Good News! You’re Going to Hell (unless you join my religion)

A friend of mine, who had a much longer experience with Christian fundamentalism than I did, sent me this poem. It’s from a collection called “Let There Be Light Poems” by Phillip Appleman

Christian Tee Shirt?
Christian Tee Shirt?

An Eye for an Eye

Philip Appleman

“Are you saved?” he asks me,
sunrise in the corner of his eye,
a snag at the edge of his voice.
In a blur of memory, I see the others:
the preacher who used to trounce
my tender sins,
kids at church camp, their brimstone choirs
shrill with teenage lust gone underground,
true believers come knocking to tell me
that flaming hell is real.
And those twisted faces on the tube:
Christian gunmen in Beirut, their hot eyes
exploding in the beds of sleeping children;
the righteous hatreds of Belfast, lighting
Irish eyes like a tenement fire;
the eyes of the Ayatollah, squinting with joy
at the blood of his blindfolded prisoners.
It smolders in the windows of the soul,
that holy blaze, never so bright
as in human sacrifice,
never so proud as in crimson crusades,
the glorious, godlike destruction.

Source: Let There Be Light: Poems

Ah. Sweet memory.


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  1. #1 by Steve on March 27, 2009 - 7:55 pm

    Yeah, gotta do something about those power-mad Lutherans. Time to start rounding up the Christers…

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on March 27, 2009 - 9:37 pm

      I had to look that up – “Christers” – never heard it before. It’s a derogatory term, no doubt, but hasn’t it been the “Christers” who usually do the rounding up? (Unless this word only had to do with the Church of Christ. A little help, please.) And the Lutherans have had their associations with the power-mad, for sure.

      Anyway, the point of the poem (I think) is that the violent excesses of religion have other, more ‘benign’ zealotries as their source.

  2. #3 by Charles on March 27, 2009 - 9:55 pm

    Violent excesses of every kind, religious and otherwise, have more benign sources. The point of the poem seems, to me, to condemn anyone who calls sin what it is by associating them with other sinners.

    I understand getting hurt by a church, or by other Christians, but associating a pastor who preaches against sin with an ayatollah who encourages attacks on non-believers and condones “honor killings” (otherwise known as decapitating your wife for pointing out you’re a bad husband)…that’s just ridiculous.

    Every group has had its “associations with the power-mad”. Except Mennonites and the Amish, maybe. But they have their own struggles.

    This poem is just another way to feel superior to someone else, because you don’t do what they do. Unfortunately, the act of writing and sharing it is doing exactly what they do. Well, what we do.

  3. #4 by Christian Beyer on March 28, 2009 - 8:37 am

    Welcome, Charles. Good points, although I do disagree with your assertion that this poem (and my sharing of it) is an attempt at feeling superior to others (in this case, fundamentalists) because, in part, the poet suggests that he was at one time a fundamentalist himself so likely has at least some empathy.

    In my case, I chose to illustrate this poem with the sample of the tee shirt above because that is precisely the type that I would wear, out in public, and with great zeal. I truly felt ‘superior’ in many ways to those who were not Christian (‘of this world’) much in the same way some prohibitionists take relish in pointing out what they believe is the self-destructive ‘stupidity’ of the smoker or drinker. Believe, me; I was not unique. Now today, if I continued to wear tee-shirt or bumper stickers that cleverly pointed out where the Reformed Church or fundamental Islamists were in error….

    Can a preacher who singles out specific sins, suggesting that they are in some way more heinous than others, lead to extreme social behavior? For example, the constant tirade against sexual sin (compared to the nearly relative silence on financial sin) coming from the conservative Christian pulpits; can that not be linked to some of the violent behavior of extreme Christians? Just as the (relatively) moderate Islamic religious leader who insists upon patriarchy assists the extremist to find legitimacy in his violent acts.

    I truly believe that this type of religion has little to with the Gospel and does a great disservice to God. Of course, no one is perfect, but that doesn’t mean that one should never criticize another in a public forum, poetically or otherwise, especially when that other is so vocal and states so firmly that they hold the only real truth about God, having no qualms about denigrating all those who do not convert to their way of belief.

    I agree with most of what you say in your excellent post on the emerging church’s search for Common Ground , I do not believe that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us. The emperor has no clothes; Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell do not serve the same God. (Of course Rob Bell’s god is the real God 😉 ) I do not worship the same God that I worshiped five years ago, at least not the Father. I still, though, encounter Jesus in the way I encountered him then, and that perception is what helped lead me away from the comfortable and satisfying world of fundamentalism.

