We are all fond of posting great ‘one liners’ that seem to have a lot of deep meaning and offer guidance. But how can we really evaluate their depth or worth? Take for example a picture that was posted recently on Facebook with a saying on it by Vine Deloria; “Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”
The image indicates that the saying has special significance to Native North Americans – particularly the Sioux. Can such a saying be taken out of its cultural context and generalized to other faiths?
As a Christian the crucial test of the legitimacy of any statement is its alignment with Scripture. Does the Word of God agree or disagree with the saying? Does the saying go beyond what Scripture says? Does it fall short?
The Bible clearly tells us that it contains everything that is needed to guide and instruct us; “Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17) So from the outset, Christians do not need extraneous sayings to guide them – Scripture is sufficient.
Further; this saying by Vine Deloria doesn’ align with the Biblical description of hell. There is only a one-way ticket to hell and no human being ever returns from it. Jesus teaches us to fear God and God alone; “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Later Jesus tells us that those who are not righteous in actions as well as intent will have a one-way ticket to hell; ” ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:44,45,46) There is no coming back from hell. For a Christian that’s just magical thinking.
The Apostles’ Creed tells us that Jesus being the Son of God is the only One who descended into Hell and ascended into Heaven; “Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” (Acts 2:24, Eph 4:9) Jesus is the only One who will judge which of the two eternal destinations – heaven or hell – people will go to (Acts 10:42, 2 Timothy 4:1).
Entertaining such a nice sounding thought as; “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there.” is a real ego trip. We like to say such things because just by mouthing the words we can lay claim to the flattering affectation of ‘being spiritual’. Like the Chevrolet commercial – ‘Tried, tested and true’ – those who have been to ‘hell and back’ can sit back and bask in their superiority to those of us who are merely ‘religious’ and afraid of hell. As I said earlier Jesus told us that hell was not a place you want a one-way ticket to and to fear the One who could send you to hell.
But what does Jesus know compared to Vine Deloria!