by Darcy West
reprinted by permission
Note: Questions related to specific books of the bible are directed to
those who claim and/or believe that the bible is the inspired, inerrant,
and infallible "word of God".
QUESTION 1: Salvation: Should Punishment Serve a Purpose?
Should punishment serve a purpose? And if so, should this purpose be
something greater than a desire for personal vindication or as an outlet
for personal wrath? It seems to me that when we punish people, we can
only ethically do so for one of three reasons:
1. As a deterrent to others who might wish to commit the same offense.
2. To protect others who might be a victim of the offense if the culprit
were allowed to repeat the offensive behavior without consequence.
3. To change the behavior of the offender.
So what is the purpose in punishing non-believers in hell? What are the
benefits of it? If hell is forever, the non-believer is not going to "learn
a lesson from" or be changed by the experience. Having non-believers in
hell is also not going to serve as a deterrent for poor behavior either
in this life or in another one. In this life, fear of hell is not a deterrent
since there is no reason to believe that hell exists or that anyone has
ever gone there. The fact that hell exists will also not be a deterrent
to poor behavior in "heaven" since in heaven all of God's "saints" are
supposedly going to be perfected, removing the possibility of anything
other than perfect behavior anyway. Locking non-believers in hell is not
going to protect "the innocent" since God would be just as capable of
perfecting the non-believers so that they would be "harmless" to believers.
So what is the purpose of sending people to hell? Is it just so that God
and those who believe in him will feel a sense of having been vindicated
in that people who didn't believe got what they "deserved?" If that is
the case, doesn't that make God (and the people who believe in him) kind
of petty and small?
QUESTION 2: Salvation: The "Elect" of God?
In Romans 9, Paul discusses the concept of "election" and seems to say
that the only people who can come to a saving knowledge of Christ are
those people whom God has chosen, in his mercy, to bestow upon them an
ability to believe in him. In other words, it seems to me that according
to this particular view set forth by Paul, not everyone is one of the
elect, and therefore, not everyone is able to come to a saving knowledge
of Christ, since God has not given them an ability to choose him. One
set of verses I believe support this doctrine are as follows:
Romans 9:16-18 "So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God
who shows mercy..... So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and
he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses."
Some Christians will argue that Paul is not saying anything of the kind
in this chapter. However, if one reads further, one sees that this really
is what Paul is saying. He even acknowledges how unfair the doctrine seems
with the following words:
Romans 9:19-23 "You will say to me then, 'Why then does he still find
fault? For who can resist his will' But who indeed are you, a human being,
to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, 'Why
have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to
make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary
use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power,
has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for
destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches
of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand
So it seems that if Paul is to be believed, the God of the bible not
only sees people as mere objects but that he created some people with
no other purpose but to be "objects of his wrath" or human punching bags.
Punishing someone for not having what you alone can give them would be
similar to beating a blind man to death when he fails to see or burning
a paraplegic at the stake when he fails to walk up a flight of stairs.
Is this really the kind of God that deserves praise and honor? Is this
really what the Christian means when he speaks of God being "just"?
QUESTION 3: Salvation: Can Love Be Bought With Threats of Punishment
or With Promises of Reward?
Many Christians I have spoken with believe that people who do not believe
as they do or people who do not love Jesus will suffer eternal torment
in hell. The question I have for believers who adhere to this doctrine
is this: Can love be bought with threats of harm or with promises of reward?
If you love Jesus because you want something (heaven) from him, how are
you any different than a prostitute? In this case, what is it that you
really love: Jesus or the thought of heaven?
On the other side of the coin, is it right to worship something simply
because you fear it? Is it right to bow to a dictator, no matter how evil
this dictator is, if doing so will keep you from going to the gas chambers
or to the ovens? Who is more worthy of admiration, an individual who refuses
to succumb to an evil dictator, regardless of the threats of harm, or
an individual who sells his soul for the promise of a reward?
