Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

A new vlog for ya!

So, if you can’t watch it, this is about how ACE students study Jonathan Edwards‘ (the preacher, not the gold medal-winning triple jumper) classic sermon, SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD.

As literature, and as a historical curiosity, I don’t mind the study of this sermon all that much. I mean, it seems strange to prioritise it over Austen or Dickens, but I really enjoy the use of language, as you can probably tell from my reading.

But for ACE, this is not a historical curiosity. It is studied uncritically. In fact, it is praised to the rooftops, introduced with this:

Now read part of that wonderful sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which was greatly used of God during the Great Awakening.

This seems like indoctrination to me.

For those unable to watch the video, here are the words in question (this isn’t everything that’s in the PACE, let alone the whole sermon – just a few of my favourite parts):

The Bow of God’s Wrath is bent, and the Arrow made ready on the String, and Justice bends the  Arrow at your Heart, and strains the Bow, and it is nothing but the meer Pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any Promise or Obligation at all, that keeps the Arrow one Moment from being made drunk with your Blood.

The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten thousand Times so abominable in his Eyes as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours.

O Sinner! Consider the fearful Danger you are in: ‘Tis a great Furnace of Wrath, a wide and bottomless Pit, full of the Fire of Wrath, that you are held over in the Hand of that God, whose Wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the Damned in Hell: You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.

It’s followed by a bunch of short answer questions (“To what does he compare God’s wrath?” “What keeps God from destroying sinners?” “What keeps sinners from falling into Hell this moment?”). None of them give the student any opportunity to evaluate or express any opinion on the subject.

Then there’s a great bit of text:

IT’S A FACT

One might think that a wonderful preacher like Jonathan Edwards would always be loved and revered by his congregation, but that was not so. Like some today, they rebelled at having their sins pointed out so often, and in 1750 he was dismissed by his church.

Well I’m shocked. Shocked, I tells ya.

It’s possible Ofsted inspectors have no idea this kind of thing is going on. It’s not in every PACE, so it’s possible they just don’t see it when they inspect the schools. You’d have to know what you’re looking for to find it.

Or it’s possible that they just don’t want to rock the boat, because there’s no way of criticising something like this without directly attacking someone’s religious beliefs. And that’s a taboo.

I’m hardly the first to say this, but it’s a ridiculous taboo. If this were Scientology, people would have no hesitation in condemning it for the barbarism that it is. But because the people who run ACE can call themselves Christians  – members of a religion with a respectable position in society – they’re allowed to teach it to children as fact.

The truth is, Christianity is a label given to a vast range of beliefs, not all of them respectable. A great many Christians would condemn this. And even if they wouldn’t, the quality of an idea isn’t measured by how old it is.

Ofsted inspectors need to be made aware of this stuff. And they need to start handing out inspection reports that declare this curriculum inadequate.

About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on March 11, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. That bible thing, it describes god in some detail. It never mentions that he is indestructible. It’s probably time we started working on how to kill this god thing. He sounds pretty effing nasty.

    • I’ll get the pitchforks!

      • This actually was an idea in a book that sadly never got dead tree publication and that unfortunately became a bit of a period piece and dropped offline called “The Salvation War.” Don’t know if you’ve read but at least check out the TV Tropes page on it – the idea is that Satan and God both come back to destroy the Earth and judge – but they’re operating on Biblical-era technology and military knowledge with some weird alien shit thrown in, and humanity decides they don’t want to be destroyed so they fight back with all the 21st century military technology and battlefield knowledge they have. Big spoiler: humanity wins the war, finally forcing “God” to back off because not even “he” can stand up a massive coordinated 21st century level infantry assault followed up with thousands of nukes and conventional weapons.

  2. Typical A.C.E, ask the questions so that the students can only give answers that agree with the viewpoint of the text, and it’s clear that answers disagreeing with the text will not be accepted.

    My mom was much like that growing up, she would “ask” me to do something, phrasing the “question” so that it clear that saying yes was the only acceptable option, and that I knew the consequences of saying no would be.

    I would agree, just to save myself the trouble, but eventually, I would get tired. and give up on obeying whatever the unreasonable demand was, and then she would be all offended “But you PROMISED ME you would do this, you need to keep your word!”. She didn’t like it much when I would tell her I only did it because I knew the consequences of saying no was.

