nomination. Romney seems to keep things fairly separate and that’s a good thing.

As the saying goes, “politics makes strange bedfellows”.

Just Say No to Faith

Continuing my review of this talk by Dr. Peter Boghossian about faith, he uses one word during his talk that will cause many to scoff at his assertions. He calls people of faith “delusional”. This isn’t a popular notion, but following the logic he offers during his talk, I have to agree with him again.

The use of the word “delusional” when referring to people of faith may seem unkind, but it’s not. It’s nothing personal at all, although I am certain it feels that way. However, at this point in time, I am no longer concerned with the feelings of those who believe, even though I have many friends and family members who do. I am concerned with the facts of the matter and they are this: If you make untestable and unbelievable claims about God or the Bible or matters of faith, the burden of proof is on you to convince me otherwise.

Boghossian puts it more plainly. He says there are three distinct facts about those who follow faith traditions:

  1. There are multiple and various faith traditions.
  2. People of the various faith traditions sincerely believe them.
  3. People make competing claims about faith traditions.

This much we do know about these various faith traditions: They cannot ALL be true. It’s not simply that these competing claims are false says Boghossian, but that these claims are delusional.

Delusions are defined by Karl Jaspers using three criteria:

  • certainty (held with absolute conviction)
  • incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
  • impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)

Certainly Jaspers criteria has come under much critique, specifically regarding religious belief in God which is excluded since it cannot be proven not to be true. Or can it?

Personally speaking, growing up as a Christian, I certainly believed that other faith traditions could be considered delusional. Mormonism is considered a cult by Christians. Seriously, how could anyone believe the story of Joseph Smith?

As pointed out by Boghossian, the Christian faith tradition scrutinizes the Mormon faith with reason and evidence, but doesn’t apply the same reason and evidence to their own faith.  Why did I grow up seeing other faiths and their practices delusional but not my own?

Boghossian offers a couple of reasons:

  1. Conviction: The strength of my belief in my faith, not the truth of my faith. This is summed up simply with the Christian catch phrase: The Bible says it… I believe it… that settles it!
  2. Inerrant: One way to affirm that your religion is perfect, is to only read and endorse that which reinforces it. The Southern Baptist faith I grew up in saw this as a non-negotiable for good reason. Church attendance and indoctrination were a must.

The ultimate trajectory (as Boghossian calls it) is that a person raised like I was will grow to think that my faith is true (because I believe it) and I will think that my faith is beneficial to me (in other words, I’m no good without it). It’s the ultimate co-dependency in which most believers are trapped.

If there’s anything I’ve learned since letting go of my faith, it’s this: Faith in Jesus doesn’t make me a better person. Lack of faith in Jesus doesn’t make me a bad person. There is zero correlation.

This speech by Boghossian encouraged me to be more bold in my unbelief. He encouraged me to speak to people of faith and to be honest, blunt, direct and truthful. For me this is very challenging and I’m not sure why. It doesn’t really effect me that other people believe in things I no longer do, but when their belief infringes on my own I should not just acquiesce to them to save their feelings. To not speak up is to not be honest about who I am and that is someone who has moved beyond faith.

Boghossian closes by offering advice to people of faith to jettison their beliefs and just say NO to faith. The number one step to leaving one’s faith he suggests is admitting there are things you just don’t know.

I couldn’t agree more.