Rob Bell, in the grand tradition of Christian sensationalism, has made a big splash despite the physically and intellectually light weight of his book, so Fred Clark can be forgiven for posting about him once or twice.
However, I don’t think that he could put up a good defense for having posted about it, so far, seven times, comprising about a third of all his posts in the past three weeks. He pretty much ran out of things to say in the first post (the only other post with any substance is A Devilish Problem; more on that in a bit) and has spent the rest of the time throwing various types of slander at everyone who disagrees with him, mostly boiling down to “you’re stupid” or “you’re evil.” The latest one, from which I’m going to quote, is here.
True, that doesn’t make him exceptional in the blogosphere, but I read Slacktivist because it is, or was, exceptional, offering substantive content and interesting insights instead of simple flaming. It’s a pity to watch a blog you like devolve this way (to, incidentally, about the courtesy and perspective level of his own comments section, not that I think there’s any correlation).
So why is he doing this? Fred Clark is fond of speculating on the reasons why people act or believe in irrational ways, so I’ll take a stab at why he is now doing exactly what he dislikes about his favorite target, the Left Behind series: Condemning the vast majority of Christians as heretical for not subscribing to his fringe interpretation of the Bible*. I think it makes him feel good about himself. After all, he believes that God loves everyone, not like all those other “Christians” who want people to burn in Hell. Simple enough; just like the anti-kitten-burning coalition, he’s imagining that other people believe terrible things that they don’t actually believe, namely wanting people to suffer in Hell because they hate non-Christians and to keep their followers from asking too many questions even though anyone who’s ever actually read the Bible knows that Jesus clearly teaches that there’s no such thing as Hell:
And with that preconception stuck in his head, he cannot accept or imagine or even hear what is actually being said to him. He cannot accept or imagine or hear the argument that the character of God as clearly revealed in the Bible is incompatible and irreconcilable with his fondness for Hell.
If you ever meet anyone who actually thinks that, by all means, let me know. And remember that Slacktivist isn’t just talking about high-profile hacks like Al Mohler–he’s slinging the “Team Hell” name at everyone who believes in Hell; that is, virtually all mainstream Christians. Duplicitous motives can, perhaps, be attributed to evangelical leaders who hold questionable positions. But is every small-church pastor who believes in Hell just cynically trying to make his 100-person congregation toe the line? What about ordinary churchgoers? He’d probably say they all, to a man, just uncritically believe everything they’re told.
The moral here is that accusing other people of doing things to feel superior is rarely a good idea, because of the odds that you’ll feel superior to them and find yourself at the butt end of some serious irony. (I’m running that risk here too, but I’m not interested in being superior to Slacktivist. It’s a good blog and I would rather it stay a good blog.)
I tackled most of his actual points, such as they are, in my previous post, but I’ll respond to the “paradox of pitchforks” that he raises:
Let’s stipulate that the damned are to be tortured for eternity. OK, then, who exactly will be doing the torturing? It seems unseemly to imagine God directly involved, personally poking the gangrenous flesh of sinners with a heavenly pitchfork. And it’s unimaginable that this eternal duty could be delegated to the angels, who desire nothing more than to spend eternity in the presence of God, singing praises. Nor could this task be delegated to the saints. They’re saints, after all, and thus such an assignment would be for them an eternal punishment nearly rivaling that of the souls they would be assigned to torment.
This job, if it must be done, is clearly devils’ work. Only a fiend could carry out such an assignment. Only a demon — a monstrous, soulless, malevolent and wholly unholy creature — could devote itself to eternal torture, unrestrained by mercy, unhampered by revulsion or repugnance.
A sapient idea, but one that reads like a first draft. I come up with these all the time–ideas that seem clever and elegant, but have enough weaknesses as to be essentially meaningless. Luckily Jordan usually demolishes them before they see the light of day. The pitchfork paradox assumes first of all that where there is torment, there must be a tormentor. Tell that to my wrists.
But the real problem is that the same argument can be applied to any type of punishment. What sort of person would work in a prison, mercilessly enforcing punishment that, in some cases, lasts a lifetime? What sort of person would intentionally inflict pain on a child by spanking him or her? Slacktivist is coming out against ever punishing anyone for anything. If he compromises and admits that, sometimes, people are willing to do things they don’t enjoy or want to do because unpleasant things like punishment are a necessary part of society, then who does the punishing in Hell no longer matters. All he has left are his superlatives–eternal, unrestrained, unhampered–and it’s a matter of hashing out the details of what, who, and how long.
It’s never a good idea, particularly when blogging, to devote oneself too often to subjects you disagree with. Such posts are easy and fun to write, but they foster the twin toxic attitudes of vitriolic antagonism and patronizing superiority. That is, they’ll make you into a bad person. I know because it’s a tendency I have to constantly curb in myself, which I do by means of dog blogging.
Next up: More dog blogging.
*Also like the authors of Left Behind, he is conflating the whole spectrum of beliefs other than his into one homogeneous entity, as if everyone who believes in Hell believes the exact same thing. This precariously undermines his argument. For instance, Orthodox Christians believe that Hell is the suffering that people who have rejected God will feel when they are finally exposed to his full, undiluted glory. They believe in Hell and they believe that some people will be tormented for all eternity, and yet Slacktivist’s arguments are irrelevant to their beliefs.
Image is William Blake again from Wikimedia Commons.