Culture Ethics

Vitriol infests Rick Warren family’s grief

Pastor Rick Warren greets the audience before a forum with the presidential nominees at his Saddleback Church on Aug. 16, 2008. Religion News Service file photo by Ann Johansson

Pastor Rick Warren greets the audience before a forum with the presidential nominees at his Saddleback Church on Aug. 16, 2008. Religion News Service file photo by Ann Johansson.

(RNS) Pastor Rick Warren, the best-known name in American evangelism after Rev. Billy Graham, lost his 27-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide on Friday (April 5).

In the days since, uncounted strangers have joined the 20,000 congregants who worship at the megachurch network “Pastor Rick” built in Southern California, Warren’s nearly 1 million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers in flooding social media with consolation and prayer.

“Kay and I are overwhelmed by your love, prayers, and kind words,” Warren tweeted on Sunday. “You are all encouraging our #brokenhearts.”

But a shocking number are taking the moment of media attention to lash out at Warren on their digital tom-toms. The attacks are aimed both at him personally and at his Christian message.

Some unbelievers want to assure Rick and Kay Warren, his wife and Matthew’s bereaved mother, that there’s no heaven where they’ll meet their son again.

“Either there is no God, or God doesn’t listen to Rick Warren, despite all the money Rick has made off of selling false hope to desperate people,” one poster from Cincinnati wrote in to USA Today.

In another comment, the same poster counsels Warren to “abandon primitive superstitions and accept the universe for what it is — a place that is utterly indifferent to us.”

Some rush to add pain to the Warrens’ world because, in their view, he did not show sufficient compassion for the unremitting pain suffered by gay youths rejected by parents and peers. They were outraged when Warren took a political stand for Proposition 8, which overturned legal same-sex marriage in California in 2008 and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Others have appointed themselves 140-character theologians in a debate over whether someone once saved can lose his or her salvation if suicide is against God’s law. These posters, rather than waiting for Judgment Day, have ruled for hell.

But Bruce Kwiatkowski of the University of Toledo posted on Facebook: “I appreciate what Pastor Ronald Cole said about the subject of Christian suicide. He said the Lord will say, ‘We weren’t expecting you yet…’ ”

John Schuurman observed on Facebook that celebrity culture makes everyone “fair game” and the anonymity afforded by social media allows people to “send out hate flames without any consequence.”

There are, however, people who won’t let the vitriol unleashed on social media infect the little corners of the world under their own name.

Facebook user John H. Armstrong fought back, saying, “I just blocked someone that I do not know from my wall for saying that Rick Warren’s son went to hell. What is it with people being so sure that they know God’s final judgment? I fear for people like this. This man added that Rick Warren was being judged for being a ‘false prophet.’ Pathetic, cruel and reckless all come to mind. If I’ve seen the evidence of a false prophet this comes close.”

The day after his son died, Warren tweeted to his more than 943,000 followers: “We pray ‘Thy WILL be done on earth AS IT IS IN HEAVEN’ since in heaven God’s Will is done #always. On earth, it’s done rarely.”

(Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for USA Today.)

About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


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  • Dear Rick and Kay Warren, this is one of the painful moments that come to us as preachers of the Word of God. We always comform people when such unfortunate thing happen to them; and they never remember to return such kind words to us when we are hurt. Take heart and may the eternal God you serve, comfort you in such moment of grief-Amen. Do not allow such painful comments from unbelievers shake your faith. You and Kay have been a blessing to millions of people accross the globe.

  • Rick Warren has reseived a lot of criticism from within the Christian Community. The corporatization of Christianity is just one of the complaints fellow pastors have leveled. Selling out the Gospel that demands sacrifice in the name of touchy-feely soft theology, using dubious interpretations of less serious Bible translations is another charge leveled at him. He is even criticized for being supportive of meditation, or contemplative prayer, which many of us think is a great idea.

    What bothers me is that Rick Warren is a bully. Spiritual abuse is what people in his churches suffer. Lee McFarland, a protégé of Warren and fellow megachurch pastor convinced a woman to separate from her husband and have sex with him, even though Warren’s position is that battered women stay under their husband’s rule.
    There are recovery groups for people who leave his churches.

    Warren has a reputation for being divisive and heavy handed. Lawyers make fortunes dividing up churches’ assets at his behest.

    What’s Warren’s son have to do with this? When the son of a bully commits suicide the father has some explaining to do. We all know Matthew 7:15-16 and I think iis fair to ask what fruit Pastor Rick’s way of life has born and what does it say about the tree that he is?

  • The Catholic Church teaches that mental illness absolves a person from the sin connected with suicide. We don’t know the mental condition of Pastor Warren’s son at the time of his death, but most likely, he was not completely lucid.

    The most vicious remarks and behavior typically come from the left and very often from those who promote the gay agenda. The very small portion of the population which is gay (2%) continues its heavy handed abusive tactics to try to force the rest of the country to accept a lifestyle that is unhealthy at best (22 year shorter lifespan due to the ills that comes with a promiscuous lifestyle) and which they and the school system are trying to brainwash the nation’s children into accepting and following and vicious and lewd at worst (porn and promiscuity destroy vasopressin, the bonding hormone in men leading to loss of compassion and often violent behavior.)

