“Everybody talking ’bout heaven ain’t a going there.”
– Old Negro spiritual.
Many, if not most, Christians believe the Bible is an instruction manual for those who hope to enter Heaven when they die.
Grace United Methodist Pastor Susan Otey is not part of that mob. In a recent sermon Otey said she did not believe in heaven or hell:
“The popular understanding of heaven is a place where everything is perfect: so wonderful you can’t wait to get there. Hell is so horrible that you will do anything to avoid going there. These views of heaven and hell assume they are places we go after life on Earth is done.”
I had not thought of either of these places for years, but Otey’s declaration cheered me. My convictions match hers.
I remembered first learning about the “hot place” and the “good place.” My mother explained both to me.
The news of heaven and hell set a 4-year-old brain abuzz. Mama explained both in detail. I must have asked her to explain. She would not have said “No.”
Mom was like that. She figured that if a boy were old enough to ask, he was old enough to know.
In the following years I often thought of the two extremes. I never put much stock in the hot place. Hell was contrived to scare the … well … hell out of young Christians. Plunged into hell, I knew I would scream, “Mama, Jesus, help!”
I rejected hell as a pre-teen. I couldn’t believe that God – basically a good guy – could toss his own children into a pit of eternal flames.
If I were wrong, I would be only one of millions in that situation. If they could stand it, I reckoned I could.
Heaven, of course, was a different kettle of mackerel. I imagined a place where the streets were paved with fudge and streams ran bank full of Nehi grape soda.
That yummy picture faded as I realized how long eternity lasted. Forever and ever and ever amen. I figured eating fudge and sloshing Nehi might be fun for an hour or two but not a zillion years.
I once heard a radio preacher say he would spend his first 1,000 years in heaven talking to the apostle Paul.
There are approximately 38,000 Christian denominations – a certain sign they are not often in agreement. If case you were wondering, a cult is a church smaller than yours.
What did the founding fathers believe?
Jefferson took a razor to the New Testament and removed passages he thought to have been inserted by the authors of the gospels and pasted what remained together as The Jefferson Bible. With his razor blade, he removed every verse dealing with the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, claims of Jesus’ divinity and other “puerile superstition,” thus leaving us with a very much shorter book.
In 1904, the Jefferson Bible was printed by order of Congress, and for many years was presented to all newly elected members of that body.
Thomas Paine, who warned that the sunshine soldier and summer patriot would fail us, also cautioned: “Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.”
Ethan Allen, the Revolutionary War hero, complained: “I have generally been denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism makes me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not strictly speaking, whether I am one or not.”
Consider: George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, a fine bouquet of founding fathers. Only one was Christian.
That one was John Jay, revolutionary and first chief justice of the Supreme Court. Jay was a staunch Anglican and not terribly tolerant of other religions. He argued that Roman Catholics should be barred from public office in the United States.
The rest of this gang – like most intellectuals of their day – were Deists. They believed Nature’s God had created the universe but hadn’t turned a wheel since. Had Darwin come along 100 years earlier, Deists would not have conceded the creation.
Some Christians think Pilgrims founded our nation. Pilgrims were the guys wearing buckled hats and boots, and packing blunderbusses to church.
They believed in predestination. When a person’s time had come, it had come.
They carried heat in case they met an Indian whose time had come.
The Pilgrims came to America to escape persecution in England but had blessed little toleration for anyone who wasn’t them.
The more things change, the more they are the same darned thing.