How to Go to Heaven

Long stairway with bright white steps toward blue clouds

Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash

Most Americans are centrists to a little tad left on social issues. Poll after poll shows that. Sure, we must fight the good fight for social justice, but the polls show secular Americans, liberal mainline denominations, and a lot of nonprofits are carrying the banner for our social causes. That’s not the reason Unitarian Universalist or Humanist groups exist.  We exist primarily—existentially—because we offer theological and philosophical hope through the possibility for another way of thinking and another way of living. 

Free-thought.

Yet—you can look this up, but please don’t “like” them or “follow” them—look up Stedfast Baptist Church in Hurst, Texas. This church has more subscribers on YouTube and more social media followers and views than the entire Unitarian Universalist Association and American Humanist Association combined. 

Stedfast Baptist Church is smaller than First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. Stedfast Baptist Church teaches that stoning rebellious children is the right way to deal with problem children—yes, that is indeed in the bible, Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Stedfast Baptist Church also sponsors an anti-gay pride month. 

Now, sure, the lurid messaging they do is part of the social media numbers—like a train wreck, it’s hard to look away. 

The Stedfast Baptist Church—when I took a look at their website anyway—led with a phrase: “How to go to heaven.” 

“How to go to heaven.” 

This is typical of a certain sort of Christian church. There are some unexamined assumptions embedded in that question. One, that there is an afterlife; two, that an individual somehow has a consciousness that follows it from life into the afterlife; that there is a heaven; and that the map that Stedfast Baptist Church has is the map to go with on that eternal journey. 

Admittedly, Stedfast Baptist Church has one advantage over liberal congregations: they can use the full weight of the Christian tradition that has controlled the European mind and the minds of those in its colonies—for more than a thousand years. Everyone who goes to that website who has a particular set of social locations will know what “heaven” means in that telling of the story; and everyone who goes to that site with said assumptions will believe that they have an eternal soul that will indeed be conscious of itself in that afterlife. Also, most visitors to that site will have a preexisting prejudice toward believing that the scriptures the church refers to are indeed “true” and correct about the way to heaven. 

Those are the resources that Stedfast Church has.

What about liberal congregations? 

I think we have the better message: It’s not likely there’s an eternal life in which any of us possesses our present consciousness, which is a good thing, since eternity would be deadly boring anywhere you spend it. We agree with the sentiment expressed by the poet Emily Dickinson:

. . . instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

I’m going, all along. (#236) 

But back to Stedfast Baptist Church . . .

Under “soul winning” they quote the book of Proverbs from Hebrew scripture:

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; 

and he that winneth souls is wise. (11:30)

This is from the King James Version of the bible. But wait! That passage can’t mean what it is presented on that website as meaning. The ancient Hebrews had no concept of “winning souls” in the context that fundamentalist American Christians use the term.

So, I looked up the verse in a more reliable translation, the New Revised Standard Version, where it says, 

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
but violence takes lives away.

Very different meaning, isn’t it? Instead of being an encouragement to “winning souls,” it is a statement equating righteousness with non-violence. 

Which is the “better” message?

We have to ask ourselves why: why is their message so popular and ours largely ignored? Why, when most Americans don’t believe in stoning their disobedient children or shaming gay people? Why?

One reason I think is liberal hubris: In our own minds, we long ago won the “best sales award” in the marketplace of ideas. We consider ourselves so patently in the right that any right-thinking person will obviously see it our way. 

Well . . . many Americans don’t. 

What if we get down off our high horse as liberals and see ourselves as just another voice crying in the media wilderness? 

How about we look around us and see that we must keep on message?

Yes, our beliefs are in the majority among Americans. Most Americans believe in a multi-cultural, multi-religious, and accepting America. But it’s a vague set of beliefs. Most Americans haven’t thought that much about it. Too many Americans have not committed to examining those values and working for them.

And so those who have thought a lot about it—the religious right; the social conservatives—have a message that they believe in so much that they get it out there and preach it.

We must get our aspirations out there: we must both show and tell that a good and virtuous life is possible in the here and now motivated by nothing more than a conviction that doing good is good to do. 

We must communicate our zest for life and living—free thinking, free living, and, as Humanist theologian Je’ Hooper would add, “free-forming.” 

Go ahead: get out there and show humanist social media content some love . . .

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