  • This is such tragic news. I feel for the Warrens. I don’t know how they are keeping it together. My mom always said the worst thing that could happen is that a child leaves this Earth before the parents. I pray God never asks me to carry such a cross. May Rick Warren and his wife find comfort and strength from their other children. They are in my prayers.
    The inconsiderate who are disrespecting the Warrens should be ashamed. Mental illness strikes every family. Some more than others. I’ve known such situations and as scary it is sometimes there is only so much to be done. You cannot be with a person every minute.

  • Every parent knows you can not control your grown children even if you wanted to. God does not have any grandkids – only children. Rick’s son has to stand alone with his relationship to God and whatever that entails. To hold a ministry responsible for someone else’s choice is ridiculous. God does respond through prayer, but God does not control people through prayer. That would be witchcraft and not Christianity. All in all the Warrens deserve compassion in their loss – whether you agree with them or not – whether you like them or not – they lost a son to a tragedy and as humans they deserve some respect and compassion. Don’t use their son’s death to bash them. If you must why not wait 6 months and make it unrelated to the suicide – because they are no more responsible for it than you are.

  • I have found that the most viscious anti-gay remarks come from homosexuals who are keeping it on the down low. Some of them ran the FBI and HUAC (Roy Cohn). Others were Senators and megachurch pastors. When I hear a vicsious anti-gay remark, I assume it was made by someone who is not comfortable with their own sexuality.

    “Mean” is very relative. I am an atheist, who respects religion and simply wants it to be nicer to the rest of us. f you’re saying to me, “It’s nothing personal, buy God says you are a horrible cancer within the body that is our world, and you have to be excised by any means necessary”, I think it is reasonable that I get upset. Then you act as if there is something wrong with me because what you say scares the heck out of me I get defensive and angry.

    Maybe we atheists are angry because people who claim to speak for God have been saying and doing horrible things for a long time. We just want you you to keep your personal relationship with Jesus personal. Leave us out of your prayers and stop thinking you are defenders of God, blasphemously thinking He needs YOUR help.

  • Haven’t you noticed that some who ‘claim to speak for God’ are fully supportive of gay rights, including same-sex marriage, and have been working hard to achieve that result? Haven’t you noticed the Episcopal Church? We aren’t all Evangelicals and, in case you haven’t noticed, some of us Christians detest Evengelicals and are, when it comes to moral issues, on the side of secularists.

  • Honestly, there are so many uncounted thousands and thousands of Christians out there surrounding the Warrens and the Saddleback Church with prayer and encouragements, that the comparatively few Haters, Atheists, Gay Activists etc, can’t even make a dent with their angry postings. Sorry guys, your caustic comments just aren’t working. Your efforts are sad and useless.

    But here’s a mild suggestion for Christians: Since the Warrens are surrounded by uncounted thousands and thousands of prayers and encouragements, perhaps it might be good to spread them out a little. Donate some of them locally, for any bereaved parents or people that you may know or hear about. Donate some to Rick Warren’s enemies (and THEIR parents too!). Quietly start a prayer revival, and look for opportunities to encourage, because somebody in your hometown could sure use a pick-me-up right now.

  • Sodomy is not part of our creators plan for mankind and sodomites hate that so they show their hate for our creator and His followers. My prayers go out to the Warren Family during these times and the loss of their son.

  • Of course I have noticed. My late mother-in-law loved St. John’s, her Episcopal Church. She surprised a lot of people when she stood with them when they ordained a gay bishop up in her diocese. They are wonderful people and I think they make a positive contribution to the world. The United Church of Christ has an evangelical mission which I disagree with, but I will be the first to admit that they stand up for Christian virtues like charity, stewardship and non-violence. My son is in a Quaker school. Even as an atheist, I would never say someone is wrong for claiming that the light of God exists in everyone…period.
    Rick Warren is the opposite. He represents the “God loves the rich and hates the poor” version of Christianity that is ascendant in the United States. He represents the “God loves me and doesn’t like you.” version of religion that is causing tremendous worldwide suffering. People like him are profiting from the conflicts they incite, just as the Taliban and other religious enforcers of purity profit and gain secular power. The favorite scripture of men like Warren is found in Luke 6, “Thank you lord for not making me like that tax collector over there”. That is his model and people like him ignore what follows. They want their rewards right now and care not for those who suffer as a result.

  • That is extremely ugly, but don’t be surprised at such ugly reactions when religion is used in such illiterate and ugly ways as Rick Warren has used it. He’s as much to blame as they are. And we still don’t know the mind of Warren’s son. Why did he take such awful, final measures? Did his parents and their brand of “religion” play any part in damaging his mind to the point that he could not want to continue living?

    That having been noted, anyone who acts in such cruel ways as those who are hurling pain at the Warrens is guilty of the same religion distortions as the brand used by Rick Warren and his kind. They abound to the point of destruction in this country. They are shocking proof, if anyone needed another lesson in evil religious history, of the wisdom of our framers of our Constitution in ordering a separation of church and state, religion and politics.

    One can only wish the Warrens comfort that might come from seeing that religion can so easily be distorted into evil and change their own outlook. The line between good and evil can be very fine at their margins.

