Hell Fire drives a few Evangelicals and Muslims out of the Flock.
Pope Francis is my Imam. Thus I wrote an article a few years ago, meaning he is my spiritual leader, he is a real man of God and what he says, resonates with me. The essence of all religions is same to us, but we differ in our rituals. He is a Catholic, and I am a Muslim.
I regularly find things about him; he is one of my mentors. Someone just sent me a note that Pope Francis did not believe in Hell as understood for centuries. I am a Muslim and part of the faith is a belief in Hell, I do believe in the idea of hell, but not the physical hell, it is the anguish one lives through and that is the real hell.
The Evangelical Congregations are dwindling in numbers, and now, the mosque-going Muslims are also declining in numbers per the latest Pew Survey. Even though the percent is small, there is a trend and how can we slow down the exits is the theme of this essay. A few years back, based on a PEW survey, I wrote an article in Dallas Morning News on the topic.
When you go to the Church, Mosque or any place of worship, you expect to have a few peaceful moments, to connect with the higher being, to be one with all, to feel composed, and to have a sense of being together.
Instead, you invariably hear the “Hell Fire” talk, which is unsettling. Hellfire talk must have worked some 1000 years ago to frighten the innocent people to behave, the intent was modifying behavior, but the means don’t work with all today in America.
Who wants to hear the Hell Fire Talk?
Most young Americans are sick of the hell-talk in places of worship, it is disturbing to them, and they naturally lose interest in going to the places of worship. The fear factor is losing grounds in the United States, but may still work in most of the world; however, they will eventually get it. The fear is inversely proportional to freedom. Remember, we are the land of the free and brave.
Young men and women don’t want to hear that their good friends will go to hell because they believe differently. They may quietly put up with the pastor or their parents, but deep down they are not convinced.
They don’t want to hear that their Gay and Lesbian friends will be cursed (as if God curses!).
The Evangelical youth don’t want to believe some of the words their pastors say – why should they? On the one hand, they say “Thou shall not commit adultery,” but on the other, the hypocrites approve adultery by the politicians and justify it from scriptures, as if God is an inconsistent goofball.
Even among Hindus and Buddhists, the hate mongers are a few Godmen while the majority remains good human beings in all faiths. You will be surprised that some of the men who razed a mosque in India, after reflections, have left their faith and gone to become Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. The same thing has happened in the west. Hate drives people out of the flock, and really speaking they are not part of any religion. Some of the Hindu and Muslim men were so full of hate that their kids married the kids of the very people they hated. A few pastors who hated gays intensely turned out be gays. Why live with such hypocrisy.
Some of the Muslim clergies are as guilty as any other clergy, what they have learned (is not learning) but dished out understanding passed on for centuries without questioning.
In the interfaith gatherings, I have heard the ill-informed Imams smirkily say that after you have exhausted admonishing your wife to behave, you can beat her with a flower petal or Miswak (a thin harmless stick) without harming her. Most of the American Muslim women have a severe problem with that, but they ignore it, and as a consequence, they lose faith in the teachings. We have identified 60 verses in Quran that have been misinterpreted for several centuries due to political and misogynistic attitudes. Thank God the Arabic version remains intact and thanks to Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar for correcting the 1400-year-old misinterpretation of that verse. The Quran says when you disagree for unfaithfulness or disloyalty simply part with her after several warnings, but not beat her. Prophet Muhammad indeed empowered women by permitting them to divorce their husbands for such violations. Indeed, that was the first time women had that right, and it was 1400 years ago. It goes well with the sanctity of life and honoring the dignity of the other.
For centuries, ‘men’ have reduced God’s words to revengeful, hateful and punitive, as they see God in their own image whereas God is all about Love, mercifulness, kindness, and justice. If we preach these values, all people will stick to their religions, as all religions are beautiful and full of wisdom in building cohesive societies.
Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son is troublesome as “it is understood”. We need to look for the deeper meaning of the story. We should not reduce God’s words to a drama. Most American kids have a problem with it, but will not express it due to parental and peer pressure. Likewise, I had a problem with Abraham knocking the idols down, and glad I spoke out when I was about eight years old; luckily no one beat me up. The smart religious men struggle with explaining it, but they need to write it up and make it public. Individuals lose faith in religion because many of these stories ‘as they are dished out’ will not go well with the intelligent men and women in pluralistic societies.
No one will go to hell.
Not sure how many people know this; you don’t have to believe in Jesus, Krishna, Muhammad, Moses or others to go to heaven. I know that you don’t have to be a Muslim to go to heaven. If you are kind to God’s creation – life and matter, your recompense is with God. There are several verses in Quran about it.
Free-will is the foundation of Islam, and Muslims are yet to recognize this. What is ironic is Quran is entirely clear, “there is no compulsion in faith.” Indeed, God has set up the example to make sure Muslims get that right – Prophet’s own Guardian, Abu Talib, a protector and a defender did not convert to Islam despite so many of his tribesmen converting. Prophet Muhammad was head of the state, but he never compelled anyone. I hope American Muslims get this and enjoy the beauty of respecting the otherness of others. There is no need to convert anyone; all faiths are committed to bringing peace to the individuals. – Quran, once again is obvious – to you is your way of life and to me is mine.
Make religion easy, cut out the talk about hell-fire and brimstones, and you will not lose anyone from your fold. Talk about Punishment, there should be punishment for the wrongdoing, but don’t make that hell. We need to learn that God is not petty as he is made out to be, the guy with a massive hell fire ready to burn everyone.
My faith in Islam is stronger than most Muslims, as I have welcomed criticism of God, Prophet, Quran, and Islam and have learned the truth by being critical and not having a blind faith like “God says so.” Let freedom prevail in all religions, let people question it and criticize it, and it will either knock you out if you are weak, or strengthen it if you find answers.
God bless you and strengthen your freedom and faith.
Mike Ghouse writes his opinions regularly on issues of religion, politics, society, and culture and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day.