Hell: Has It Always Been Forever?

Transcript of George Sarris‘ latest video (above):

You are going to die. It makes no difference if you are rich or poor, wise or foolish, educated or uneducated, successful or unsuccessful. You are mortal, and you are going to die!

Most of us don’t want to hear those words. But whether we like it or not, you and I, and everyone else, will someday end up just like those buried here—dust to dust, ashes to ashes. For that reason, death has always occupied the minds of the living. And, more particularly, what happens after we die? That is a question that everyone thinks about at one time or another. That is the question everyone wants to know the answer to.

Coupled with the reality that we will all die is the fact that life just isn’t fair. Some people inherit great wealth and live in luxury every day. Others are born into extreme poverty. Some, through treachery and deception rise to positions of tremendous power and authority. Others through no fault of their own, experience cruelty and severe suffering as a result. Some people grow up in families where the message of God’s saving grace through Christ is heard every day of their lives. Others never hear that message—not even once before they die.

Because of these inequities in life, almost everyone agrees that, somehow, something has to be done in the world to come to even things out. And, most have concluded that there is some kind of balance scale on the other side on which humans are weighed. Those who are good will go to an eternity of bliss in Heaven. Those who are found wanting will be punished forever in a place of anguish and misery—a place called Hell.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, the idea that Hell will last forever has not always been the teaching of the Christian Church. In fact, during the first five hundred years of its existence, a prominent view in the Church—and, according to some scholars, the majority view—was that Hell is temporary in its duration, and that it actually has a positive purpose. It is one more tool that God will use to defeat sin and death completely, and ultimately restore all of His creation to the perfection He intended.

These early Christians believed that God doesn’t defeat evil by simply shutting it up in a corner of His creation and leaving it there forever—like some kind of cosmic graveyard keeping those who are there imprisoned throughout eternity. Rather, He will destroy evil by transforming the hearts of evil-doers—ultimately making them into those who love goodness. At the very end of time, God will actually get everyone He created into heaven.

Wow! Can God really be that great? Is God’s grace really that powerful? Does God’s work in the hearts of men and women actually extend into the age to come?

Most people today don’t think so! But, some very important and influential early Christian Church leaders did.

One was a man known as Clement of Alexandria. Clement was born in Athens about AD 150—within a couple of generations of Jesus and His disciples. He believed that God is absolutely good, and absolutely sovereign. For him, to believe that God is unable to save all was unthinkable because that would be a proof of His weakness. To believe that God is unwilling was also unthinkable because that is not the attribute of a good Being. For Clement, God is the Lord of the universe, and He has arranged all things with a view to the salvation of the universe.

Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria

Clement saw God as a devoted Father. Earthly fathers don’t punish their children to hurt them. They chasten their children with a view to correcting them. And, that’s what God, our Heavenly Father, does. Punishing for the sake of punishing would simply be returning evil for evil. God doesn’t do that. He chastises for the good of those who are chastised.

Those are pretty bold statements. But, Clement believed in a very bold God—a God whose sovereign power coupled with His unfailing love for all enables Him to ultimately bring about the complete restoration of all.

Another one of the early Church Fathers who believed in ultimate restoration was Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory died around AD 395 and is still revered as one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers. In fact, the Seventh General Council of the Church held in the year 787 honored Gregory by naming him “Father of the Fathers.”

Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa

Does God punish forever with terrifying pain? Gregory didn’t think so. He explained that the thoughtless or immature think this, and fear it—with a good result—it motivates them to flee from wickedness. However, those with more maturity understand the true purpose of after-death punishment—it is a remedial process instituted by a good God to, in Gregory’s words, bring back man, His peculiar creature, to the grace of his primal condition.

Gregory was convinced that evil, in the end, will be completely defeated. God isn’t going to just pack it up, stick it in a corner of His creation and let it go on forever. Evil will become non-existent. Divine goodness will prevail. God is not a loser, and in the end, no single being created by God will fail to achieve the kingdom of God.

Wow! That is a powerful God! With ideas like that, no wonder the early Christians ended up taking over the Roman Empire!

What is Hell?

My transcript of the above:

Eric: Hey there folks—it’s The Eric Metaxas Show. It’s Hell Week on The Eric Metaxas Show. Chris Himes did you know it’s Hell Week?

Chris: Hell-o—I can’t stop.

Eric: Yeah. We’re talking to George Sarris. The book is Heaven’s Doors. I want to be real clear, even though you take what some people call the Universalist position, you’re not saying, “Hell does not exist”?

George: That is correct.

Eric: Okay. If somebody says, “You’re going to hell”, what is hell?

George: Hell is a place where you experience the consequences of your actions—just like it is here on this earth. One of the major people in the early church was a guy named Theodore of Mopsuestia, and his basic position was that sin leads to misery. So eventually if you continue to pursue sin, you will become totally miserable. At that point, you’re open to experiencing the love and grace that God offers—and God doesn’t give up.

Eric: Okay. So let’s pick a name out of a hat: Adolf Hitler?

George: Why don’t you talk about the Apostle Paul?

Eric: Why?

George: Because he’s a great example of that. He actually persecuted Christians and put them to death.

Eric: But…

George: But what did God do? He didn’t just punish Paul, he transformed Paul. The goal that God has for mankind is not just to punish, it is to transform.

Eric: Ok. But I’m saying if the goal is to transform Hitler…

George: He doesn’t get transformed in this life so God has ages (because scripture talks about not just an age to come but ages plural to come).

Eric: Aionion

George: He has ages to work in Hitler’s life to bring him to a point where he understands his need for grace.

Oil On Canvas
“Cain or Hitler in Hell” by George Grosz

Eric: Okay. So the thing is that you’re saying that, “Yes, hell is actually hell but it is to bring the worst sinner ultimately to repentance.”

George: That is correct.

Eric: But you still say that hell is horrible?

George: Yes. I mean, if you do some crime and you’re put in jail, just because you don’t get the death sentence, doesn’t mean that jail is really a wonderful place to be. Depending on how long you’re there, is not a comfortable place to be, this is intense, it’s severe. The the punishment, the consequences of whatever it is. Just talk to a recovering alcoholic or talk to somebody that’s been involved in some kind of sin in their lives. Were they happy? No, they’re experiencing all kinds of negative consequences—breaks up of marriages, breaks up of relationships with their children, physical diseases or problems that come along, etc. Those are not positive things at all but at some point, if they can acknowledge their need, then God’s saving grace is available to them in Christ.