  • It is arrogant ignorance when you dump atheists into your group of hateful religionists. You don’t know people, especially atheists, non-theists. You are guilty of the same ignorance and cruelty that has been hurled at the Warrens.

  • The same for gays people or any gay activists. You clearly display the ignorance that is the base of all prejudice and bigotry.

  • I’m an atheist. I don’t believe that Matt Warren went to Hell to be tortured for all eternity. I also don’t believe Matt went to Heaven where he gets the ring side seat to watch everyone else be tortured for all eternity. All the evidence suggests that when we die, we are dead. This means that we have one life to live and we should live it well. Here are some of my thoughts on Matt Warren’s death:

  • Wow! Maybe your creator’s plan sucks and we want to make our own plan. It’s call freedom baby, yeah!

    While sodomy isn’t in your creator’s plan, apparently your creator doesn’t have a problem with eternal torture. That’s not in my plan. I think torture is immoral and torturing others either by my action or inaction for ALL ETERNITY is very immoral. Your creator is not worthy even if I believed he existed, which I don’t!

  • I am amazed that all religious dissidenters do is talk about hell. The whole point of Christianity is that NO ONE has to go to hell. Gee, does that make God bad, because He doesn’t want people to go to hell, made a way that they don’t have to and then tells us about it? Atheists miss the whole point. To say we either go to hell or get a ring side seat to watch people in sizzle in hell for eternity is simply evidence that they totally don’t understand Christianity, because that is not the focus at all, nor will Christians enjoy the fact that people are in hell. Frankly a focus on the love and power of God will minimize the focus on hell – as it should be.

  • “The whole point of Christianity is that NO ONE has to go to hell…”
    You emphasized the wrong words. The words “has to” are key here. If someone put a gun to your head and said that you will be shot in the head if you don’t give them what they want, that is not a loving message. No one HAS TO get shot in the head after all, right?

    You are claiming that your deity is all powerful and yet he has created a system in which anyone who doesn’t WORSHIP him will be tortured fir ALL ETERNITY. You are claiming that your deity is moral. This means that you believe that all non-Christians DESERVE to be tortured FOR ALL ETERNITY.

    I have a moral problem with this. You should too.

  • Hi Staks. There are lots of believers who don’t share “Fire’s” version of faith. That poster probably doesn’t have a high opinion of them either. What’s interesting is that homosexuals, and atheists, most likely, are seen as attacking God and “His followers”, merely for going about our lives.Thus discrimination, legislation, and violence directed against us is viewed as self-defense because we are attacking them, merely by our life decisions.
    You spend lots of time debating believers and have heard them defend Old-Testament genocide by saying that God offered them a chance to repent and attone so they had it coming. This is how they feel about us. They want reconciliation and what they mean by that is a lot like sending us to the Gulags.

    Still, there are Christians that are appalled by Rick Warren, “Fire”, and people like them. I am ambivalent because they both stand up to bullies who use God as an excuse to behave horribly and because they are part of the community of believers from whence these bullies arise. On balance, I’m focusing on the good side and looking to find common cause and not worrying much about where we differ with them.

  • Do you have a moral problem with justice for criminals? Sadam, Bin Ladin? How about hate crimes, rape, murder? You see compassionate societies understand the need for truth and justice. The problem is that men do not want to be told there is a divine moral code that supercedes mans opinions. If a person who shot up a school was set free by a judge our nation would scream in outrage. Why? Because of an inward sense of moral justice. So why is God’s justice inherently wrong? In the truest sense of humanism we should be outraged that God forgives those who don’t deserve it. But that is what true love is about.

  • Amen!

    About nine years ago, in a very limited way, I indirectly experienced the church’s judgmental, and unkind, tactics when I applied for a minimum-wage job at that church (a job I was already doing as a volunteer).

    I was required to give my life’s testimony as part of the application process. Rather than just call me and tell me they “passed” on me as a paid employee, they had me come in for what I was led to believe was the final interview. Their VP of Human Resources & a Senior Pastor told me to my face that I was too spiritually damaged to work there in their opinion (but not to volunteer at the same exact job for free), and they recommend that I seek intensive counseling with their pastors, and the job was going to someone else.

    This is a church that says on the surface “All Are Welcome”; but all are NOT welcome and you feel like an outsider if you aren’t an Orange County-ite, who is, rich, tan, self-absorbed, arrogant, and part of their “in-crowd.”

    Always wanting more and more $$$ to expand, during the years my husband & I went there, it seemed like the “Disneyland” of churches, and not the friendliest place on earth…

  • Thanks for sharing. I have heard similar stories from people who have been involved in Calvary Chapels.
    I hope you found a place where you feel welcome and where the message is positive.

  • Wow! Just wow. So you are claiming that torturing people is justice? Not only that, but when you torture people for ALL ETERNITY without the possibility of reprieve or parole, that is perfect justice? I think our justice system in America is better and that is clearly flawed.

    This is another problem I have with Christianity. Aside for advocating for torturing everyone who doesn’t worship your deity of choice, it skews morality. Morality isn’t based on some ancient text which can be used to justify almost anything including Slavery, rape, and genocide, but rather morality is based on human compassion and empathy.

