Notes on Heresy Hearsay
What, I ask, constitutes "blasphemy"—poets satirizing the ludicrous images of
God perpetrated on the world by religion, or Christian priests and
pastors telling the world that Einstein, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama,
"unbelievers," gays, "sinners," a billion Hindus, a billion Muslims, etc., will
all go to an eternal hell, when a close examination of the Bible proves hell to
be a chimera?
by Michael R. Burch
From my childhood, I believed I was going to hell, not because the Bible clearly
teaches this (quite the contrary), but because the adult Christians I trusted
told me in no uncertain terms that someone was going to hell. I just
looked around and figured that if anyone was going to hell, it would
certainly be me. No, I wasn't a mass murderer at the time. I was
My wise, oracular pastors and unfailingly sincere Sunday School teachers had
taught me ecstatically, in between Easter egg hunts and Wednesday pot-luck
dinners, that "lust is the same as adultery" and that "all adulterers would
undoubtedly burn in the Lake of Fire for all eternity." I was told that God knew
my every thought and was constantly looking over my shoulder, comparing me on a
second-by-second basis with the perfections of Jesus Christ. I was breathlessly
informed that, while I was an evil worm because of "original sin," still thanks
to "divine grace," which was entirely a free gift and not of works, so that I
wouldn't get big-headed and boast, I might be saved from eternal torture, if
only I could entirely mend my lustful ways and never think about girls until I
achieved the distant prospect of marriage. But I was only thirteen! It was more
than apparent to me that God and Jesus had conspired to send me to hell. For God
had given me lusts I couldn't fathom, much less control, while Jesus had
condemned me to hell for my very thoughts. I was the Joker to their Batman and
Robin. KA-BAM! KA-POW!
I would have far preferred the gentler persuasions of Batgirl, or Poison Ivy!
I remember lying in bed one night, swimming in tears like King David, fearfully
telling God "goodbye forever." (Unlike David, I at least had the honesty to
admit that I didn't repent, since I intended to repeat my favorite crime over
and over again.) It would be years before I could read the Bible with an open
mind and see that David, the man famously "after God's own heart" was a
murderous man who had women killed, and even the lame and the blind because his
"soul hated them." David was an idolater; when Saul's envoys came looking for
him, David's wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, delayed them by putting a large
household idol, a Teraphim, beneath the covers and making it look like David was
asleep, sick, while he escaped. So David clearly had a man-sized household God
in his own house. Christians have been so duped we are unable to read the Bible
and see what is obviously there. David's dowry for Michal was hundreds of
Philistine foreskins. His dying words commanded the death of his right-hand man,
Joab, for having "innocent blood" on his hands. But no one had more innocent
blood on his hands than David, who "slew his ten thousands," including women,
the lame and the blind, and Uriah, the man he had slain after he slept with and
impregnated his wife. If David is in heaven, who won't be? At the age of
thirteen, what had I done to compare with the sins of David? And yet my
churches, my pastors, my Sunday School teachers, and even my own parents let me
believe my fantasies about girls would not only be the death of me in God's
eyes, but after death condemn me to an eternal hell.
Although I was only a child, I accepted my sentence of death and hell like a
man. I was so young and so naive it would be years before it would occur to me
that I could do more than just fantasize about girls.
But were my pastors oracles of divine wisdom, or did they just gullibly believe
whatever they had been taught themselves? Is there a clear doctrine of hell in
the Bible, or is hell a chimera? I have come to what, for me, is an inescapable
conclusion: hell is a chimera entirely of man's imagination, because God not
only forgot to mention it for thousands of years, he forgot to announce it,
ever. There is no doctrine of hell in the Bible from the beginning, because
for thousands of years the penalty for sin was clearly death, with absolutely no
mention of anything like an eternal hell. But if there was clearly no hell from
the beginning, did something change suddenly, one day? It seems not, because God
never clearly announced that the penalty had changed from death to hell. And how
could he fail to be scintillantly clear about something like that?
If God had anything to do with the writing of the Bible, how can it be that he
forgot to mention hell? The God of the Bible didn't mention hell to
Adam and Eve (the original sinners), nor to Cain (the first murderer), nor to
Noah (at the time of the great wickedness of the Flood), nor to Abraham (the
father of three great monotheistic religions), nor to Lot (at the time of the
destruction of Sodom), nor to Isaac (the child of promise), nor to Jacob (who
became Israel, "a prince with God"), nor to Moses (at the time of the giving of
the law and its punishments), nor to the prophets. Every use of the word "hell"
in the Old Testament is a blatant mistranslation of the Hebrew word "Sheol,"
which clearly means "the grave," not "hell."
Nor did the early Christians seem to know anything about an eternal hell. The
earliest Christian texts are generally considered by Bible scholars to be the
epistles of Saint Paul. Paul said he received his gospel directly from God, not
man. But where did Paul describe a place of eternal torment? And where in the
book of Acts, the self-recorded history of the early Christian church, is there
any mention of an eternal hell? Indeed, the only mentions of "hell" in Acts are
yet two more mistranslations of "Sheol," the grave. Nowhere in Acts do the great
early preachers of Christianity—Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul—ever say that
anyone will go to hell. The mistranslations of "hell" in the Old Testament and
Acts argue strongly against the dogma of hell. For instance, in one of
his psalms, King David says that if he makes his bed in "hell," God will be
there. But Christian dogma claims that hell is the absence of God. In
another psalm, the sons of Korah say God will redeem their souls from "hell."