Eric: What do you say to somebody who says the scripture says clearly, “Once we leave this life, that’s it”?

George: Where does it say that? The only verse that I’ve ever been able to come across it says that… where it says, “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment.” It doesn’t say what the judgment is. [It] just means that once you die you come before God and then God makes a decision. Is he going to send you to hell for however long it is? Are you going to go to heaven? Those are judgments that God makes but it doesn’t say anything about the fact that God is going to stop being God. He’s not going to stop being gracious. The grace of God continues on into the ages to come. Why is it that people would believe that God is willing to forgive Adolf Hitler right up to the very point of, you know, five seconds before he dies if he repented—truly repented—then he would be saved and he brought into heaven, but five seconds after he dies, “Sorry too bad”? God doesn’t change!

Eric: Okay. So what do your detractors say? In other words, answer some of the things that the detractors of this view would say to you if they were sitting here?

George: The first thing they would say is that, “Scripture obviously teaches this because it says in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that whoever’s in hell can never get out of it.” First of all, it doesn’t say that. Number one, the word that is used there for hell is actually Hades—it’s not hell—and Hades, as a place of punishment, will empty itself. That death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire—that Hades will release those who are captive in it. When Jesus talks about the gates of Hades not being able to withstand his church, the gates of Hades are not offensive units, they are defensive. The Christian churches on the attack against the gates of Hades. We are going to destroy the gates of Hades and of hell and of death, and we’re going to bring deliverance from it.

Eric: See this is, I confess, that I hope that’s true and I think every Christian has to hope that’s true too.

The Day of the Lord

My transcript of The Bible Project animation is below:

Jon: “The Day of the Lord.” It is a phrase in the Bible that religious people use, usually when talking about the end of the world.

Tim: Yeah, things like Armageddon or the apocalypse. You might be familiar with this image of Jesus returning on a white horse. He has got sword to bring final judgment.

Jon: Everyone wants to know how will it all go down.

Tim: So a lot of these images come from the last book of the Bible. But to understand them, you have to go back to the first book.

Jon: When the story begins, we watch God create an amazing world. Then He gives humans power to rule over it on his behalf.

Tim: But the humans are tempted by this mysterious, unhuman character, who offers them a promise: you could define good and evil on your own terms and put yourselves in God’s place.

Jon: Which is what they do. And the resulting stories are about the broken relationships and violence that results.

Tim: Yeah, this promise creates huge problems. Now everyone has to protect themselves and fight for survival. They are all using death as this weapon to gain power.

Jon: It all leads to a story about the building of the city of Babylon.

Tim: Or in Hebrew, “Babel”. Everyone comes together to elevate themselves to the place of God. God knows how devastating this could be: a whole culture redefining good and evil, as if they are God.

Jon: So God confuses their language and scatters them.

Tim: Now from here on Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Jon: And the next time we see it is in the story of ancient Egypt.

Tim: Yeah, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, feels threatened by these immigrant Israelites. He starts killing all of the boys and enslaving the rest.

Jon: This is really evil.

Tim: Yeah, Egypt is like this bigger, badder Babylon. They take care of themselves at the expense of others, by redefining evil as good. And so God turns Pharaoh’s evil back on him. His pride drives him forward and he is swallowed up by death.

Jon: Now after this great deliverance, the Israelites sing a song about how God is their warrior who liberated them from evil.

Tim: The Israelites referred to this moment as “The Day”.

Jon: The day they were rescued from a corrupt human system.

Tim: And every year since then, the Israelites have celebrated the day of their liberation with the symbolic meal of a sacrificial lamb. It is called “Passover”.

Jon: Eventually Israel comes into its own land, have their own kings, and they face new enemies.

Tim: So that past Day of the Lord—celebrated every Passover—begins to generate hope that God will bring “The Day” again to save Israel from new threats.

Jon: Now out in the hills was a sheep herder named Amos.

Tim: He was appointed by God as a prophet to announce shocking news to Israel that God was bringing another Day of the Lord against his enemies. This time, the target is Israel.

Jon: Ah, what?

Tim: Sadly, Israel’s leaders had also redefined good and evil for themselves, resulting in corruption and violence.

Jon: So God’s people have become like Babylon? The oppressed become oppressors. Babylon seems like a trap no one can escape.

Tim: So the day of the Lord comes upon Israel. They are conquered, taken captive into exile. From then on, Israel suffered under the rule of continuous oppressive empires.

Jon: This is the story Jesus was born into.

Tim: Yeah, in his day the oppressive empire over Israel is Rome.

Jon: So, is Jesus going to confront Rome, take him out?

Tim: Well, no. Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jon: But he didn’t. And after that he started to confront the effects of evil on others.

Tim: Yeah, He started saying that he was going to Jerusalem—for Passover—for a final showdown to confront the evil of Israel and Rome by dying.

Jon: Dying? I mean, that feels like losing.

Tim: Jesus was going to let evil exhaust all of its power on him, using its only real weapon: death. Jesus knew that God’s love and life were even more powerful, that he could overcome evil by becoming the Passover lamb, giving his life in an act of love. Something changed that day. When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

Jon: Okay, so something changed. But, the power of evil is still alive and well. We keep building new versions of Babylon.

Tim: Right, so the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, points to the future and final Day of the Lord. It is when God’s kingdom comes to confront Babylon the Great, this image of all the corrupt nations of the world.

Jon: Yeah, this is it. Armageddon. Final judgment! How is Jesus going to finish off evil?

Tim: Well, it is not how you would expect. In the Revelation, the victorious Jesus is symbolized by a sacrificial bloody lamb… When Jesus does arrive in the end, riding his white horse to confront evil, he is bloody before the battle even starts.

Jon: Pre-bloodied? That is a strange image.

Tim: Yeah, it is because Jesus is not out for our blood. Rather, he overcame with his blood when he died for his enemies. The sword in his mouth is a symbol of Jesus’s authority to define good and evil, and hold us accountable when he brings final justice once and for all.

Jon: And so, in the meantime, the Day of the Lord is an invitation to resist the culture of Babylon.

Tim: It is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.

[The Day of the Lord] is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.

