Here’s another golden oldie. This little number shot to the top of the charts in the summer of 09′. Now back digitally remastered and better than ever, here is “He said he would prefer to go to Hell…”
Belief and disbelief are often more complicated than we would like to admit. Consequently, drawing a line between those who are in God’s kingdom and those who are outside it is also not as easy as we often assume. I explored this notion in my last post on the “righteous Muslim” in the midst of the Rwandan genocide.I intend to push the discussion further here.
So how should we proceed? Well let me give you an account of someone who, when presented with sound doctrine and the sixteenth equivalent of “The Four Spiritual Laws”, rejected that gospel by saying that he would rather go to hell.
Your first reaction to such an account might be a distinct lack of sympathy and the thought that this rebel most surely got his wish. Of course based on such limited information this reaction is understandable. But is it possible that wishing to go to hell could, under certain circumstances, be a good thing?
Let’s begin with the stage setting. Sixteenth century Spanish priest Bartolomé de Las Casas provides our fullest acount of the Spanish occupation of Latin America, including the horrific genocide and innumerable specific atrocities wrought by the conquistadors. Here are a few of the horrors that Las Casas recounts:
“They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, ‘Boil there, you offspring of the devil!'”
Now against this backdrop turn to the encounter between a cacique (or tribal leader) and his Franciscan captors. In this encounter Hatuey, the cacique, has been told he will be executed (for no greater crime, it would seem, than not being Spanish), but that he can still save his soul before his body is slain:
“When tied to the stake, the cacique Hatuey was told by a Franciscan friar who was present, an artless rascal, something about the God of the Christians and of the articles of Faith. And he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him, in order to be saved and go to heaven. The cacique, who had never heard any of this before, and was told he would go to Inferno where, if he did not adopt the Christian Faith, he would suffer eternal torment, asked the Franciscan friar if Christians all went to Heaven. When told that they did he said he would prefer to go to Hell.”
Based upon what he had seen of Christianity — the hatred, the intolerance, the sheer evil — what should we think of the cacique’s final wish that he go to hell? Was it really the last wish of an intolerable rebel? Well if you were in Hatuey’s place, would you have wanted to go to heaven to be with the butchers?
In my judgment, Hatuey never rejected Christianity at all. Even if the Christianity he rejected was sound in doctrine, it was heretical in practice, and thus was rightly rejected.
The case is admittedly an extreme one, though if one considers the history of the church it is not as unusual as we would wish. But even if people today rarely “reject” Christianity under such extreme circumstances, the principle remains. Whenever people say they reject Christianity, we first need to enquire as to what it is they think they are rejecting.
When much of the world hears the word “Christian” they don’t think “Apostles’ Creed, yuck! Incarnation and substitutionary atonement? Forget about it! Holy Trinity? I want nothing to do with that! Salvation by grace? No, I’ll do it on my own”. Rather, they think of the very worst of western pop culture and foreign policy. Is it so obvious what they are rejecting?
And what of the Muslim Tutsi child who saw his family hacked to bits by Christian Hutus? What has he rejected? And what about the religionless wino who you see on your drive in to work everyday? What’s his story?
Perhaps rather than being so confident on who is in and who is out, we should focus more on living a witness to the gospel that makes the tragic wish of that cacique unimaginable.