Welcome to this subscriber’s only video! This one is from the archives. It’s a conversation with Kevin Miller about hell, evil, and universal salvation. Kevin is the star and producer of the documentary Hellbound?, and the editor of the book Hellrazed? It’s a great discussion as we head into Halloween! You can watch the video or listen to the MP3 below.
Hell. The concept has come under fire. Fortunately, Kevin Miller is here to put out the flames.
Kevin stars in and directs the critically important documentary Hellbound?, where he interviews a diverse group of pastors, theologians, social commentators, and musicians. Kevin blogs at his excellent website, Hellbound?: Exploring Faith and Film, Good and Evil.
In this interview, Kevin brilliantly expands on many of the themes of Hellbound? and explores hell from the perspective of mimetic theory.
Kevin Miller on Hell, Universal Salvation, and Mimetic Theory – Transcript
ADAM ERICKSEN: Hello everyone and welcome to the Teaching Nonviolent Atonement live chat. It’s Halloween. Suzanne, Happy Halloween.
SUZANNE ROSS: Thank you.
ADAM ERICKSEN: I see you wore your orange today.
SUZANNE ROSS: That’s the best I could do.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s a good planning.
SUZANNE ROSS: I’m a pumpkin.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It’s a good look for you. I mean it’s awesome. It’s good. Kevin Miller is with us. Hi, Kevin, how are you today?
KEVIN MILLER: I’m doing great.
ADAM ERICKSEN:: Awesome. Thank you for being with us. It’s especially awesome that you are here on Halloween to talk about good and evil and especially your documentary, Hellbound?.
KEVIN MILLER: Yeah, it’s great to be here. Halloween’s one of my favorite times of the year.
ADAM ERICKSEN: We are starting off the chat in discussion mode which means that you and we are the only ones who are able to talk at the moment. We have other people online and they will be able to virtually raise their hand, if they have a comment or question. When they do that, we will bring them in. So that’s kind of how it’s going to run today. But before we start talking, I would like to give a brief summary of what we have coming up.
So next week, November 7th, we will talk with Mark Anspach, who translated and wrote a great introduction for Rene’s latest book, Anorexia and Mimetic Desire. Mark also translated and wrote an introduction to Rene’s book, Oedipus Unbound: Selected Writing on Rivalry and Desire. If anybody is interested in doing little homework, you can find on Teaching Nonviolent Atonement website articles that Mark wrote on anorexia with a recent tragic event of a model…
SUZANNE ROSS: Actually it was about five or six years ago.
ADAM ERICKSEN:: Yes, five or six years ago.
SUZANNE ROSS: She died of anorexia.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yes, so this is a tough issue for a lot of people and to talk about it. To bring what mimetic desires can bring to the table into it, I think, it’s an important thing, both for the intellectual aspect of it and also for bringing in an emphatic response towards it. We all know someone or have experienced this disease. It’s very emotional and tough. So, we are looking forward to that. November 14th we gonna be talking with Paul Neuchterlein. Hi, Tony Ciccariello there you are. Tony, I am going to mute you. Nothing personal, but, when you want to come on into the chat, make a comment, or ask a question, just virtually raise your hand up there in the mic mode. Okay. I love you, Tony, and I hate to do this. I got you. There you go.
SUZANNE ROSS: We are fine, love you, Tony.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Here we go. So on November 14th we are going to be talking with our good friend Paul Neuchterlein about the upcoming majority lectionary text. I did a little research this morning and on it and it’s going to be awesome because it’s one of the little apocalypses of Jesus. So it’s the one in Luke where Jesus says you going to hear of wars and rumors of wars and earthquake and famine and all these kinds of things and to simmer down. We Girardians love that stuff because it places the violence on us and not on God. So I am excited to talk with Paul about that. Then on the 21st, we have an open chat to discuss all our previous chats that we have had going back to last week with David Dawson and his book on scapegoats. We’ll review Kevin’s chat and Mark Anspach chat, and Paul’s chat too. So that will be on open chat and hope this is ok with you Suzanne, we will not meet on Thanksgiving, is that ok? Ok, that’s the way to go.
