How to Respond To A Flaming Fundamentalist When They Tell You You?re Going to Hell
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
I?d like to start by giving a shout out to the reader who inspired this article. There I was penning a piece on how the church should be more accepting of diversity and difference. Oh, the audacity!
This clearly outraged one of my readers ? the one who is obviously more enlightened than me ? and luckily he/she set me straight. Here is their helpful response to my article:
Source : https://medium.com/backyard-theology/the-church-must-change-or-die-86488d9f33a1
When I received this sharp rebuke ? delivered in such a loving way ? I saw the light and fell to my knees in repentance? said no one, ever.
When you tell someone else they are going to hell, what you are really saying is, ?I am both morally superior and suitably qualified to determine when a person is going to hell according to my interpretation of an ancient Jewish manuscript written in a completely different time, culture and context to my own.?
Of course, the reader who made this comment is the same reader who clapped for another article entitled, ?Why I Love Women Peeing on Me,? which is clearly okay with God ? at least much more so than me suggesting that the church should be more inclusive. By the way, if you want to view the offending article I wrote, here it is.
He wasn?t the only person who gave me some hate, in the name of love, either. There were a number of angry responses. It got me thinking. How should you respond when someone tells you you?re going to hell?
What You Should Know
Before I move on to some practical suggestions, I think it?s helpful to understand where your fundamentalist friends are coming from. Sure, rounding up a lynch mob, shaming them on social media and dismissing them as religious fanatics might seem like a reasonable response, but seeking to understand their position is a higher way that requires the brains and patience of an adult.
I am not here to discuss the doctrines of salvation, and heaven and hell. However, I was brought up in the evangelical church, so I have had an insider?s view into the mindset behind the kind of religious fervor that causes a person to resort to the ?fire and brimstone? approach to evangelism ? an approach I fervently disagree with. Here is what you should know.
They Believe it is a Loving Thing to Do
A common misconception is that people who warn others about hell are intentionally being vindictive and mean. For example, in response to the question on Quora, ?How should one respond to a religious relative stating that you are going to hell?? one reader posted this reply, which is typical of the prevailing view:
However, I contend that most people who engage in the practice of warning people that they are going to hell, do not do it to be mean or spiteful ? quite the opposite, in fact. They do it because they believe that they are being loving.
Back in 2014, mega church Pastor Mark Driscoll infamously tweeted this:
Later that year, Driscoll was forced to resign from his position following accusations of bullying, plagiarism, misuse of church funds and for propagating his evangelical brand of toxic masculinity (He once labeled wives as penis homes). Still, as long as he?s prayed the ?Sinner?s prayer,? he?s all good, right?
That aside, the sentiment here is true of many Christians who resort to telling people they are going to hell. Another, more recent example, is famous Australian Rugby player, Israel Folau, who posted this on Instagram:
As the media storm surrounding Folau?s post unfolded, Folau refused to retract his comments insisting that he had made them ?out of love.? Folau?s cousin was quoted as saying, ?If you truly love someone, just as Israel loves everyone, you would want to warn people.? Folau subsequently had his lucrative Rugby contract torn up and was thrown out of the sport for good.
Given the response to Folau?s comments, I suggest that most people would struggle to see how telling someone they are going to hell, is a loving action. I don?t see it as a loving action. However, the point is, Driscoll does see it as a loving action, and so does Folau, and so do many others who hold to conservative faith traditions.
So, here is the question. If someone does something that they truly, genuinely believe is loving, that actually isn?t loving at all, how should we treat them?
Food for thought.
They Believe it is Their Duty
Not only do they believe it is loving to warn people about hell, they also believe it is their religious, god-given mandate. It is true the Jesus instructs his followers to ?Go into the world and preach the good news to all nations,? (Mark 16:15)
Therefore, to say to a Christian, ?You can believe whatever you want, but just keep it to yourself and don?t force it on others,? is actually to deny them a key part of what they believe is part of their faith tradition (not to mention that to force the view on others that others shouldn?t force their view on you is both ironic and hypocritical).
The problem is not that people of faith wish to share their faith. It is how and what they choose to share that makes all the difference. The actual god-given mandate, as indicated by Scripture, is to the share the GOOD news. However, these people seem hell-bent on sharing news that is anything but good.
?You?re going to hell.?
Does that sound like good news to you?
On the other hand, the idea that Jesus has bridged humanity and the divine in order that all people might indiscriminately have unrestricted access to God, is good news. There are no hoops to jump through anymore.
Hell-fire preachers don?t get that.
So, here is another question. If someone believes that they have been appointed by God to share a message even though it is unpalatable to modern sensibilities, how should we respond to them?
They Believe They Know the Truth
You have to admire the confidence of someone who has the gall to tell another person that they are going to hell. Essentially, what it means is that they are so certain they are in possession of an undeniable truth ? albeit an uncomfortable one ? that they are willing to share it with people who don?t want to hear it at the expense of human relationships and reputation.