The reforming effect of reformed drug traffickers—Andrew & Myu’s legacy

Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran
Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran (Photo: news.com.au)

My transcript of Keeping the memory of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran alive:

Andrew West: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two Australian drug traffickers. But by all accounts they were totally reformed—committed to spending their lives in Indonesian jails trying to reform other criminals. Myuran became an acclaimed artist; Andrew an ordained minister. But two years ago, this weekend, they were executed by firing squad. Pastors Christie and Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church walked with Andrew and Myuran as they prepared to die.

Christie Buckingham is back in Bali this week, determined to end the death penalty everywhere, this time with the help of young filmmakers.

Christie Buckingham: Thank you Andrew, lovely to be with you.

Andrew: Christie, two years after the executions of Andrew and Myuran, can I ask what the feeling is inside Kerobokan prison?

Christie: Yes, well, as a matter of fact, yesterday being ANZAC Day was the day that they were given their 72-hour notice and that was such an unbelievable day. Obviously, the prisoners are still not recovered or even been able to fully grieve the loss of these two men, simply because life inside prison is about living each day. The legacy that Andrew and Myu have left—in terms of leadership—has been fantastic but these guys were friends of many people inside the prison including the guards. So the loss is very felt—very felt this week.

Andrew: Yeah. Can I ask you personally—because you and your husband Rob became great spiritual partners to both Andrew and Myuran—can I ask how you are both feeling on this second anniversary?

Christie: Firstly, Andrew, thank you for that compliment but I would like to say that there have been many people—there were many people—that were part of Andrew and Myu’s journey. I just feel this incredible sense of loss, an unbelievable sense of waste, and—I will admit—some anger because President Jokowi talked about (and does talk about) his war against drugs and he killed two of his greatest weapons! Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.

Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.

Again, that would have been the way to go. So there’s this great sense of still being confused, confounded by the total lack of any consideration for what is happening worldwide in relation to the death penalty, and any recognition that the fact is, that it is not a deterrent against drugs.

Andrew: Yeah. Can I just ask you, Christie, if you could recall just those last couple of hours that you spent with the boys?

Christie: Yes, I will never forget them, personally. I have never seen… Obviously as a pastor and as a minister, and as a person growing up in Northern Ireland and seeing many fatalities as the course of life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so profound. I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.

I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.

And I would like to take this opportunity, Andrew, of thanking people around the world for their prayers because they were certainly felt—by the boys and by myself and the other spiritual directors. There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.

There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.

Andrew: And we should remember, of course, that Andrew Chan became an ordained minister, which was, I guess, something [that] added to the impact of what happened to him, in a way, don’t you think?

Christie: Absolutely, and even on the night of his execution, I remember with great distinction hearing the chains of the men walking in the pitch darkness and for the first moment my heart sank because I heard them as the world saw them—as condemned men. And out of the darkness, Andrew sang a song, “Savior, you can move the mountains”. And Andrew was just an incredible individual. I remember saying to him one day, “Andrew, this must get on top of you” and he said, “Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”

“Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”

And that’s Andrew in a nutshell.

Andrew: One way, of course, to keep alive, not just the memory of Andrew and Myuran but the cause (the cause that you and Rob have dedicated yourselves to) of fighting the death penalty, is through a movie that’s being produced, Execution IslandThe producers are looking to crowdfund this movie [I’ve made a donation as I think it’s a powerful and important story to share]. What are you trying to do with that movie Christie?

Christie: Well, there’s a couple of things. It’s a very real fact… I mean there’s two movies being produced at the moment:

—A documentary that is really based on Myuran’s art and his legacy (and that as an argument against the death penalty), linked with a hybrid documentary, and that is called Guilty. And that’s talking about the actual area of rehabilitation.

—The other one is the film called Execution Island, which is being produced by Three Kings Pictures. It’s talking about basically how faith, not only faith but your values, can see you to the end. And I think it’s a real encouragement to know that Myuran’s family was a Christian family and Myuran, in particular, I remember he said, “Everything’s coming back! All the songs I learnt, all the things, it’s all coming back!” and he said it was like having a box of things put aside, that you didn’t use for a while, and then you brought out—then you remembered them dearly. And Myu was a deep thinker and he was into philosophy and also just really engaged in deep conversations about faith. And so the movie will talk about how their faith kept them—kept them and their family strong. And like I say, there were many people involved in that faith journey and they were model prisoners as the guards described them and they certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”

[Andrew and Myu] certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”

Andrew: And just finally, have you kept in touch with the families?

Christie: Yes, absolutely! In fact, I was speaking to Myu’s mother just yesterday. She, in particular, is getting strength out of the fact that knowing that we are all doing what we can to speak up against the death penalty. In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.

In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.

Andrew: The Reverend Christie Buckingham. She and her husband the Reverend Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church, walked with Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in their last years, before they were executed two years ago in Bali. Christie, thank you for being with us on the Religion and Ethics Report.

Christie: Thank you so much Andrew, wonderful to speak with you.

Andrew: There is a link to that crowdfunding website on our home page at the RN web site.

What is God like?

My transcript of the above:

Eric: Hey there folks. This is The Eric Metaxas Show. Chris Himes we’ve got something very special for our listeners today.

Chris: Ah, do we?

Eric: Yeah, we do. What the heck, this is Hell Week on The Eric Metaxas Show. People don’t realize that this is what we like to call Hell Week on the show because we’re serious Christians; we take the concept of Hell very seriously.

Chris: Sure.

Eric: But the question is, “What about it?” George Sarris, welcome on the program.

George: Thank you very much, it’s a delight to be here!

Eric: George I’ve known you for a long time and the reason we’re having you on today is first of all because I’ve known you for a long time—you have a lot of credibility with me. The book you have written (it just came out) is titled Heaven’s Doors and then the subtitle is Wider than you ever believed. I read the book and I was very impressed with the way you dealt with this. I want to ask you your story. How in the heck did you come to write an entire book on the subject of hell?

George: Yeah, that’s a very good question. I guess my life really got transformed in 1969. I was a junior in college, back then, during the height of the Vietnam war era and God touched my heart—transformed it. And I was really excited about this great God who I heard about and so I ended up going on Campus Crusade for Christ staff for four years after that. And then I went to seminary—wanted to be an educated layman.

