Over at Opinionated Man he has a brief comment about those telling you you are going to hell and their own certainty. I commented and he politely replied. I know exactly what he is talking about.
I once ran into a 19 year old “street preacher” on a university campus, shouting “you fornicators, you generation of vipers” at the top of his lungs. I spoke with him asking him whether he was helping or harming Christianity. He felt he was saving people by forcing them to confront their sin and decadence. He was a caricature of the fire and brimstone preacher, smug, ostensibly certain and sanctimonious. In the end he was making a truth claim no matter how odious the vehicle he delivering, to wit, if you reject Jesus as your savior you go to hell. Is that true? You must decide for yourself. If it isn’t true, no reason to be upset. If you told me don’t go into the woods at dusk the magical creatures might get me, I have no reaction*. All religions have truth claims. Those claims are mutually exclusive, for example, “All roads lead to God” which is Hindu. “There is but one God and Mohammed is his prophet”, Islam. Buddhism is systematic atheism. Jesus claimed to be the living sacrifice to make peace between God and man. I’ve heard people who claim to be Christians say all roads lead to God not realizing that in fact, that belief alone makes them more Hindu than Christian. We don’t seem to like absolutes; we like to have a little wiggle room (unless it’s in our politicians who the more they express uncertainty the less likely they are to be voted into office).
Is that street preacher certain? Let’s take Christianity as true by it’s claims as a thought experiment, that means the preacher believes he is saved, that God’s spirit dwells in him and that spirit strengthens his faith. Those are all teachings in the Christian faith. If the foregoing is true then he is certain. If he rejects those teachings but preaches them anyway then he is not certain and rather a low order self-serving hypocrite. If those teachings are false then he is certain only by delusion or psychopathy. It seems to me most people commenting were assuming the third choice. There are two others.
As a final thought consider this on the notion of hell which never crossed my mind until I heard a theologian being interviewed — on NPR? I don’t remember. He said paraphrasing, God condemns no one to hell but ratifies a choice they have already made for eternity. While people live if they choose to live apart from God when they die he makes that choice permanent. Total alienation from God is hell.
*An old German told me this actually when I was entering at sunset the forest the brothers Grimm used to like to walk in (according to a local). He was serious; I was an adult at the time and he was moving quickly coming out of the forest. Pass auf Junge!