Friday, October 27, 2006

Getting to Heaven?

My son is gay and last night a family friend told me what a wonderful son he is. Well I know that, but then she had to go on and say something to the effect that "I bet in 30 years he will be a Christian; it would be a shame to have heaven without Norman." I bit my tongue in the interest of keeping peace. I know, a mistake probably; but she is a fundamentalist Christian and there is not going to be any changing of her mind; just one of those jaw dropping comments that certain Christians make.

I am sure in her mind she has lots of rationale for her beliefs-Christ's comments about burning the weeds and so forth. But quite frankly, I have always questioned the belief that only Christians go to heaven. I remember asking my priest in high school how one could rationalize that the bulk of humanity would not go to heaven, since most of the population of this planet is not Christian, shocking as that may seem to fundamentalist Americans. His response was that if a person has the opportunity to hear the Word and refuses to come to Jesus, then yes that person goes to hell-weeds burnt in the flames. Needless to say, that makes no sense. Are there not many paths to God? Is there not one Spirit many gifts? Maybe being a Buddhist is a gift-worshipping God from that perspective. Isn't determining who goes to heaven something that is outside of human judgment?

What about determining who is Christian? I was surprised to find out when I left the North East to go to grad school at the University of Georgia, that many people down there didn't think Catholics are Christians, just as many Catholics think that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true Church and that if you are a Protestant then you are outside salvation. Further I was once damned by a member of Campus Crusade for Christ because I did not and do not believe in the literal interpretation of scripture and (gasp!) I also believe in evolution!

What am I going to make of my friend's comments? She prides herself on being tolerant of other people, but clearly this tolerance does not extend very far. You might think well so this is her personal belief so what's the harm? There is a certain sense I suppose that there is no harm. Maybe this is analogous to a "victimless crime", and certainly she is entitled to her benign opinion. She does not love my son any less because he is gay because after all that is indeed the Christian thing to do. The problem is that, this belief about who goes to heaven or who does not go to heaven, provides a wedge for less benign rationalizations and actions.

For example, if you carefully analyze the evolution controversy in Kansas, one recurring theme is the notion that belief in evolution leads to atheism. If atheists can't get to heaven then one ought not do anything that promotes atheism, including teaching evolution without some sort of warning that evolution is "just a theory not a fact". This really is a code phrase for evolution promotes atheism and therefore ought to be down played. After all don't we want to save souls? So science is sacrificed on the altar of theology.

Consider the issue of gay marriage. If one wants to say that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that sounds harmless enough. But when you analyze what actually is going on, many of the anti gay marriage amendments that have been proposed restrict civil unions, or provision any of the benefits that marriage confers, to gay couples. Why else is the President so incensed about the New Jersey Supreme Court decision that says that gay couples should have the same protections and rights (and presumably responsibilities) that heterosexual couples have? Clearly the issue is not about marriage but really about who goes to heaven. This is also probably why gay recovery ministries such as exodus have been promoted by many Christian groups. If your religion has conditioned you to believe being gay is a sin, it must be a matter of choice and hence reversible. Of course, giving gay couples access to the marriage contract system promotes the gay life style which we don't want to do because we want gays to go to heaven. Love the sinner hate the sin. Fine feel good slogan. Even Fred Phelps will say that. Love the sinner we want them to be able to go to heaven.

Consider, the Inquisition where people were tortured to get them to repent. Getting to heaven is after all so important that if a person doesn't believe like you do and therefore can't get to heaven, well he or she must be insane or the devil has misled him or her. So anything you for their eternal life is justified; torture is justified. Denying people the tools they need to form committed stable relationships is justified because one's sexual orientation and intimate behavior is not conducive to getting to heaven.

It all starts with the notion that it is OK to believe someone won't go to heaven because they don't believe or act like scripture says they ought to, at least in your intepretation. It's OK as long as you are tolerant and show Christian love. Love the sinner; hate the sin. It's OK, you say because "I am tolerant." But I wonder, is it really OK. Who are you to say my son won't go to heaven if he is not a Christian and if he is gay. Tell you what. Do what you think you need to get yourself into heaven and let my son worry about his own salvation. Or not if he so chooses.

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