Did I get your attention with the title? I mean, it seems preposterous that wanting to save the lives of unborn babies and condemning the wicked to eternal torment should have anything in common. But they do. They are both products of the same theological heresy. I don’t mean to say there is anything wrong with opposing the killing of unborn babies. Respect for human life is just plain common sense, regardless of one’s theology.
But I do mean to say that portraying the Almighty Creator as the master torturer in the sky is theologically perverse. The Bible says that God is love, and try as they might, theologians have never adequately reconciled the belief in a loving God with the teaching that such a loving God would condemn many to eternal torment in a place of burning fire.
So here’s the deal. The heresy at play here is the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul. This is not biblical at all. The Bible does not teach that man “has” a soul, but that a human being “is” a soul. And furthermore, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Hmm. So which is it: does the soul die, or does it burn in eternal torment? Can’t be both.
Clearly, only an immortal soul cannot die – by definition, it is immortal. So if it doesn’t die, then what? Hell cannot exist without an immortal soul. Otherwise, souls simply expire…eventually, unless kept alive supernaturally.
The doctrine of hell contradicts the most basic truth of the gospel – the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Consider. All Christians understand, first, that the wages of sin is death, and that on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the penalty for our sin. Christians also believe, as the Bible teaches, that Jesus ascended to heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Many people witnessed Jesus’ ascension, as recorded in Acts chapter 1. One thing Christians are very clear about: Jesus is not languishing in hell.
Why not? If the wages of sin is to burn eternally, then why is Jesus not burning? Hmm. Maybe we have the gospel right, but the punishment wrong. Jesus really did atone for the sins of all humanity, but this did not require Him to suffer torment. The consequence of sin is separation
from God, not eternal torture. Death is eternal separation from God. At least the kind of death you don’t wake up from. Do you see? If the wages of sin is eternal torment in hell, then Jesus simply did not suffer the penalty of sin.
Okay, so hell can’t exist without the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, but how is it that the pro life opposition to abortion is cut from the same theological cloth? It is an historical fact that Roman Catholics were early to the cause of opposing Roe v. Wade, and invited Protestants to the party. Protestants were late to join with Catholics, beginning in the last 70s, but crystalizing by the early 90s with formal expressions of collaboration, to wit, the document “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: the Christian Mission in the Third Millenium.” It is Roman Catholic doctrine that an immortal soul enters the womb at the moment of conception. This was never a Protestant concept, but the politics of abortion have come to reflect Catholic demands that abortion be prohibited earlier and earlier.
In fairness, there are many reasons people seek to restrict abortion. But the strength of the American pro-life movement, politically, owes an enormous debt to Roman Catholic activism, based on the heresy of the immortal soul.
A leading nineteenth century Protestant writer, Ellen G. White, observed that the doctrine of eternal torment has made more infidels than any other single cause, as it defames the character of a loving Deity, and transforms Him into a demonic monster. It is no wonder if thoughtful people decline to believe in and worship a God who threatens to torture them if they don’t.
Why is it important that we understand the theological roots of the current controversy over abortion? Because the American legal tradition does not permit the government to legislate a narrow, sectarian religious dogma into the law. This is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition on religious establishments. Clearly, there can be no compromise with the Roman Catholic position that life, from the moment of conception, requires full legal protection. Catholics are free to practice their belief, but in America, they have no right to impose that belief on everyone else. Americans’ beliefs about life, the unborn, choice – all of this differs among Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and those of another faith or no faith at all. The American way is to find common ground that protects the rights of all Americans not only to have their own beliefs, but to practice them. Now that the Supreme Court has kicked the issue
squarely back to “we the people,” in our states, let’s see if we can do better than an all-or-nothing, zero sum game where either the right to abortion is unrestricted or it is completely prohibited.