Violence in the House of Hell (A #TheNewPacifism Post)

This is my second direct contribution to Political Jesus’ #TheNewPacifism Blogathon, and is inspired by @graceishuman  and @scATX’s  visit to a Christian church’s Hell House last weekend (Storify here; vlodcast here  [no, seriously, that’s a thing]). The rest of my pieces on TheNewPacifism can be found here.

Consider the confluence of hellish theology and violence and one can come to understand how someone like Mark Driscoll cannot possibly believe that Jesus would be a pacifist. After all, if a loving God eschews violence, how can God then allow for anyone to be thrown into eternal, everlasting torment of the most extreme and perverse imagination*? How can one believe that we are all sinners in the hands of an ANGRY God and believe, at the same time, that that God is against aggressive violence? That the most powerful being in the world himself not only doesn’t prevent violence, but it is his** will to enact violence against his enemies. So, taking the words of Jesus – “Love your enemies and pray for they who persecute you” – against the actions of a God that will destroy the entire world by fire and throw its people into a burning lake, well, we trust actions, don’t we? We can proof-text “love”, but the violence of Cage Fighting Jesus (if Jesus does desire to send people into hell and looks like Mark Driscoll’s version, then it’s an appropriate name, no?) shall not be denied his blood lust.

This imagination favors drama, actions, and policies that justify and even promote violence. It is no wonder that little kids can watch ultra-brutal religious psychodramas like The Passion of the Christ or go through a Hell House with multiple murders, various forms of sexualized and domestic violences, but not be considered mature enough for a couple of curse words or sensualized kisses.

The theology and acceptance of hell is of such an extreme that very little else can compare. After all, violence is of a relative nature. What would be considered violent in one context – for example pushing as first contact between kids or throwing rocks at tourists – would most likely not be considered (or at least should not be) considered violent in another context – the pre-schooler protecting himself from the bully, the occupied throwing rocks to protest the bulldozers and militarized police. If the greatest threat of violence – that of neverending torture – is committed by a supposedly all loving God, then all violence done in the name of that God is sacred.

Mary Ellen Page's Halloween Town 2009

Another factor that jumped out at me about Grace and Jessica Luther’s reporting is how entertaining the whole thing is set up to be, and how monetized the structure is. Hell as we understand it in Western Christianity, is rooted into the deepest, most carnal parts of our chemical and primal need for fear and how that fear relates to entertainment. Who needs torture porn when we have Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? And hell houses are marketed as both a ministry and as entertainment – as both fear away from something, yet also with a draw towards something. And, always, underneath, the capitalist need to market and bottom-line.

Finally, and this ties in directly with Christianity and non-violence, hell is a prominent tool used by Christians in delaying denying justice for those who undergo violence. Whether that violence be domestic, sexual, economic, racial/ethnic, the answer tends to be the same: What you are going through is sad, but what your abusers/oppressors will go through will be much, much worse.

This is not consoling; it is not peaceful and does not lead to shalom. It is synonymous with another type of post-crime retaliation: rape-and-homicide-as-punishment of sexual predators in jail.

The following is a real live true statement in the comments section of an article by Dianna Anderson on the connections between Christian Purity Culture and Rape Culture:

I’m sorry, and I’m grieved, for the abuses you suffered. There’s no excuse for that. Your abusers will eventually answer for their actions, to God if not in this life. I hope it might help to remember that we Christians follow a Lord who suffered horrible abuse, enduring it so that he could suffer with us and win redemption and healing for us.

This answer is not an answer. He is telling abused people to consider the extremities of eternal punishment as a stand in for their denied justice.  Tied into this is his usage of the abuse of Jesus as a way to remind us all that we should shut the hell up when seeking the removal of our abuse. (I guess the lesson of Jesus’ death is that marginalized people are supposed to suffer? Doesn’t seem that way to me, Foolishness of the cross and all). What kind of redemption and healing is there in a God who suffers horrible abuse and then tells us to do the same rather than seek justice?

I would venture to say that any religious theology that teaches that extreme suffering (whether in hell or on the cross) is not only natural but good, is an violent religion. I do not see how the God who comforts the afflicted and tells us to do the same would revel in that.


*(certainly of the type imagined by fire-and-brimstone preachers as originally popularized by Dante and his Inferno)
**forgive me. It seems fitting that the God of Hell be uber-masculine. If not necessarily describing male-ness (I don’t think it does), then in keeping with the tradition of the Patriarchical God that the Hell Theologies represent.