The Tuesday Ear Tickler award is Solemn Charge’s weekly recognition of teachers who “Tickle the Ears” of those who “no longer endure sound doctrine”. In the spirit of 2 Timothy 4 2-4, this award serves to identify theological or doctrinal errors, dissent or hostility toward the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, or writing that undermines the purpose of each human soul – to know love and serve God so as to enjoy eternal happiness with Him in Heaven. I make no judgment of the writer’s intentions. Usually the winner of this award was raised in the 60’s so that right there is a mitigating factor toward their culpability for their actions. I do judge concrete actions and the quality of ideas, however…

Today’s winner is Frank Schaeffer writing on the CNN DisBelief Blog. We have a special treat for this iteration of the Ear Tickler Award: a good ol’ fashioned Hell denier! Schaeffer's father was a prominent Evangelical Christian Theologian, Francis Schaeffer. The apple may not have fallen far from the tree, but it seems to have rolled quite a way in this case. Schaeffer lays out his case for disbelief in Hell… (Schaeffer’s comments in the red quote boxes, my comments in black, Jesus' comments in red font.)

My Faith: The dangerous effects of believing in hell

Is it any coincidence that the latest war of religion that started on September 11, 2001, is being fought primarily between the United States and the Islamic world? It just so happens that no subgroups of humanity are more ingrained with the doctrine of hell than conservative Muslims and conservative Christians.

I see, so we are already lumping faithful Christians in with Islamic terrorists. This seems a little over the line until you realize that Schaeffer is an Obama lackey and a “pro-life, pro-Obama” oxymoron apologist. You know, the Obama that thinks pro-lifers are a terrorist group.

So whether you're an atheist or not, the issue of who's going to hell or not matters because there are a lot of folks on this planet – many of them extraordinarily well-armed - from born-again American military personnel to Muslim fanatics, who seriously believe that God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell.

At first, I thought this was just a sarcastic remark. Then after reading the rest of the article, I have come to realize that Schaeffer is not well-read when it comes to the teachings on hell, justice, and mercy. I do realize that the 9/11 terrorists may have thought they were purchasing their eternal reward with their actions, but it seems a bit juvenile to plaster that belief on the people who are defending our country. A quick 5-minute look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church would have served him well before making such ridiculous comments. By the way, the issue of hell will be very important for all of us, with implications reaching far beyond the worldly ones.

And so my view of "hell" encompasses two things: First, the theological question about whether a land of eternal suffering exists as God's "great plan" for most of humanity.

“God’s great plan for most of humanity”? These are the kinds of statements that reveal his lack of understanding of the subject matter. God’s plan for us is to know, love and serve Him in this life so that we can enjoy the rewards of our actions in Heaven. Hell is a choice some of us make. God doesn’t plan on any of us going to hell. He does however give us the choice to love Him and our neighbors. If we reject that choice, in the end, God is just giving us what we wanted when we rejected Him. Heaven is the joy of eternity with God. The eternity of sadness due to the separation from God is the part of hell that frightens me more than any temporal pains from fire.

Second, the question of the political implications of having a huge chunk of humanity believe in damnation for those who disagree with their theology, politics and culture, as if somehow simply killing one's enemies is not enough.

While there are many that believe this, it seems to me that a well-educated Christian would come to the conclusion, as the Catholic Church has, that God doesn’t damn people to hell because they don't hold a theological point or two. Damnation is a consequence of our pride and rejection of God’s grace.

Since Christianity is my tradition, I can say more about it. One view of God - the more fundamentalist view - is of a retributive God just itching to punish those who "stray."

Again, this is a shallow view.

The other equally ancient view, going right back into the New Testament era, is of an all-forgiving God who in the person of Jesus Christ ended the era of scapegoat sacrifice, retribution and punishment forever.

As Jesus said on the cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

What Schaeffer is missing here is the fact that forgiveness must be sought out. God does not bestow forgiveness on any and every person regardless of their disposition toward Him. It is true that God forgives people no matter how severe their sins, but we must first humble ourselves to seek that forgiveness. It’s the humbling ourselves part that many cannot bring themselves to.

While Jesus did seek forgiveness for the people crucifying Him, he also said:

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:4-6

That doesn’t sound all-forgiving to me. How about you?

That redemptive view holds that far from God being a retributive God seeking justice, God is a merciful father who loves all his children equally. This is the less-known view today because fundamentalists - through televangelists and others - have been so loud and dominant in North American culture.

Schaeffer doesn’t want a merciful father. He wants a non-confrontational grandfather who just gives his grandkids candy and a few dollars every time he sees them. A loving father disciplines His children so that they will develop virtue and love Him for giving them life, character and knowledge of good and evil. If your child runs into the street do you reward him or punish him? A loving father punishes appropriately so that the child learns from making mistakes.

But for all that, this redemptive view is no less real.

Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge. And according to brain chemistry studies, taking revenge and nurturing resentment is a major source of life-destroying stress.

“Believers in hell believe in revenge”. How do you like that for a blanket statement? I believe in hell, but I also believe that revenge is a great way to reject God’s will for us to “love our enemies”. Revenge is a sure path to hell for the one executing the revenge. A principled person also believes in self-defense, which is what the United States is doing against those who seek to wipe us off the map.

We need “hell” like a hole in the head. It’s time for the alternative of empathetic merciful religion to be understood.

We need Schaeffer’s shallow views on hell like we need a hole in the head. Allow me to make this very clear. Hell is a choice. No one goes to hell by accident. If you end up there, it is because you rejected God and His mercy. While God is merciful, he is also just. By denying the existence of hell, you are denying God’s infinite justice. It wouldn’t make sense for all of the runners in a race to win the Olympic gold medal, no matter how slow they ran. Likewise, it wouldn’t make sense for God to award the eternal joy of Heaven to those who don’t want it or have forsaken the love of God for the instant gratification and fleeting fun of a depraved life. It would make even less sense for the reward of Heaven to be indiscriminately given to those who would live in disregard or contempt for the moral law and reject the many graces given to them to help them turn back to God.

The dangerous part about what Schaeffer spews here is that it nullifies the struggle each of us makes against evil within our own souls. If we don't believe in hell, then there is no way we can believe in Heaven either. How could a just God allow one without the other? What happens after we die? Do we all go to heaven? If so, then why should I struggle to do good if doing evil will get me the same reward? Why not have some carnal fun in the process? If there is no hell, why not just dispatch everyone that doesn't agree with me? Has Schaeffer really not thought about these questions? Or is he just trying to sell a book with a sensationalist article to get attention?

I hereby award the Tuesday Ear Tickler Award to Frank Schaeffer for Tuesday, September 25, 2012.