Friday, March 25, 2011

The hell you say ...

Rob Bell

Well, it’s been another interesting week on all sorts of fronts for those of us who spend at least a little time each day cruising the Internet and scanning headlines to see what’s up.

My favorite religion story continues to be the hooting and hollering that has followed publication of Pastor Rob Bell’s newest, “Love Wins,” subtitled “A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

Bell is the founder and lead pastor of the mega Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., part of what is called admiringly or disparagingly the emerging church.

Bell, who publishes frequently, became a candidate for baptism in especially hot water this time by challenging the very old and broadly held assumption among Christians that the billions who have never been Christian, or who aren’t, are being eternally roasted by hellfire --- or soon will be. He even went so far as to suggest that Mahatma Gandhi might not be in eternal torment. Heavens!

Down in North Carolina this week, a United Methodist preacher named Chad Holtz lost his job for agreeing with Bell. Here’s a little clip featuring Holtz that contains one of the clearer expressions regarding grace that I’ve heard recently:

Now the concept of a hell by one name or another is not unique to Christianity; just part of the universal dilemma involved in trying to explain the obvious conflict between good and evil that is part of the human condition and in trying to quantify justice in understandable terms.

But Christians have for centuries relied upon hellfire as a goad --- join us or burn. And that’s addictive. I have trouble swearing off if some days myself --- the thought of let’s say Bob Vander Plaats or Newt Gingrich being sautéed eternally in hot oil over a moderate flame just warms my heart.

Most of the folks I grew up among believed, and many still do, in a literal heaven and a literal hell. But there was a strong element of love in this --- a sincere desire to save souls from torment.

There seems to have been a shift lately, however, in a substantial portion of the church --- from the fear that multitudes will burn in hell to the fear that multitudes won’t. That’s fairly evident in the nature of the debate surrounding Bell’s new book.

What in the world, for example, would a Southern Baptist do with all us queers if there were no hellfire to cast us into?


Iowa’s new if-it-flies-kill-it bird bill landed on old Fuzz-lip’s desk Thursday and he signed it, proving that the good old boys at the Capitol can move fast if they want to. Actually, it’s not clear a bill ever has moved through the legislative process quite this fast before, so it did take a little fancy footwork to get it done. Not ethical exactly, but sure fancy.

Public opposition has stalled all previous efforts to establish an Iowa hunting season for mourning doves. So this time, the gun crowd (Republicans and Democrats alike) just didn’t give the public an opportunity to have its say. Recent polls show that 52 percent of Iowans still oppose dove hunting, 25 percent favor it and the rest just don’t much care. Pesky public.

The bill breezed through the Senate 30-18 Tuesday after having been pulled out of thin air a while earlier in such a manner that allowed it to bypass the committee process --- and public comment.

Then Russell’s own Republican Rep. Richard Arnold (don’t it make ya proud?) introduced an amendment in the House that gutted a committee-cleared bill dealing with raccoon hunting and substituted the Senate dove bill for it. Hence no need for the committee process, or public comment, here either. Sailed right through Wednsday.

The governor signed it during a private ceremony on Thursday, noting how pleased he and the boy, Marcus, were about it. Probably going to have trouble hitting those little birds, thought, because of their dimunitive size and “erratic” flight patterns, Branstad allowed.

The whole thing kind of reminds you of how the little boys used to behave after they’d been out behind the outhouse smoking --- or worse. Kind of makes you wonder what else those old boys in Des Moines get up to in the privacy of the Capitol toilets.

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