The HyperTexts

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 thirteen.

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 verse.

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 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 become urgent."

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 believe that 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

The HyperTexts