During the First and Second Great Awakenings in the United States, sermons were filled with images of hell. As preachers delivered their sermons to crowds of people, they let them know in no uncertain terms that they were sinners destined for hell. Highly charged emotional descriptions of the tortures awaiting them rang from pulpits. Consider this quote from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder, and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”

People caught up in the emotionalism of fiery preachers and wanting to get a bit of fire insurance sat on the “anxious bench” waiting to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Edwards’ sermon was delivered in 1741; it shows the long history of fear tactics in American Christianity.

The fear of hell and eternal damnation has been a powerful motivator for people to become Christians. It has also been used to motivate laypeople to evangelize friends, neighbors, and random strangers. After all, if you don’t share Jesus with other people, it will be your fault they go to hell.

Back in my Youth leader days, I remember a little skit performed at a youth rally. It showed two friends walking along together. They are traveling the same path. They come to a fork in the road. One road leads to heaven, the other to hell. One friend heads towards heaven. The other friend asks where they are going. The heaven-bound friend explains that they had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, so they are going to heaven. The other friend, obviously, not a Christian, looks perplexed as he starts walking towards hell, he questions his saved friend, “We were friends, why didn’t you tell me?” cue blackout.

This little morality play was followed by a twenty-minute guilt-inducing sermonette designed to persuade the teens to go and evangelize their friends. They were told that if any of their friends went to hell, it was their fault.

During the 1970s, fear of being left behind during the Rapture was used to persuade people to give their life to Christ. The Thief in the Night movie scared many teenagers down to the altar. The movie depicted how those who missed the Rapture would suffer under God’s wrath during a seven-year period known as the tribulation. If you decided to become a Christian after the Rapture, you would be hunted down and beheaded. The clear implication was that you better hurry up and become a Christian now or else.

Fear tactics have given way to something even more sinister. Fundagelicals still use fear, but as they become like the angry, vengeful, genocidal god they serve; hell, the Rapture and the tribulation now became a form of Christian Torture Porn.

Online you can read a discussion about religion that often becomes a flame war. If a non-believer or Liberal Christian present an idea not in line with Fundagelical orthodoxy, the response is often “You’ll know the truth when you are burning in hell.” I’ve interacted with Fundagelicals in person; there is a certain smugness because they believe they are “right” and that my Liberal politics make me automatically wrong. I hold more mainstream ideas about the Bible and prophecy, so I’m considered a heretic at best and a willing tool of the Devil at worst. There is often a small moment of glee, usually, after I’ve shown their argument to be without merit, when they say to me, “You’ll know the truth as you burn in hell for eternity.” Yes, they actually take smug glee in knowing that someone will get their comeuppance in the fiery flames of hell.

In 1995, the Left Behind series of books started publication. This set of poorly written books gave Fundagelicals their torture porn fantasy. (Check out the Slacktivist’s evaluation of the Books.) All the good Christians, who had believed correctly, get taken to heaven, while all the liberals, atheists, and Magic 8 ball users get left behind. In exhaustive detail, the authors point out the death and destruction that befalls the people left behind. Massive earthquakes, plagues, and demonic locust that torture unbelievers fill every page. The death of millions of people is portrayed as eager Fundagelicals turn pages. The characters in the book don’t even mourn those killed in the mass genocide perpetrated by an angry god. The whole awful series was a runaway bestseller in Fundagelical circles. They were able to read how their psychopathic god was going to torture everyone who wasn’t them.

It’s a natural progression for Fundagelicals, they were raised to fear a god who delights in torturing people forever, and now they take delight in that torture. They have become like the god they worship.

In my dealings with a Hyper-Calvinist, the threat of hell was the dominant theme of every conversation. I explained my position as a Universalist. Since my theological position didn’t match his, and every argument he presented was easily shown to be inconsistent, he played his trump card: “You’ll know the truth when you are burning in hell for eternity.”

My only response was, “Don’t you think it’s kind of pointless to threaten a Universalist with hell?”

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15: 55-57)

Thanks for reading! Please take a moment and share this post.  Don’t forget to like the post and subscribe if you haven’t already. You can watch my vlog at Rev’s Reels on YouTube. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Join me and a bunch of other former Fundagelicals at Open Door Ministries in Westminster at the Westminster Mall.

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