When I was a teenager, I was fine with the idea of Heaven but refused to believe in Hell. I was quite happy that there might be good in people that I was incapable of seeing (after all, I had untold hidden depths and was understood by nobody outside of nineteenth-century fiction). I could not, however, comprehend a God who would create a human being only to send his creation to eternal torment. These days, I feel as though I’m seeing Hell in the papers every day – in scenes from Aleppo, in tweets objecting to a black family being used in a Christmas advertisement, in the way that Brexit and Trump have legitimized a racist, misogynist rhetoric that is seeping into the mainstream with very little challenge. To be clear, I am not saying that all Brexiteers are racist, or that all Trump voters echo the misogyny of their chosen candidate. I am, however, asking them to examine their responses to the charge.
These are the things I have recently read or heard, prefaced with ‘Because I am a Christian.’
I carry a gun.
I cannot date this person to whom I am highly attracted.
I cannot make a cake for a couple who are about to marry.
I cannot allow my wife to work outside the home.
I cannot rent a room in my bed and breakfast to a gay couple.
There is no circumstance in which I will support abortion.
I am voting for Donald Trump.
I am being guided through Brexit by God.
So where on earth does that leave me? Because I support equal marriage. I support free, safe and legal access to abortion. I think governments should be secular, and should enshrine equal rights for all citizens, and that businesses should act within the law – which means they must pay taxes and make cakes for, or give accommodation to, customers whose requests are legal. And I simply don’t believe that God is reacting to Brexit and Trump in any other way than shaking his head at the whole lot of us and going off with my purple-winged angel to hear Prince play live.
The thing is, we have everything we need to make a Heaven of this earth. We have intelligence, and empathy, and resources a-plenty. We have ears to hear each other, and hearts to empathise. We look to a God we don’t quite believe in for something we’re not quite sure of, and turn away when we don’t get it. The God I see reflected in the opinions above isn’t a divine being – it’s just a word, an excuse for prejudice, a reason to value certain people less than others. Trump declares that he is a Christian, that he loves his church. He believes that, and calls Mexicans rapists and revels in the freedom fame gave him to grab women by the pussy. Is it any wonder that I shrink from any declaration that begins, ‘Because I am a Christian’? There’s Hell, right there, in the pinning of inequality and control on a deity who came to the outcast and the downtrodden.
What, then, is Heaven? Staying up till two o’clock in the morning making gingerbread snowflakes because child 3 wants to present each of his teachers with a packet but only got as far as pouring flour into a bowl before he had to go to bed? Stepping over an elephant every time I need an envelope? Surely Heaven, whatever and wherever it is, is the state we would be in if we listened to each other. If we remembered the lessons history has taught us, and respected ourselves enough to truly respect others. Do we actually need God for that?
I’m not entirely sure, and I have six black cloaks to make in a very short amount of time, with an unreliable sewing machine and only a very hazy idea of how to do it. He’s going to have to wait while I watch the mess I’m sure to create, swearing loudly and wishing I’d never started. Who knows, he could be doing the same.