In 2005, This American Life aired the story of Carlton Pearson, an evangelical Christian leader who was becoming more and more famous… until the scandal happened. It wasn’t the typical scandal we hear involving Christian leaders. Instead, Pearson began to doubt the existence of Hell.
It seemed so cruel for God to torture people for all of eternity just because they doubted His existence, or were born into a non-Christian family (and therefore weren’t exposed to Jesus or didn’t accept Christian mythology), or weren’t the right kind of Christians. It seemed wrong that the same punishment was in store for someone like Hitler and an atheist who sought evidence of God but couldn’t find any. So he stopped believing in Hell. And then Christians — the ones who always love everyone unconditionally — stopped believing in him.
That story is now a movie called Come Sunday that will air on Netflix starting April 13. The first trailer was just released today:
PEARSON: I want to ask you something. Is there anybody you’ve loved in your own life who backslid and is in Hell right now?
BISHOP: My dad is there. What about him?
PEARSON: And did you love him?
BISHOP: Of course I did. He’s my daddy. But he beat my mama. He beat me. He was a fornicator.
PEARSON: Now God’s punishing him. He’s suffering in Hell and he’s tortured and tormented for all eternity. So let me ask you something: Would you get him out of Hell if you could?
BISHOP: That ain’t up to me.
PEARSON: But what if it was? If there was a way we could negotiate with God, with Jesus, and the blood? You’d get your daddy out of there quick as you could, wouldn’t you?
BISHOP: I can’t answer that!
PEARSON: Of course you would! Anybody would! So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we more merciful than God?
Atheists have made that argument for a long time. Any God who allows perfectly decent people to burn in Hell for eternity for something as petty as doubting His existence is a monster, not a loving deity who deserves respect (much less worship and adoration).
Pearson simply felt that the God he believed in could never sanction such torture. So he dropped Hell from his library of beliefs. Call it cherry picking all you’d like — it is — but the response from the Christian world was to treat him like a pariah. Pearson didn’t do anything all that radical, considering that every Christian self-selects the things they want to believe whether they admit it or not, but Hell was an unusual option to toss out, and he paid the price for it.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the movie portrays the aftermath of his decision.