But Christian dogma says no one can be redeemed from hell. In Job 14:13, Job
even asks God to hide his soul in Sheol! Job was suffering terribly and desired
relief from his suffering. So quite obviously he wasn't asking God to hide him
in a place of eternal suffering from which he could never escape. Job wasn't
speaking of hell when he asked to be hidden in Sheol, but the grave. The
mistranslations are so clumsy, they would be comical, if Christians didn't daily
terrify little children all over the world with the grinding millstone of hell.
Suffer the little children, indeed. But what, pray tell, has ever
terrorized children more than Christianity?
It's important to understand something about orthodox Christianity: it can only
offer to "save" you by first condemning you to hell. If you're a mother or
father, or ever intend to have children, it's all the more important to
understand this. If God didn't condemn anyone to hell, why teach little children
something so terrifying it will hound them all their lives, as it hounded me for
more than thirty years?
Did God even bring up the subject of hell? Well the Hebrew language doesn't even
have a word for hell. That's a very curious omission, if God was
speaking to Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses, et al. And where is the
verse, in all the Bible, that says the wages of sin ever changed from death to
hell, at such-and-such a time, for such-and-such a reason? There is no such
Today even conservative Bible scholars seem to agree that God unaccountably
failed to so much as mention hell for thousands of years, because the word
"hell" no longer appears in the Old Testament in most versions of the Bible. You
can verify this easily by going to
www.crosswalk.com and using the advanced search feature to scan various
versions of the Bible for the word "hell." If you limit the search to the Old
Testament, you're in for a rather pleasant suprise. It seems God forgot to
describe or even mention an "eternal hell" anything like our modern vision of
hell. And when "hell" is used in the King James version, as I
have pointed out above, the results blatantly contradict the orthodox dogma of
hell. Want another example? Well, Ezekiel and Saint Paul agreed that all Israel
(the nation) would be saved, but if Sheol is "hell," then Israel (the man) said
that he would go down to his son Joseph in "hell." But how on earth can all
Israel be saved if Israel himself is in hell? Again, Israel obviously
meant that he would go down to "the grave" mourning his son Joseph, whom he
believed to already be in the grave. Once again, the translation of Sheol as
"hell" is patently absurd.
Which leaves us with the question: why do Christians daily damn
their brothers and sisters to hell, if God never did?
It's also well worth pointing out that the Christian dogmas of infant baptism,
Limbo and "the age of accountability" are all non-Biblical (i.e., never once
mentioned directly anywhere in the Bible), and that they each serve exactly the
same purpose: to keep God from sending babies, toddlers and children to the
eternal hell he forgot to mention for millennia. Although Jesus, Peter and Paul
knew absolutely nothing about infant baptism, men somehow decided God was unable
to save babies unless they were splashed with water by priests. Hence, infant
baptism. But because babies are sometimes born without priests and "special
water" nearby, Limbo had to be summoned into existence, to keep God from
behaving like the Devil. Later, when the early Protestants decided to ditch
infant baptism and Limbo, they had to figure out a different way to keep God
from condemning babies, toddlers and children to hell, so they settled on the
equally non-Biblical "age of accountability." But if there is no hell, there is
no need for such shenanigans. And indeed, why should we bother to believe in a
God who can't prevent himself from torturing babies for all eternity, or who
isn't powerful enough to prevent someone else from torturing them? If God can't
save a newborn baby, how on earth did he save the thief on the cross, who not
only wasn't baptized, but didn't repent or confess, and "believed" too late to
reform? Why do Popes and priests and pastors teach that inveterate blackguards
can be saved on their deathbeds by grace, but that babies and toddlers and
children are forever in danger of God's wrath? Something is rotten in Denmark,
and the stench is hell.
One rather obvious difference is money. Newborn babies don't have money. Old
men on their deathbeds with guilty consciences often do. Is it possible that the
"deathbed confession" works to the benefit of old men with sins on their hands,
because they have money the church would like to get its hands on?
But really, does it make sense that God will save a miser at his last dying
gasp, or the thief on the cross, entirely by grace, but not a helpless
baby who died too young to "sin"? Is there a clue that what we have been told is not the wisdom of God, but
a teetering manmade house of cards? Well, yes, there is. Just recently, in 2005,
Reuters announced that the Roman Catholic Church has "effectively buried the
concept of limbo" and that "the Church’s International Theological Commission
said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."
Pope Benedict, "a top theologian" who had "expressed doubts about limbo"
before his election as Pope, authorized the publication of a document called
"The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised."
We are told, "There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants
precisely because it was not possible (to baptize them)" and that "People find
it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes
infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are
Christian or non-Christian" and that the study was made all the more
pressing because "the number of unbaptized infants has grown considerably, and
therefore the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has
In other words, limbo has become unpopular, and so now there is hope that God
won't torture unbaptized babies, or allow them to be tortured, or keep them
separated from their mothers for all eternity, even though the Bible never
suggested any such things to begin with.