SUZANNE ROSS: I thought you were supposed to be with your family on Thanksgiving?
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, right, that’s a good point. We will think about it, ok. Kevin, thank you so much for being on the show again. I want to point out that we are particularly excited about next week, here at Raven where you will receive the Raven award for arts and entertainment this year. It’s always given to an artist whose work challenges the myth of redemptive violence and sacred violence. So, Kevin, your documentary creatively demystifies sacred violence. We are just excited have you come to Chicago and give you this award.
SUZANNE ROSS: I am, and your wife is coming too.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah awesome, we get to meet Kevin’s better half.
KEVIN MILLER: So it’s nice to prove to the world that my wife exists.
SUZANNE ROSS: Rushing home to be with her Kevin, I don’t get it.
KEVIN MILLER: I am very excited to receive it. I mean is a tremendous honor. And yeah, just even to be considered an artist is an honor. to be honest because you make documentary films, I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think of them as a form of artistry. We tend to think of them as, you know, journalism or something like that, but I feel very honored to receive it.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s awesome; we are honored to have you and excited about it. So Kevin, you also blog, your website on Patheos as Hellbound, exploring faith and film, good and evil. Where you employ mimetic theory quite frequently to understand these topics. Since we are a group focused on mimetic theory, I was wondering like, if you can tell us a little bit about how mimetic theory has helped you understand hell and good and evil?
KEVIN MILLER: Well, I think that really the key revelation for me in the making of Hellbound? was really my immersion in mimetic theory, thanks in large part to Michael Hardin. Just for me it’s become such a useful lens in terms of really looking at, not only religion, Christianity, in specific, life in general. So when it comes to something like hell, that was really my suspicion going in to interview Michael is that somehow this idea of a separation of humanity into the righteous and the wicked. It seemed like the ultimate form of scapegoating, this wish fulfillment. So that what is God? God is the ultimate scapegoater. And so that for the righteous to have bliss in heaven somebody has got to pay, in a sense. And somebody is always got to pay, it seems, within that scapegoating paradigm.
So, the idea that Christ is the one that liberates us from that, that Christ, in a sense, pays. So he becomes the victim to end all victims to me is like… It’s one of the most liberating things because it really helps me to be able to talk to people about the Christian narrative in a way that it becomes immediately relevant in a way that it doesn’t require people, at least initially, maybe to even believe anything supernatural, but just to understand sort of this mechanism that humanity works under. The narrative of Christ is just really the undoing of that mechanism. So for me, that’s really exciting.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about what was like to create this film?
KEVIN MILLER: Hellbound? for me was very much… I think it began the way I think anything should from a creative point of view. The only thing I really set out to silence was my own curiosity. I think, it really begins with me having a second look at the atonement via a friend of mine Brad Jersac, who is in the film and was really taking a second look at this type of thing, and the connection between God and violence. And me beginning to consider the idea of could it be possible that all people might be reconciled to God in the end. I mean, is that even a tenable view within orthodox Christianity. Really setting out to see if a case could be made for that. So it begins with me just really on a personal journey with the publication of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins early on in our developmental process, it really suddenly opens things up for me that to realize how political it is and just how much is riding on this question. So for me, the making of the film becomes up being not so much about what happens to us after we die but what kind of a world that we creating based on the theology that we hold. I think that to me became the more important question.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, right in the beginning you start with images of from 9/11. As I was re-watching the documentary, you had clips of newscasters talking about the 10th year anniversary and Brian Williams says, “This is the day that hell rained down in New York”. And so to hear you say it’s much more about what we do here now on earth and hearing that with Brian Williams talking about hell raining down on New York on 9/11 makes me think that this has real practical implications for how we live our lives here on earth.
