Do Pastors Really Believe in Hell? March 28, 2011

Do Pastors Really Believe in Hell?

There’s been plenty of controversy over Pastor Rob Bell‘s latest book Love Wins and the question of whether or not hell exists (Rob says it does).

But it raises an interesting question: How many pastors really believe in hell?

Sure, we often hear about those who preach hellfire, but why is it that the concept of Hell seems to disappear when someone dies?

Caleb Wilde, a funeral director, puts it this way (emphasis his):

I have worked about 3,000 funerals in my 10 years as a funeral director and I have NEVER heard a pastor state conclusively that the person they are memorializing is going to hell… although I’ve heard thousands of messages that state CONCLUSIVELY that the deceased is in heaven!!!

There’s been some fancy preachwork done by pastors for those who lived less than clean, God honoring lives. I remember one pastor saying about a man who blatantly hated God, “This man didn’t like God, but he was a man who loved the outdoors. And anybody who loves the outdoors is like a lover of God because God created the outdoors.”

Honestly… I don’t think pastors are actually lying (some of them, like the example I used above might twist the truth)… I think pastors honestly have the hope that — despite evidence to the contrary — the deceased finds himself or herself in the presence of God.

Of course, they don’t. They’re dead. And they end up in the same place whether it’s a heart attack, a suicide, a murder, or an accident.

When a pastor delivers a eulogy, though, all of them are seemingly in the presence of God… even the people who never went to church or who blasphemed God on a regular basis. (There must be a hell of a lot of death-bed conversions in their minds…)

That’s what pastors do. They offer false hope, no matter what the situation is. No one wants to hear that their loved ones are in hell, so a pastor will rarely admit that. The question is whether they honestly believe the deceased is in Heaven or whether they’re just lying to the audience to make everything seem better.

Since most of you are atheists, I wonder: Have any of you been to a funeral where the pastor said the deceased was going to spend eternity in Hell?

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  • My great uncle (a priest) told my mother her stillborn (and therefore unbaptised) child didn’t make it to heaven… Not quite the same thing but similar.

  • Adrian

    I used to do some casual work for a local funeral home, once we provided services for a man who had definitely been a bad boy, yet his parents paid for a Mormon preacher to do the service, I don’t think the bloke had been in a church in his entire life! all his biker mates were looking around trying to work out what was going on!

  • Richard Wade

    I’ve never heard a pastor say the deceased went to hell, but I’ve endured a couple of eulogies by relatives where I wanted to tell them to go to hell. Phoney hypocrites disapproved of a wonderful guy all his life, then they’re suddenly congratulating him on making it to heaven. Screw you.

  • Thaddeus

    I’ve a large family (Irish Catholic on my dad’s side) and thus have been to a myriad funerals. While the priests have never explicitly stated that one of my relatives were going to Hell; when my aunt Kink died, the Msgr. performing the service made some unflattering remarks about my aunt’s lifestyle and career (she had a masters in phlosophy). My family then banned him from any religious ceremonies (a ridiculous notion by itself.)

  • I’ve never been to a funeral where that happened, but one of the pivotal moments that got me doubting the existence of gods was when our Baptist pastor was giving a sermon on truly being saved. He said a dead man’s wife came up to him and said, “Bob’s in Heaven now, right, Pastor?”

    He reported that he agonized over the answer because he knew Bob wasn’t saved, so he told her Bob was in hell.

  • A tragic car accident took the life of a teen in our community. The minister performing her service took the opportunity not to eulogize her young life, but to rail against the hundreds of unsaved youth present. She even went so far as to disparge the driver, who was in a comma with life threatening injuries, for being a Mormon.

    Sadly, it really ruined what could have been a chance for hundreds of kids to mourn and remember their friend. But in the long run, I think it did open up the eyes of a few, who left disgusted.

  • Mej

    “Judge not, lest ye be judged” only seems to apply one way; Christians are not to deem someone hell-bound, but heaven-bound is just fine.

  • Nick Andrew

    Hell is for other people.

  • MH

    When I was in high school in upstate New York 28 years ago we had a suicide cluster among several students. One of the mom’s was grieving pretty badly and the minister of the family’s church told her that her son was in Hell. She became furious, quit the church and joined a Unitarian congregation.

    My opinion is that the concepts of Heaven and Hell are used as tools to control the behavior of the living. I don’t know if ministers really believe in them, but they do know they can’t control the behavior of dead people. So in general they drop the subject and move on. Except for a few knuckle heads like the guy I mentioned above.

  • Jon

    Tbh, I think it’s pretty insensitive if at a funeral you start going on at someone’s grieving family that their relative is in Hell – that’s not a question of honesty/dishonesty, it’s just not being a total jerk.

    That said, the way pastors who believe in Hell I’ve heard who have actually have done a good job don’t explicitly highlight the fact, but do explain the gospel to the people there.
    So I do think that you can be honest without rubbing people’s faces in it.
    I don’t think it’s correct to give people false hope – the example cited above by Hemant about the outdoorsy guy just doesn’t work – he was an avowed unbeliever…

    I think people should bear in mind that sometimes in cases like that, you can tell if someone’s a believer or not, but you have to recognise that you can’t see all that goes on inside a person’s mind.