Looking at it in a slightly different way, if a man said to a woman,
"Love me or I will hurt you" is there anyone in their right mind who believes
that the woman would really love the man to avoid being hurt? She might
profess love and she might, in order to avoid being hurt, behave in a
manner that seems loving, but deep down inside, I doubt that she would
ever really be able to love such an individual. I know I wouldn't.
What would Christians who believe that hell awaits those who do not become
Christians think of a mother who said to her child, "Love me by the time
you are six, or I will bake you in the oven." In this case, the parent
does give the child a choice, but what kind of choice is it?
Some Christians have compared Jesus sending people to hell to a parent
who says to a child, "Don't go into the street or you will be hit by a
car." This analogy fails, however, for many reason, the most obvious one
being that in the case of Jesus, hell (unlike the cars) does not exist
beyond his ability to control it. A more accurate version of the analogy
of the parent warning his child about the dangers of going into the street
would be a parent who says to his child, "Don't go into the street or
you will be hit by a car." Then when the child goes into the street, the
parent jumps into his car and runs the child over.
Many Christians, when evangelizing, attempt to paint a kind and compassionate
portrait of Jesus by stressing how deeply saddened he is when he has to
put people in hell. However, if the parent who bakes her child in the
oven when the child fails to love her weeps as she preheats the oven in
which to bake her child, would we really believe that she was grieved
over her decision? Or if a parent weeps as he beats his child to death,
should this cause us to believe that the parent is a compassionate and
loving individual, who only has his child's best interest at heart?
Some people might argue with these analogies, saying that not everyone
is God's child. Even if this is true, however, unless you are a Calvinist,
you would have to believe that God loves everyone and desires for everyone
to come to know him. If God really does wish for everyone to know and
love him, then why would he put a limited-time-offer on his invitation
to know him and why would he endlessly torture people who failed to accept
his invitation? Only the most egotistical and psychotic of lovers tortures
those who fail to accept his offer for a dinner date, and we as a society
agree that an individual who hurts those who fail to love him should be
severely punished. If we as a society agree that this type of behavior
is psychotic and worthy of punishment, why do we glorify these monstrous
and hitleresque qualities in a god?
Some people say that our society is sick and that we as a people are
in need of salvation. Perhaps there is some truth to this. But is the
religion (Christianity) adopted by our society really the cure or is it
merely one more manifestation of the disease?
QUESTION 4: Salvation: Grace or Works? Is Salvation Really a Free
Is salvation really a free gift? I have heard many Christians say that
salvation is free and that all that is required is that you receive it.
If this is true, then why does it matter whether you receive it in this
life or whether you receive it after bodily death, when you and Jesus
could open the gift together?
Isn't it true that the Christian religion actually does not teach that
salvation is free but that salvation is obtained through the act of faith?
And doesn't this explain why Christians believe that salvation is no longer
offered after bodily death--because at that point, faith would no longer
be necessary and therefore could no longer be earned?
If faith is required to be saved, then doesn't salvation become an earned
commodity? Or do Christians believe that faith itself is a gift?
Is it possible that Christians are very confused about what they believe
when it comes to these doctrines of salvation and damnation? Many Christians
I know reject the doctrine of predestination and election that I discussed
earlier. They state very emphatically that they do not believe in the
Calvinistic god, the kind of god who eternally torments people for not
having what he alone can give them. Yet, at the same time, these very
same Christians tell unbelievers that they will pray for them, and when
a person does "accept Christ", they pray and thank God for the conversion.
Isn't praying that God will "draw someone to himself" or thanking God
when a person becomes a Christian an indication that the one praying believes
that it is God who changes a person's heart and not the person himself?
And if you believe that God does the converting and that faith itself
is a gift, then how is your god any different than the Calvinist god since
it would then be obvious that your god does not give this "gift" to all?
QUESTION 5: Salvation: The Suffering
While evangelizing, Christians often emphasize the terrible suffering
of Jesus on the cross and say, "He DIED for you", as if this alone should
move us to eternal gratitude and as if we are somehow personally responsible
for his suffering. But is any of this really true? Did Jesus really die
for us? Or, if he really was god, did he die in order to satisfy some
petty, self-created, technical requirement?