    We shouldn’t torture rapists or murders. That isn’t justice. We should try to reform them and that doesn’t mean through vicarious apologies. They have to actually earn forgiveness from the people they have wronged or the families of the people who have been wronged. That takes actual work and it isn’t easy to do. While asking your imaginary friend for forgiveness is all too easy and doesn’t actual reform the person. Justice is not served.

    It is truly horrifying that you would claim that torture is love. That is so insanely perverse. But it isn’t your fault. This belief has been indoctrinated into you and our society all your life. Even if you grew up in a secular family, religious indoctrination pervades our entire society. We are taught that religion is the place for morality and there are churches on almost every street corner in the nation all blaring their bells on the hour. Politicians constantly tell us that God is whispering in their hears as they make our laws.

    We have to break free of this. Torture is not justice nor is it love. Morality doesn’t come from ancient holy books that can be interpreted to justify anything and it’s opposite. Morality comes from us. Our empathy and compassion is what our morality should be based on. We need to think critically about the world around us and reject claims that are not based on solid evidence using the scientific method.

  • Dearest Pastor and sister Warren,
    May the peace that passes all understanding be experienced right now,
    you labored with much love for the almighty God, He received your son,
    and you will see your son again.
    love you.Erroll and Judith

  • Otherwise what Judith? I’ll be tortured for all eternity? Besides, I think religious leaders to enough “touching” as it it.

  • I would bet my life that Rick Warren’s son was gay and that he couldn’t stand his father’s hatred of them (him) any more–

  • Judith, you may be correct about me. I would like nothing more than for there to be a loving Almighty God. I am very sad and frustrated that there isn’t. Believe me–I wish you were right even though I am sure you aren’t.
    My friend Stake and I probably disagree on this: I have nothing but love and good will in my heart for believers who feel the need for God. It pains me greatly, however, when the price we pay for the need for God becomes so high as to promote cruelty to each other.

  • I disagree with your characterization of my position Daniel. I too have nothing book love and good will toward everyone regardless of whether they believe in dangerously barbaric ancient holy books on insufficient reason. My issue is with the beliefs themselves, not the people who hold those beliefs necessarily. Like I said before, religion permeates our entire society and as a result, people of all walks of life and intellect abilities have been indoctrinated at birth with religious belief. It is very difficult to break out of that. Atheists risk being distanced by friends and disowned by family merely because we want more evidence for the ridiculous claims made in ancient holy books.

    I do get frustrated by religious believers who have been so corrupted by their religion that they support otherwise unsupportable behavior or worse, are the the people doing that behavior. Torture is wrong. It is wrong to torture someone for five minutes and it is wrong to torture someone for five hours. It is definitely wrong to support the concept of eternal torture. Christians must denounce the concept of Hell or at least be willing to stand up to their deity on the issue.

  • I’m curious: how does one disabuse people of the assumption that Evangelicalism is the religious industry standard? That most of us “religionists” don’t oppose same-sex marriage or reject Darwinian evolution or believe that atheists are immoral or believe that anyone is going to hell, etc.? This is true of most mainline Protestants, probably of most Catholics and most Jews. And the Episcopal Church for that matter has spent lots of time, money and effort promoting marriage equality and currently supports same-sex unions and the ordination of gay people, both male and female.

    I visit blogs, read comments, and I’m endlessly hit with the assumption that Evangelicalism is the religious paradigm, that the religious norm is homophobia, bigotry, anti-science, etc. Commentators even blame us mainliners for being “enablers” of the conservative Evangelicals–assuming that we somehow stick by our religious brethren in response to secular critique because we haven’t shouted loudly enough that we reject their views. But, jeez, to be heard: How loudly can we have to shout? And where and in what direction?

    Ah well, appreciate your comments. But just wondering, as a practical matter, how can we get it across that this minority of conservative Evangelicals–and statistically they are a minority–doesn’t represent the majority of religious believers.

  • Reject the Bible as a holy book. You can shine up a turd but it still smells like [expletive deleted]. The fact is that as long as Christians worship a Bible which mostly promotes hate and bigotry, you are going to have a problem. Yes, Jesus said turn the other cheek, but he also said, if your hand or eye causes you to sin cut them off. Yes, he said blessed are the peace-makers, but he also said that you should hate your family in order to follow him. Plus, Jesus was the first person in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) to talk about Hell. I can’t see how Christians today can pretend that the Bible is a “Good Book” when the principle character (i.e. God) is a psychopathic tyrant who loves to torture and murder people on a whim. My advice to Christians is to reject Christianity and to be good to others not because their God tells them to or because they want to get into God’s Disneyland or because they fear eternal torture in Hell, but rather to be good to others FOR goodness sake.

  • Staks, hello? First of all no Christians “worship the Bible.” But leave that aside. Most of us Christians recognize that the Bible is a collection of the literature of a people which is not historically accurate and more importantly, not a recipe book for moral behavior. My kid, at a Catholic high school, learnt in religion class about Q and the development of the Gospels. At my Catholic college, like the Presbyterian college where I went as an undergraduate, we learnt the critical account of the Biblical literature. And no one suggested that God was a psychopathic tyrant who enjoyed torturing people.