    Having written all that, I should probably out myself as a Christian 😛

  • Sarah

    You make an amazing point. I have honestly never heard a minister rail about hell in a eulogy. A friend passed away a few months ago, and while a secular service was requested, they simply provided a minister who didn’t preside over a church. We found out that, apparently, even though she explicitly expressed that she didn’t believe, somehow this man thought she did. Because she lived a good life and treated people decently, she was living in Christ’s word, in this man’s eyes, so she simply must’ve been a believer. And, he did say that she would be looking down on everyone (not up).

  • Wendy

    My stepmother was a very much disliked woman, specifically because she was hateful, rude and angry all the time. I could hardly contain myself when the minister announced at her funeral how “christ-like” she was.

  • I think people should bear in mind that sometimes in cases like that, you can tell if someone’s a believer or not, but you have to recognise that you can’t see all that goes on inside a person’s mind.

    Which is why I’ve spent the last few years trying to make it crystal clear that I don’t believe. Lest something happen to me like the situation with Sarah’s friend she mentioned above. None of this “he lived a good, honest life so of course he was a god-fearing man” stuff. No, I lived a good, honest life and didn’t need any gods to do it. That’s the point us atheists everywhere are trying to make.

  • Josh

    My dad’s aunt was a very religious woman. At he funeral her pastor talked a lot about how other people were in hell and how most of us are hellbound, but everyone in the room seemed 100% sure she was in heaven. Which could be true. She was a very kind woman despite her wacky beliefs.

  • Sue D. Nymme

    Even if a pastor believes someone to be in Hell, it’d be rather rude to point it out during the eulogy, now wouldn’t it? Tactless at the very least.

  • Sue D. Nymme

    Here’s the thing that bugs me about Heaven and Hell: What in the world makes anyone think that you go to your Ultimate Destination immediately after death?

    Christ talked of a resurrection to come. The Bible talks of a Judgment Day, when Jesus will judge the living and the dead.

    It seems plain to me that Jesus meant that when you die, you’re dead, and that God will bodily resurrect everyone (or at least the worthy) at some point in the future. The whole concept of Judgment Day is meaningless if you get judged upon death. This is an example of non-Biblical feel-good nonsense, in my opinion.

  • Flah the Heretic Methodist

    I’ve been to a ridiculously bland funeral where the presiding pastor clearly had never met the deceased. I was at my mother’s funeral where the presiding pastor was peeved that we told him to do a brief memorial and NOT preach a full funeral sermon, and pouted through a five minute tribute. And I’ve been to a funeral where the preacher was so dynamic you just about wanted to jump in the coffin with the dead guy to see what all the fuss was about.

    But I’ve never heard hell mentioned once.

  • I was in fact at a funeral (22 years ago) where the pastor said the deceased was in hell.

    The deceased was a mid-30s woman who had committed suicide. She was not a churchgoer and neither were her husband and her parents. I don’t know who arranged for this retired pastor; maybe it was the funeral home. She looked like somebody’s sweet old grandmother, but she belonged to a fundamentalist denomination, some kind of “brethren.”

    As a former pastor, rapidly losing the last shreds of my faith, I could hardly believe my ears, when she started in on that theme. Even when I was a pastor in a conservative Lutheran denomination, I never believed that suicides automatically go to hell. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible on that subject. I had in fact a few years before conducted a funeral for a suicide who was a personal friend, and I flatly told people she was in heaven.

    If I had ever been asked to do a funeral for someone who actively denied Christian beliefs, I would have declined because I could not have said anything comforting. Twice I took funerals for elderly people (nominal Lutherans) who had not attended church in decades, and I just delivered eulogies based on what the relatives told me and told people in general terms, “Jesus saves.”

  • Thegoodman

    If I believed in hell (I don’t, but for arguments sake…) I’d rather be there than heaven.

    Would you rather be hanging out with rock stars, artists, and porn stars (and a televangelist here and there); or holy rollers?

    Heaven is like a lock-in at the local baptist church. Hell would be like Woodstock.

  • Ellie

    At my Nanny’s funeral the priest said things like if she obeyed god, if she lived a good life…if if if. I remember being so mad that the priest was judging her by suggesting she might not have been a good person and may be in hell, after all, he said it was up to god so basically who knows? I was about 14 at the time and it’s one of the many things stored in my brain file of why “I dislike religion”.

    So although the priest didn’t say it was for sure he implied it was a real possibility. I left the funeral feeling worse then when I got there, I was completely scared for my Nanny’s soul.

  • Inga

    I’ve been to very few funerals, but this actually made me recognize that my uncle’s funeral was one of the pivotal points shaping my atheism.

    My Uncle Billy was a heavyset man with many tattoos that served in the U.S. Navy. He constantly drank Pearl beer and was very gruff. I adored him, I was pretty young and he was great with us kids.

