This book is short and easy to read. Mr. Zender claims not to be a scholar, although clearly he has done his homework. He cites his sources making it possible for you to check his work. He writes in clever concise language in a friendly tone. He uses himself and his family as examples. I thought it was big of him especially to include his experiences with his Catholic mother.
This book is short, yeah yeah I had that as a "pro" as well. The flip side is, now you have no excuse not to read it and educate yourself. If you call your Self a Christian, or a Catholic or any kind of believer in Christ you owe it to yourself to search scripture as Jesus recommended the Pharisees to do. This book makes a rather profound implication early on: that God himself confused the Word in order to differentiate the lovers of truth from the lovers of iniquity. I'm not sure I agree with Mr. Zender that this confusion was God's intent, or if I understand him rightly, that need to do diligent searching for the truth is God's intent. I DO agree with Mr. Zender that much of the bible has been mistranslated and hence misunderstood. I am deeply indebted to him for his information on this issue of "Hell."
For many years after I read the bible I was a closet Christian. I really died for Christ's message, it was the Christians I met who mystified me. They seemed so removed from the message. Sure they went to church and they prayed and sang and yet they were blissfully unaware of what it says in the Bible. I would have enjoyed discussing doctrine with them, that seemed to run counter their culture. I was a history major in college. These people got points for "taking it on faith." At times it seemed the more outlandish the request, the more likely it came from the Holy Spirit.
I, personally, met people who were homeless because they followed God's request to give up everything and preach in front of Wal-mart. I personally met a family with school age children that sold their home in Connecticut and relocated to California, where they had neither jobs nor support because "God" told them to. They ended up divorced less than two years later. The wife had an affair. I, personally met people who believed that illness and disease were not God's will, as if being sick were a sin or a misunderstanding of God's will. As everyone, including Lazarus raised from the dead, will die one day, one wonders how it can be "wrong" or off the mark or sinful to ill.
The specific mystery Mr. Zender discusses in this slender volume is that of eternal damnation. It is curious to think that a "loving" God would set up a system as fundamentalists believe. That is to say, that 1) all people are sinners
2) the punishment for sinning is eternal damnation
3) the only way to escape this sin is by claiming, verbally Jesus Christ as one's personal savior
To accept these tenets would logically confer than that all the people born before Jesus Christ lived and died were damned to hell. Ouch! And that God set up a no win situation for people who live away from areas where Christian missionaries penetrate. Mr. Zender's interpretation is that before Christ no one went to hell, because there was no Christ to turn away from. In that sense he argues Christ coming to Earth would have been the worst thing ever for mankind.
He then carefully deconstructs what is taken for granted by the Christians I know. The Christians I know believe that the Bible is divine, never mind what translation they are using, they accept each word as literal, not metaphoric. Mr. Zender argues, with good reason, that not all translations are correct and that some bible stories were indeed meant to be metaphoric. His evidence is compelling. There appears to be no doubt that the "hell" as described in the New Testament is not mentioned, not even once in the old Testament. From that starting point, Mr. Zender opens the debate as to whether hell in all its flaming glory is a real place, an idea, a mistranslation or a metaphor.
It appears that the original English translation of the Bible used "hell" as a translation for three separate words in the original Greek. Sometimes the word in the Greek was a word for an "unseen" place, sometimes it was for a specific geographic location. At any rate, the word for "eternal", it turns out, was exactly the opposite. It was a word denoting a finite sense of time. Thus what came down through the ages as an overly severe punishment, was meant in fact to be a teaching tool, a punishment of a set amount of time. A consequence, if you will, for not following Christ, which seems to make more sense.
All of life after all has consequences. I can decide as I am no longer a Christian, that it is not a sin for me to cheat on my spouse. Suppose I don't believe any more this will damn me to hell forever. I there fore move forward with a divorce and proceed to marry my lover. I would be very naÃ¯ve indeed if I thought there would be no consequences. I still have to deal with the anger and pain of my ex-spouse, the difficulty and expense of maintaining two households, the fallout on my children's psyche. This is not divine retribution, it's just life on Earth.
This book mainly explores the issue of eternal damnation. Mr. Zender states his case clearly and also gives reference material for further study. I admire his forthrightness. Whether you agree with him or not, you ought to admire his research oriented spirit. The ISBN for this book is 0-9709849-1-X, search for it new or used on-line or in bookstores. Published by Starke & Hartmann.