    I repeat. (1) Evangelicals, who whole these views, are a minority among Christians; (2) There are educated Christians (e.g. upper middle class urban-coastal individuals with advanced degrees) who don’t drag their hairy knuckles on the ground; (3) Most Christians, who are not knuckle-draggers, do not believe that God is a psychopathic tyrant who tortures people for not believing the right stuff–or, for that matter, cares whether or not people believe the right stuff.

  • Staks God loves you, There is hope for you
    Jesus is the way to God. I love you and pray for you

  • Daniel you are honest and I can feel the urge in your heart for God,
    He loves you and will reveal Himself to you, Love you too and remember you in prayer.

  • “Most of us Christians recognize that the Bible is a collection of the literature of a people which is not historically accurate and more importantly, not a recipe book for moral behavior.”
    I wish this were true, but it just isn’t. Poll after poll and survey after survey shows that the majority of Christians do believe that the Bible is a moral guide book and that it describes actual historical events. The fact that the Exodus from Egypt never happened would shock most Christians and that is just Old Testament stuff. Go ahead and question the historicity of the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus and very few Christians are willing to acknowledge both to be the obviously fictional accounts that they are.

    “no one suggested that God was a psychopathic tyrant who enjoyed torturing people.”
    Really? No one in these religious universities read the Bible? The Old Testament is filled will stories in which Yahweh orders genocide and commits genocide. I find it difficult to believe that a religious university teaching about religion never mentioned such prominent stories like Job, Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Midianites, etc. Plus, these universities never mentioned Hell? It this were true, I would be very surprised. But I doubt it and so the character of Yahweh will remain a psychopathic tyrant who enjoyed torturing people.

    (1) Which views are you speaking about specifically? The concept of Hell is not a minority view nor is the view of the Bible as a moral guide book. You would be hard pressed to find many Christians who reject the vicarious blood sacrifice of Jesus for sins. I want to also point out that many Christians I have met who support marriage equality for gays still believe homosexuality is a sin. Fortunately very few believe gays should be put to death as the Bible demands.

    (2) I never said any different. In fact, I made it clear that intelligence is not the issue Religious indoctrination pervades our society.

    (3) This point just seems like a summery of the previous two. While you would not describe the actions of the Biblical character of Yahweh the way I have since you WORSHIP the deity in question, I ask you to read your Bible and replace God with Gandhi. Then replace God with Hitler and tell me which of the two fits best.

    The fact is that most Christians haven’t actually read the Bible. Most have read bits and pieces that religious leaders tell them to read and then spin those passages to fit their narrative. Try reading it cover to cover on your own. Then tell me God is not a psychopathic tyrant who tortures people for not believing the right stuff.

  • Thanks Judith I’ll be thinking critically for you since you are clearly not doing it yourself. Even if I believed your deity of choice existed (and I don’t) I would not worship such an immoral being. Let me ask you this Judith. Do you believe I will be tortured for all eternity if I continue not believing? If so, do you believe that is Just?

  • Really? No one in these religious universities read the Bible?

    Of course we do, in religious studies courses, but we recognize that it as a collection of literature most of which is just false. As far as mentioning hell, again we recognize that this is mentioned in the Bible but don’t give it any credance. We don’t believe this garbage. This is the way it works.

    Responding to (1): The concept of hell and the view of the Bible as a moral guide book is at most a minority view amongst educated Christians. I’ve never even met anyone who believed such garbage. Or anyone who believed that homosexuality was a sin. Educated Christians just don’t believe this stuff.

    (3) I’ve certainly read the Bible, cover to cover, and don’t think much of it. So what? I don’t base my religious belief on the Bible.

    Would you please recognize that most of us Christians aren’t ignorant fundamentalists? Why don’t you members of the General Public get it?

  • Hi Staks, you do know who I am? Anyway, I don’t have an issue with Christians whom I disagree with as long as they are kind to people with whom they disagree. That’s what Christains are supposed to do. It is also what we humanists are supposed to do as well.
    I think it’s fair to hold Christians to account and ask them to show us that they really care about other people, especially those who are different and to ask them to leave all the judging and condemning up to God. Since we don’t believe that God exists, iI guess we have to toss the judging and condemning out altogether. It Christians demand that I (and I hope that I can say “we”) do the same because that’s what humanists say we stand for, I think we are in a win-win situation.
    A lot of the Christians posting here are exactly the kind of people whom I believe we can find common cause with. We secular humanists are in a minority. Christians whose central Gospel message is Matthew 25 may be in a minority too. Personally I dislike Ayn Rand atheists every bit as much as I dislike their political allies on the Religious Right, like Santorum, Perry, and Bachmann. Maybe we should have this conversation in person. You have my email and number.

  • “Would you please recognize that most of us Christians aren’t ignorant fundamentalists?” Not until you show me a credible study that supports that opinion.
    “The concept of hell and the view of the Bible as a moral guide book is at most a minority view amongst educated Christians” That sounds like a very “No True Scottsman” position. How do you define which Christians are educated and which are not?

    I will admit that this second claim that I am quoting from you is more believable, but I would like to see some credible studies to support it. I want to also point out that this also is highly dependent on location. When I lived outside NYC, I rarely met a fundamentalist Christian, but in the suburbs of Philly that is very different. Kansas, I imagine would be much different. Then there are countries in less developed areas of the world where Christianity is actually raising. I am betting those places probably have much more fundamentalists than say England.

