I understand the centrality of the doctrine of grace in classical Christianity that none are deserving of salvation and so seeking it through works alone is like jumping higher and higher in a hole that is seventy feet deep. I realize therefore that in this scenario only grace can reach down and grab you out. I also realize that this means that for thousands of years pious people, good people, kind people, righteous people, are consigned to hell while those who have lived cruel lives but been touched by grace at the end are saved. It means Anne Frank goes to hell. It means Elie Wiesel will go to hell. It means Maimonides and Rabbi Akiba and my father are all in hell. With as much respect as I can muster, I reject this as a perverse doctrine, one that is an affront to what I understand to be moral and true.
The apparent cruelty of such a doctrine notwithstanding, the implications for treatment of others matters even more. Judaism reiterates that “the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come.” As a result, one need not be Jewish to be saved, whatever salvation may mean. This doctrine by contrast holds that only believing Christians can be saved. For a member of a group that has been persecuted (among many other reasons) for thinking we are “chosen” it is ironic that you can join Judaism but don’t have to, while many of those who persecuted Jews would consign you to hell if you do not join them.
I treasure - no exaggeration or irony - the goodness and sweetness of many of my Christian brothers and sisters. I don’t think they mean the meanness of this view. But for me, Reverend Bell is pointing a way to a Christianity that is marked by moral sanity. Wherever Anne Frank is, that is where I would want to end up. Hers is the company to keep. I cannot imagine a faith that would not wish, somewhere deep in its soul, to proclaim the same.
David Wolpe | Mar 17, 2011 4:56 PM