August 6, 2001

I have been putting this conversation off for a while, because it is against my belief system to offend the belief systems of other people, especially people who mean well.

So, I have to see if I can talk to my devoted Christian friends out there about how I feel about their religion without offending anybody and still make my point.

My point? That I am tired of being offended by my born-again Christian friends. Unfortunately, they just don’t realize how offensive it is to be told that all of us who are not “saved” are damned to eternal Hell. Eternity is a very long time, they so often tell me for extra emphasis. Sometimes they tell me I am condemned to eternal, fiery damnation, which I consider a pretty intense thing to say to somebody.

I am not a Christian. I was raised a Jew, but at about nineteen years old, I decided that the whole Judeo-Christian trip just didn’t work for me. At about that same time, I discovered Eastern religions in general and Buddhism in particular. I have been a practicing Buddhist for almost thirty-five years now. I worship neither gods nor idols, and I have spent my life trying to, and generally succeeding at, doing good in the world.

But according to my Christian friends, no amount of good I do can save me from eternal hell. The irony is that if I was a murderer or a rapist and had spent a lifetime harming others, but then willfully accepted Jesus into my heart as my savior, I would get to go to heaven.

According to my born-again friends, all those people now and throughout history who never heard of Jesus have gone to hell. When I complain that this doesn’t seem very fair, my born-again friends tell me, “Well, that is the way the old salvation ball bounces.” As in, tough luck.

It bothers me most that the president of the United States believes that all non-Christians are condemned to Hell. G.W. is a born again and he really believes that. Doesn’t it make sense that I should be feeling somewhat paranoid about anybody with that much power who believes that I am headed to Hell forever?

What started me on this has been a relationship that I have with a couple of born-again Christians. They were both raised that way, and we have been good friends for a long time. Or rather, we were good friends, despite the fact that I am condemned to Hell forever.

Recently, I did some writing and then decided to send these writings off in an email to some friends. I wrote some pretty sarcastic statements about Christianity and born-again Christians.

I got an email back from the woman of this couple telling me they were highly offended and to not send them any more of my writing. I wrote a profuse apology, but to my disappointment, I have not heard from them again. I suspect they believe that they now know what I really think of their faith — and because of this, they don’t see me as a friend anymore.

This is too bad. On the one hand, I suppose it’s good that they finally know what I really think of their belief system. But why can’t we still be friends?

This was really bothering me and I was feeling pretty guilty until I thought about who is offending whom here. They regularly tell me that my belief system is so worthless that I will spend eternity in Hell. That, to me, is a lot more offensive than some sarcastic comments that I might make about Christianity.

I have read the Bible, both the old and the new testaments, and I still cannot find in there anything that suggests that I am Hell bound. As a matter of fact, I like the New Testament better than the old, mostly because the Old Testament is so darn bloody. If you think that the violence described or portrayed by the media inspires kids to violence, then for God’s sakes don’t let them read the Old Testament!

Moses gets the commandment of “Thou shalt not kill,” but then he and the tribes of Israel spend the rest of the trip massacring everybody in sight. King David kills every non-Jewish man, woman and child some years later in the holy land. There are more spear holes, arrow holes, hatchet holes in the holy land than any place on earth — which is maybe why we call it “holy” in the first place.

So anyway, my born-again friends got offended by some stuff I wrote. Here’s an example:

Have you noticed that middle- and upper-middle class white Christian kids have a growing compulsion to show up at school with semi-automatic weapons and blow their classmates away? What do these kids know that we don’t?

Now, that wasn’t even sarcastic — it’s fact. It is also a fact that more than ninety percent of all serial killers come from devout Christian homes. My hunch is that they have all accepted Jesus as their savior, which means that no matter how long the trail of bodies, these characters will still go to heaven. To be honest, I’m content knowing that I might be somewhere else.

Here’s more of what I wrote:

According to the Old Testament, Moses went to the mountaintop and had a brief conversation with God, who then gave him two tablets with which to enlighten his people.