George Sarris
George Sarris (Photo: HeavensDoor.net)

And so anyway, I went to seminary but there was an issue that bothered me, “Why would an all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God, either cause (if you’re a Calvinist) or allow (if you’re an Arminian) billions of people to suffer consciously forever??” It just didn’t seem to make sense to me. So I decided to use that topic as an issue for a research paper and what I discovered was absolutely shocking to me! During the first five centuries of the Christian Church the dominant view was that God was ultimately going to restore all of creation.

Eric: Now, I’d never even heard that until I read your book!

George: There were basically six centers of Christianity back then: two of them (Alexandria and Caesarea) followed the teachings of Origen and they favored Ultimate Restoration; two of them (Antioch and Edessa) followed the teachings of Theodore of Mopsuestia—who most people have never heard of.

Eric: Gesundheit.

George: Thank you very much. One (which was Asia Minor) followed Irenaeus and he believed in Annihilation, and then only one (northern Africa) followed the teachings of Tertullian and Augustine.

So the dominant view was really that God is going to ultimately restore all creation.

Eric: So Tertullian and Augustine believed in conscious eternal punishment?

George: That is correct.

Eric: Okay, so they did but Irenaeus did not.

George: That is correct.

Eric: And Origen did not.

George: That is correct.

Eric: Okay.

George: Nor did Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory of Nyssa was a major person. In fact, when the Nicene Creed was finalized, he actually added the phrase, “I believe in the life of the age to come” to the Nicene Creed. And he was probably the strongest supporter of Ultimate Restoration of any of the Early Church Fathers.

Well I wrote a paper (got an a-minus in the paper) in my seminary. I kept it as a private hope for a long time because nobody thought this is gonna work. And then in 2007 decided to look a little more carefully into the issue. I knew at some point that I’d have to do that and, as I did, I ended up writing the book. And it was just exciting to me because I had a look into all those issues. What about the the phrase of Jesus where he says to Judas that, “it would be better if you had never been born”? I mean how’s that fit into this whole idea of Ultimate Restoration? How about repentance is impossible? Or in Hebrews, “it’s impossible for someone who has once known God to then be returned.” So I had to deal with all those various issues.

Eric: So these are scriptures that people who don’t believe in your view would use to say, “how can you possibly get around the scripture?” and since you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, you had to deal with that.

George: That’s correct. And I became convinced that scripture actually teaches that God is ultimately going to restore all of creation. That was what was an amazing thing to me—that God is not this weak individual. If you’re an Arminian, God is weak—he wishes that he could save everybody but, “son of a gun, I just can’t!”—or he is cruel, if you’re a Calvinist, it’s because God could have saved all but he chose only to save some.

So I thought, I don’t see God as being cruel, I don’t see him as being weak. I see him as being all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise. Why could he not accomplish what he set out to do?

Eric: Ok, now the people who take the Armenian or the Calvinist view, they would never say he’s weak and they would never say he’s cruel. Just to be clear, they would put it differently but I think your average person thinks that and says, “I don’t get this.”

If this is true, why have I never heard about it?

Below is my transcript of this interview excerpt:

Eric Metaxas: Hey there folks, it’s The Eric Metaxas Show. This is “Hell Week” on the Eric Metaxas show. This is my second show with my old friend George Sarris—fellow Greek, fellow born again Jesus freak who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible. George welcome to the program.

George Sarris: Thank you very much.

Eric: Your book, as we said earlier, is titled Heaven’s Doors, and you said in a last program that most Christians believed the view that you believe, for the first five hundred years of the Church. So what happened so that we have this current view that hell is a place of conscious, eternal, never-ending punishment?

George: That’s a good question. The simple answer is that politics entered the picture. You’ve got to remember the first three centuries of the church, Christians were persecuted. So if you’re going to be a Christian, you had to be pretty serious about your faith. Then Constantine made Christianity the preferred religion of the Empire, and from that point on, what you had are people that get into positions of leadership who have mixed motives: some of them are sincere, for sure, some of them are not quite as sincere.

You come to the 6th century with a man by the name of Justinian the first. Justinian’s was the Roman Emperor. He wanted to restore the glory of the Roman Empire and he felt that it was important to have no resistance to what he believed, and so therefore he wanted power. And Eric, in all seriousness, if you have the power to kill somebody on this earth, and to torture them, and do all kinds of mean things to them, that’s a great amount of power. But if you not only have power to do that on earth but you also have the power to tell them if they will be suffering, like that, consciously forever, that is phenomenal power!

As the church moved into the Middle Ages in the West (not so much in the East, by the way. The East never lost view of this particular understanding of Scripture) you have the Inquisition. If people didn’t believe what you believed, you tortured them and then some of them were put to death. But if you want to keep power, that’s a great way to keep power.

Eric: I want to give my audience a sense of what you’ve been through, just by bringing up this this topic. Since I know you, I got to hear about this, and you write about it in the book. What happened?

George: Yeah, it was kind of intense there for a while. When Rob Bell came out with his book in 2011, I’d been working on [my book] for a while (I’d actually completed an initial draft) but it was an issue nobody even thought about, nobody even talked about. He brought it into the forefront. I was working with a Christian ministry (had been working with them for 10 years) and I felt, well, I’d better let the leadership of the ministry know what I’m thinking. I was starting to write a couple of blog articles to try to correct misinformation so I sent the the manuscript out to the man in charge of the ministry and within three days I was terminated because of “doctrinal aberrations”.

My church—my wife and I (and our family) had been actively involved in our church for 20 years—when a person within the church wrote to the elders, saying, “How can George Sarris continue to be a member of this church when he obviously doesn’t believe the statement of faith?” And so one of the elders took me out and we talked for a while and decided that it would be best for my wife and I to leave that church.

George Sarris
George Sarris (Photo: heavensdoors.net)

I was part of a Bible study—a couples Bible study with my wife and I—when they found out what I believe they asked us not to return. We were involved in a ministry to international students at the University of Bridgeport, when I explained to the person in charge that this is what I thought, I was asked not to return again.

I have a pastor friend of mine in the Denver area who had been, I think, pastor of one of the largest churches in his denomination, and he made people aware that he believed that God was good and he was going to ultimately restore all. He was brought up on charges, tried, and defrocked. One of the biggest questions that comes up is, “George, if this is true, why have I never heard that before?”

Eric: Yeah.

