At some Christian churches, I feel like I've traveled back in time to a political system in which people must serve their masters and worship their lords. This extended metaphor doesn't work for me.
One reason, among many, is its gendered nature. In conservative churches, I must obey a powerful male authority or else face terrible punishment. It's universal and eternal patriarchy.
That's why I was so intrigued by Sharon L. Baker's new book "Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You've Been Taught About God's Wrath and Judgment." Baker, an associate professor of theology and religion and coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Messiah College, takes the Christian Universalist stance that a loving, powerful god would not condemn anyone to eternal torment.
My respect for her grew when I discovered her aunt, who makes the best pies, attends my Unitarian Universalist church. (The aunt does have other accomplishments, such as being a retired lawyer, R.N. and who knows what else.) While I wait for my autographed book, here's a little bit from Baker's piece in the Huffington Post:
Hell creates a clash between justice and love. We unintentionally conjure up a cruel father who demands that unrepentant sinners spend eternity in the flames of hell, finding endless torture an agreeable way to achieve justice -- which is a far cry from the God who loves with an everlasting love. ... Hell assigns eternal violence to God: Traditional theories of hell not only keep evil in eternal existence; they also keep the cycle of violence in motion for all eternity as unfortunate souls suffer the ferocity of eternal torture because God requires it.
(I chose this photo because I liked the look of this church north of San Francisco on a rainy January day. I don't know the beliefs of its congregation.)