A Religious Paradox

I rode around on my mower for an hour tonight with a question in my head, one I’ve been pndering for years now. I am not attempting to bait and switch. I want an honest answer. I am leaning toward Wil C. Fry, who was well-educated as a Christian, to give me a clear-headed answer on this…

A Christian premise seems to be that the only correct path to eternal life is through Jesus.

John 14:6 seems unambiguous: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

So my question is: is every Jew who died storming the beaches for the allies on D-Day in hell now?

3 Comments

  1. As I’m sure you presumed, there are multiple ways to answer this question. Outside religion, where you and I find ourselves, the obvious answer is: “The Bible is full of contradictions, exaggerations, and flat-out untrue stuff.”

    Those inside Christianity have answered this in various ways over the centuries, though it’s typically not phrased as specifically as Jews on D-Day. Generally, there are three categories of “people who never heard of Jesus Christ” and therefore didn’t get a chance to go “through” him to God. (1) Pious Israelites/Hebrews/Jews from the Old Testament days, (2) People who lived and died in other places before the Gospel arrived, and (3) children (not yet old enough to understand and decide for themselves).

    Anyone storming beaches for the allies in 1944 presumably had already heard the Gospel and decided to reject it; therefore most of Christianity is in agreement that Heaven isn’t the place for them.

    The usual argument for the pre-Christ Israelites is that they operated under a different “covenant” with God than exists today. God had a very specific set of rules for them, and rewarded/punished them based on those rules alone. If they generally followed those rules, then they’ll be fine. (Some assert that they’ll have a chance to accept Christ at some point in their afterlife, though the Bible doesn’t say anything about this.)

    There are two arguments for the second category (people all over the world who never heard of Christ, like, say, the pre-Columbian native Americans). One is the claim of Paul in the Bible: which is that Creation itself is evidence of God, and that should have been enough for those people to come to God. (Seriously, he makes this claim.) The other is “that’s why we have to spread the Good News!” Neither ever made a ton of sense to me, and like many evangelical youngsters I struggled with this question. Was God going to send all those millions of people to Hell? Generally, this is answered by “his ways are higher than our ways” — in other words, God is smarter and more moral than us, so don’t question him. (Picture Cartman shouting: “Respect mah authoritah!”)

    For the third category — children not yet old enough to understand — there are again multiple answers within Christianity. One is the infant-baptism solution, as practiced by many older denominations. Another is called the “age of accountability”, which was simply invented (it’s not in the Bible) to make people feel better. This one means that God won’t hold any child accountable until they’re old enough to understand; the age differs per child. Yet a third is the “whole family” idea. Several times the Bible mentions the man of the house converting to Christianity, and thus “he and his whole family” will be saved. Because back then women and children were simply *things* owned by the man; if the man was convinced of Christianity’s message, he would simply order his whole household, servants and all, to be baptized. (There’s also a weird passage in the New Testament that says women “can be saved through childbearing” — even if they don’t believe the message; they can go to Heaven if they produce children for a Christian man. Weirdly, no preacher today ever refers to this in sermons.)

    All those doctrines and responses I mentioned have been around, along with a few others, for hundreds of years. In the 20th Century, there arose a very new, very liberal idea: that God is too moral to send any good person to Hell. Some late 20th Century preachers, even a couple of evangelical ones, began to teach that Hell isn’t even real, or if it is then it certainly isn’t eternal (despite the Bible claiming otherwise). The people who hold to these doctrines can’t get over the fact that the God they believe in is a big ole ball of Love with a capital “L” and they can’t imagine a loving God sending anyone to Hell. Certainly not “good” people (defined arbitrarily, by whomever preaches this idea).

    By this last claim, those folks you mentioned who stormed the beaches would be judged by God according to their deeds and the character of their “hearts”; the good ones would go to Heaven with or without having accepted Christ.

    You’ve noticed by now that each one of these contradicts *something* else within Christianity, many of them contradicting the very scripture you cited, when Jesus said “NO ONE” comes to God except through Jesus.

    The easiest way to stay a Christian is to not ask these questions. Or, if you do, and someone answers and sounds like they really know what they’re talking about, then just accept it and stop asking questions. If a person really must believe in the God of the Bible, they’re eventually going to be forced to accept that God will send good people to Hell, and that bad people will get into Heaven. If one believes otherwise, they’ve invented their own God and it is not the one described in the Bible.

  2. “Those inside Christianity have answered this in various ways over the centuries…”

    I noticed, repeatedly, while reading the Bible a couple of years ago, that “answered this question in various ways over the centuries” is always the answer. Every single time something absurd popped up in the Bible, or a contradiction, or something entirely untrue, I would Google it and find that Christians noticed it too, something hundreds of years ago, and spent lifetimes trying to explain away the ridiculousness.

    Some apologist websites were forthright in their view that “the Bible MUST be true; therefore all interpretation is based on that.” So when it contradicts itself, they have to tie themselves up in knots to explain it away, when the obvious and easy answer is “it’s probably not true.”

  3. Someone asked me recently why I chose Normandy as an example. Simple: few things in the American conservative psyche are held in higher regard than military heroism and sacrifice. If your dogma claims to send the best, strongest, most deserving among us to eternal punishment on what really amounts to a technicality (not being raised in or taught by the “right” religion), it might be time to reexamine that dogma.

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