On my way into work at the HiOA Kjeller campus last Wednesday, I was accosted by a super-friendly guy who offered me a hot chocolate for the small price of having to take a flyer about an upcoming event. It was a definitely a double win for me that morning; I’m never one to turn down a hot drink on a bone-chilling morning or the chance to take on some Christians!
The pastor in line for the proverbial grilling was Thomas Åleskjær (@thomasscatman), the man in charge of Oslo’s City Church. I have to admit that ‘pastor’ conjured images of a serious-looking middle-aged man, so I was a little thrown when I met a young, amiable chap who couldn’t have been much older than me (28).
A central theme of Pentecostalism is direct personal experience with god/Jesus Christ and that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sins can be forgiven and humanity reconciled with god.
The questions on a poster I later spotted advertising the event translate to:
- Do you really think that all that happens in The Bible is true?
- If God is God – why is there so much evil in the world?
- How do you know that Jesus rose from the dead?
I was really looking forward to hearing the answers, especially because you never get the same answers twice. I was particularly looking forward to the Pentecostal take on things, given that they take literal interpretations of the Bible very seriously.
I’m pretty sure I was the only atheist in the crowd, and definitely the only one with any intention of doing any grilling.As it happened, we didn’t actually get round to tackling the questions on the poster.
I am continually miffed by attempts by the religious to monopolise feeling of transcendence (love, beauty, awe) as something that exists outside of humanist thought, so having heard Thomas talk about how it was only through Christ that you could truly appreciate the world, I thought I would ask how his feelings of transcendence are any different to the same feeling of awe I have for the natural world when standing on top of a Norwegian mountain, or looking up at the moon. Thomas answer was that Christ is to a great degree intolerant and selfish, and what else could I have expected but some scripture as an answer: John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Because my feelings are not rooted in a love of Christ, they are qualitatively different and poorer than those of a follower of Christ. I am left on the outside of a circular ring fence of logic: Jesus is the only way to feel transcendence. Why? Because he says so. Why does he say so? Because he is and he wouldn’t say so if he wasn’t, would he?
The one question that didn’t come from me was about what happened to those who had not heard of Christ. An even better question might have been “how in a world that the Christian God created had people not actually heard of him?”, but since Pentecostals take the idea of a heaven for those who have accepted God's gift of salvation and a hell for those who have rejected it very seriously, it was a good question none-the-less. After looking a little non-plussed, Thomas’ roundabout answer was ‘God has a plan for us all’, which to describe as an unsatisfying answer is truly an understatement.
I guess, on a sliding scale, it’s better never to heard the Word and be subject to God’s nebulous plan than to have heard and definitively reject it and end up in eternal hellfire like I probably will, although Thomas was much too nice and polite to say so.
Save for PR for the City Church, I’m not sure exactly what the organisers hoped to achieve with this event, given that it was advertised as just half an hour long, but it was interesting to attend none-the-less. Thomas took my questions about transcendence amiably and, when not quoting scripture, dodged them with admirable skill. He makes for a charismatic front man for a church hoping to target the younger generation in a country where religious ambivalence and membership of the Human-Etisk Forbund is high. Next time I might just take the flyer and leave the hot chocolate for someone more deserving of Jesus’ warmth.