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    January 26th, 2012 @ 7:27 pm by admin

    That’s how the father of one of my childhood friends use to refer to Muamar Qaddafi back in the early 1980s when Libya was declared a pariah state for acquiring chemical weapons.

    Of course, those were also the days when Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were Western allies against the Soviet Union instead of faces on the CIA’s most-wanted list.

    Lest you think my friend’s dad uncouth, he was merely voicing the common tendency to reduce anyone who dared oppose the West to madman status. How else to explain their behavior?

    After all, Richard Dawkins has given us what seems to be an airtight list of options for how to rationalize people who disagree with us:


    It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in X, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that.)

    We’ve displayed little of Dawkins’ false civility over the years. Forget ignorant and stupid. We’ve been all too quick to leap to the conclusion that our enemies simply have to be either wicked or insane–or perhaps a combination of the above.

    Never mind that Gaddafi was close friends with Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela and that he was one of the primary funders of his anti-Apartheid movement.

    Forget the fact that Saddam Hussein was once given a key to the city of Detroit.

    And consign to oblivion allegations that Bin Laden received direct training from the CIA.

    These people were madmen, lunatics, evil incarnate, grim shadows of human beings with so few redeeming qualities that we could only conceive of a single solution to the threat they posed to the world.

    A Final Solution.

    This isn’t to minimize any of the horrible actions (both documented and alleged) that have been attributed to these men. I’m only seeking a way to understand their behavior apart from Dawkins’ gross oversimplification of competing epistemological positions.

    Which reminds me of a conversation I had with Stephen Sizer a while back about the process by which the establishment tends to deal with people who disagree with them. Out of that conversation we came up with a series of stages, all of which coincidentally begin with the letter “I”:

    1. Ignore: They always start by hoping you’ll just go away, often refusing to even engage in debate for fear of creating the impression there truly is a rational objection to the status quo.
    2. Insult: When avoidance becomes impossible, they’ll mock and ridicule you, make you out to be a heretic, a conspiracy theorist, a madman, etc.
    3. Intimidate: When simple mockery fails, the gloves come off.
    4. Isolate: If you won’t back down, they seek to divide and conquer. Impose sanctions. Turn your friends against you.
    5. Incriminate: They either frame you or smear you and force you to defend yourself, thus creating the appearance of guilt even if the charges prove to be false.
    6. Incarcerate: If the charges stick, they stick you behind bars.
    7. Incinerate:  When all else fails, they put you in the cross-hairs.

    I’m not sure if we always follow these steps precisely, and we certainly don’t always follow them straight through to the end. But I think it’s a fairly accurate assessment of the process of othering that goes on as we seek to dehumanize someone against whom we feel inclined to do violence. (Incidentally, in the case of nation states, you we can add another step called “Invade” somewhere between 5 and 7.)

    Of course, this makes me think of the traditional Western doctrine of hell (not much doesn’t these days), which ends with the wicked spending eternity in some sort of inferno, be it literal or figurative.

    Could there be a correlation between the othering process I’ve described above and our understanding of how God ultimately deals with “the wicked”?

    Admittedly, correlation does not imply causation, because it’s difficult to establish which came first–this process of othering or the particular interpretation of hell I call “Infernalism.”

    Some will argue that Infernalism is merely a divine ratification of this othering process. Of course we need a Final Solution for the wicked. How else can justice be accomplished? Our human justice system is merely an imperfect shadow of God’s perfect justice, which will be meted out to all at the end of this evil age.

    Others object that we’ve read our tendency toward dehumanization into the Bible. Worse, we’ve projected this process onto God and then used it to justify our own acts of violence as we become God’s self-appointed agents of wrath on earth.

    I hope you can see that what we believe about such things is far from an academic discussion. They can have massive repercussions in the real world.

    It’s also a good reminder for the next time we’re tempted to draw conclusions about the alleged mental or moral state of someone we view as the “other.” I hope it makes us pause and ask an important question about the process in which we are engaged…

    Is it human or divine?

leave a comment on this post (6 Comments)

  1. “…process by which the establishment tends to deal with people who disagree with them.”
    “establishment” is often used as a pejorative term. One is anti-establishment or the establishment does not agree or is against me (us). I think that this is a myopic view of the working of a government which result in your article in this list of ‘negative initiatives’ towards those who disagree.

    “…an important question about the process in which we are engaged…
    Is it human or divine?”
    If we are free (meaning that a given act is caused by the person himself who possesses the power of free will, and not by any material or spiritual cause outside of him, neither by chains of electrical and chemical causes in the brain, nor by society and education, nor by God, who would predetermine and force–a person to act in a certain manner.) then the answer is ‘human’.

    Your remarks and questions in this article seems to point very clearly to the fact that my idea of hell depends on my idea of Christ, therefore my idea of God.
    Every time I read one of your remarks about hell, right away the questions that come to my mind is: “What would he say of Christ then? What would he say of God then?”

    • I agree, Ben, our doctrine of hell definitely flows from our doctrine of God, b/c like everything else in Creation, if hell exists, it expresses an aspect of God’s character. Seeing as Christ is God incarnate, that means hell must reflect his character. Therefore, the life Jesus lived, the character he demonstrated and the ethic he taught should be the standard against which we evaluate our interpretation of hell.

  2. “Infernalism” is an interesting term, but it only makes sense if it is recognized as a reference to Dante’s Inferno. I have a few terms that I made up myself which I have found useful:

    “Soul Fly” – the belief that people have immortal souls that experience a conscious “flying away” when they die.

    “Soul Fry” – the belief that these “fly away” souls will forever fry, as if God had planned to have one huge ethnic melting-pot where he would stir-fry people without end (like Cajun cooking with Tabasco Sauce or even “soul food.”)

    After hearing people apply a label like “soul sleep” in a derogatory dismissive fashion, those just seemed like the natural names for the alternative systems. Plus, they are downright funny, if you consider all the imagery they invoke.

    Sometimes people need mocking for their own good.

  3. I think ideas like universalism and no hell are tiptmeng not only because they are more comfortable but also because if they would be true, we would be exempt from some work! If everyone will be saved anyway, why bother sharing Jesus with others or even building a relationship with Him yourself? If there’s no hell, then we don’t have to worry about being punished and believing in Jesus to avoid such eternal punishment.The Bible is clear. Jesus did die for everyone, but the benefit is only effective when held onto by faith in Jesus Christ. Hell is real, but for believers, Jesus has cancelled our eternal reservations there and is readying a place for us in Heaven with Him eternally. Our judgment is no longer based on what we have done and do but on what Jesus has done for us! While the sin and hell stuff is uncomfortable, it is true and necessary to lead us to the comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

    • In my opinion, if your belief in hell is your primary motivation for being a Christian and doing evangelism, you don’t quite have a grasp on what the gospel is about. It’s about liberation, not condemnation. In answer to your question, here is an analogy: If you discovered some people were starving, but you knew they would be fed 6 months from now, why bother feeding them today? Because they have real needs now, and they are suffering now, and if you have an ounce of compassion, you will do everything possible to help them until the promised food arrives. That’s exactly why universalists are strongly motivated to share about Jesus, b/c he can bring freedom now.

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