    I don’t remember how old I was when he died (maybe 11 or 12?) but I remember the pastor at the funeral made a comment about how my uncle was now up in heaven looking down on all of us.

    This immediately brought to my mind a picture of my tattooed uncle in a white dress with angel wings and a Pearl beer reclining on a cloud.

    At least it made me smile!

  • Daniel

    Of course not.

    Because after their eulogy, someone will come up and pay them for their services. Unless, of course, their eulogy included the line, “This person did not do the things our religion says must be done to get into heaven and is therefore in hell.”

  • Keith

    When I was ~ 15, my uncle James was murdered. James led something of a colorful life, was divorced, no stranger to drink, and in general carried on in ways the church certainly frowned on. His mother, my grandmother, was a tremendously devout woman, as were almost all southern women of her generation. At his funeral, the preacher (or whatever southern baptists call them) pronounced solemnly to the family that, in the end, he doubted that James was ‘right with God.’

    Grandma was devastated. She’d just lost her youngest child to a senseless act of violence, and here was the person who theoretically should have been offering comfort telling her he was in hell, a place she firmly believed was a realm of everlasting torment and fire.

    To say that this incident informed my future opinion of churches and church leaders would be something of an understatement.

  • J

    Most of the funerals I’ve been to were Jewish Funerals, no mention of either heaven or hell.

  • brad

    Yes – my grandfather’s funeral…. and the pastor? My uncle, his son. Gotta love those baptists.

  • gwen

    I took care of a lovely baby born with severe respiratory problems from birth til he died at 18 months, in our hospital, in the loving arms of his dedicated nurses. We all loved him so much. About 6 of us attended his funeral. The minister railed on that this infant was in hell and would remain in hell, unless his parents lived exemplary lives and were able to retrieve him from the burning torture chamber. We were horrified, but no one else in the church thought the sermon was out of place. It was the MOST unsatisfying funeral I have ever been to. I wish I had never gone. We went to say goodbye and offer condolences to the parents, who incidentally, hugged us as if nothing awful was ever said….

  • Katie

    I’ve had a similar experience at my grandfather’s funeral. The family was able to speak about his life and it was so wonderful to hear the stories about him encouraging his children to learn more and his career as a doctor. He was such a private man that I was unaware of many of the developments he started in his field. Leave it to the funeral director to close these memories with statements such as, “well I didn’t know the doctor or what kind of man he was or if he went to church” and it was suggested that “the cause of death is sin”. There were other charming phrases but I couldn’t listen. He turned a private time for family to mourn into a sermon about hell and going to church. I was sick with anger. It was beyond rude and violated everything that Emily Post has ever written about etiquette.

    This was really the final straw for me when I came to religion. To provide judgment instead of compassion when a person is grieving is truly sickening.
    (Now that I think of it, a friend that I had not kept in touch with drowned several years ago. I told a different grandparent and was asked if I knew if he was “saved”. I’m pretty sure I was told he was in hell if he had not accepted the “good news”.)

  • Bill

    I was a Funeral Director for thirty-five years and never heard a preacher,pastor or priest say that the person was going to hell. I did have several who refused to do the service for someone because of their life style.

  • Ibis

    @gwen Well the parents didn’t care enough to end the child’s suffering while alive, so why should the child suffering in the afterlife bother them overmuch? It’s all God’s will after all.

    1. My mother abandoned Catholicism (intellectually in any case) at the age of 8 when the nun who was her teacher told her that unbaptised babies would go to hell. (Perhaps the fear remained however since I and my two sisters were baptised. OTH that could have just been tradition or the result of family expectations, I’m not sure.)

    2. I distinctly recall sitting with my mum in the priest’s study just minutes before my father’s funeral and the priest interrogating her about whether it was possible that my father was suicidal or depressed (he died in a car accident, so maybe the cause was unclear; I was eight so I wasn’t given all details at the time & I never asked since). I guess he wanted to make sure that dad wasn’t hellbound as a suicide before officiating.*

    3. I recently read a novel written around 1900 about Scottish Presbyterians in Ontario. One of the characters dies and one of the church elders is pretty sure that he’s going to hell. The family and the girl to whom he was engaged are in terror and multiplied grief because of this until some evidence comes to light that he read the bible regularly. Suddenly everything is okay and everyone is happy. It is a very bizarre religion.

    *At the same time he gave me a children’s bible so that I could indoctrinate myself in my grief. Wanker.

  • mkb

    No, but then in many years of church attendance I never heard a minister preach about hell from the pulpit either. I don’t think that they believed in it, and they were consistent.