    As a point of fact, I do find it hard to believe that you truly think that a belief in Hell is a minority view within Christianity.

  • I agree with you on this Dan. I think we just had a miscommunication. My bad. We do need to get together more often though. 🙂

  • How do you define which Christians are educated and which are not?
    Easy. I’d say a BA or better was educated. I have a Ph.D. Next question?
    “I do find it hard to believe that you truly think that a belief in Hell is a minority view within Christianity.”
    OK that’s an empirical question so what you or I think is irrelevant. We need data. But as far as contemporary Americans go, according to the data in Putnam American Grace the overwhelming majority–high 90 percents–of Christians believe that good people of all religions and no religions “get to heaven.”

  • Anything that discredits Rick Warren is fine with me. I’m just a simple utilitarian. He’s done great damage and I am just looking for any way to get this jerk down.

  • What a strange comments page that does not allow you to comment on Mr Barber once he has pronounced. So I will see if I am allowed to do it here.

    H. E. Baber Apr 9, 2013 at 10:59 pm
    Really? No one in these religious universities read the Bible?
    Of course we do, in religious studies courses, but we recognize that it as a collection of literature most of which is just false.

    But not all of it. So you just cherry pick the bits that support your argument. Even though, to the religious, this is ALL supposed to be the word of god.

    The thing that shows religion up for the infantile claptrap that it is to those with the eyes to see is that apparently xtians think that 90% of good people go to heaven. Ludicrous.

  • @litesp33dSo you just cherry pick the bits that support your argument. So you just cherry pick the bits that support your argument.

    Of course not. We assess the Bible by the same standards we use to assess any piece of secular literature–by whether the various stories comport with archeological evidence, with other literature of the period and so on. This is the way it’s done at most “religious universities”–including my own. Absolutely nothing in the content of our courses, including philosophy and religious studies courses, is in any way different from what’s taught at secular universities. Most faculty are not religious believers. That’s the way it is at most “religious universities”–as distinct from unaccredited “Bible colleges.”

    As far as “the religious” taking all the Bible to be the “word of god” I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. I’m a Christian and, like most educated Christians, I don’t take the Bible literally. Most of us aren’t Evangelicals.

  • You keep saying that “most” Christians don’t believe the Bible and that “most” Christian colleges don’t teach that the Bible is the word of God, but where is the evidence for your claims? I’m sorry but I just don’t believe that is true at all. I don’t think that is true in the United States and I doubt very much that it is true around the world. If I went around and asked 100 people at random if they believe that the Bible is the word of God or that it is historically accurate, I will probably get about 80 to 90 people saying yes. If I only asked Christians, that number would probably be higher. If I only asked Church leaders, that number would be even higher. Survey after survey has shown this. Every Pew Survey I have seen shows this. The Harris Interactive Survey shows this. ARIS shows this. Find me one credible survey that suggests that most Christians don’t accept the Bible. Just one.

  • Well said. The only way to battle evil is with good. Let us not be distracted by the arrows of haters both Christian and Non. Lets let this tragedy motivate us to reach out to those around us who are suffering. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Phillipians 4:8

  • That’s great, but how do we deal with mental illness? Do we pray or do we use the scientific method to find solutions that work in reality?

  • Look, I’m just noting that a substantial number of Christians don’t take the Bible literally, and that “religious universities” teach theology, Biblical studies and philosophy courses critically and without any religious bias.

    I know this because I’m an academic at a “religious university” and I know lots of other faculty at my place and at other religiously affiliated universities. Even if more people outside Biblical literalists is higher there are still many Christians who don’t hold these views. That would include all faculty at reputable, accredited nationally known religious universities, which are many–and most students. According to Putnam, Evangelicals represent only roughly 1/4 of the American population–non-Evangelical Christians, who are not Biblical literalists, outnumber them 2 to 1.

    So what’s your point? We all agree that there are Christians who hold views about the Bible that are false, and political views that are wrong-headed–and dangerous. There are also non-Christians who hold a variety of false and wrong-headed views. And there are both Christians and non-Christians who don’t hold such views.

  • No one is arguing that all Christians are Bible literalists or fundamentalists. What I am saying is that the vast majority of Christians still hold to concepts like Hell (i.e. eternal torture) and a belief that Jesus literally rose from the dead. So even though an extremely large percentage do claim to take the Bible somewhat literally, most other Christians still have beliefs that I are extremely immoral. There are some Christians like yourself who view the concept of Hell as silly. That’s great, but don’t pretend that “most” Christians agree with you. That simply put is not the case. You are in a very tiny minority on that. In fact, I am not even sure what Christian beliefs you still actually believe. I have met a few Christians who don’t even believe in God, but still claim to be Christians. Who am I to tell them that they are not Christians? What I can say is that their view of Christianity is not representative of the vast majority of Christians in the United States or in the world.

  • It is baffling to me that you see the “inward sense of moral justice” as evidence that a supreme being created our system of morality and not that we’re social, sentient creatures who depend on an ethical code to form the building blocks of our society. You can trace the evolution of ethical thought over the centuries; it is NOT an absolute moral framework like you contend. That’s why God does a bunch of horrible stuff in the Bible: Back when people wrote the Bible, things like slavery weren’t considered to be abominable, so God was OK with them. Our society progressed and evolved, now we know that drowning witches and taking slaves is evil. Strange that the moral architect of the Universe managed to miss the mark so badly.