George: My answer is intimidation led to fear, which resulted in ignorance in future generations.

Eric: Okay, we’re out of time. We’re going to be right back talking to George Sarris about Heaven’s Doors and hell.

Does the Bible support Christian Universalism?

Below is my transcript of this interview excerpt:

Eric Metaxas: Hey there folks, it’s The Eric Metaxas Show. I’m talking to George Sarris. His book is Heaven’s doors: wider than you ever believed! George you said you have some scriptures you wanted to share?

George Sarris: Yeah, I think that it’s important because most people will go to certain scriptures that talk about Hell and they think that it means never ending—when it doesn’t—but they miss a lot of descriptions that are actually in favor of, or at least speak to, the fact that God is going to ultimately restore. For example:

Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2

Christ came to seek and save what was lost—did he succeed or did he fail?

For as in Adam all die so in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:22

For God has bound all men [translated “everyone” in NIV, NLT, JUB, et al.] over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Romans 11:32

And a very well known one:

at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

The word that is used there for “confessed”, by the way, means positive confession, it means voluntary confession.

Eric: Okay, that’s the key right there because that’s the first thing comes into my mind and I know there a lot of listeners saying, “wait a second, the demons will confess this” but you’re saying there’s a different word for confess?

George: That is correct. It’s a word that means praise and plus the fact that God doesn’t like hypocrites. He doesn’t like people that stand up in the inside while bowing down on the outside. What he wants is true confession—he doesn’t want somebody [pretending]. It would be to God’s shame to say that he’s like the Roman emperors who forced people to say, “Yes, God you are wonderful. I love you.” It’s like a mechanical computer, it’s not a person.

this is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men [translated “everyone” in HCSB, GNT, NRSV, et al.] to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all men.

1 Timothy 2:3-6

Eric: But wouldn’t people say that’s as a potential ransom? In other words, that he gives himself but he doesn’t force us to accept him?

George: Right, except that it doesn’t say, “a potential ransom”, it says “a ransom for all men”. Now that’s not applied until it’s accepted—that’s understood. By the way, the only thing I’m really saying that’s different than what most Christians believe, is that God doesn’t stop being God. He doesn’t stop his grace at the moment of death. That’s the bottom line. Why would God not continue into the age, ages, because scripture talks about ages plural.

Eric: In our last program you quoted the verse from Hebrews, “It’s appointed once for man to die, then the judgment.”

George: Right.

Eric: I’ve heard that quoted over and over, and people treat it as though that settles the issue. So why do you say that that scripture doesn’t settle the issue?

George: Because judgment doesn’t mean that you’re going to be eternally punished forever. It doesn’t say anything about Hell being forever. It just means that, yes, God makes a judgment, “You’re not allowed to come into my presence right now because you have not accepted the grace that I’ve given through my son Jesus Christ. Therefore you have to go to hell to experience increasingly the consequences of your actions.” But it doesn’t say that he’s going to stop being gracious to them when they’re in hell. There’s nothing in scripture that talks about that being the case.

By the way, you mentioned earlier (in fact one of the big issues that always comes up), “Well, God is also just. He’s not just loving, he’s also just.” Well what that does is bring up a bigger problem, that is, is God conflicted internally? Does he have a problem—that his justice and his love are kind of warring at each other throughout eternity? No! His love (working through justice) or his justice (working through love) are what caused Christ to die on the cross for our sins. That’s why he accomplished his purposes. God is loving and he’s just, and he’s all-powerful and he’s all wise, and he does what he wants to do and that has been revealed. What he wants to do is to save everyone. “It is God’s desire that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” and he’s able to accomplish it.

The next post asks, “If this is true, why have I never heard about it?”

 Heaven's Doors: Wider than you ever believed!

Good News for those you thought you had lost forever!

George Sarris was recently interviewed about his new book, Heaven’s Doors. Below I’ve transcribed his excellent answer to one of the first questions people ask about Christian Universalism, “Why would anyone bother becoming a Christian now, if they’re guaranteed to become one later on?”

Eric Metaxas: Hey there folks. It’s the Eric Metaxas show and I am talking about Hell. It’s “Hell Week” on the Eric Metaxas show and my first guest this week is my old friend, George Sarris, who has a book out, Heaven’s Doors, in which he maintains that hell is real but it is not forever and ever. George, welcome to the program.

George Sarris: Thank you very much.

Eric: Your book, Heaven’s Doors, to some people is not just controversial but it’s heretical and damaging. And they say that your book could lead people not to take [hell] seriously and if it leads one soul away from being with God forever, that there’s nothing worse.

George: One of the key elements of Christianity is that the ends do not justify the means. Right, so if it’s true, you got to preach it.

Number two, the early church preached this [and] they took over the Roman Empire! It was not something that led people away from Christ, it was something that led them to Christ—understanding that God is really good. There are two great Commandments: you’ve got the great commandment to love God with all of your heart [and] you also have the commandment to love people—to love your neighbor as yourself. The biggest problem that I see within the evangelical world today is that we have changed the great commission from making disciples into making converts. And this whole idea of giving a fire insurance policy to somebody—I go in there, I get his name on a card, and I can therefore say, “Hey, this person is now a Christian, I can go to the next person.” I forget about them. I don’t have to worry about them anymore because, “Hey, I got them out of hell”. That’s [seen as] the only legitimate reason for being out there.

Third thing is, hell, in my experience, has been the greatest hindrance to the spread of the gospel, not the greatest help to the spread of the gospel. Eternal conscious suffering for anyone, is not good news! Whatever you say, it’s not good news, it is the most dreadful news ever announced.

There was a man by the name of Francis Xavier, in fact the film Silence relates a little bit to that. Francis Xavier was Portuguese and he was the first missionary to Japan and had a tremendous ministry over there. In 1552, he wrote a letter back to the Vatican, and this is what he wrote in part:

One of the things that most of all pains and torments these Japanese is that we teach them that the prison of hell is irrevocably shut so that there is no egress therefrom. For they grieve over the fate of their departed children, of their parents and relatives, and they often show their grief by their tears. So they asked us if there is any hope, any way to free them by prayer from that eternal misery and I’m obliged to answer that there is absolutely none. Their grief at this affects and torments them, they almost pine away with sorrow. They often ask if God cannot take their fathers out of hell and why their punishment must never have an end. I can hardly restrain my tears sometimes at seeing men, so dear to my heart, suffer such intense pain about a thing which is absolutely done and there’s no way that it can be undone.