  • TikiCricket

    I attended the post-funeral reception (repast?) of a friend just this Saturday. He was a practicing Catholic, and prepared spiritually as such, receiving his Last Rites days before, speaking to his parish priest, etc. He was 38, an assistant coach for the high school football team, a model citizen and volunteer in his community, ran the family business–a wonderful, selfless guy by any standard. His mother is hyper-religious, and invited several clergy members from a conservative local order to attend the repast. One of the attending priests interrupted the meal to ask that everyone continue to pray for the deceased because “his soul may be in purgatory, and can use all the help he can get.” His friends all sat stunned, a few drinks deep and devastated by his passing, listening to someone who had met Joe once or twice use his memorial dinner to prostelytize about salvation, using the deceased as an example of someone who might not be “saved,” for no other reason than…well, he just might not be, so PRAY! It was so upsetting and disgusting, I can feel my teeth clenching now.
    I know there’s something in that holy book about “judging not,” but apparently that doesn’t apply to clergy, huh?

  • Nordog

    @mej:

    “Judge not, lest ye be judged” only seems to apply one way; Christians are not to deem someone hell-bound, but heaven-bound is just fine.

    Unfortunately, this seems accurate to me. The proper thing to do, from a Catholic perspective (and we are, after all, talking about funerals with a religious aspect) is to not say one way or the other, but to instill hope as regards the departed.

    As an aside, I hear “judge not, lest ye be judged” thrown around alot, but rarely in an appropriate way. Mej, you usage goes to the heart of what the phrase means, imo.

    @Thegoodman:

    If I believed in hell (I don’t, but for arguments sake…) I’d rather be there than heaven.

    Would you rather be hanging out with rock stars, artists, and porn stars (and a televangelist here and there); or holy rollers?

    Heaven is like a lock-in at the local baptist church. Hell would be like Woodstock.

    The problem with this approach is that it presumes that the former group is in Hell and the latter in Heaven. The big scandal of Chrisitanity is that it could be the other way around (and in many cases, probably is).

  • I’ve seen pastors talk about the deceased in heaven and proselytize using fear during the funeral – “If you want to see this man again, you have to get saved so you’ll see him in heaven.”

    It’s disgusting.

  • jolly

    That said, the way pastors who believe in Hell I’ve heard who have actually have done a good job don’t explicitly highlight the fact, but do explain the gospel to the people there.
    So I do think that you can be honest without rubbing people’s faces in it.
    I don’t think it’s correct to give people false hope – the example cited above by Hemant about the outdoorsy guy just doesn’t work – he was an avowed unbeliever…

    I think people should bear in mind that sometimes in cases like that, you can tell if someone’s a believer or not, but you have to recognise that you can’t see all that goes on inside a person’s mind.

    Having written all that, I should probably out myself as a Christian 😛
    ————————————————————————————————————-
    Jon, you just outed yourself as an atheist or hypocrite: You don’t believe people should be given false hope? Isn’t that what religion is for?

  • Paws

    Of course most of them won’t say the deceased is in hell – they’re being paid to make the survivors feel good (or at least better) about the death, and if they piss the family off, well, then they probably won’t get paid for the eulogy.

    Personally, when my time comes, my loved ones know to NOT have a religious service. “She was here, she was a decent person, now she’s gone. Meh, who wants to live forever? …The buffet’s laid out in the kitchen, and the first round of drinks is compliments of the deceased, now let’s celebrate life!” is more my style.

  • @TikiCricket

    One of the attending priests interrupted the meal to ask that everyone continue to pray for the deceased because “his soul may be in purgatory, and can use all the help he can get.” His friends all sat stunned, a few drinks deep and devastated by his passing, listening to someone who had met Joe once or twice use his memorial dinner to prostelytize about salvation, using the deceased as an example of someone who might not be “saved,” for no other reason than…well, he just might not be, so PRAY! It was so upsetting and disgusting, I can feel my teeth clenching now.

    This was a stupid and tacky thing for the priest to say … but for what it’s worth (not much) the relatives seemingly did not understand the theological statement the priest was making. According to classical RC theology, if you are in purgatory, you are on the road to heaven; you may have to experience a few thousand years of excruciating torment (which can be lightened by your friends’ prayers or maybe by giving money to the church) but it’s guaranteed that the pearly gates will eventually open for you. Hell is the place where it says, according to Dante, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” No use praying for anyone in there.

  • Gliewmeden

    My Catholic mother married the son of a United Church minister. She was excommunicated and told that her children would be bastards. I suppose this is the same thing? I am a holy roller Atheist.

  • anon

    I don’t have a lot of use for most preachers. A friend of ours died in an accident a number of years ago, and the priest pandered to her RC parents and publicly snubbed her grieving non-RC widower during the service. It was bad enough that her husband’s friends seriously contemplated “discussing” our displeasure with the jackass in the parking lot after the service.

  • Nordog

    …using the deceased as an example of someone who might not be “saved,” for no other reason than…well, he just might not be, so PRAY!

    FTR, terms like “saved” and “born again” are not RC terms and tend to described positions not held in RC doctrine.

    However, praying for the dead IS an aspect of RC theology. If Catholics at a funeral/wake/etc. are offended by a priest recommending prayers for the departed, it is likely due to the fact that, by and large, the Catholic church doesn’t really teach its own doctrine anymore.

