Not Falling Off Ledges, Power and Wisdom (eclective) wrote,
Not Falling Off Ledges, Power and Wisdom

Hellfire preaching: is there a right solution?

So a petition went up recently on the 10 Downing Street website, associated with a site called Stop The Nightmares. (You can Google those things if you're looking for it: I was going to post the link, but now that I've thought about it more, I don't want to encourage people to impulse-click.) I feel very strongly about what it's petitioning against: the religious abuse of children by instilling hellfire and damnation teachings into them from an early age, of schools and religious institutions scaring children into accepting their beliefs by telling graphic stories of what kind of torture awaits them if they don't believe. Specifically, they want to instate laws that will forbid this kind of speech in scenarios such as schools and street preaching.

I think hellfire preaching is destructive and horrible, that it harms people (especially children, but I don't think adults are immune) psychologically, and that all of religion, including Christianity, could benefit from dropping the topic of hell. (Even if you believe in it. You want people to worship God because he's wonderful and loving, right, and to dwell on positive thoughts of him, not to only cling to religion out of fear? I know many Christians think believing out of fear of hell isn't good enough; then why not just avoid talking about hell? Either way those who were influenced only by the hell sermons are damned, so why not just spare everyone the trauma?) You don't have to ban religious schools or compromise their teachings to say "don't terrify children. Present this material in an age-appropriate context, or better yet, let children grow up and discover for themselves what the Bible says once they're old enough to be curious." I think that's reasonable to ask. So I signed the petition, because as I said, I do feel strongly about it.

But then I thought, wait. I'm really in favour of people not doing this. But am I in favour of a law against people doing this? Is that really the right way to go? On the one hand, it might serve as a catalyst for social change; if enough people frown upon this socially, then over time the behaviour might become unacceptable, and a law is a fairly good way to make sure that something is frowned upon socially. But on the other, do we really need more legislation? Would this law just be misused and misinterpreted? Will the people who really care about instilling their violent and hateful doctrine into the minds of the next generation just find ways to get around it, leaving only those caught in unfortunate misunderstandings to suffer? And with laws leading to punishment for those who break them, is it really right to bring more punishment into society?

Well, of course, I should have thought about that beforehand. But I suppose a thought provoked is still a better thing to happen late than never. I still don't know what the right option is: it feels wrong to allow people to hurt children this way yet wrong to use legislation to do that, and I think a lot of people do assume that feeling something should not be done is equivalent to supporting laws against it, because it doesn't seem like we have any other methods to keep people from causing harm. But maybe we do. Maybe there are other ways, like government campaigns, getting the message out into communities, making people think about the topic without pushing laws. I don't know, and I think I have to think about it.
Tags: deep thoughts, religion
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