I have pitched my tent in an evangelical campground. It’s where I’m called to be, for the passion, the intense personal engagement, and for the communal acknowledgement that there is indeed an enemy, and that we are called into battle and vigilance on this account.
But oh my, the hot buttons I am finding in myself. I’m comfortable with a fairly wide range of beliefs about Creation, evolution, science, the uses of intercessory prayer, modalities of healing, and heaven. I don’t have any large certainty beyond my own personal experience and the conclusions I’ve drawn from it, and it seems fine to me that people will differ. Some of the things I believe may present hot buttons for other people, and I don’t mind this.
My own big ones are damnation and hell. If the narrative we hold, simply what we believe about God, is the factor that determines salvation then my goodness, vast multitudes of people are certainly damned, if one is using consonance of belief is the criterion, finally only one person is going to be saved: the person engaged in that thought process. And finally, probably not them, either. It’s like the old children’s rhyme about the Kilkenny cats.
“There once were two cats of Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit
And they scratched and they bit,
Till except for their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.”
The endless and terrible divisiveness that has made Christianity a scandal and a bloodbath have their foothold in this place, that God cares, or that we should care, about the spiritual narratives of people who simply love Him and try to do what’s right. It’s the root of tribalism and an entry-point for the demonic that we can look at another human being and say “They will go to Hell and I won’t.”
Surely a whole lot of terror has to go with that, for if it’s possible for anyone to go to Hell, then the speaker is as good a candidate as any. To believe in Hell is to believe that someone, at least, has to go there, and, if it’s too be anyone, it may well be me.
Is this what makes it a hot button for me? Damnation is a strong and pervasive mime. My father died certain that he was going to hell. When his fierce Bible (and child) thumping mother was dying he said to her “Well, mother, do you hear the angels coming for you.” “No, Silas,” she answered. “I hear nothing.” The narrative was strong, is strong, and generational, and no doubt has a place in my own inner world.
I remember some years ago when I was living in Toronto I heard of a man who was hypnotized by a large industrial fan. Watching it, surrendering in some way to its inevitability, he put his hand into the whirling blade, where it was shredded to the wrist. Having said that, I then think of some little animal hypnotized by the sway of a cobra dancing until it strikes.
The feeling is one of real danger, a sense of stepping with one’s own volition into a falling elevator. I don’t know, though, that it’s fear of damnation. Maybe more the fear of the demon who would seduce us with damnation on his tongue not into some future hell, but into something unspeakable and immediate. When I am in the presence of people who preach hell I want to warn them “Don’t look at that one. He’ll hypnotize you and get his claw into you and you’ll feed him now, not later, and you won’t even know you’re doing it.” And it’s catching, the way that evil always is.
And there’s the hot button. I’ve come all the way round the merry-go-round and find myself saying to someone else, “Be careful of what you think, because the demon might catch you.” The only difference may be that it’s not about hell, it’s about here. If the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, so it the other one.