In Which There May Be a Connection Between Fundamentalist Hell and Torture

Since the radio in Charlotte mostly sucks, and I’m not often in the car on the weekends to listen to NPR, I download their podcasts to listen to on my drives to and from school. Today I was listening to a rerun of This American Life, one about heretics and, specifically, how one preacher’s life changed after he realized he didn’t believe in Hell. And this got me thinking about the Fundamentalist view of salvation and how it might tie into government-approved torture, specifically in light of the recent report about Bush’s role in it.

Now, this is not the place for me to get into my beliefs on Hell and whether or not it exists. All I’ll say is that I think the belief that only “born-again Christians” will go to Heaven is completely ridiculous. We can talk or email more personally about that if you want. What I want to do here is talk in an unbiased way about the standard Evangelical idea of salvation and Hell, and then connect that to the use of torture on many War on Terror detainees.

Having grown up in fairly Fundamentalist schools and churches, I know that the usual belief is that the only people who will go to Heaven are those who believe in Jesus as the Son of the Christian God and the only savior of the world. Hell is believed to be a real place, and everyone who does not accept Jesus as savior will go there. It’s not seen as God sending people to Hell, but rather understood to be that we are all, from birth, going to Hell and if we choose to be saved God in His mercy will allow us to live in Heaven with Him forever. It is looked at as God saving us from Hell rather than sending others there.

Hell itself is thought of as a physical place. If Christians get new bodies after death, as Fundamentalists believe, then non-Christians would too and these bodies would be tormented in Hell forever. There are some varying beliefs as to whether there is literal fire, weeping, gnashing of teeth, etc., but Hell is always a physical place of torment and torture.

There’s that word. Torture.

So here is what I propose: the reason so many supporters of President Bush don’t seem to have much of a problem with his approval of torture (and make no mistake, he personally signed acts which threw out the Geneva Convention and led to torture; he is a war criminal by definition) is because they believe that God allows people to be tortured. If Hell is where non-Christians go, and Hell is a place of eternal torture, and these “terrorists” are obviously non-Christians, then they will be tortured when they die. Add in the belief of many Fundamentalists that Bush is acting by God’s will, and you can see how easy the jump is from “these people will be tortured after they die by allowance of God” to “these people can be tortured now by allowance of the President, God’s agent on earth.”

There are still many Fundamentalists who see President Bush as the single head of a government in this entire world who is doing the will of God, because America is a special nation singularly blessed by God (this then gets into American Imperialism, but that’s for another day). So, if Bush is doing the will of God on this earth, then his approval of torture must be the will of God. And this is not so hard to believe because Muslims are believed to be going to Hell, where they will be tortured for eons. So what’s so bad about starting that torture a little early, huh? No big deal.

Now, the biased part: It is only when we begin to question the traditional view of Hell and a loving God that we can begin to question the use of torture here on Earth, and it is only when we begin to question to question the use of torture here on Earth that we will begin to come to a different understanding of Hell and a loving God, and what that different understanding means in our actions toward others.

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3 thoughts on “In Which There May Be a Connection Between Fundamentalist Hell and Torture

  1. Fred says:

    Read N.T. Wright’s chapter on Hell in Surprised By Hope and tell me what you think.

  2. I find that fundamentalists use the excuse of god’s will in practically every situation where a human is terrorized.
    Genocide in Rwanda? A godless country.
    AIDS epidemic? God’s punishment.
    Et cetera.
    Basically any form of suffering is tolerated, even approved of because they are grown up with the belief that there kinds of things happen in hell and the reason it all happens is because the people have done something to deserve it.

  3. Steve K. says:

    I definitely think you’re on to something with this, Josh. Of course nothing is completely black and white, but I agree there is a theological/philosophical connection. This is something evangelicals (like me) need to come to grips with and own up to at some level.

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