That is not good news. That’s one of the reasons why the gospel has not made a significant impact in cultures that have a high view of relationships, like over in the Far East where your ancestors are important to you. Your family is important to you in the Middle East. Your family is important to you.

Eric: Right.

George: Well, it’s great to know that you’re going to get saved but what about my father? What about my sister? What about my uncle? What about my grandfather? My children? That’s not good news and that’s what keeps people away from God. The bottom line is to tell people that this god you’re telling them about (who’s supposed to be so loving) would either cause, or allow, billions of people to suffer consciously forever! That is just… He’s not a very nice God. The one thing that I always fall back on is, I know that God is a just God and that I can trust him.

The next post looks at whether George’s view is biblical…

Christianity—Motivating Violence & Non-violence?

The Centre for Public Christianity‘s latest Life & Faith episode seems particularly pertinent to recent events so I transcribed the first half here and the rest below.

Simon: Maria Stefan [is] an expert in nonviolent civil resistance from the US Institute of Peace. I caught up with her, and also her colleague, Susan Hayward, while in Washington DC filming for CPX’s forthcoming documentary on how the church is better and worse than you ever imagined. We filmed a segment on Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, just down the road at the Lincoln Memorial, and then headed over to talk to Maria and Susan together. They’re good friends and bounced off each other as we quizzed them on their respective areas of expertise.

Source: A History of Non-violence

Susan Hayward: I don’t think that people who are driven by their faith, or who are religious, are particularly better at peace than anybody else, but I do think they bring particular skills, or experiences, or techniques to their peacebuilding that might set them apart and make them more effective in particular situations.

Simon: Susan Hayward is an interfaith activist and a just peacebuilder. What she’s saying here is interesting because in our culture we’re more likely to connect religion with violence rather than peace, and there are reasons for this.

Susan: Part of what makes faith and religion such a powerful motivator and support for peace, is also what makes it a powerful motivator and support for violence and for war. And we can see that throughout the history of any religious tradition. I work a lot with the Buddhist community, and there’s similar examples as other traditions in Buddhist history, and what is contemporary life, of Buddhism being drawn on to support violence. But Christianity in particular I think has a long and difficult history of Christian ideas and Christian communities mobilizing in support of war. Scott Appleby sometimes refers to what’s called the “ambivalence of the sacred”—this idea that religion motivates these deep impulses and these deep motivations that can lead people to extraordinary acts and that sometimes that deep impulse can drive people to violence but, just as much, that same impulse can drive people to very selfless and courageous acts of peace.

Part of what makes faith and religion such a powerful motivator and support for peace, is also what makes it a powerful motivator and support for violence and for war.

Natasha: When it comes to peacebuilding, religious faith can offer something unique and potentially transformative.

Susan: Those who come to the work of peacebuilding with a religious motivation and a religious understanding of peace, may be bringing a sense of peace that goes beyond the technical. And it goes beyond purely the absence of violence—encompassing the idea of Shalom or Salaam—that is also about human dignity, that is about justice, that is about creating environments in which humans can flourish. Or they may be able to bring particular rituals, particular values, particular practices to their peacebuilding work that can trigger some of the deep reservoirs of people’s being and that can trigger kinds of personal transformations that can be very powerful, and it can then lead to social or institutional transformations.

peace that goes … beyond purely the absence of violence—encompassing the idea of Shalom or Salaam—that is also about human dignity, that is about justice, that is about creating environments in which humans can flourish.

Natasha: Haywood says that because religious communities have had to deal with conflict and have been working for peace in different contexts for millennia, they have this wealth of resources, this history of developing ways to respond to injustice, of trying and failing, and sometimes succeeding.

Susan: In the Christian tradition many people draw from the rich history of the Christian Just War theory. So beginning with Augustine in the 3rd century, up to Aquinas, to people like de las Casas in South America (who is arguing against the conquistadors), to Martin Luther King, and others in the modern era. There has also, in the contemporary era, been this movement called “Just Peace”, which has sought—particularly by Christian theologians and activists—to recognize what kinds of practices can help build up sustainable peace, so that situations of injustice can be best addressed non-violently. So you can have environments in which people’s human needs are met, so that international organizations are strong enough to be able to resist the pull to war by various countries, as a means to try to mitigate the war.

Simon: Of course, in the Christian tradition the example of Jesus Christ as a peacemaker is what many peacebuilding movements and practices are built on.

Susan: The teaching of Jesus and the practice of Jesus, and the ways in which Jesus was very consistent in arguing against violence throughout his ministry. And also the ways in which Jesus recognized issues of political injustice, economic injustice, social marginalization, as issues that should compel Christians to create an environment that can be one of sustainable peace—one of Shalom—in which all people live with human dignity.

Jesus recognized issues of political injustice, economic injustice, social marginalization … [that] should compel Christians to create an environment that can be one of sustainable peace—one of Shalom—in which all people live with human dignity.

I think it can be a really powerful rhetorical exercise to ask people in situations of violence, and to ask Christians in particular, to think of the model of Jesus and how Jesus acted—what his ministry looked like and what he said as a part of his ministry—and then to apply that to their current situation, in order to make the case against violence and to hold them to that moral standard.

Now the challenge is that in Christian history people have often—especially as soon as the Roman Empire converted to Christianity and they had political power—they’ve always been able to make the case that violence is legitimate in order to achieve a legitimate goal, in order to achieve peace sometimes. So here’s where I think the arguments of nonviolent resistance can be most powerful because if you can say back to them but has violence ever helped us to really achieve the peace that we’re seeking? Or are their nonviolent ways in which you can address this injustice and try to achieve peace that might be just as effective in reaching that goal but also allowing us to continue to act as Jesus called us to act as nonviolent resistors in the process?

has violence ever helped us to really achieve the peace that we’re seeking?

Simon: But it’s not always straightforward.

Susan: There are times in Christian history where people of good faith have determined that an act of violence was necessary because the situation was so egregious. So an example here would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During the midst of World War Two where in Germany he, along with other members of the confessing Church, organized and designed an initiative to try to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Saying that this was a legitimate targeted use of force in order to address an injustice. Ultimately he failed in that attempt and it’s contested by Christians on whether at the end of the day that use of violence was legitimate from a Christian perspective, on what Jesus would say in response to that. But certainly as a person of morality and a person of faith you can understand that impulse.