  • beckster

    My brother committed suicide. At his funeral, the pastor did not mention heaven or hell. I had heard her preach at other funersals where she had spoken of heaven for the deceased. This event began my very short journey to atheism. It went something like this. If there is a god and there is a hell and he sends people there than he is an asshole that I refuse to worship. If there is no hell than who cares. People either go to heaven or simply cease to exist. Because of these very sophisticated thoughts in my 20-year-old head, I very quickly decided it was all a bunch of crap and have been much happier since.

  • Nordog

    If there is a god and there is a hell and he sends people there than he is an asshole that I refuse to worship. If there is no hell than who cares.

    That’s kinda like an inverse Pascal’s Wager.

  • I remember one Baptist funeral where the pastor barely knew the guy so he devoted his entire time to talking about heaven and hell and how you would go to hell if you did not believe A, B, and C. I think he did say that he was pretty sure that the deceased believed A, B, and C.

    I always find it amazing how religious people like to play God in saying who goes where.

  • Jimmy H

    I’ve heard of a pastor not doing a funeral because he didn’t believe the man was saved.

  • Art

    I live in Idaho and everyone in Idaho goes to heaven. Don’t believe me? Just read the obits in the paper. It always says things like “Aunt Jane is now with her late husband in heaven and they are sitting next to the throne of their Lord” or, for the mormons, they are with “heavenly Father”.

  • Deanna

    I didn’t attend this funeral, but my good friend did. The funeral was for a miscarried baby. The preacher stated that the baby had died because the parents were sinners, and they needed to see that the baby’s death was God’s attempt to reach them, to get closer to the church. Lake Dallas, Texas. Baptist.

    My friend was upset for awhile with the church, but after a few months, returned and is still there.

  • Alice

    I think most pastors who do eulogies just say the same thing every time without much thought as to the deceased. Just don’t do anything to ruffle feathers, get it over with, happy thoughts blah blah blah.

  • Patrick

    Its been my experience that whenever a non christian dies, instantly all of their christian friends and family switch from “You must do/think X to be saved” to “God works in mysterious ways, and who knows the mind of God?” After a little while, they switch back.

    I don’t think its a matter of believing or not believing. I think its a matter of religion being a sort of live action roleplaying, and believers in general being better persons than actual doctrine would have them be.

  • FunnierOnPaper

    I have a similar experience to Brick Window and others here. I was just days shy of turning 30 when my 1st husband, also an atheist, died. I allowed my late husband’s family to choose who did the eulogy, which they chose a pastor that didn’t know my husband or me. I expressed how he was an atheist and how the service was to be about him, not his beliefs. He used his platform to “save” our fellow mourning friends. I didn’t realize it at the time, as I was a newly grieving widow. I chose to look at my husband’s face as I knew it would be the last time I’d ever see his flesh. Months later, some friends approached me and asked if I had known the preacher. I admitted that I hadn’t and asked why. They told me they were quite offended at the service because even though my late husband wasn’t vocal about his beliefs, they knew what he believed and the minister had been extremely disrespectful. Of course, had my mind been all there during that hell full week, I would’ve realized it myself. I feel terrible that the last thing some of his closest friends will remember him by is this proselytizing.

  • I went to my neighbour’s funeral after she died of cancer. It was the first funeral I had gone to since my deconversion from christianity. She was a christian so the pastor talked about people who weren’t christians and how their deaths were so horrible because they knew they were going to hell. And, of course, he made an opportunity for people to ‘turn from their wicked ways’ and embrace Jesus. The whole service was one big fire and brimstone sermon and there was no chance to pay our respects to a decent and honest woman who cared for people, although I think she wanted the crazy preaching.

  • shyatheist

    Growing up a preacher’s kid, I’ve been to a lot of funerals. I can honestly say that the best of them were performed by my father. He never preached and he always took time to talk to the family so he could ‘get to know’ the deceased. The service was all about the deceased and people’s memories of them.

    Unfortunately, most other preachers I’ve known aren’t so tactful. My grandfather was a deeply religious, good, kind man. When he died, whoever the man was that performed the ‘service’ completely ignored the fact that it was a funeral and preached fire and brimstone.

    In my opinion, a funeral is not the place to proselytize, it’s a time to remember the deceased.

  • JimG

    I’ve heard a few preachers use a funeral pulpit as a generic recruiting station, though without explicitly saying the deceased was in Hell. The weirdest I’ve heard, however, was from my uncle’s funeral. He was an avid deer hunter, as was the preacher; and the preacher gave us his unique vision of Heaven. He’d “saved” my uncle when my uncle was so far gone in Alzheimer’s that he would cheerfully agree to anything, but couldn’t recognize his own wife. The preacher told us that because of that, my uncle was surely in Heaven (even if he didn’t remember his baptism 30 seconds after it occurred); and that just as surely, he was at that moment happily blowing bloody holes in celestial deer with his angelic rifle. That’s a description you’re unlikely to find even in Revelation, weird and gory as it is.