Even though Jesus, Peter and Paul never even suggested that babies needed to be
baptized, over the course of 2,000 years untold numbers of Catholic mothers have
suffered with the fear that their babies who didn't live long enough to "sin"
might endure some unknown fate for all eternity ... for no reason at all. The
Pope and the Catholic church either don't know what happens to babies, or they
just change the beliefs of a billion Catholics according to whim and whimsy.
Before raising the great hue and cry of blasphemy against poets, please
reconsider the greatest blasphemy ever uttered: the dogma of an eternal hell. If
God had a hand in the writing of the Bible, and clearly and unequivocally
explained the penalty of death to Adam and Eve before the first act of disobedience
that led to death, wouldn't he have even more clearly and unequivocally
explained the infinitely greater penalty of hell to the whole world before it popped into
existence? For God to mention death but not hell would be like me threatening to
take away my son's bicycle if he gets an F, then locking him up in his bedroom and
torturing him for the remainder of his life upon his first failure.
Not only would the punishment of an eternal hell be incommensurate with the
crime (i.e., infinite punishment for temporal sins), but God would be a
dithering nincompoop, having constantly gone into great detail about the
temporal consequences of sin, while repeatedly failing to so much as mention the
eternal consequences. Isn't it obvious that man made up hell? Could God be so
evil and so moronic as to sentence people to hell without telling them when
the new penalty went into effect? Indeed, it seems to me that only human
religious "experts" can manage blunders of such magnitude.
The only humane purpose of punishment is to instruct and correct. A good mother
doesn't punish her son in order to inflict pain, but to instruct and correct him. If a
human mother punished her child interminably or excessively, society would call
her an unfit mother and take her child
away from her. If we saw a boy torturing an animal for
a second, much less for all eternity, we'd be shocked and act immediately to end
the animal's suffering, then correct the boy. Why? Because we
know that nothing good can come from unnecessary suffering. Indeed, what is
evil, but to cause unnecessary suffering? And yet most Christians seem to
an all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful God will allow eternal suffering, or
perpetuate it himself, making him stupider and more evil than the basest of men.
Good and wise parents correct with compassion for their children's immaturity.
Parents who beat their children unmercifully—so that the punishment becomes
incommensurate with the "crime"—are the cause of much of the escapable suffering
on this planet, because their children often grow up to become child abusers and
perpetuators of violence. Is God a good, wise parent? If so, why would he abuse
his children for all eternity for no purpose whatsoever?
Is it "blasphemy" to believe that, if there is a God, his plan should be more
divine than to torment human souls for all eternity? Is it "blasphemy" to
suggest it would be better to never utter the word "God" again, than to
speculate aloud about who will be "saved" by "grace" and who will be "damned"
for all eternity, especially when children are within earshot? Is it "blasphemy"
to suggest that little children have suffered severe mental anguish—as I did
for over thirty years—because their churches are teaching doctrines Jesus,
Peter, Stephen and Paul never so much as mentioned? If Jesus didn't know anything about infant baptism or Limbo, how can
the Pope? If God never mentioned the "age of accountability" or "hell," how can
a pastor blithely suggest that one minute your child can do anything and go
to heaven, but a split second later, after crossing some invisible age barrier, do
exactly the same thing and be condemned to suffer in hell forever, as though there is some sort of
"damnation" switch God throws without anyone knowing when or why, and which he
never so much as mentioned?
If such things are blasphemies, I am quite content to be a blasphemer.
If King David can be saved—the man who kept a man-sized idol in his own
house; who had women killed and the lame and the blind; who gave a dowry of
hundreds of foreskins for Michal's hand in marriage, who hypocritically had his
right-hand man Joab killed for spilling innocent blood when he was literally
drenched from head to toe in innocent blood himself; who slept with and
impregnated Bathsheba, then had her husband Uriah killed to cover his
tracks—then who among us cannot be saved? If the thief on the cross can be saved
by grace, at the very last minute of life, without confessing or repenting or
reforming, why can't anyone be saved by grace?
Orthodox Christianity tells us all sorts of incommensurate things: God is the
only savior; God is not a respecter of persons; no man can save himself; no man
is righteous, no not one; God is not willing that any should perish; etc.
The only logical conclusion in my mind is that if these things are true, then God must save everyone. After all, God is
the only lifeguard; indeed, the only person who can swim. He can easily save
anyone he pleases. No other person who has ever lived can swim at all. If God
lets anyone drown, he is clearly a murderer. Does a lifeguard ask a drowning man
his religious affiliation? No, if the lifeguard can swim powerfully and the
drowning man can't swim at all, then it's incumbent on the lifeguard to save the
drowning man. Indeed, saving the drowning man is his job.
Christianity tells us that God's job is to save drowning sinners. That, indeed,
is his job. He's the Savior of the World.
And yet Christianity threatens all the world with eternal damnation. The
lifeguard is letting most of the world drown. How can that be?
Michael R. Burch
Editor, The HyperTexts