    But you are right. There is danger in becoming exactly that which we tend to criticize. Keeping that perspective in sight is essential and I appreciate your observation. And please keep coming back. (I’ll try not to be so verbose in the future 🙂 )

  4. #5 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on March 28, 2009 - 6:05 pm

    Does your conscience bother you, Chris?

  5. #6 by Christian Beyer on March 29, 2009 - 8:05 am

    Sure does. But no longer about the things it used to, back when I was a reactionary Christian; was I being lustful? was I not tithing enough? should I be wandering about the big city, handing out leaflets and tracts, perhaps even wearing a sandwich board like some courageous souls I know.

    I do realize that my choice of lifestyle, my pursuit of the “American Dream” is often -no- usually done at the expense of others. Our culture is still based upon exploitation and I am a comfortable part of that system (even as I am being exploited by some)

    (You’ve GOT to read “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. Your conscience would start bothering you, too.)

  6. #7 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on March 29, 2009 - 10:29 pm

    Oh sure. Wrong! B. S.

    You do not take away from someone else because you try and be active and to be economically viable as a family.

    The squalor in other countries (and in our big cities and rural areas) is the fault of those governments who fail to provide for their own people, and those people who refuse to be productive. And don’t give me that BS about no jobs–I was just in Pittsburgh,and they don’t wallow in self-pity about closed industries (and if they can fix their problems of closed steel mills, than Detroit and Flint can do more to find new innovative solutions).

    In foreign countries, like in Mexico, plenty of money and wealth is in the economy, but wealthy people and the government prevent the money from being spread around–and rely on the pity of Americans to fund their welfare systems.

    Nothing is wrong with being a productive person.

    I one tried to fool myself into be an ascetic–believe me, no honor is found in wallowing in poverty or “simplicity.”

    And no honor is found in failure, this is a lie.

    Yes, we should give, but no, we should never feel guilt about being a success, or having enough (or even having some excess).

    I’ve been broke, and the greatest sin was not providing what my children needed, not the worry about having had too much.

    The biggest lie is guilt.

    A lie!

    • #8 by Christian Beyer on March 30, 2009 - 9:44 am

      You’ve missed the point. Of course there is no dishoner in being wealthy or successful. That’s not what is being said.

      As for governments ‘taking care’ of their people or even the more prosperous among us being charitible to those in need – this only addresses symptoms and not the cause of these problem.

      Today many countries (such as Mexico) produce tremendous amounts of food that their own people cannot partake of because it is shipped to the States and Europe. We have grown accustomed to eating tomatoes and lettuce and asparagus in the dead of winter, and we will pay for it. The global economy dictates that food will be grown wherever it can be done so cheaply and then, at great expense, shipped to those places where it can be sold most dearly. Meanwhile our own government (meaning you and me) subsidize huge agrobusiness so that they can produce corn cheaply, benefitting those big corporations that use great quantities of it (Coke, McDonalds, ADM etc. Read the labels – just about everything is made with some derivative of corn, particularly the sweetener HFCS.) So we pay a premium for junk food that is subsidized by our government and pay premium prices for food grown overseas and expensively shipped. (And this does not include the ‘hidden’ costs having to do with higher taxes for subsidies, environmental damage and poor nutrition). Very little of this money ever makes it into the pockets of the actual farmer, in Mexico or in Iowa.

      Just one example. Multiply this in a few hundred differnt ways….

  7. #9 by logiopsychopath on March 30, 2009 - 4:41 pm


    You’re are right–in Mexico, land is worth a fraction as in the U. S. Mexico’s system is designed to reward the wealthy and keep the poor poor. For example, a few years ago the Mexican government used the equal of emminent domain to take land from farmers–they received a few dollars per acre. In the U. S., this would have been a jackpot for many of these landowners.

    The cash crop system is also a tragedy. People should, as Paul says, be given first fruits of their own labor. This was the U. S. system until a few years ago–and in fact is the Back Story to The Grapes of Wrath–homesteaders were “given” crappy land. Some made “a go” for a while. After a couple of generations, the homesteaders were forced to either mortgage their land or become tenants on their own land. The fictictious Jodes were one such family.

    Also, as Steinbeck points out, farmers and ranchers wasted tons of food during the depression, often under government orders. In other words, the means to feed people during the Depression existed, but the government destroyed the food rather than feeding people who were starving.

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