  • The Captain

    What I find funny about this is that for these pastors that do believe in Hell, but avoid the subject or spin the person being eulogized so they can hint the person is in heaven is, what does that say about your beliefs that you have to lie about them in a time of someone’s grief so as not to be considered abhorrent?

    I mean for many of these pastors (or whatever voodoo title they give themselves) their core fundamental beliefs on the afterlife are considered too appalling to be spoken at a funeral, just when many people think the deceased is heading into an afterlife. I think that would say a lot about one’s core fundamental beliefs if you had to do that.

  • Bill

    My ex-wife’s grandmother was a member of a loopy rural Methodist (?) congregation– speaking in tongues, etc. At her funeral, the pastor (about 30 years old, with the congregation a year, never met the grandmother) declared that she was in heaven, and the rest of us assembled needed to start a personal relationship with Jeeezus RIGHT NOW, or we’d go to hell and never ever see her again!

    It blew my mind how the concept of sensitivity to those who believe differently never entered this man’s head– it was all about his stupid Jesus show. What a blatent show of disrespect for the grieving!

    Of course it’s an insular community, and nobody besides my ex-wife and me expressed any disdain following the service.

  • Nordog

    I mean for many of these pastors (or whatever voodoo title they give themselves) their core fundamental beliefs on the afterlife are considered too appalling to be spoken at a funeral, just when many people think the deceased is heading into an afterlife. I think that would say a lot about one’s core fundamental beliefs if you had to do that.

    As I have said, the clergy should not be making a call either way in these matters.

    Besides, just a medical examiner is certain of his trade it doesn’t mean that he has to describe every last detail of an autopsy to the surviving family members to let them know how the individual died.

  • beckster

    That’s kinda like an inverse Pascal’s Wager

    .

    Not the most sophisticated argument for atheism, but it worked for my twenty-year-old brain. My ability to logic and reason has matured a bit in the last ten years!

  • Patrick

    “As I have said, the clergy should not be making a call either way in these matters.”

    While I take the point, if your theology is very clear on matters of salvation then its not so much “making a call” as “putting two and two together to get four.” In that context its not honest to suddenly start saying that maybe, once in a while, 2 and 2 equal 5. And if you find yourself doing that, well, it says something about you or about what you believe.

  • John L.

    I’ve been to some nasty funerals lately. One where the minister is claiming that this young atheist man who killed himself is still going to heaven. Most people scoffed even the Christians who thought it was really strange to lie to everyone.

    And I’ve been to funerals that ended up being just a two hour recruitment scheme with a dead body for a center piece.

  • This weird hypocrisy can be observed before death. Plenty of my Christian friends believe I’m hell-bound, but, although they care about me and try to help me in other contexts, they don’t try to evangelize or seem that troubled by the prospect of my eternal torment. Just another case of people failing to live up to untenable beliefs.

  • Have any of you been to a funeral where the pastor said the deceased was going to spend eternity in Hell?

    Not yet, but I have been to one where a knock-down, drag-out fist-fight occurred (gotta love my in-laws)…

  • This is what happens when a pastor shows up to a funeral and starts telling “the truth” to a bunch of mourning family members.

    Orlando Bethel lives right down the street from me, and in 2002 he was beaten by mourners after he preached a hellfire and brimstone sermon at a funeral.

    My own grandmother recently died, and at her funeral all we heard was “Jesus this” and “Jesus that” when I don’t remember her ever saying anything about Jesus, unless it was to say grace before a meal. Frankly, I can’t remember her doing that either.

  • Dianne

    I have always believed that if we are wrong and heaven does exist there are many more atheists there then holy rollers. Most of us live what people term “christian” lives by respecting others and not judging, unlike most religious people.

  • Korny

    I havent, but my friend and her family all walked out of her grandfather’s funeral after the minister said he was going to hell.

  • Parse

    I’m not all that surprised by Mr. Wilde’s findings. I can’t imagine that a pastor who tell families at the funeral service that their newly-deceased loved one is burning in hell would be given that opportunity more than once.

  • Noble 6

    I attended a funeral service back in my fundie days where the pastor who gave the message was a known “fire and brimstone” no-compromise kind of guy (Ken Ham would love him).

    Anyway, the message never explicitly said that the deceased was in hell (I think even the most ardent fundie has enough common social sense to realize that is over the line even if they do think it). The deceased was known to be a non-church goer and probable unbeliever. But he never said that he was in heaven and he did use the platform to give a strong “come and get saved because you never know when you might die and hell is real” sermon.

    I’ll give him this: he was an artful rhetorician in that he could give such a message and not piss everyone off.

  • ursulamajor

    This wasn’t at the funeral, but at the hospital a few hours before we took my dying husband (a kind, loving person) off of life support. His brother looked at him and said, “I wish it was me instead of him.” At first I thought he was saying this because we had children and the brother was childless. He clued me in as soon as he got me alone in the hallway. “I said that, because I KNOW I’m going to heaven. Not so sure about Michael, since he doesn’t go to church much.” I took the high road and consoled him with the fact that even though my husband wasn’t a churchgoer, he did believe. But I’ve never wanted to hit someone that badly before.

