Al Stefanelli claims to be “a voice of reason in an unreasonable world.” If so, then apparently it’s “reasonable” to “scare the s*** out of small children.” Those are his words, not mine. Stefanelli proposes a “social experiment” of approaching children whose parents are wearing Christian-themed clothes or jewelry, and asking them,
“Did you know that if you don’t behave yourself, you will be be tortured and burned to the brink of death and kept in severe and writhing pain forever and ever and ever, with no hope of ever getting away!”
Before [the parent] can respond, ask them if they believe what the bible says about hell, and what happens to people who don’t behave. This works no matter if you believe in salvation by grace or by works, as Scripture is so malleable and enigmatic that it won’t take much effort to explain the lighter points of eternal damnation with respect to children. You got a fifty/fifty shot of the parent being a Pentecostal, and if the kid hasn’t said the sinners prayer, you’ve won half the battle, already.
Stefanelli has the doctrine of hell and salvation down pat and perfect, or so he thinks: he knows exactly what Scripture says about it and exactly what it means. He knows that it means exactly what he thinks and nothing else. That’s pretty good for a man who at the same time believes “Scripture is so malleable and enigmatic…” He’s an absolute literalist who thinks the Bible’s meaning is perfectly clear, and an absolute anti-literalist who thinks its meaning can’t be determined, both at the same time. Tell me, please, is that a voice of reason speaking?
But that’s not all. He presents the child (in this supposed social experiment) with a works-based theology of salvation, and then he says it doesn’t matter if the parent believes in salvation by grace or by works. Now it so happens that most people who believe in the reality of hell also believe in salvation by grace, so odds are the parent would tell the child that the strange man accosting him or her is wrong. To which Stefanelli’s response would apparently be, “How can I be wrong on this? It’s not clear in Scripture that I’m wrong about works and grace, so I can’t be wrong!” But (a) Scripture is actually clear on this, so he is in fact wrong, and (b) if Scripture actually were as unclear as he says it is, then he couldn’t be right or wrong. There would be no right or wrong opinion. I ask you again, is that a voice of reason speaking?
Once you explain to the parent that you were being biblical, expounding the wisdom of God, see if the parent doesn’t then smile approvingly. It won’t be long after an exchange of hallelujahs that they will be thanking God for the wisdom He has bestowed on you, and thanking all the angels on the head of a pin that you have chosen their child to be the recipient of a glorious revelation.
Of course, this won’t matter to the kid, who will no doubt be scared s***less and have yet another bible story to have nightmares over. Nothing like a healthy dose of demons and devils to add to human sacrifice, talking snakes and giant holes opening up that will swallow them whole, depositing them into a dusty, dark and earth-crushing grave to round out their proper upbringing and assuring a lifetime of mental stability.
Stefanelli claims to understand Scripture (“being biblical, expounding the wisdom of God”). He probably thinks he understands reality. Somehow it bothers him that Scripture reflects reality. Somehow it has escaped his notice that demons, devils, holes in the earth, and the talking snake were not affirmed in the Bible. Somehow it escapes his notice that parents can use good judgment in deciding which parts of reality they expose their children to, and also which parts of Scripture. Is that a voice of reason speaking?
This is just another instance of what my co-authors and I wrote about in True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism: they claim to be the representatives of reason, but in fact they aren’t very good at it.