    I don’t know why she did this routine often, maybe she was delusional enough to think that I would believe it was may idea, or maybe she was trying to besmirch my character, by portraying me as a liar and unreliable to anyone else she tried to bring into the argument (especially my dad), I don’t know.

  3. Great post, Jonny! Edwards’ sermon is a perfect example of how Christians use fear of hell to gain converts and keep people in line. If I believed God was like this, I would be searching for an organized opposition to join!

    Though I never used ACE curriculum, this sermon was very much a part of my fundamentalist-evangelical background. Not any longer, as you can see from my blog today–What about Hell? at http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/what-about-hell/.

  4. Firstly, for those of us who have read the bible properly, like a novel, it is strikingly obvious that the buybull god is nothing more than a depraved, Narcissistic Megalomaniac. Also the buybull concept of Sin and Evil are extremely irrational.
    To a rational intelligent person who has looked into the pros and cons of Theology (pondering porkies) apart from the evil, malevolent buybull god, it is also that Evil and thus Sin do not exist.
    There are no Sinners! Period!
    Aye M8z! :-D~

    • It really shouldn’t be read as a novel. The reason the various parts are called “books” is because they were originally completely separate volumes, not part of one enormous text.

  5. Great post, Jonny. My only caveat might be that the view of the Bible God as a repellant tyrant, while rejected by some squeamish Christians, is far more supported by the text than the touchy-feely Ned Flanders Jesus God. 🙂

  6. Was that REALLY saying that God hates sinners? or was it saying that God is angry at sinners? The Bible says “Be angry and sin not.” Since hatred for another person is murder according to Jesus (who is God in the flesh), it is impossible for God to hate sinners as He cannot sin and John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world…”. That clipping of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God specifically say that God’s wrath is upon all sinners. It does NOT say that He hates us, it says that God is angry with us. God just hates our sin, and loves the sinner. God got angry with the Israelites on numerous occasions. Example: when they were in the wilderness, the people murmered and disputed against God on several occasions. The Israelites complained that they were tired of the manna and wanted meat. God then sent ravens to them and they ate it. However, as part of God’s judgement upon the Israelites for discontentment and complaining, the meat came out their noses because they were so full. God got angry at them, but He never hated them, He just hated their sin. If He did indeed hate them, He would have destroyed them, despite Moses’ intersession for them on a few occasions. If God hated us, He would have cast us into Hell a long time ago. Instead, though, He sent His only begotten Son to die on a cross for all the sins of all mankind. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only beggotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever lasting life.” (John 3:16) No matter what you have done, no matter how much you have denied His existence. No matter how much you have rejected Him, He still loves you, and will forgive your sin. All you have to do is ask for it. “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” Salvation is free to all. It is a free gift.

    • Was that REALLY saying that God hates sinners?

      Well, it says “The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell… abhors you”.

      From dictionary.com:

      ab·hor
      /abˈhôr/
      Verb
      Regard with disgust and hatred.

      So I’d say yes. But to be frank, this piece would be no less morally repugnant if it didn’t. There is no justice in rewarding finite crimes, however awful, with infinite punishment. No one is sufficiently evil to deserve the horrific punishments Edwards describes.

      Would you send someone to hell, if you had the power? I submit that you would not. And that is because you are a more moral being than the God of the Bible.

    • In fact, God is not even ANGRY at sinners; he is not angry at any of us. Many biblical writers seemed to think so, but the Father Jesus spoke of seeks our good and wishes to eliminate our feelings of alienation. Anger creates alienation.

  7. “As literature, and as a historical curiosity, I don’t mind the study of this sermon all that much.”

    I do. I’d been so carefully brainwashed into believing that pastors are always right, that just reading Edwards in literature class–without any endorsement, implicit or explicit, of the text by my teacher!–sent me into a major depressive episode. My entire view of everything I’d learned immediately twisted into “The reason you’re spanked so often is because you’re Not Good Enough.” Every day that I didn’t pray the rosary, every time I wasn’t quick enough getting dressed for school, every time my ADHD got out of hand was another example of me being “a spider, or some loathsome insect.”

    The combination of the most conservative CCD class my parents could find, A Beka, and PACE greatly stunted my ability to question and think critically. It led me to horrific conclusions based on the few premises that I knew. If there is anything more dangerous to the sensitive child than religious fundamentalism, I don’t know what it is.

  8. I can never read that without thinking of Cold Comfort Farm’s Church of the Quivering Brethren.

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