  • The Captain

    “Besides, just a medical examiner is certain of his trade it doesn’t mean that he has to describe every last detail of an autopsy to the surviving family members to let them know how the individual died.”

    No, but he shouldn’t tell them their family member was murdered if they in fact committed suicide either.

    Your analogy would work for preachers who go on to describe the Dantean hell the loved one would be in rather than just say they’re in hell. But to spin an unbeliever into going to heaven would be like the medical examiner lying about the suicide.

    I just really think it’s funny (well sad) preachers have to do this and never think that the reasons they have to is because their theology is fundamentally abhorrent when applied to people others care about.

  • Surgoshan

    Not a pastor, no, but John Cleese said of Graham Chapman, “I guess we’re all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, of such capability for kindness, of such unusual intelligence, should now be suddenly spirited away at the age of only forty-eight before he achieved many of the things of which he was capable and before he’d had enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say ‘Nonsense! Good riddance to him the freeloading bastard; I hope he fries.'”

    But I’m fairly sure he was joking.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsHk9WC7fnQ

  • Thegoodman

    @Beckster

    I was in the same boat. I had a 29 yr old cousin (father of a 4 and 6mo old daughters) that died in a car accident. The family often said bullshit like “God has a plan” or “This is a test of faith”. My response was usually “That is a brutal plan, I don’t think I want to be a part of it.” or “I have failed this test, I have no faith”. It was that time that I became a skeptical agnostic and an opponent of Christianity.

  • Nordog

    While I take the point, if your theology is very clear on matters of salvation then its not so much “making a call” as “putting two and two together to get four.”

    IF.

    My theology is decidedly unclear on the salvation of individuals.

    When hope, faith, and charity meet the acknowledgement that we never know the innermost hearts and minds of others, then declaring someone damned becomes at best a terribly assholish thing to do.

  • Nemo

    Went to an ancient relatives funeral far out in the countryside once, where the preacher spent at least an hour of the funeral railing at all present about how they didn’t go to church enough and that hellfire awaited them if they did not repent. (Can’t recall if he specifically included the relative among the hellbound, but he certainly gave the impression he thought that was the default destination for all present). The deceased was a sweet old lady, I was aghast that he’d be abusing her memory for that sort of thing. And he then went on for nearly two hours more at the gathering after the funeral. By that time I’d had enough and decided to wait outside in the snow (I unfortunately was dependent on somebody else for the ride home), deciding I’d rather risk pneumonia than listening to two hours more of his brimstone.

  • Gail

    This reminds me of when you posted about how Christians answered the question “Is Anne Frank in hell?” They’re not going to give you a straight answer.

  • Jeff

    I think most of the stories related here indicate pretty much the same thing – Christianity is a sewer of a belief system.

    I do like the story about the preacher who got beaten up at the funeral. It should only happen more often – preferably after every fundie sermon.

  • Nordog

    They’re not going to give you a straight answer.

    Straight answer: I don’t know. It’s between Anne and God.

  • Troglodyke

    Hell is for other people

    Hell IS other people. ~JP Sartre

    I hate it that so many nonbelievers who die have to have funeral services conducted by clergy. Why is this? Is the clergy the only people the family can think of?

    Why not the funeral home folks? Or a good friend of the deceased?

    It’s really rotten when a clergy member preaches, or doesn’t know anything about the deceased. That just makes me angry.

  • Marsha in TN

    My oldest brother died in the mid ’70’s, he’d been an alcoholic and neer do well, we knew one day we’d get a call. He was 37. I was in college, and my mom’s preacher was procured for the funeral. He preached a sermon to save everyone, not much was mentioned about my brother. But later the preacher said he thought my brother was in heaven, since there was a certificate of baptism from the 40’s! Needless to say when our dad died, my brother and I told the same preacher, no sermons, just talk about dad, who was not a church goer. Christians justify in their own minds that the person, must have believed in Jesus somewhere along the way, since we can’t know their mind, so they are probably in heaven. Stupid, mindless crap. I have always said, and told this to my Christian friends, if you REALLY believed that people who didn’t accept Jesus were REALLY going to burn in hell, you’d be out beating down doors to save people. Since you aren’t, I don’t think you really believe it. Then they give me a guilty, puzzled look cause they know I’m right.

  • My guess would be the funeral where a pastor says the deceased is going to hell would be that pastor’s last funeral

  • Old Fogey

    As I’m getting to the age where I attend more funerals than weddings, I have to say that they are pretty much exclusively secular, even for those of 90+ who might be expected to be more religious.

    Indeed, the one religious service I attended about 3 years ago hardly mentioned God, just a hymn, a prayer and a eulogy, certainly no preaching.

    But of course I live in the UK, and I can only think of 4 people I know who go to church AT ALL.

  • Jeff

    But of course I live in the UK, and I can only think of 4 people I know who go to church AT ALL.

    Today, living in Western Europe pretty much defines one as a cultural atheist.

