I had a conversation the other day that was particularly interesting in the light of my recent attempts to convince myself I was a Christian (see other posts).
I was talking to this Christian man, the whitest of whited sepulchres he (like almost every Christian I know), and I told him, "I would like to believe in God but I can't."
"It's not a question of believing or not believing in God, He exists outside of your struggles with your own conscience and morality. If you don't accept Him into your life and repent your sins, you will be going to Hell."
"I want to go to Hell," I said. "It will be warmer and there'll be better music playing, and I want to see my friends and family who've gone there before me."
"You think your friends and family are going to Hell?"
"Well, if they don't at least I'll get to hang out with Keith Richards. But wait a moment, I thought you said God was a forgiving God?"
"He is a forgiving God. He forgives you all your sins."
"Then why won't he forgive me for not believing in Him and let me into Heaven? Isn't He being rather petulent?"
"If you make statements like that, you will certainly go to Hell."
" 'Well, here we are, in trouble again,'" I said, quoting Norman Mailer when he requested to take a giant spliff with him to his desert island on Desert Island Discs back in the Seventies.
And while we're examining theological matters--forgive me, these questions have been piling up since my erstwhile Christian friend first gave me a Bible to read--what's prayer all about? How does that work? Leonard Woolf asks these questions in his 1962 autobiography Sowing, which I just finished reading today. Does God only do nice things for people who ask Him nicely? How paternalistic is that? Will He sit back and watch one person's life go to Hell in a handbasket because that person doesn't ask Him to fix it, while bestowing all sorts of good things on the person next door, who may be vastly less deserving but just happens to know the formula for divine petition? Surely a loving, forgiving God would do more for the person who is distressed and lost than the smug and selfish saved ones who keep asking for more and more on top of the already considerable gift of eternal salvation? What does He want, proof of your love and credulity? A stroke of the celestial ego?
I'm sorry if these questions seem irreverent or offensive to anyone (well, I'm not really: I have to stop pretending I'm not an arrogant tosser, it irritates people so much when the truth comes out), but something in all this Christian blather just doesn't fit. That's why I fell out of grace with the Christian woman and ended up back on my couch with a bottle of beer in the shadow of a large wooden Buddha cursing the fates for the absurdity of human existence.
I'd be pleased to hear from anyone who can untie these theological knots, but please, no more threats of an eternity of Hellfire. It has as much impact on a dedicated sinner as Supernanny threatening to place a psychotic child in the naughty corner.