Natasha: Where religion really does some of its best work, according to Hayward, is in the aftermath of a violent conflict. And one of the best examples of this is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a restorative justice tribunal that was set up in 1994 in post-apartheid South Africa. It was a court like set up that allowed victims to give statements about their experiences of gross human rights violations and also allowed perpetrators of violence to give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution.

Where religion really does some of its best work, according to Hayward, is in the aftermath of a violent conflict

Susan: The very idea of reconciliation is a very Christian, a very religious, notion. It’s about transformation and it’s a redemption, which are very Christian concepts. And moreover, the needs—in terms of bringing communities together, of healing individuals and communities who have suffered a great deal and experienced a great deal of loss—are things that spiritual resources, spiritual ideas and processes, can lend a lot to. The very notion of a transitional justice and a reconciliation process that is based on ideas of confession, or of testimony, and of forgiveness and of reconciliation, are based in part on Christian ideas of what’s required in the aftermath of violence, or in the aftermath of conflict, or in the aftermath of some sort of a brokenness or wrong. And because both sides of the conflict there were primarily Christian, and were deeply religious, there was a shared narrative and a shared theological frame that could be used to bring people together and to drive this movement. And so what Desmond Tutu and other religious leaders were able to bring in terms of theological language and framework and spiritual rhetoric and spiritual practices—including song, including prayer—in the midst of the truth and reconciliation process was incredibly transformative and powerful and relevant for that context in which both sides of the conflict were Christian.

The very idea of reconciliation is a very Christian … It’s about transformation and it’s a redemption … bringing communities together, of healing individuals and communities who have suffered a great deal … based on ideas of confession, or of testimony, and of forgiveness

Simon: If you want to learn more about the history of non-violence Maria Stephan has written a book with Erica Chenoweth, Why Civil Resistance Works. The interviews with Maria Stephan and Susan Hayward will be featured in our documentary coming out later this year, For the Love of God: How the Church is better and worse than you ever imagined. You can visit our documentary website for more information and to sign up for our newsletter. If you liked this discussion, please do let us know, leave a rating and review on iTunes, just type “Life and Faith” in the search box to find us, and it helps other people find our podcast too.

Non-violence—Twice As Effective As Violence?

The Centre for Public Christianity‘s latest Life & Faith episode seems particularly pertinent to recent events so I’ve transcribed the first half below (second half here).

Simon Smart: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Actually, the passage in the Bible where this saying comes from goes a little further than that, “life for life, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” This principle of retaliation—that a person who has injured someone else should be penalized in a similar way, to a similar degree—is the basis for many codes of justice around the world. Now it might sound harsh. It was originally meant as a way of containing violence—not letting it escalate into feuds that would go on and on, and back and forth.

Jesus, though, suggested a radically different approach. From his teachings we now have sayings like, “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile”. But he wasn’t advocating a passive response to a wrong. Rather it was an active response, it just refused to repay like-for-like.

Natasha Moore: The tradition of non-violence, of civil disobedience, stretches a long way back and turns up in some unexpected places. In fact, the first recorded instance we have of a person protesting an injustice, using nonviolent methods, turns up in a play written by Sophocles in the 5th century BC, called “Antigone”.

Here’s how it goes: the title character, Antigone, refuses to obey an edict from the king— who is a ruthless authoritarian and who also happens to be her uncle. The edict forbids her, or anyone for that matter, from burying her brother, Polyneices, who has been killed in battle.

Maria Stephan: Antigone so believed in the morality of burying her brother that she disobeyed the law and buried her brother. And she faced death but that act of disobedience was the first recorded case where an individual challenged an unjust law.

Natasha: That’s Dr. Maria J Stephan, an expert in civil resistance movements. She’s just completed a major study into whether nonviolent resistance actually works (we’ll get to that in a bit) and she’s a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

Why Civil Resistance Works
Source: Why Civil Resistance Works

From Antigone, let’s fast forward to the 19th century, and you have Henry David Thoreau (an American poet and philosopher) who refused to pay taxes in protest against slavery and the US war in Mexico.

Maria: Thoreau was arrested and he was put into jail and he later wrote his famous essay on civil disobedience and the main thesis of the essay on civil disobedience is that it is the moral duty of every citizen to disobey immoral and unjust laws.

Natasha: Then, a century or so later, Mahatma Gandhi reads Thoreau in India and is fascinated by this idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system.

Maria: He took Thoreau’s idea of individual civil disobedience and applied it on a mass level. So Mahatma Gandhi was the first one to develop an actual methodology of mass civil resistance and non-cooperation, which he used very, very effectively to challenge the British colonial regime, from about nineteen sixteen to nineteen forty seven.

Natasha: An example of this was the nineteen thirty “Salt March”. Gandhi and a handful of followers embarked on a 387 kilometre trek across western India, picking up fellow activists along the way. They were protesting the fact that the British had essentially banned Indians from making their own salt.

Maria: So Mahatma Gandhi by then had tens of thousands of followers. [He] arrived at Dande Beach, picked up water, which evaporated to make salt, and by doing that he was engaging in mass defiance against the laws of the British colonial regime. Indians saw what he had done and there were shock waves sent across the subcontinent, that this mass civil disobedience was possible and it was powerful.

Natasha: Then there’s the leader of the great civil rights movement of our time, Martin Luther King Jr, who considered himself a student of Gandhi and Thoreau, and Jesus.

Maria: Martin Luther King was able to apply the Christian notion of love and connect it to the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance in a very powerful way. The idea that you can resist evil without violence, first and foremost. The idea that you can resist a system but still love individuals and treat them with respect and honor. The idea that evil must be resisted, it should never be normalized. The idea that mass nonviolent action can be a force for powerful change, is a set of principles and a message that I think will endure the test of time.

you can resist a system but still love individuals

Simon: These ideas are enduring and extremely powerful, and we’ll pick up on the connection between religion and peacebuilding a little later, but first there’s a couple of niggling questions that often come up in discussions around the concept of non-violence. For example, does it actually work or is it just a nice idea? How does it stack up against violent action? A few years ago, these were the questions that Maria Stefan and fellow political scientist, Erica Chenoweth, were grappling with.

