So there you are, walking along the street, minding your own business and getting along okay, when some stranger flags you down with something important to tell you.
“Hey, hey, you there,” he says, “You can’t see it, but you have holes in your aura! That means you have Aura Rot, which is a horrible cosmic disease! If you don’t do something about it, your aura will totally rot away and you’ll have no aura left, which could have Big Ramifications.”
You are shocked, of course. You can’t see your own aura or anyone else’s, and you never really felt like you had holes in your aura or anything. But this guy sounds like he’s serious.
“It’s a good thing I saw you,” the man says, “because I have exactly what you need. It just so happens that I deal in Aura Salve, an invisible, intangible ointment that you need to spread all over your aura every day. Every day. You have to trust me.”
So here this guy is, offering a wonderful solution to a problem you didn’t even know you had. Even if this guy really sincerely believes you have Aura Rot, you hadn’t ever noticed it before, and you still have no reason to believe you have it now. All you have to go on is the testimony of him and all of the other Aura Salve salesmen like him, because they are offering a made-up solution to a made-up problem.
In a like manner, it is hard for me to shake the notion that some approaches to Christianity offer made-up solutions to a made-up problem. These approaches tell you that God is mad at you for the bad things you have done, and that he is going to punish you with an eternity of torture in hell because it’s what you deserve.
Leave for a moment that logical problem with this, which is that a “just” God is going to dish out infinite punishment for a finite quantity of sin. The problem is that, as a grown-up, when I do something wrong, I feel bad because I feel like I did something wrong, not because I fear being punished for it. The guilt I already feel is a lot of torment on it’s own. Committing sins–real sins, not made-up ones–carries its own punishment in terms of fractured relationships, compounded brokenness, inner guilt, and ultimately a spiritual hardening. I’m not worried about going to a hell that may or may not exist anyway. I’m worried about the stuff that happens now: not only the the proximate results of my broken behavior, but also the collective results of all of the broken behavior in our broken human existence: depression, alienation, anger, insecurity, cynicism, anxiety, mental illness, suffering, starvation, pain, terror, death. I am worried enough about that stuff without also being worried that God is going to torture me in hell as a punishment.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things that many would consider sins that just don’t seem like they’re honestly very bad. For these things I feel no real guilt or trouble in the here and now anyway.
So along comes the Aura Salve salesman who tells me that my actual problem is not the obvious pain and brokenness that I (and everyone else) actually am in the middle of right now, but the hell that angry God is going to condemn me to for breaking God’s rules, many of which the Aura Salve salesman has to convince me are even God’s rules in the first place. Nevertheless, the Aura Salve salesman is ready to tell me how lucky I am that he has done such a wonderful thing to save me from my Aura Rot problem.
In fact, he tells me, I am so lucky that I should dedicate my life to thanking him and using and promoting Aura Salve myself.
(Author’s Note: This is adapted and updated from an old post on my personal blog, Sailing to Byzantium)