  • It’s funny that you should bring up this book. I’m actually in a book group discussing it with a couple of pastors and another guy. You can see my thoughts on it here: http://theskepticalmagician.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/a-horrific-tale-rob-bell-love-wins/

  • Patrick

    Nordog- Is it between her and God because you don’t know what happens to non christians when they die? Or is it between her and God because you don’t know for sure that she didn’t obtain Right Belief before her death?

  • mr_j_mir

    I have not been to a funeral where the pastor in charge said the person was going to hell, but I have seen the news where a pastor said someone was going to hell, at their funeral. Mind you Fred Phelps wasn’t in charge of the service….

  • Jalyth

    The only worry I have around dying is that I would die before my parents, and my dad would give the eulogy and turn it into a sermon (it’s what they do). He doesn’t believe in hell specifically, but still. Shudder.

  • Steve

    If they believe that the person really goes to hell, they might still be nice enough persons to not say that. So the either lie and say they go to heaven or don’t mention either.

  • Nordog

    Nordog- Is it between her and God because you don’t know what happens to non christians when they die? Or is it between her and God because you don’t know for sure that she didn’t obtain Right Belief before her death?

    It’s between her and God because I don’t know what happens to anyone when they die regarding what relationship if any they have with God, and wheather that relationship, or lack of, can change during that process.

  • Lizzy

    My senior year of high school a close friend died in a car accident. He had grown up Methodist but were not a believer by the time he made it to high school. Even though I was a Christian at the time I remember being distinctly annoyed at the pastor’s continued references to my friend’s childhood faith saving him. He wasn’t faithful, he would have been pissed to hear that at his own funeral.

  • amsterstorm

    If I recall correctly, the question is not, “Is Anne Frank in Hell” so much as, “Do you believe Anne Frank went to hell”. Basically, If the only thing Anne Frank did wrong was not believe Jesus was the son of God, would she deserve eternal torment? It’s just trying to force the christian to confront his/her own disgusting beliefs. And “Don’t Know, that’s between Anne and God” just doesn’t cut it here. Because the question is not what you know, but what you believe.

  • Nordog

    Oh, what I believe about Anne Frank?

    I believe she has as much chance at Heaven as I do.

    Other than that, I have no idea upon which to base further opinions, or beliefs if you will, regarding her current state of being.

    And yes, Hell is disgusting, that’s a tautology.

  • ACN

    And yes, Hell is disgusting, that’s a tautology.

    Usually when you see atheists say something like “Hell is disgusting” they don’t mean “Hell – the place you go after you die if you’re not saved – is a disgusting place”, they typically mean “Hell – the idea of a place of eternal punishment that various religious groups have cooked up to scare people into doing what they say” – is a disgusting idea”

  • Nordog

    Hell – the idea of a place of eternal punishment that various religious groups have cooked up to scare people into doing what they say” – is a disgusting idea.

    Well, yes, of course.

  • Jeanette

    Well, I have nothing to add except that that picture of the Katy Perry themed church sign made me spit out my drink 😛

  • Erp

    At the memorial service for my grandmother (in her local Anglican church), we had the local baptist minister speak as someone who knew her not as the presiding minister; the hope was he would be a halfway decent speaker. He wasn’t, not only did he start speaking about salvation but he rambled badly. I have a feeling the presiding Anglican minister might have had some guilty pleasure in seeing the Baptist minister make a fool of himself.

    I will point out that some Christians are universalists in that they think everyone will ultimately be saved (hell may exist but it is temporary not eternal). Rob Bell, a well known evangelical minister, hinted that he was one in some publicity before the release of his latest book (he apparently isn’t but the news that he might be a heretic from the evangelical tradition generated a lot of free publicity and presumably a lot more sales).

  • annette

    How about this?
    If Anne Frank didn’t repent, believing in Jesus Christ, is she in Hell?
    (I think the best way to ask this question is make sure you’ve been able to ascertain your co-locutor’s beliefs in soteriology and then pose the question using their own standards for salvation.)
    After all, if someone tells you you’re going to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus, it follows that Anne Frank, if she didn’t believe in Jesus, is in Hell. Unless, of course, one is dodging the question.

  • I would guess that the pastors just don’t have any standards with which to make the judgment that a person is heading for the toaster or not. I mean some will say that we all fall short of the mark and therefore all deserve the fiery pits of Gehenna. Others will claim that we are all saved by the grace of Jesus H Christ and so get a free pass through the Pearly Gates and into eternal servitude to the tyrant god. Some will even admit that they don’t know and merely hope for the best.

    I want my family and friends to use a humanist service. They are much better and actually celebrate the life of the deceased rather than fill people with false promises and lies.

  • Amanda

    Carlin said it best: “No one ever says `He’s down there screaming up at us'”

  • Amcharming

    Like George says in Seinfeld : “It isn’t a lie if you believe in it”…lol, that’s how the Christian faith works and then like the story of Emperor’s clothes, everyone believes in it because of the need to conform to family, not loose your spouse or social bearing…