I not only write for this publication, I am also a subscriber and read it every day. I especially enjoy the editorial page and regularly follow the work of the other columnists who contribute to it. I enjoy reading the feedback to our columns that readers contribute in the letters section as well.
I’ve noticed that Dr. Bill Cummings columns, which often deal with subjects relating to the Christian faith, tend to receive some particularly passionate responses from readers. I have found the topic of religion is one people can get very emotional about when I have occasionally touched on it in my own columns in the past.
A lot of people feel very strongly about their faith and are quick to defend it if they feel it is being attacked or questioned. Cummings’ columns reflect what might be called a fairly liberal view of the Christian faith. He questions or outright rejects certain ideas that many evangelical Christians feel are key foundational principles of their faith.
Even so, it might seem odd to those readers who are not fundamentalist Christians that his columns should provoke such negative feedback from some readers. It’s an opinion column after all, and we all have our own view on things. What makes Cummings’ words seem so dangerous to some?
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Well, to the more conservative Christian believers the stakes are incredibly high in this debate, because for them having the correct beliefs is an essential part of ensuring that one makes it to heaven when one dies. The core belief for a fundamentalist Christian is that Jesus was crucified to save us all from our sins, and believing in and accepting his payment for our transgressions is the one and only way to get to heaven. In order to hold that view one also has to believe that certain other things are indisputably true.
You have to believe God exists and that he wants to have a personal relationship with you, but cannot have that relationship because he is a perfect being and we are all very imperfect sinners. You also have to believe that he appeared on earth in human form as a man named Jesus and allowed himself to be crucified as a way to pay for all of our sins. Finally, you have to believe that if you accept that sacrifice and ask him to forgive you of all your wrongdoings you will go to heaven when you die, and that anyone who does not do so is bound for eternal punishment in hell.
Under that school of thought there are no shades of gray — you either accept it all as completely true or the whole system of belief falls apart like a house of cards. So when an affable, educated man like Cummings publishes a column that suggests it might not be a sin to question the literal truth of some of the more fantastic, supernatural elements in the Christian narrative, he is seen as a dangerous man whose ideas imperil the eternal fate of those who read his words. Even if you don’t agree with that line of thinking, you can probably understand why people get so worked up over it.
As we all learn at some point (and Cummings is probably reminded of almost daily), it can be difficult to have a pleasant conversation when differences of opinion over religious matters are the topics of discussion. But I don’t think the answer is to not have these discussions at all.
Those who are upset by Cummings’ work should perhaps be thankful that he has at least started a conversation on a topic they hold dear and presented them with a great opportunity to voice their counterpoints on these pages. And while you’re at it, thank God that we live in a country where we are all free to express ourselves this way.
I don’t think we should ever be afraid of asking questions on any topic, and the best way to counter a bad idea is not to attack the originator, but to present a better argument. Accept the challenge and join the debate. We opinion columnists love it when you set us straight (or try to at least.)
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.