Maria: We decided to study a basic fundamental question: Which form of resistance, violent or nonviolent, has been more effective historically against the most formidable of opponents? Because we had been hearing often, “Oh, non-violence can work in democracies or against benign opponents but against the tough brutal dictators it doesn’t stand a chance!” or “Violence must be more effective than nonviolent action in these particular environments.” So we fundamentally tested that proposition.

Simon: This study involved gathering data on 330 campaigns between 1900 and 2006—some violent, some nonviolent—and these were campaigns against formidable opponents, like an authoritarian regime or foreign military occupiers.

Maria: We came up with the very surprising finding, to many, that the nonviolent campaigns had been twice as effective as their violent counterparts in challenging these formidable opponents. So the nonviolent campaigns succeeded 53 percent of the time, compared to 26 percent of the time for the violent campaigns, which was a shocking, counter-intuitive finding for many people.

nonviolent campaigns succeeded 53 percent of the time, compared to 26 percent of the time for the violent campaigns

Simon: Success in this study meant achieving their objectives—that the authoritarian regime was removed or foreign military occupiers withdrew as a result of the campaign.

Maria: A lot of people were skeptical, dubious—how is it possible that the nonviolent resistance was more effective? Others were like, well, of course, it’s got to be that case, it’s got to be that way. So there have been varying reactions. At least this research provided solid evidence that you can do it non-violently and win.

Natasha: There are a few reasons why this result seemed counterintuitive. For one it feels unnatural. When a person or a group of people are oppressed and mistreated, it feels like the normal response would be to fight back.

Maria: I mean the natural instinct is to respond to violence with violence. When I’m talking with activists from difficult, repressive environments around the world, I completely empathize with them and understand why they want to respond in kind. It’s a natural instinct, it’s often therapeutic but it’s not strategic and if you want to be victorious and you want to win as a resistor, you have to do what your challenger, your opponent, does not want you to do. And authorities and regimes often want protesters to use violence because it justifies their own violence in a return, and it delegitimises the movement.

regimes often want protesters to use violence because it justifies their own violence

Natasha: Then there are people, like the philosopher Nietzsche, who think non-violence is weak. He describes the idea of turning the other cheek as illogical and pathetic.

Maria: Illogical and pathetic, maybe, but pretty darn effective too, I would say. The stereotype, or the connotation, is that nonviolent action means pacifism but in fact, nonviolent resistance is an active form of struggle that just involves different weapons. But I think what needs to be understood is where the power of this method of struggle comes from. And the power of nonviolent resistance is grounded in people, in the consent of people, so when large numbers of people refuse to obey, refuse to cooperate with evil systems or institutions that are unjust, this translates into significant social, political, economic pressure being applied against the opponent. So I would say it’s anything but passive, it’s anything but weak, and it’s anything but ineffective.

Natasha: Also the goal of nonviolent resistance, in and of itself, is counterintuitive because it is about challenging injustice but it’s also about engaging your enemy and trying to get them to effectively, switch teams.

Maria: Your goal is not to kill, harm, or humiliate the opponent. Your goal is to win over the opponent to your side, which is very different, of course, from armed struggle or insurgency. So you recognize the humanity in the other and you want to bring them on board to fight what is an unjust system.

Your goal is to win over the opponent to your side

Simon: But that isn’t to say that nonviolent resistance always works.

Maria: So the key ingredient of successful civil resistance is mass and diverse participation. So, for example, we found in the study that the average nonviolent campaign in our data set attracted 11 times the level of participants as the average violent campaign, and the greater the number of people, and the greater the diversity of participants, the more likely the campaigns were to succeed. So when campaigns are not able to attract mass participation, when there’s significant disunity—so when there’s no unity around goals, leaders, and tactics—that’s usually going to be a sign that a movement won’t succeed. If the campaign or movement is unable to maintain nonviolent discipline when faced with violence, that usually is a sign that it will not succeed. So nonviolent discipline—the ability to maintain a nonviolent posture when provoked or when violence is used against you—is one of the, if not the, most important ingredients of successful nonviolent resistance. And you can bolster nonviolent discipline through training, through preparation, through anticipation of the violence that’s coming, and knowing how to respond and what to do and what not to do.

nonviolent discipline is one of the, if not the, most important ingredients of successful nonviolent resistance

Simon: So take the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s in the US, this was a hugely significant nonviolent campaign. First, they had mass participation.

Maria: It was a campaign that was led by black leadership, that involved the churches, that involved white allies, and that involved a significant number of amazing nonviolent campaigns and tactics. So the Montgomery bus boycott was a classic example of African-Americans refusing to ride the bus and pay the fees to the driver, which caused a significant economic effect on the owners of the bus system. The lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville. So it was a very methodical, strategic movement of movements that brought lots of different people, groups, organizations, sectors of society together and achieved remarkable gains and ended the system of apartheid in this country.

Simon: And there was also that commitment to non-violence, even in the face of violent opposition. Take for example, the Selma March where protesters faced off against police wielding water cannons, hoses and batons.

Maria: People often ask, how did you maintain nonviolent discipline in this moment? A lot of that can be explained by, yes, the spiritual resources, the commitment to non-violence, which was articulated by leaders like King and others, and the participants had been trained in how to maintain nonviolent discipline in these difficult situations. So in the basements of churches there were trainings and how to do civil disobedience, nonviolent direct action, and how not to respond to violence with violence when provoked. And so these combinations of the spiritual and the practical strategic really came to bear in the in the Selma March.

Natasha: From all of the data and analysis there was a picture of human nature and human society that emerged for Dr. Stephan.

Maria: I think what it tells you is that humans—when faced with the most formidable obstacles, oppression, injustices—are capable of finding courage and taking action to resist and that they can be effective using nonviolent means. And it also suggests that people have different motivations, some people are very inspired by religious conviction and that can be a powerful mooring for their activism and for their use of non-violent action. And that it’s possible again to resist unjust structures and institutions without exhibiting anger, hatred, or non-acceptance of the other. And so it’s possible to organize, it’s possible to use nonviolent means, it’s possible to win over opponents even in the most difficult of circumstances. And it’s possible, most importantly, even when it seems impossible to be effective using nonviolent resistance.

it’s possible to resist unjust structures and institutions without exhibiting anger, hatred, or non-acceptance of the other