Reality Strikes  

Monday, September 22, 2008

Last week I was out to lunch with some of my co-workers and I couldn't help but notice there was another group there moving from table to table. At one point they took the table next to us and moved it to another part of the restaurant. But that wasn't why I noticed them. One of the members of the group was wearing a t-shirt zig-zagged with the words, "Where Will You Be When Reality Strikes?" and then in large letters, "Heaven's Gates Hell's Flames".

The juxtaposition of reality with heaven and hell just set my mind reeling. To me reality is the world we experience around us, not some nebulous afterlife that no one can agree on because no one living has experienced it.

I was curious enough to look up more information about the t-shirt when I got home, which is probably part of the reason for the clash of words. It turns out that Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames is a play that is popular in evangelical churches. I found a promotional video for it on You Tube. I also came across a post at by David Rattigan which gives more information about it.

David was involved in the play before he left fundamentalism and calls it, "the perfect recipe for creating an atmosphere conducive to emotional, psychological and spiritual manipulation." Yeah, that pisses me off as much as it pisses off David. I was involved in these kinds of dramatic altar calls as a kid. The Assemblies of God church where I went to school had several special events featuring movie nights about the Apocalypse (predating the Left Behind series), documentaries on the evils of Rock and Roll music that were filled with outright lies and inaccuracies, and Christian music concerts with stories about how the band members had been bad but they made their lives good when they came to Christ. I'm ashamed to think about how easily I was pushed and prodded through the religious paces with events like this.

But reality? Really?

How many Christians believe in a literal hell? Or is it just something that's good to use as a scare tactic for the sinners? Hell with a devil that has horns and brimstone and fire? How can you take that concept and attach the word reality to it?

Not that I don't believe there are people who believe in a literal hell. Hey, I believed it once too. But I also believed in a literal seven day creation and demon possession. I was taught to mistrust my own thoughts because they were likely to be influenced by demons. And those are the people that are claiming to know reality. It's mind boggling.

And it's all for the altar call. To these people salvation is a war and it's about saving souls no matter what the cost - even emotional manipulation and self-delusion. It's largely about control. If you can make a person turn his life over to God and keep him there, then buddy, you have a soul going to heaven. And you'll be rewarded when you get to heaven.

But people can't really live like that, under complete control, suspect of their own thoughts. So dramas like this come in to reinforce how important it is to keep on the straight and narrow. But, the only reality they portray is the reality of scaring people into submission.

Oh yeah, and some really shitty acting.

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8 comments: to “ Reality Strikes

  • the chaplain
    Monday, September 22, 2008 at 7:50:00 PM CDT  

    Wow. I got really angry as I read your post and Rattigan's article. I could see myself clearly in both pieces. I was one of the manipulated ones as a youth, and I was one of the manipulators as an adult. As a worship leader, even though I usually avoided using emotionally charged language, I often used emotionally charged music to bring worshipers where I wanted them to be psychologically and emotionally.

    The emotional, psychological and even sociological manipulation that churches engage in, usually unaware of exactly what they are doing, is one of the things about Christianity that still enrages me. Thanks for reminding me of where I've been, what I've rejected and why I've rejected it.

  • Ordinary Girl
    Monday, September 22, 2008 at 9:34:00 PM CDT  

    Chappy: I know exactly how you feel. I wonder if I had been brought up in a more liberal religion if I would have been more accepting of religion now.

    And it's weird to me, with how conservative and outright crazy some of my family is about civil values, how did I end up taking the liberal path? Was I a product of my generation? I remember always feeling the way I did about race and sexual preference. Abortion was about the only social hurdle I had to get over. Infanticide was so drilled into me that I don't think I ever saw it as anything else.

  • davohynds
    Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 7:35:00 AM CDT  

    Even in my fundamentalist days, I don't think I believed in a literal heaven or hell... not since I have been capable of abstract thought.

    I used to think of it more as a supernatural state of being than as a physical place with red stalagmites and pools of fire. I just don't understand how we got to that point. I remember in my fundamentalist days wondering where the hell everybody got all of this knowledge about hell and Satan and demons. It made me wonder if we were even reading the same Bible, because it didn't go into detail about most of that stuff.

    I still don't fully understand where those "conventional" views of hell came from. I mean really? Did no one question what they were taught?

  • Kelly
    Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 3:36:00 PM CDT  

    Have you heard of the... I think they're called "haunted houses"... of some Christian denominations? I think the houses are decorated in themes like abortion, homosexuality, etc. The regret of abortion, the depravity of homosexual behavior... something like that. As I was reading this article, it got me thinking of these "houses," and from what I remember, they seem to pop up around Halloween. Like, instead of sending your kid trick-or-treating (or doing the devil's work... whatever), parents send their kids to these houses to be indoctrinated with disinformation about "cultural issues and how to take a stand on them" or some such bullshit.

    And I'm with The Chaplain. I used to be that way. The religious identity deconstruction that we all seemed to have gone through, while unique to our own experience, certainly parallel one another's experiences well.

    As far as I know, my parents never bought into most of it, but that didn't stop them from sending me to Catholic school, CCD, etc. And yet even though they don't buy into it, they still go to church every Sunday. When I informed them Lucidia, my soon-to-be daughter, will not be raised religiously, will not be baptized, etc., my mother didn't really seem to mind like I thought she would. If she really believed my daughter would be sent to hell in a hand basket for not having water dumped on her head by some guy in a robe, she would have been more... nutty, I guess.

    I wonder if that's common. Is there some disconnect between religious belief and reality? If so, how can people believe there is a heaven and a hell yet their behavior doesn't indicate such?

  • the chaplain
    Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 5:42:00 PM CDT  

    @ Kelly:

    They're called Hell Houses. Sweet.

  • Vistaluna
    Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 10:49:00 PM CDT  

    The irony of "Where will you be when reality strikes?" also reminds me of all those "Left Behind" people.

    If anyone is going to be "Left Behind" in this world, it's going to be people who refuse to let go of the superstitions and beliefs of the past!

    I just came back from the deep rural south, and those Tali-baptists are about as fanatical as anything you could imagine, and all I could think was that these are people who got Left Behind about 200 years ago.

  • Kelly
    Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 7:37:00 AM CDT  

    @ chap:

    Duh. Why didn't I remember that?

    Again, I blame the pregnancy brain.

  • The Ridger, FCD
    Monday, September 29, 2008 at 8:01:00 PM CDT  

    I dunno. My church didn't believe in a literal hell - I remember someone saying "We're all going to Heaven, but some people won't like it." Heaven and Hell were how you wanted to relate to God.

    But liberal theology or not, I didn't stay either.


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