Monday night at our Cohort gathering we, of course, began by discussing the controversy surrounding Rob Bell's book about Heaven and Hell. I like the fact that in the 2 hours and 45 minutes of our discussion we never got around to anyone really defining their personal beliefs about the after-life (it wasn't the point!), but rather we discussed what I believe to be deeper issues within the controversy.
Why is there such a backlash from those who disagree with Bell?
There were many reasons brought up... superiority, fear, imperialism, ect... and not all were dealing with this particular event (Rob's book), but in general, why people get angry or feel the need to write someone off they do not agree with.
One proposition I have been thinking about is the idea that different views challenge our preconceived ideas of how the cosmos works, some of which are the basis of how we view everything else.
For example in this situation, there are some who follow Jesus because by doing so they believe they will be saved from hell and go to heaven. So when someone questions that belief or presents a different understanding of hell it challenges or threatens the core of their faith. And that can be a scary thing.
We usually are skeptical about anything that challenges our preconceived beliefs. For instance, my wife recently told me about a book which describes a young boy who apparently died during a surgical procedure and went to heaven for a bit where he saw a beautiful place, as well as, deceased relatives which he described in detail sometime after he was revived.
So a story many people would find comfort and beauty in I immediately discredit as being made up or imagined or even a ploy to sell books. Why? Because what was described, heaven as a physical place which exist somewhere in the universe, didn't line up with my already, preconceived understanding/belief of of heaven.
I imagine that some reading this would find the book comforting and affirm that the boy really experienced heaven, because it lines up with their understanding of heaven as a place where one (if saved of course) goes after they die. It in some ways confirms their faith.
However, imagine if the boy is describing what he saw in heaven, streets of gold, beloved ones who had past away, the apostle Paul, Hitler, Jesus,.... Wait, Hitler?
Immediately most would discredit the boys account, the same account you were just on board with, but because you probably do not think of Hitler being in heaven it would challenge and even threaten some of your core beliefs about the after-life and conditions for salvation. And no one likes to be threatened.