The other day, in section, one of my classmates was explaining the Christian conception of how-people-get-to-heaven-or-hell. Basically: people go to hell because God puts them in Hell, and in Heaven 'cause God puts you in heaven - and simultaneously, heaven is the carrot, hell is the deterrent. That IS the Christian view, he claimed, and the traditional one. How barbaric. You'd think that in this so-called enlightened age, at the college that begins with "B" and ends in "erkeley," people would have more sense than to expostulate on a religion when they don't even know its basic beliefs.
Yah, there is heaven and hell. Yah, there is eternal reward and punishment. NAH, you're not put there because God simply decided you go there and we don't want to go to heaven simply to avoid hell.
Up went my hand and the GSI (Graduate Student Instructor) called on me. At which point, I stuttered out that that was certainly NOT the traditional belief of Christianity - God doesn't simply put people here or there on an arbitrary whim. I alluded to Dante's Inferno as a historical point, to backup my claim, and said that people went to hell because they choose to commit sins like anger or lust and that if we look at the Inferno, the people were there because it was their choice to be there. (Implying --> God does not choose for you --> free will --> your choice --> God doesn't just drop you into hell because He felt like it.)
Not exactly the most erudite response, and d'oh-ingly left out the why-one-wants-to-go-to-heaven (beatific vision, wot wot!), but something weird happened. When I uttered the words "sin, anger, lust," the entire room fell into one of those sudden, deep, intense, listening silences that one gets into either because one is so very struck by what someone has said, or because someone has just said something very very stupid and the entire room realizes this and you're sort of leaning out of your seat to see what they'll say next.
I think that in this instance, the former case is applicable, and this is why: naming sin is a powerful thing. See, when you leave the fuzzed out terms "bad things you've done," or "unkind acts," or even "pre-marital sex," and replace those words with "Sin. Anger. Lust." it suddenly hits you that these are brutal, wicked things. But most people are unwilling to encounter these words because they are unsettling - we want to hide the evil away in comfortable terms "normal human behavior," and not think of it at all. That is terribly sad. If you don't acknowledge sin, you cannot repent of it.
But in this situation, my classmate's guards were down. It is easy for people in the Bay Area to laugh off those mid-westerners who preach hell and brimfire and then are caught in some indelicate act. It is not so easy for youths (in particular) to laugh off a philosophy student at UC Berkeley who is not attempting to convert (well, not in the sense that they're familiar with) you but simply to counter a false assertion -- without *any* reflection on you as a human being. I did not say they committed acts of lust, I only said that according to traditional Christian beliefs if you cling to your sins - such as lust - you go to hell. That's pretty terrifying. Might make you wonder if what you're doing counts as sin.
Anyways, in this way, what I said slipped by without giving offense to anyone. The thought of sin as sin and its consequences was entertained, for at least a moment.