Why do we believe that a “tablet” was any different than a tablet is now? We are talking two small pills, most likely dosed with enough pure acid to fuck up twelve tribes and guarantee them a much shorter trip to the Promised Land. When Moses got to the bottom of the mountain, he saw his people doing the Lindy Hop around a golden calf and figured that any group this straight would just freak on the shit that God had laid on him. So, he threw the tablets to the ground, but not before picking off a piece for himself.

He eventually shared his stash with his people, which accounts for the fact that ten of the twelve tribes got completely lost. Think of the Jews as a band of hippies so fucked up that it took them forty years to travel approximately twenty-three miles. This is something I can relate to. Think of the philistines as big white guys in pickup trucks with gun racks and red necks. The Old Testament never makes sense like the sense it makes when you’re on peyote.

Now, that was just a play on the word “tablet.” Who can be so sanctimonious, so convinced that their belief system is that precious and that absolute that they can’t have a sense of humor about it? Born-again Christians, apparently.

Here’s a question I posed:

If one is condemned to hell for eternity, does time really have any meaning? I mean, when it just goes on forever, will that feel like it takes longer in Hell than in Heaven? Would you really want to spend eternity with people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the Osmond Family who just won’t stop singing? Does heaven have a complaint department, or for that matter at least a suggestion box?

Another question:

The crucifixion of Jesus took place on a Friday. I imagine it took place on a Friday because Saturday is God’s day off. Anyway, crucifixion is a horrible death. They made Jesus drag that huge wooden cross through Jerusalem, then they hammered spikes through his hands and feet, then they hung him from them while a Roman sentry thrust a spear into his side. With all this gore, will somebody explain to me why we call this event “Good Friday?”

I actually did ask a Christian friend about this and her answer was that because it was the day on which Jesus died for our sins — so that makes it good. I did get her to agree that maybe it was a good day for us, but it had to be a really lousy day for Jesus.

Personally, I’m going to begin celebrating it as “Oh No! Friday.” Actually, my friend Alan came up with a name the two of us thought was more appropriate: “Oy Vey Friday.” Because Jesus, after all, was a Jew.

So, I may have offended my born-again friends with all this stuff. I didn’t want to offend them any more than they want to offend me by telling me that I am headed to the fiery depths forever.

But the belief that those who don’t ask for the salvation of Christ are doomed has led to some awfully bad stuff throughout history. Of what value is my mortal life to people who are convinced that my eternal life is damned?

If we look at history we can see examples of this.

The vast slaughter of the native peoples of the continents of North and South America by Christian Europeans in the name of Christ suggests something. The Crusades and the slaughter of the Arabic peoples of the Middle East and north Africa by the English, French and other Christian European nations also suggests something.

I was a civil rights worker in the south during the sixties and saw the murders and violence performed by self-proclaimed Christian groups like the Ku Klux Klan. That also suggests something.

The weird thing here is that all this horror committed in the name of Christ is not anything that the Christ I have read about would have endorsed.

All this does suggest that Christianity has been a murderous plague unrivaled by just about any other on this planet.

I hope you don’t feel offended by this if you are a Christian. That has not been my intent — but, at the same time, you have to understand what those of us who are not devout Christians feel when you make it clear how you feel about us.

I’ll end with a story. About eight years ago, I became good friends with a wonderful woman who was a Pentecostal minister in Oakland, California. Her name was Betita. She would do things like go out at night and give blankets to the homeless. Betita embodied the very idea of compassion.

She discovered she had terminal cancer and asked me to spend her last few weeks with her. I knew that it pained Betita that I wasn’t saved. So, one day I said to her, “Betita, you have cancer, you have enough to worry about, and it makes me sad that you are afraid for my soul.” She looked up from her bed and a beautiful smile came over her face and she said, “Oh, Terry, I am not worried about you at all.”

That is a Christian. God bless you, Betita.

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