Heretics : What if there is no hell?

Illustration: Adam Maida; Photograph: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Illustration: Adam Maida; Photograph: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

For the past week or so Reverend Carlton Pearson has been on my mind. I first heard his story on the podcast Heretics by This American Life, and ever since, several people have reached out asking if I'd listened to it and what I think of it. Clearly, it has his a nerve. 

In the 1990's, Reverend Carlton Pearson was a rising star in the evangelical movement, but in the early 2000's, after he cast aside the idea of hell, "everything he'd worked for over his entire life" suddenly crumbled (via). Except his faith. 

Which is why he became a heretic.

There's also a movie, produced by James D. Stern under his Endgame Entertainment banner, along with Ira Glass and This American Life banner, distributed by Netflix.

"One of the moments I’m happiest with in our new film," Ira Glass writes, "is the scene where Jason Segel’s character Henry basically breaks up with his friend. Because his friend has come to believe some things Jason does not" (via). 

Everything Henry say comes down, basically to: “This is breaking my heart because I think maybe you’re going to hell and I love you and it feels like there’s nothing I can do or say to stop you.” 

It’s moments like that which made me want to make this film. Years ago, I became aware that there was a huge gap between the way evangelicals are portrayed on TV and in films and in the news, and the evangelicals I know in my personal life. Who are not like the smiling, intolerant hardasses I see in the media, but complicated, sensitive, funny people who take seriously Jesus’s admonition to love one another (via).

And I was reminded of Originals and the idea of "horizontal hostility."

According to Adam Grant, horizontal hostility is the "minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them" (pg 117). Like vegans and vegetarians. Compared to much of the world, these two groups are very similar, which is the problem. Because they are so alike, they can often find horizontal hostility because the other isn’t doing it right and therefore, “making us look bad.”

I would venture to say that the existence of hell is no "minor difference," but, shouldn't it be? At least in terms of the greater commission, to love one another? 

If there was no hell, if everyone was heading to heaven because God's love was indeed big and great enough, should that change anything? They we live and speak and think? Shouldn't we be rejoicing that people everywhere get to experience eternity with a loving God? 

If not, why not? 

And if the idea of hell is why we serve and minister and "love our neighbors," aren't we missing the whole point of the gospel? 

But also, and perhaps to the deepest point, why is someone not aloud to question and struggle? To look at what we've been doing for hundreds of years and say, "I don't know. We may be wrong - because we're human."

 Why are those who question considered heretics and kicked out of the church?

When did being curious and wondering outside of tradition become the unpardonable sin? 

What I find most interesting with all this is, in the end, Reverend Carlton Pearson is ministering and loving the outcasts, the "sinners" and those whom Jesus would have been drawn to. Not the righteous pharisees. 

Which, in the end, is why I tend to side with Reverend Carlton Pearson. Not because I'm convinced he's right, but because I'm convinced in his process, in questioning and wrestling and the willingness to be wrong. Even if it means losing everything. 

Except his faith.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On playing Devil's Advocate  :  Bacon and God's Wrath :  On Empathy