Friday, May 01, 2009

Loving Anthony Fremont

You may not remember the name but, if you are over 40, you know Anthony Fremont. He was played by a young Billy Mummy in an episode of the Twilight Zone entitled "It's a Good Life". The story focuses on an omnipotent 6 year old. The whole town lives in abject fear of Anthony, yet they are powerless to do anything about him. Though the townspeople find most of his actions abhorrent, they are forced to call his actions good... lest they earn his displeasure. Conversations went like this:

Mr. Fremont: It's snowing outside! Anthony, are you making it snow?

Anthony Fremont: Yes, I'm making it snow.

Mr. Fremont: Why, that'll ruin half the crops! You know that, don't you, half the crops! That's what that... But it's good you're making it snow. It's real good. And tomorrow's going to be a good day too.

Somewhere along my Christian walk I started to notice that many of my fellow Christians sounded like the townspeople who surrounded Anthony. They would call some of the most abhorrent behaviors and events good, because they felt these things were authored by God. This became particularly obvious when discussing Hell. I could not believe how inverted right and wrong began to sound. It was like a Twilight Zone episode with God as Anthony Fremont.

Townspeople: Where are those screams coming from?

god: Those are people, they are in Hell, they had bad thoughts about me.

Townspeople: (horror stricken) What is happening to them?

god: They are being burned alive. Tortured. Flayed. They are bad people, they are very bad people, and they keep thinking bad thoughts about me.

Townspeople: (pale and shaken) When does it stop?

god: Never. You don't think it should stop do you? I wouldn't like it if you thought that...

Townspeople: Oh no... it's real good that you're torturing them... it's.... real good...

Since the episode was less than 30 minutes, it never addressed the next logical step. Eventually, the sycophants would have begun to surround Anthony. A step beyond fear, these folks would have tried to use their relationship with Anthony to make others fear them. As Tacitus said, "They terrify lest they should fear".

I have met these folks too. They use God as a hammer on others; almost hopeful of the doom they believe awaits those who reject their message.

If you have been on my blog at all, you know that I have renounced this view entirely. After many years of playing theological twister trying to call evil good for the sake of orthodoxy, I let it go and began to see God with new eyes. I no longer walk on eggshells, wondering if God is going to wish me or a loved one "into the cornfield". Perfect love has cast out fear.

And that is good... really good.


Sherry said...

Brilliant, that's all I can say.

Thanks Andrew.

Don Hendricks said...

The movie version of that episode was even more spooky with the special effects. I have never made the connection you just made and it is very effective. When you post you make my day. Maybe this view of God is on its way out for good.

Don in AZ

Steve H. said...

I thought when this post started, it was going to be another blast at education / parenting which the Anthony Freemont picture would also do justice for.

Andy, is your frustration more at the way SOME Christians have used hell?

I mean (and we've had this discussion before) your premise rests on basically, "I don't believe there is a hell, so it doesn't exist." (Or if there is one, God would never actually send anyone there.)

I prefer to say I don't understand. There were many things our parents told us that we thought were absolutely wrong or misguided. Then we became parents and we said, "OK, NOW I understand what they were saying."

I trust In God and know that although I don't understand all the eternal punishment stuff now, one day I'll say, "OK, now I understand why you HAD to do this or that."

Andrew said...

"your premise rests on basically, "I don't believe there is a hell, so it doesn't exist."

My premise rests on so much more than that. It is fairly easy to argue, from scripture, against the idea of eternal, unredemptive torment. Not that there are not a few arguments for it, but that is why I have always said that what we take away from scripture says more about us than it does about God.

Steve H. said...

When Jesus says there is a hell, and some (if not many) people will be sent there), then "what we take away from scripture" means very little.

It put us in the position of being God in that our perceived preferences change reality. What you or I take away from scripture will not change reality.

I'm not argueing FOR eternal punishment, I'm just saying you have to do huge theological gymnastics to say Jesus didn't really mean what he said.

Andrew said...

But what we take away says EVERYTHING. You choose to say that those verses trump... and therefore reject scripture that contradicts that position. How you choose to interpret those verses trumps contradictory interpretations. I am not saying I do differently, but I will acknowledge that is what I am doing... you don't see that you are setting your interpretation as the default position. The fish doesnt notice it is wet.

In my acknowledgment that this is how I read and interpret... this is how I read it then, this is how I read it now.. I encourage others to sift.

Your statement assumes you are accepting reality as it is... I think that is a presumptive assumption.

Steve H. said...

Actually, I do sift. But I also do not try to circumvent. If Jesus says directly, "That wall is red" I have to concur it is red. Now if I don't like red walls, or think it is wrong for people to have red walls, I can come up with a theology that would suggest that Jesus didn't really mean it when he said, "The wall is red".

But it would still be red...

Janet S. said...

Hell has to be the most difficult doctrine of the Bible. Yet the question to be posed is not does Hell exist, but whether those who go there are victims of an egotistical tyrant, or their own rejection of mercy.

The Scriptures clearly speak of Hell, but they speak more about what God has done to save people from it.

Andrew said...

Janet.... To torture someone forever because they reject mercy? So I beat someone because they don't respond how I feel they should to my being kind to them??

I think it is one of the most unfortunate things about much of Christianity that the intersection of God with humanity has been reduced to God providing a select group a way out of being tortured eternally.

It really does remind me of Anthony Fremont. If you believe that God is going to give you goodies... while consigning the vast majority of his creation to unspeakable torture..... How can you trust such a being to not turn on you at some point in eternity. Forever is a long time to spend with someone who has such possibilities.

Bruce said...

The Bible says what you want it to say. Every theological persuasion can be proved from Scripture.

For most of the history of Christianity Christians have believed in a literal hell. They believed in a God of judgment. What has changed?

Many Christians are uncomfortable with such a view of God and future judgment. It is offensive to their modern sensibilities.

For me I can no longer believe in such a God.

Let me end my comment with the words of a young Calvinistic seminary student. He writes:

I think that God intended the Fall to purposely create a system where only a few would be lavished with his mercy, while the remainder suffered his wrath. As above, that would maximize his glory. Again, the comfort level with that answer is minimal for me, however confident I am in the veracity of the answer. Satan is a part of God’s plan, for better or for worse.

At least in his theological world God gets ALL the credit.

John Tuffin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John T said...

I always found the Christian position of "God doesn't send people to hell, people send themselves to hell" Similar to Tony Soprano telling one of his victims "I didn't break your leg you made me break your leg."

Ian Zeggman said...

I have always regarded the "It's a Good Life" episode of the Twilight Zone as a subversive way of speaking about religion. I'm surprised to see a believer make the same connection.

It amazes me still that genuinely moral people can rationalize eternal torture for past transgressions as something a moral agent could legitimately justify. "Believe now or suffer for eternity" ("That's good that you're torturing those sinners, God. That's a real good thing.") is truly a monstrous worldview.

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