When I was a child, I was raised to believe that God and Jesus loved me, but that I was a terrible sinner. I was told over and over that Jesus had to die for me, and that I had to accept him into my heart and then be baptized if I wanted to avoid eternal hellfire and damnation. I was baptized three times in three different churches because I was so terrified of eternal torment.
In the past year I have talked to Christians and Catholics who have a very different experience of God than I did. If I mention the hellfire and brimstone preaching of my childhood they tell me how different it really is. They all say the same thing. God Is Love.
Last year my local atheist group (Morgantown Atheists) went to a megachurch together to experience it. While the preacher didn't say God Is Love, the message was very clear. In fact the first emcee guy even said he was there to make our experience as pleasant and comfortable as possible. There was mention of Jesus dying for our sins, and that we needed him, but no mention of hell, no mention of anything negative. It was all very wishy-washy and watered down, all very pleasant and positive.
I would guess that both kinds of churches still exist today. I'm sure southern baptist and maybe pentecostal are more about hellfire and brimstone, putting the Fear of God into people to keep them on the straight and narrow. Maybe the fundamentalist churches too, but that's a guess.
I wonder which kind of message is more prevalent today? (I know some of you Google-mad geeks can help me come up with the perfect terms to search here!) I have a feeling it's the feel-good God Is Love message. It's certainly very pleasant and seems to embrace more people and accept them. But I am definitely an outsider on this so I am not sure.
Please feel free to share your church experiences: Which churches have you been to? What was the fundamental message? God is Love? or Fear God? Or some weird twisted combo package? Or something else entirely?
But is God Love? I've read the bible more than once. The god of the old testament is most definitely an angry, jealous god. He says so himself. In fact even his name is Jealous. (Exodus 34:14)
Of course, Christians conveniently disregard the old testament when it suits them (but cherrypick the parts they like, such as "homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) . Oh, but shellfish is now ok (Leviticus 11:9-12). God doesn't think shrimp is unclean anymore even though he said it was. That's the old testament! Yes, of course I know the mind of God!").
So what is God like in the new testament, then? He's not very active in it, but Jesus and others talk about what God will do to people. Usually it's not very nice. (see New Testament Cruelties)
Where is this "God is Love" message coming from? Is it coming from Jesus? Shouldn't it then be, "forget God, just focus Jesus. Jesus is Love"?
But was he? I've read the gospels and the rest of the new testament. It had some good stuff in it, sure. (New Testament Good Stuff) But it wasn't anything unique that other cultures and religions hadn't come up with before. Even the Golden Rule isn't original to Jesus.
But people conveniently forget all the horrible things Jesus said. If you read the old testament, there is very little mention of hell. In fact, I have asked my friend who was a devout Jew (now atheist) and he confirmed that Jews don't really believe in hell.
But Jesus sure did. He mentions it many times in the gospels. He really wants people to follow him or they will burn in hell, an "everlasting fire" where they will be "tormented forever". You can see New Testament Cruelties to find them yourself. There are too many to list here.
So I am not sure where preachers, pastors and priests come up with this message that God Is Love. The only way they could do it would be to cherry pick the bible down to about 5 pages, then rationalize the rest away somehow. Or create new doctrine like the Catholic church does.
What I find interesting is how Christians who read the bible never see how much hate and cruelty is in there, even from their beloved savior. It's like he's their abusive husband. He threatens you with everlasting torture if you don't do exactly as he says, but if you're obedient, then he will be nice to you. But you're still a sinner so repent early and often to avoid damnation! And people do it! They say, "oh well, Jesus said that he talked in parables to confuse people so they will burn in hell but that wasn't what he meant" (suddenly they know the mind of Jesus!). They rationalize all the ugliness away time and again, and over-emphasize and cherry-pick the little bit of good.
That is, if they even read the book that their doctrine comes from.
Is that how it's done? I guess so. If you have any experience in this, I'd love your perspective. As I said, I'm an outsider looking in and I really don't fully understand it. But I think it's worth looking at, since so many people seem to be going in this direction.
Also, what do you think? Is this a good thing, that people reinterpret the bible to suit them and come up with a message that is barely there, that God Is Love? Or do you think that if most people read the bible for what it is, in all its hate and cruelty, that they would then be more able to walk away from religion? Do you think it's good, bad, or you just don't care? Why or why not?