Monday, March 28, 2011

There’s a vacancy in the handbasket

Welcome to hell3Did anyone catch the story over the weekend about the Methodist minister in North Carolina who lost his job? Apparently, he’d posted something on his Facebook page in support of a book coming out soon, in which author Rob Bell takes issue with the usual dogmatic view of Hell. That didn’t sit well with the higher-ups in the church, and Chad Holtz is now looking for a job.

I do realize that there may be more to the story; Holtz wrote more about his feelings on the firing, but went into no details. He wasn’t upset by the firing, just said that he wasn’t able to take the parishioners in the direction they needed to go. I looked him up on Facebook and sent a friend request. It seems that quite a few other people had the same idea, and he has hundreds of new friends, the majority offering support. (Of course, there was the usual contingent of the “You’re going to burn in hell” folks.) I left a note saying that although we don’t have the same belief system, I applaud his willingness to question.

Some of the subsequent posts I’ve seen mention his faith, his continuing studies, and his morning prayers. As I’ve said here often, I have no problem with what people want to believe, as long as they don’t get all up in my business, as long as they keep it out of my government, and as long as they don’t harm others with their words. But I can’t help but wonder....

If he took the big step of questioning one of the tenets of his faith, that of the existence of the biblical version of hell, why did he stop there? If his readings, ponderings, meditation, and prayer let him to doubt the veracity of people being cast into the Fiery Pits™, why not keep going and begin to question some of the other dogma that he subscribes to? If I were him, I would also think seriously about why his church was so unhappy with his thoughts on the matter that they saw fit to remove him rather than answer the question or discuss the topic.

I suppose I already know the answers to those questions, though. I know how very hard it is to break out of something that you’ve believed all your life. I know how questioning things that you’ve taken for granted because of blind faith can lead to a dramatic shift in how you view the world around you. I know it’s difficult to be different. And I know that if there’s one thing the church--any church--hates, it is people asking questions that aren’t easy to answer, and people who won’t toe the party line. Anyone who dares to question, or points out the contradictions, errors, and inadequate explanations in whatever holy book happens to be in question, is viewed as someone to be distrusted and silenced. That in itself makes me wonder about the legitimacy of the organization. If you’re afraid of questions, maybe your dogma isn’t all that great to begin with.

I’ve never been what you might call docile. I’m often quiet and shy (it’s true!), but if something doesn’t make sense to me, I’m going to ask questions...and I want answers. If your answers are inadequate, I’ll wave good-bye and go merrily along my way.

I am glad that Pastor Holtz dared to question, and dared to go public with it. I hope he doesn’t stop asking questions, both of his church and of himself. It might lead him to a place he’d never anticipated.


  1. I'm glad this pastor spoke his mind, too ... but can understand why he lost his job. He'd be better off with a group that share's his willingness to question.

  2. This is an excellent posting Beth, as usual. The concept of hell is an absolute necessity for the mentally and morally confused and a complete irrationality, biblically speaking.

    As for Pastor Holtz, his progressive and enlightened thinking should take him to higher ground.


  3. I'm surprised he got fired. Methodists (I used to be one) are pretty chill compared to other denominations.

  4. You, quiet and shy? Well, if you say so!

    It takes courage and will power stand up against the group. Since everyone is marveling over the character of the Japanese, this makes me think of one of their sayings about 'the tall poppy is the one that gets cut down'. That is the risk taken by those who want to exert their individual character into their belief or question the powers that be. What is more, is that he knew the consequences and he accepted them.

    That is a big lesson that I hope doesn't get lost. And I hope his case continues to have people ask the hard questions and to stand up for what they think is right, even in the face of popular sentiment.

  5. " I have no problem with what people want to believe, as long as they don’t get all up in my business, as long as they keep it out of my government, and as long as they don’t harm others with their words."

    There. Perfect. I can live with that, so I'm quoting it regularly. As an atheist with Buddhist sensibilities, I need a ready response to proselytizers.

    And...I hope this doesn't sound like proselytizing, but just as information:

    And, there IS a church that encourages questions--literally, ANY questions. The Unitarian Universalist folks basically elevate questions to the rank that other churches assign to holy scripture. There's one in San Diego, First UU in Hillcrest, that I attend whenever I am there. Hugely refreshing. I took my son and DIL once and the DIL burst into tears in the service. She explained she'd never imagined a "church" could be like that.

  6. If one doesn't question how will one grow? Good entry. Glad I'm back reading them.


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