It’s troubling and depressing. Yet another young male has acted out a melodramatic cartoonlike fantasy of egocentric rage. There are already lots of instant theories about why he did it, but frankly I doubt that anyone truly understands why some people think it’s worth destroying their own futures to go kill lots of strangers.
In the aftermath, we can think about which responses to this tragedy help pull us together, and which ones drive people farther apart.
Regardless of whether they believe in God, many people are sincerely committed to making this a better world. That’s one thing that can unite us, regardless of whether we are theists or atheists. After the shootings, people of many faiths and philosophies are wondering what they can do to stop this from happening again. (In a moment I’ll share some thoughts about that.)
Unfortunately, some religious leaders have responded in ways that drive a wedge between believers and non-believers. Perhaps the worst offender is a prominent minister named Jerry Newcombe, a spokesperson for a religious group known as Truth In Action. Jerry thought this would be an opportune time to tell non-Christians that they’re headed for hell. He claimed that out of those who were gunned down in that Colorado theater, the Christians will go to heaven but those who are not “in Christ” will wake up in hell There, they will find, a loving and compassionate God has sent them to be tortured for all eternity with no way to ever get out.
In Newcombe’s words, “… if they knowingly rejected Jesus Christ, then, basically, they are going to a terrible place.”
Some would view Newcombe’s statement as relatively liberal, since he said hell was for those who knowingly rejected Jesus. I assume “knowingly rejected” means they have heard that Jesus offers forgiveness for our despicable sins, but have not chosen to become Christian. But some theologians think that even those who have never even heard of the Nazarene are going to hell if they don’t accept him as their savior. That puts them in a tough spot, since they know nothing of Jesus or Christianity.
I hope atheists and progressive Christians will consider making common cause in condemning the standard notion of hell, the idea that a loving deity would cause people agonizing, endless, unavoidable pain to punish them for things they did in their relatively brief lifetimes. Most atheists will certainly see this as a bizarre doctrine, but many Christians can also agree that the orthodox concept of hell is a savage relic of ancient vengeful fantasies.
For an excellent, Biblically-informed Christian discussion of hell, read Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. If every Christian read Love Wins, I am convinced that many of them would either reject the idea of hell or radically modify this concept.
And now back to my earlier question. How can we prevent future Auroras?
The best I can do is to suggest that if young people feel bonded in positive and loving ways with family and friends, they are quite unlikely to lash out in spasms of random violence. Person-to-person connections make a huge difference.
If what happened in Colorado troubles you, think about what you can do to love and care for those who live on the margins, who feel like outsiders. There is a deep human need to belong. Can you help someone feel included? Can you help some specific person become a participant instead of a detached observer? Can you welcome someone more fully into the human family?
And perhaps one of those persons who needs this welcome is you.
Roger Christan Schriner
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I’m astounded that you’ve had no responses to this. Generally speaking, Christianity has nothing to offer those on the outside if they’re there due to “sin” issues. I know that I enjoy ritual, ethics, religion, and Bible, but because I’m an atheist, nobody wants me around.
I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister and lots of UUs are atheists. In some of our congregations atheists and agnostics are the majority. We have some ritual, a lot of ethics, religion, and some Bible — not a great deal of Bible, I admit. Also some United Church of Christ congregations seem to be fine with atheist members as long as they don’t talk about their non-belief very much. And there are humanistic Jewish groups. Thanks for your comment, Snowbrush.