Not just a Christian belief — I’m sure some other religions share this belief, and it’s just as offensive to me if they do — but I live in a majority-Christian culture, so Christian beliefs are what I’m familiar with.
In his most recent post, Richard wrote:
Christianity, of course, is not the only religion that thinks its truth is the only truth; most religions, in fact, do. So I am not here trying to suggest that Christianity, or at least the kind of Christianity promoted by The Salvation Army, is any worse than any other religion…
I disagree with Richard here — I do think that Christianity is worse than “any” other religion — Judaism, for example.
There are two beliefs held by many Christians that I find objectionable:
1) Non-Christians will burn in Hell, a place of eternal torment.
2) God is just and good.
I don’t find either of these beliefs, on their own, offensive. For instance, if someone believed that a depraved and unjust God had set up a system in which good Heathens burn in Hell, I’d find that a depressing belief, but not an offensive one. But the two beliefs combined indicate that I (atheist Jew that I am), nearly all my friends, and my entire family are going to burn in Hell — and that it’s just and good that we burn in hell.
This is a grossly insulting belief for anyone to hold — indeed, I can’t imagine a more insulting belief than “in a just universe, you burn in Hell forever.”
There is an iconic and painful story told of the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. Eichmann was the highest official in the Nazi hierarchy who was brought to trial after the war. His crimes were historic in their wickedness. The tales of horror that unfolded during the proceedings remain etched in the collective conscience of humanity. After he was condemned to death, a Christian pastor asked the Israeli court for permission to see him and encourage him to repent.
Do you mean, one of the justices asked incredulously, that if Eichmann accepts Jesus he will go to heaven, and yet all his Jewish victims will go to hell?
That, replied the pastor, is the miracle of salvation.
Nor is believing that non-believers go to Hell something all religions share. Jewish belief is that virtually everyone, non-Jews included, goes to Heaven. (Jews are also considerably less focused on the afterlife question than Christians.)
To their credit, large minorities of American Christians “take a non-exclusivist view of salvation,” in that they believe that any good person — even atheists, Hindus and Muslims — can get into Heaven.
Depending on denomination, some Christians implicitly reject their Church’s official beliefs by refusing to accept that a just and good God would set up a system in which good Muslims/Jews/atheists/Hindus to Hell. Those are the Christians I admire! As for the rest… I’ve had Christian friends who believe I’m doomed to burn if I don’t accept Christ as my savior. No one’s perfect, and I don’t demand perfection from my friends.
But it remains an ugly belief, and one I hope all good people, including my friends, will eventually reject.