When discussing or debating Universal Reconciliation with Christians who hold the traditional views of heaven and hell I will often be told that Jesus taught everlasting torment in hell for non-believers so we have to believe it. Whether or not He did (and you all know by now that I don’t believe He did), I would like to suggest that this is about the only teaching of Jesus that most Christians take at all literally. Sure, Christians will claim to believe the rest of Jesus’ teachings in the four Gospels, but the proof is in the practice, so let’s take a look at a few of Jesus’ teachings and see for ourselves just how much of what He said is actually believed by His so-called followers today:
– We’ll begin with Jesus’ first recorded big public speech, known as “the Sermon on the Mount.” Now I’ll admit that He didn’t technically give any commands in the “Beatitudes” section, but He does seem to imply that it is a good thing to be merciful or a peacemaker or to be okay with being insulted, persecuted and slandered rather than judging, fighting and suing those who might say things about you that you don’t like. However, since He doesn’t give a direct command or instruction here I’ll let most Christians off on this one with a disclaimer that they shouldn’t expect to be blessed if they don’t fall into the categories mentioned in Matthew 5:1-12.
– Jesus continues the sermon with an interesting statement that some Christians love to quote:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:17-20
Many Christians love to quote this passage to try to prove that various sexual acts are still a sin. That’s about as far as they’re willing to take it, for the most part, though. Most aren’t willing to abstain from pork, or shellfish, or cheeseburgers, and they certainly aren’t about to abstain from doing anything that might resemble physical activity on Saturday (the Sabbath). Okay, Seventh-Day Adventists get a pass on this one, but they’re the few that do. For the rest of you Christians out there, you’re no longer allowed to quote this passage to back up your sexual hang-ups until you’ve committed to abstaining from pork products and committed to doing nothing but going to church on Saturdays (along with the other 600 or so rules in the Mosaic Law that you’re probably ignoring). And before you bring up “moral law” vs. “ceremonial law,” a) Jesus didn’t differentiate in that passage, and b) the few laws I mentioned above fall under “moral law.”
– Shortly thereafter Jesus continued with: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42
This whole section is pretty much ignored by Christians. Fighting back seems to be a very common Christian practice, and if someone asks a Christian for all their money I wonder just how many would actually give it to him or her. Jesus did say to give to the one who asks you, not give to one when you feel generous, but I’ve never seen this command practised.
– Jesus also said: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:1-4
This isn’t necessarily a problem I’ve seen with anybody, but it’s a good reminder to all of us not to go bragging about the good things we’ve done.
– Jesus then said: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
So much for big showy prayers at church, eh? That’s a fail for pretty much all pastors, and for anyone else who gets up to pray in public as well.
– “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
We all know just how much many Christians love both money and possessions. This is a fail for pretty much every Christian in North America, not counting those who live below the poverty level and can’t afford large savings accounts and nice possessions (unless they wish they could, then they fail both this command and the command not to envy).
– “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” – Matthew 6:25
Fail for pretty much any Christian living in the western world who isn’t a hippy.
– “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” – Matthew 7:15
Fail for mostly anyone in the more charismatic circles and anyone who believes Pat Robertson has any credibility at all.
– We now come to one command of Jesus that I’m not aware of any (sane) Christian obeying: “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” – Matthew 18:8-9
This is a passage that traditionalists love to quote to try to prove to me that hell is everlasting, and yet I don’t see one traditionalist plucking out their eye or cutting off their hands or feet when these parts “offend them” (whatever that means). If one can find a way to convince oneself that mutilating your body is figuratively referring to become a Christian, well, they’ve got a more vivid imagination than I do, that’s for sure.
– “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
Growing up I went to many different churches of varying denominations (something that shouldn’t exist according to the Apostle Paul, but I’ll let that slide since I’m focussing on Jesus’ teachings for this entry), and I can’t say I ever saw this practised.
– “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”” – Matthew 18:21-22
One of the hardest places to find forgiveness is in a Christian church. Enough said.
– “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” – Matthew 19:9
Do I really need to point out the divorce rate among Christians or can I let this one speak for itself?
– “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”” – Matthew 19:16-21
It seems that Jesus wants those of us with money and possessions to become like hippies. If you don’t it looks like you may not get eternal life, according to this passage.
– Here’s one last passage, one that traditionalists love to throw out there to try to prove that non-believers in Christ will go to hell forever. Read it carefully:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”” – Matthew 25:31-46
If we take this passage at face value it seems to clearly teach that those who don’t help the helpless will be punished forever and those who do will get eternal life. Similarly to the “body mutilation” passage, traditionalists like to try to insist that “those who do the good works of helping the helpless” is a figurative code for those who believe in Jesus to save them and that “those who don’t help the helpless” is a figurative code for those who don’t believe in Jesus to save them. How they get this out of that passage I don’t know, particularly since I know of many Christians who don’t do these things and many non-Christians who do, but then they insist that while the cause of the punishment and blessing is figurative, the actual punishment and blessing are to be taken literally. Of course nobody can tell me just why we should interpret this passage with such mental gymnastics, but that’s traditional Christian theology for you.
That was just a few passages, and only from the Gospel of Matthew at that. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. As most people are well aware, traditionalist Christians are happy to interpret parts of Scripture quite literally if they believe that it will back up their views, but as soon as a passage seems to contradict one of their pet doctrines they will be the first to shout “metaphor,” or “out of context.” Yes, many times a statement is a metaphor and not meant to be taken literally or not meant to apply to those outside of a particular group and/or time period (although many of the statements I quoted above seem to be meant to be taken quite literally, yet you won’t find many Christians actually following them), but that means that the passages you are taking literally need to be carefully reconsidered as well. Don’t expect the rest of us to just blindly assume that you are automatically correct about what is meant to be taken literally and what is to be taken figuratively without first giving us some solid reasons why.