    Past that, God’s “justice” relies on the premise of infinite punishment for finite transgression. No one, not the worst monster in all of human history, deserves ETERNAL torture. It’s completely insane to even contemplate. Sixty years of being evil on Earth rates you ten trillion years of ceaseless agony, with trillions of trillions yet to go? I’m a jerk, Steve, I really don’t like many people, and I would *never* ascribe a punishment so brutal to my worst enemy. I killed people in the war, and while I was glad of it, I would never, ever have tortured them even though they were monstrous religious fanatics who wanted to murder me. They deserved death and they got it, but I’m frankly relieved to know there’s no Hell for them to go to.

    tl;dr Hell is a completely ridiculous concept and utterly incompatible with a loving God.

  • I liked the review. It is consistent with my conversations with members of similar churches, the Calvary Chaples, in our area. It is extremely superficial Christianity for people whose culture runs from Outback to Olive Garden. They tall of faith unreflectively. You cannot get them to focus on any topic long enough to have meaningful discourse. Speaking louder is their way of making a case for anything.

    It’s a pity because there is a rich spiritual tradition in Christianity that they seem utterly unaware of and uninterested in. To Warren’s credit, at least he is not condemnatory of contemplative prayer…probably because he did his market research and knows that won’t penetrate the market in Southern California very well.

  • Short shelf-life too, I think: I did a review of the Crystal Cathedral after its bankruptcy. They rely on ephemeral fashions, and charismatic leaders.

    Those who speak don’t know and those who know don’t speak. Mainline churches don’t speak. They won’t invest in evangelism because they’re embarrassed and stingy, don’t believe it will work and, really, don’t care. I suppose I’m a cock-eyed optimist: I believe that people by nature love truth, beauty and goodness so that IF they see the good stuff and can afford it, they will of course prefer it to schlock–to shopping malls, franchised eateries and bland, formulaic mega-church Evangelicalism.

    I yell and scream, “Advertise! Evangelize!” because I’m absolutely convinced that if most people saw what, e.g. the Episcopal Church at its best offers–fancy buildings, great music, elaborate ceremony but most of all intelligent, reasonable, thoughtful doctrine: if they see it they will of course prefer it to megachurch inanity. But nobody believes me.

    If I had to choose between a world dominated by Evangelicals, in which their conservative social program was in place, and one in which religion was extinct and the world operated according to liberal social and political principles I’d of course choose the latter. I’d of course rather live in Sweden. But I’d hate to have to make that choice–and with the rise of Evangelicalism that is the choice with which, increasingly, we’re confronted.

  • Perhaps you need to search your own heart. I do not hear words of reconciliation, of encouragement, of love, or empathy for the Warrens from your email. Maybe you need to look in the mirror and pull the beam from your own eye

  • I do search my own heart. I do not believe that Warren searches his heart; nor do I believe that his version of religion tolerates that at all. It’s imitation reflection that leaves hard questions unasked. People like Warren and Chuck Smith exchange spiritual milk and honey for Coffee-Mate and Splenda. Carlo Carretto’s “Letters From the Desert” is far too heavy reading for their followers who would rather attend a weekend seminar in a Las Vegas hotel than undertake a hard journey to the abyss.
    I know exactly what the Religious Right means by “reconciliation”. It isn’t exactly encouragement, love, or empathy. It sounds like payback.
    There is no beam in my eye: I would never make money by cynically taking advantage of people the way the corporate megachurch leaders do.

  • I am impressed by this (following the link to “Crystal Cathedral had its day”):

    “So if you wonder why Americans are, anomalously, religious it is because we have evacuated religion of all content. There are of course theological doctrines on the books, which church members tick off, in the way that they agree to accept screenfuls of conditions for installing new software. But most have no serious interest in these theoretical matters. Whether signing on for a new therapy or self-help programme, trying out a new diet or a new church, they are looking for a bag of tricks, a collection of gimmicks and recipes that will get them the material prosperity, perfect health, beautiful bodies, ideal relationships and complete happiness to which they believe they are entitled.”

    H.E. Baber, i must confess that I wish that I had written that! Too say that checking off the TOS is akin to joining a certain kind of faith is exactly correct.

  • Thanks ! We had an interesting discussion at an APA session on whether Evangelicals who check the boxes count as believing. The consensus was NOT and I’m inclined to agree. I don’t deny that there are likely some who believe the world came into existence less than 10,000 years ago with species in their current forms but I suspect that most who check the boxes don’t. The check is just a social identity statement: they don’t read the fine print and they cheerfully watch PBS documentaries showing life emerging from the primordial soup and the Ascent of Man. They’re not campaigning for “Creationism” in the schools–they want their kids to have the best possible chance to do well, preferably in STEM fields.

    I suppose we should regard this as encouraging

  • Jesus wouldn’t recognize his teachings in Rick Warren’s chicanery. The Bible is also very clear on the subject of suicide. Like it or not, any true believing Christian knows that the next time these two see each other, it won’t be in Heaven.