I suppose, if you believed you were in possession of an undeniable truth, and that truth ? at least in your mind ? could prevent someone from burning for all eternity, then you may very well feel compelled to share it. Wouldn?t you?
The only problem I have is that, personally, I am not so confident in my own ability to determine who gets into Heaven and who does not, even if you happen to believe in it. More simply, I prefer to leave the job of being God, to God.
I?d make a terrible God anyway!
Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash
How Should We Respond?
So where does that leave us?
How should I respond to my friend who called me a heretic and told me I was going to hell ? you know, the one who likes women peeing on him? And what should you say if someone tells you you?re going to hell?
Do you take the moral high ground and simply ignore the person altogether? Perhaps you might be tempted to go on the attack?
I?d like to suggest that there is a better way.
Don?t Stoop to Their Level
Don?t fall into the trap of judging the person who is delivering this distasteful message as a hateful and vindictive person. After all, if you do aren?t you merely participating in the same activity that you so despise in that person ? namely judging others? Wouldn?t that be, at least, slightly hypocritical? Here?s a better idea:
Assume the Best of the Person
If you are willing to accept that they believe they are warning you because, in their mind, they are in possession of an undeniable truth, that they have a duty to share, and to not share that truth would be manifestly unloving, then that should change your approach.
For all you know, the belief that they are sharing may have been indoctrinated into them ? even from a young age. Sadly, there are still churches out there that use the threat of hell as a way to coerce people into making a decision to follow Christ. Anyone who has been exposed to this kind of manipulation deserves to be treated with the compassion one would afford to a victim of spiritual abuse. This leads me to my next point:
Respond with Compassion
The person who warns me that I am in danger of going to hell does so because they believe I am misguided and need help. So, instead of getting angry at them, maybe I should see THEM as a person who is misguided and in need of help. Approaching them with the patience with which you might treat a person who is lost, will prevent you from mounting your own high horse and engaging in a kind of spiritual jousting match with someone who is clearly saddled up on a high horse of their own.
Respectful disagreement is a lost art in today?s society. However, with just a little bit of thought, there even exists ways of disagreeing with a flaming fundamentalist without resorting to verbal abuse and shaming. And, now that you?ve paused to understand where they are coming from, resolved not to stoop to their level, decided to see the best in them and chosen to respond compassionately, you?re ready to actually say something. Here are a few practical suggestions for respectfully palming off your average religious zealot when they tell you, ?You?re going to hell.?
- ?I can see that you really care about this. Thanks for taking the time to share it with me, but I?m not interested.?
- ?I can see that you feel that you must share this with other people, but I don?t share your convictions. Thanks anyway.?
- ?I?m going to trust God to decide who gets into heaven and who does not get into heaven. If he is as good as you say, then I?m sure I can trust him to get it right.?
- ?I believe that you?re telling me this because you genuinely care about my well-being, but, to be honest, it?s kind of off-putting. Perhaps you should share some of the compelling reasons you?ve found for following God that don?t involve the threat of eternal punishment.?
- ?I believe that you?re not intending to come across as angry and vindictive, but you?re not really making your God sound like the kind of god that I?d like to follow. Thanks anyway.?
- ?I admire how much belief you have, but I?m not there yet. Thanks!?
I?ll add the disclaimer here that occasionally you will find someone who won?t stop when you ask them nicely. If this is the case, then I encourage you to hold your peace and walk away. Nothing will annoy them so much.
However, to maintain that a person who tells another that they are going to hell doesn?t deserve to be spoken to respectfully only causes you to espouse the very characteristics that you so despise in them. Be the better person, and let God decide who goes the hell!
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Even if You Don?t Believe
If you?re an atheist and you?ve read this far, then I?m honored that you would give me this much of your time! My question to you though is, as someone who thinks the idea of heaven and hell is nothing more than superstitious nonsense, why should it bother you if someone tells another person they are going to hell? Should that really trigger your outrage? Perhaps, on the level of basic human respect, it annoys you, but in reality, for you at least, the matter should be of no consequence. I am sure that you can find a way to be respectful. Dismissive hate speech is just as bad whether it comes from a believer or a non-believer.
The Last Word
It?s safe to say that I struggle to trust the credibility of a person who believes in a God whose message to humankind is, ?Follow me so that I can save you from what I?m going to do to you if you don?t follow me.?
Still, that doesn?t mean I have to hate on them.
In fact, I?m still going to uphold their right to freedom of belief and expression. I?m going to trust in their inherent goodness, despite my complete disagreement with their message. I?m going to choose to respectfully disagree with them, in spite of how angry it makes me to have them misrepresent a God that I believe is overwhelmingly loving, gracious, compassionate and kind.
Therefore, to my angry friend ? the one with the urination fetish ? I say, ?I trust that you?re not intending to come across as angry and vindictive, but you?re not really making your God sound like the kind of god that I?d like to follow. Thanks anyway!?
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash