If I’d designed the atheist bus campaign, it would have said:
“There is definitely no hell. Now stop bothering me and enjoy your life.”
The doctrine of hell is the cause of about 95% of what’s wrong with fundamentalism. I admit that I do not know whether any gods exist, but I am certain there is no hell. And if everyone would just realise that hell is imaginary, religious conflict would mostly go away.
From when I left my ACE school (aged 15) until I was 19, I almost never socialised. I just didn’t know how to socialise with people who weren’t fundamentalists. Almost everything they ever did was a sin, and I didn’t like any of the same music or TV as them. South Park was strange and offensive, and I didn’t want to be around people who would laugh at such depravity.
As we got older, the people I knew spent more and more time in pubs. Apart from the food-serving kind, pubs were frightening places. Drunk people were scary and unpredictable. But the real reason I hated pubs was because I hated beer. This wasn’t really a moral thing. In my most radicalised phase, I had believed that Christians shouldn’t drink at all, but in the UK, most evangelicals are comfortable with alcohol (as long as you don’t “get drunk”). There isn’t the same puritan streak that runs through US fundamentalism. It’s just that beer is an acquired taste, and I hadn’t acquired it.
Then, on my 19th birthday, someone bought me a vodka and Coke. And this was brilliant, because it just tasted like awful Coke. I could drink awful Coke. I already did when I went to my step-gran’s house and she produced a bottle that had been sitting open, in direct sunlight, for a month.
This is the Faith preacher Kenneth Copeland. Or, to put it another way, this is my childhood in 3 minutes.
I grew up in Bath, where Kenneth Copeland Ministries has its European office. I have Kenneth Copeland’s autograph in a Bible that was given to me on the day I was born. This is not Texas or Arkansas. This isn’t even London. This is middle class England.
When I watch this stuff, I still feel the same sense of awe I felt as a child. God, Creator of the Universe, the most powerful being in existence, had gone to all this effort to make me blessed. It’s an incredible thought.