Saturday, September 11, 2010

The H Word

One of the few TV programs that I consciously make an effort to watch is the ABC’s Gruen Transfer. For those of you who prefer your TV to be about people chasing balls around football pitches or ordinary-people-acting-ordinarily-with-some-grooming-from-the-producers (a.k.a. Reality TV), the Gruen Transfer is a full frontal on advertising, which is really about modifying people’s aspirations and expectations, which is really about human nature and how we communicate to each other.

Anyway, this week (Episode 9) the panel looked at Advertising Religion. Usually, I cringe and hide behind the lounge whenever TV tackles religion, partly because it usually makes such a mess of it and partly because it usually stereotypes believers like me as gay-bashing snake-handlers with no reason to justify my existence on this planet (maybe I need to grow a thicker skin?).

Surprisingly, the discussion on the Gruen Transfer was one of the best I’ve seen on the topic for a long time. It featured the “Hey Jesus” ads that were run in New South Wales (funded by contributions from 1500 churches – mostly evangelical I suspect), plus ads from the Mormons, Scientologists and AnswersInGenesis. No, it didn’t have the gravity of a Papal Encyclical or a Fatwah, but it did treat the subject with humanity, candidness and insight, which is how it should be treated.

One of the off-the-cuff comments of Todd Sampson, a regular and engaging panelist, caught my attention because it touched on a subject that I’ve been thinking over recently. In responding to other comments about Hell and how it can be used to scare people into church, Mr. Sampson said, “I thought that was its job” (or words to that effect).

I think Mr. Sampson has rightly echoed a popular misconception about the place of Hell in Christian Theology, and I’d like to see the church (or churches) do something to correct it. It's time to tackle the H Word.

This may be an impossible task, of course, but in keeping with the Gruen Transfer’s focus on advertising, I thought an ad campaign might be in order. Here’s a draft script…

You might think that we invented Hell to scare you into church.

But, if there were no church, would there be no Hell?

And if there were no Hell, would there be any ultimate justice?

I mean, if there were no Hell, then he got away with it [shows graphic of Adolf Hitler]. And so did these guys [shows graphic of 9/11 WTC]. And so will he [graphic of Robert Mugabe or some other current bad guy].

If there were a Hell, who decides who will go there?

When it comes to justice, I know you try to get it right, and I’m not suggesting you stop trying. But we know that sometimes we get it wrong, and sometimes, what gets sold to us as justice is really just a private political or personal agenda.

And, if we’re really honest, we’ve got to admit that we’ve all contributed when things go wrong, even in the smallest ways, or by failing to act when we should have acted, or by withholding help when it was needed. Does that mean we all deserve Hell? Should we be allowed to get away with it?

We believe in Hell, because without it there is no ultimate justice.

We also believe that the One Person who decides who should go there is the One Person who has demonstrated that he is not captive to self-interest, and that he knows what it means to live in this world, with all its injustices. We believe he can be trusted to make the right judgments.

We believe in working towards a better world today, but ultimately, whatever happens, there is One who will see to it that justice is ultimately served and no one, not even those who go to church, will be exempt.

In this context, we believe that Hell is good news.

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