Let's say that I am a child. I create a bunch of little toys and bring
them to life. I tell the toys, who are now humans, what my rules are.
One of the little humans disobeys my rules. What if I now decide that
I am going to have to create a hell for these little humans since they
disobeyed me and what if I further decide that the only way I can accept,
love, or care for these little humans is to get a baseball bat and insist
that one of them crash it over my head. After insisting that a baseball
bat be crashed over my own head, I then bring myself back to life in 3
days, inspire some little humans to write a book about what happened,
disappear from sight, and insist that all humans from this point forward
best acknowledge that I am "the fairest of them all" (sound like a familiar
fairy tale?) else I will turn them into toads and torture them forever
As a creator, am I worthy of respect and admiration simply because I
am the creator? Should my little humans bow down and worship me and should
they develop doctrines and write whole books justifying my behavior in
the hopes that I will refrain from hurting them in one of my many fits
of rage? Or should they recognize that their creator is a lonely child
who got her hands on too much power and who only wanted a friend. Is it
possible that the great Yahweh is really but a small man behind the curtain
much like the "Great Oz" in the Wizard of Oz? Is it possible that this
little man behind the curtain is secretly hoping that someone, somewhere
will have the gumption to lift the curtain and to force him to see what
he really is? Is it possible that Yahweh secretly longs for a parent,
an advisor, or a mentor of his own and is constantly disappointed that
not one of his creations has the courage or ability to do the one thing
he wants the most, to be trained and parented?
If a child gets her hands on too much power, who would the child grow
to love and respect more: those who befriend her, advise her, and train
her, even at great risk to themselves, or those who simply flatter her
and justify all of her bad behavior out of a desire to avoid becoming
her next victim? Christians often say that loving is more than just hugs
and kisses but that sometimes "love must be tough". Well perhaps there
is some truth to this and perhaps, if we really wish to love a god, our
love must be "tough" and we must be willing to confront and correct behavior
from this god that is unacceptable. Otherwise, I don't think we really
Christians often speak of god as "holy", saying "he cannot look upon
'sin' or imperfection". But who decided that he couldn't look upon imperfection?
Who decided that he couldn't accept imperfection unless he first subjected
himself to a brutal, violent death on a cross? Christians act as if this
god had no choice in the matter. They seem to believe that Yahweh's need
to have someone "pay" for the disobedience of Adam is a rule that he must
adhere to and is not a rule or standard of his own making. If it is true
that the need to have someone suffer as an "atonement" for sin is a standard
he must adhere to whether he likes it or not, then where did this standard
come from? Wouldn't such a scenario imply that god himself is then accountable
to an authority or law that exists outside of himself? On the other hand,
if God simply decided that he could not accept his own creation unless
he first killed himself, then why should we feel badly about it?
To put it another way, what if after a child disobeyed, the parent of
this child went out in the backyard, picked up a baseball bat, and bashed
in his own skull, killing himself in the process? Should we then say,
"Look how much that man loved his son. There is no greater love than this.
Look how the parent suffered. He smashed his own skull with a baseball
bat." And should we then say to the child, "Look how dirty and vile you
are that your disobedience has caused your father to hate you so much
that the only way he could love you was to hurt himself?" I don't think
there is anyone in their right mind who would suggest that such a scenario
was healthy or wholesome or representative of what true love is all about.
And one other question...should we really be moved by the suffering of
a man who, if god, would have had the power to suspend all physical pain?
Why should we feel moved to gratitude that Jesus killed himself so that
he can love us? And why should we be sympathetic to the 24 hours of suffering
of a man who, if god, stands by impotently while children suffer ungodly
torments for days on end?
Is hurting oneself so that you can love and accept the imperfect beings
that you created really an act of love or is it an act of perversity?
Copyright © 1999, 2000 by Darcy West. All Rights