The Inclusivity of Hell

One of the blogs I visit every so often (if you read my history I was Episcopal for 27 years), is the Midwest Conservative Journal, an ongoing critique of all things Episcopal. In a recent post, Christopher Johnson talked about finally giving up on any chance of redeeming the American Episcopal Church (ECUSA). I gave up three years ago next month. In doing so, I was guilty of the great sin; I was not inclusive.

Last month’s issue of Touchstone Magazine included an editorial by James Hitchcock & David Mills, Without Conscience: When Pluralism Means Disobedience & Rancor, in which they state the following:

This is an attack on the faith all Christians share, but each tradition suffers its own special trials from those of its own members who want to remake it. In some cases, these people have taken control of the church’s hierarchy. This past summer, the Episcopal Church entrenched teachings on ordination and sexual morality that would have left Thomas Cranmer in shock, while the Presbyterian Church was willing to receive and commend a report approving a variety of names for the Persons of the Trinity of a kind John Calvin would have thought self-evidently heretical.

That set the stage for the real issue:

It is no exaggeration to say that the incidents listed above (the list could be much longer, and not only for the Catholic Church) manifest nothing short of chaos…The justification for this chaos is the claim about “conscience”…The dissenters appeal to “conscience” because it offers them a way to eat their cake and keep it too…

People who use this kind of “conscience” to advocate this kind of “pluralism” are not rising above petty theological quarrels to achieve a higher unity. They are exacerbating disunity in a radical way, introducing into the deck, as it were, a wild card to be played any way people choose.

The justification of “pluralism” by “conscience” is a formula for endless rancor, like a dysfunctional family whose members gather regularly for Sunday dinner and always go away even more alienated than they were when they arrived.

[Note: I see pluralism in this context as a synonym for inclusiveness.]

For those who have always held out the hope that at least there could be islands or institutions of orthodoxy in the current spiritual milieu, this editorial is a gut punch. While they do not specifically state it, the elephant sitting in the room is the fundamental shift in the templates of understanding (see my earlier post) used to define the historic debate, even down to the terms used in the debate. This is taking place not just in the chaotic messes passing for the mainline Christian denominations, but across the board within Western Civilization itself, of which we all are part.

From my perspective, it seems the enemy has gained control of the arguments, primarily by changing or clouding the definition of the terms used to engage in the fight, and in doing so is seeking to crucify the Word itself, confusing its witness, turning any chance for meaningful debate into an exercise in chaos.

I believe two masterstrokes have led us to this precipice. One is the advancement of post-modernism with its view of language and narrative that privatizes all meaning into metanarratives that remove any chance of word and text maintaining any fundamental authority. Instead it turns everything (past, present, and future meaning) into silly putty in the hands of whomever has the podium and microphone, which today is controlled by an increasingly anti-Christian (defined as historic and orthodox) media and entertainment mega complex. They turn up the volume on anyone who fits the “dissenter” role noted in the Touchstone editorial and ridicule or deny voice to those who would fight back, tarring anyone taking a stand against the “dissenters” with the brushes of hate and discrimination.

The other is making the only real sin left in our shared cultural experience any failure to be “inclusive.” This absolute need to accept everything and everyone as having their own validity and “truth” and condemning anyone who makes discrete judgments, or who applies any form of discrimination, including that of reasonable thought, is leading us to a point where even reading certain passages from the Bible is seen as “hate speech.” The Bible makes specific demands, rejects specific behaviors, and thereby condemns those who behave that way, demanding repentance. That is just so wrong, they say. While not yet openly attacking the Bible itself, they do attack those who publicly express or advocate what the Bible expresses or advocates.

So, where is leading us? I believe it is rushing us headlong into a zeitgeist where there are no absolutes, everyone has their own truth, and the only sin that is left is any attempt to advocate the opposite. Inclusiveness is the new saintly virtue, something everyone must embrace or suffer the pain of social, religious, and now, growing legal consequences. Persecution is not far behind.

Following one biblical interpretation of eschatology, you could argue that the period before Jesus’ return would be hell on earth (…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:8), where the kingdom of Hades would govern the thoughts and ideas of mankind (which MS Word tells me should be changed to humankind…). In the context of this argument, the incarnation of hell in our midst would be characterized by complete inclusiveness. Hell is, above all else, absolutely inclusive, while Heaven is absolutely discriminating. Hell says yes to everything except the exclusivity of Heaven.

I am sure there are those reading this who say this is over the top, excessively reactionary, not to mention depressing. My daughter told me something interesting the other day. She was telling me about how she had engaged her college design teacher in some friendly religious debate and he surprised her by admitting to her that he sees us (our country, Western Civilization, even the world at large) circling the drain. He is Bo in his beliefs, a Daoist (Taoism) sect (not surprising since in our day Taoists tend to be university faculty). If we are “circling the drain” then can Christ’s return be that far off? I hope not.

There used to be a prayer, said universally in the Christian Church, “Maranatha” (Come, Lord!). Maybe that will become a common prayer in the believing Church again. Me, I just want to persevere in my faith so I can say, if the Lord returns in my lifetime, “Yes, there was faith on the earth when the Son of Man returned!” I pray you will join me in that prayer and that perseverance.

God, grant us the grace to persevere in our faith, holding fast to that which you gave to the saints (Jude 3), against all the assaults of the evil one and his agents. Equip us with the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20), leaving nothing lacking for our defense that we may stand, and barring all else, stand until you either take us home or return to us. Amen.

Note: The spark that initiated this post was the T-shirt offered by the Midwest Conservative Journal (The Episcopal Church: As Inclusive as Hell).

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