  • Is Rick Warren’s son in hell or heaven? Don’t say it is God’s to judge, because Rick certainly does not say that when it comes to homosexuals pursuing their lifestyle, minding their own business.

    Seriously, is suicide a sin or not?

  • You, a pitiless little person, are no doubt ‘true believing’ in something or other, but you are no Christian. I feel sorry for you, but it is a sorrow strongly laced with contempt.

  • It is hard to see how our own faith judges the most! This is so wrong! My son tried to take his life last year by stabbing his chest 13 times. Thank God he is alive today! But, the support from the Christian community about mental health medication sucks! Sober mind, free of influences! Is judging his needs a sober mind? Hearing voices a sober mind? Is seeing things no one else see s a sober mind? Is the congregation that judges mental health and medication of sober mind? Most of everyone alive has experienced a mental illness in their life! We need to support our community no matter what the disability!

  • {For Staks}…God imbedded us with “Free Will”…otherwise we would have been designed as robots…and how can God or anyone love a robot?…It is not God who chooses is us and as with anything in life, choices have consequences…it is not God who sends us to hell…it is us who sends us to hell…Every controversial debate argued here could be summed up here…I like to remember and acknowledge how thankful I am that we have a just and fair God who does not judge according to Man’s way…unlike you Staks…Hypothetically speaking, if standing b/f a judge ready to pass sentence on you for killing someone as you were trembling with fear as the judge read aloud your fate then suddenly one Man stepped up and announced He would take the punishment and you could be excused …. be set free and you could leave the courtroom to resume your life as you knew it…What you fail to realize is Jesus is that Man who has already taken upon his shoulders the weight of Humankind’s Sin, all of it….and that is why you have been given free will…too accept the judge’s ruling or walk out a free Man….Jesus Loves us this much….but you have to reach out and accept this gift…it’s a choice exercised by free will…Everyone who has ever lived will be given this decision to make and decide you must…Hopefully before you die… As for the Warrens just as with the rest of us…It is I who avenge…God is all powerful and all knowing…it is his job…not ours to pass judgment…Thanks be to God he is a just and loving God.

  • Staks,
    you sound like a very hateful and biased person. I see no mention of the good that Christians have done; charities, donations, hospitals opened, aid to those suffering. However, sounds like you have all the answers. Funny, no one has a definitive answer on how we were all created; until that can be proven, and will never no for sure until God reveals it. I think it is interesting how atheists believe that they can be as disrespectful as they like, no cajoling needed for them to convince Christians, yet Christians are the intolerant ones? Yes there are Christians and other religious people who are very hateful, its more a symptom of an underlying issue that a cause of religion. Many don’t read or understand the bible, and just pick key things out such as ‘an eye for an eye’ and never allow a witch to live, without grasping the larger context. Also, remember, God is the creator, and our human side tells us that it is not right that people were slaughtered in the old testament, and that people will go to hell, but guess what!? God created us, and he can do whatever he likes to his creation. If you turn your back on him, then you deserve what you get. Do I believe in an eternal burning? No. If you read the bible, there will be fire that cleanses, there may be a period of torture, but it will end because lets face it, if you burn forever, then you live forever.. Kind of goes against the whole eternal life concept Jesus spoke of eh. Jesus says that this world will be cleansed through hell fire. Hell is permanently being away from GOD, and that is death, opposite of life. As far as Jesus’ quotes, you are completely distorting his metaphors, and they are metaphors, although your shall judgmental view didn’t allow you to grasp the meaning. Christ was here to make a large impact on human views while he was on Earth. He needed strong parables to get people thinking. The more the mind works with information and the more relevant and meaningful that info becomes, the more it is encoded, simple cognitive psychology. He never meant to literally cut it off, he is painting a picture that the kingdom of heaven is most important in life, and not to let things get in the way. In terms of leaving family, Christ knew he had only months to live, and this person who was going to bury his father was Jewish. The Jewish ceremonies that the time were very long, lasting over a year because of cleansing and burial process was protracted. So, the bible got you on these issues, Christ frequently says whoever has ears, let them hear. You are so closed minded towards the bible that you don’t process the meaning, you just rebuke it and everyone who follows it. Also, as to the historical aspects-Babylon never attacked Jerusalem? Christ was never crucified? There is no historical documents on a mass exodus from Egypt? Helenistic culture did not dominated the entire middle east? Get a history book buddy, although from what you say, you are a brilliant atheist, so you know this already right? Too bad we have your comments above showing likewise. Let’s be honest, neither science nor religion can ever prove with a doubt, scientifically how we got here. But to me, it is much more absurd to think that the big bang just came from nothing, we managed to be placed next a loving son that decided not to have massive solar flares that will destroy us, we just happened to come from apes, and our cortex’s developed at an amazing rate at just the nick of time! Sounds like an expedient explanation to me. Sounds absurd. Face it, we are the subjects of a great creator who had a plan. I apologize if I am a bit snarky, but the lack of reasonable arguments offered by others, and the condescension in your writing irked me. I implore you to be more open to God and Christianity for your sake. Here is where the Christian side comes in, I don’t like your attitude, but I still love you as another human being. That doesn’t come from living by human standards of morality.