KEVIN MILLER: I have received a little bit of flak. Some people thought I was exploiting 9/11 imagery and that sort of a thing in the film, but I don’t think so. Like really what I was trying to do was to route the discussion of hell in a real-world situation that we can all identify with. Because it just seems like a profound injustice. Not just what happened in New York and the Pentagon and the other places that were hit, but also the response to 9/11, you know, a decade of war in two countries. So these issues are frankly centered on so, let’s root this discussion of Hell in a real-world situation.
The other thing I would say, too, is as Brian Williams does is hell becomes this really handy narrative when we are trying to express the gravity of how we feel about certain events. So hell on earth… so there is an intuitive sense that the scales of justice were just really put out of balance and so, something needs to happen to bring them back into balance. And, unfortunately, I think that it tends to go the other way that when the scales of justice go like this, we push then way far in the opposite direction. And again, it gets back to this notion that somebody has always got to pay. And that’s just seems right in a very kind of human form of logic.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, it’s the mimetic theory principle that violence always escalates. And revenge is not just about eye for an eye, it’s eye for an eye and a little bit more. It’s always the way that it ends up working out. Who started it, who didn’t start is the question that always gets asked, but it’s the irrelevant question because it’s going to keep creating hell for everyone on earth.
KEVIN MILLER: This is the ironic thing that Walter Wink points out that especially when violence is successful, that’s the most dangerous. Because once the violence is successful, then, “Aha, I got to get me one of those” and you know that worked so well. And this is the irony – that the stronger we react to violence and the more successful we are then the just creates a new model for those that we oppose. Somebody who I think just really nailed this is Christopher Nolan in his movie The Dark Knight. I just think it’s really a profound film that just really gets at the heart of this.
ADAM ERICKSEN: What is it about that film for you that does that?
KEVIN MILLER: Well the Joker basically in the film represents this force of chaos. I think it’s really a film about the war on terror. And so, it’s taunting Batman in the sense that your mere presence and every action you take, it just breeds a counter-reaction. Your being here is the biggest threat to Gotham because you are so successful at using violence, well, that is just going to that trigger people who want to somehow overcome that. So there is an invitation at work there.
ADAM ERICKSEN: There is also that great interrogation scene where Batman just starts pounding on the Joker and he just laughs at him. He just seems to be growing stronger and stronger as he is getting pounded with this violence. It’s a fascinating film and alludes to mimetic theory beautifully.
Kevin, you mentioned Brad Jersac, a lot of people assume that Hellbound? came about because of Rob Bell, but you really got the idea for Hellbound? from Brad’s film or movie, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut. Is that right?
KEVIN MILLER: Book, actually. Yes, I actually edited Brad’s book that was back in the fall of 2008. And I got the idea for the film then but I wasn’t in a position to really act on it until January 2011. So I heard about Rob Bell’s book, it was coincidental with us developing the film,. I was actually just finalizing our initial poster artwork, and so we rushed out our press release actually as soon as I heard about the book because we wanted to make sure that we staked out the territory so that nobody else would get the idea. So it was a really happy accident for us that Rob, you know, hit the zeitgeist when he did. because of that position us well in terms of coming in behind with a film.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Nice! I want to get to… you mentioned, I think, in your commentary on the DVD that Kevin DeYoung makes this really great point that what we really dealing with here is different gods or different views of gods. Do you think that’s a helpful way to look at this discussion about hell?
KEVIN MILLER: I think it is, I mean, Kevin DeYoung wrote one of the most… you know, again, I don’t agree with his theological position, but I think he really assesses the current situation well to say that, yeah, he and Rob Bell, essentially do worship different gods. And I would define the gods like this: the gods, there is a sacrificial God and there is a self-sacrificial God. In those gods are not the same and cannot be the same because a god that demands sacrifice, a god that must have his wrath satisfied is inherently a self-centered god. And a god that is willing to sacrifice God’s self on behalf of others, so that we might actually be liberated from our wrath is a very, very different God. And I believe that is the God that is represented in person Jesus Christ who literally sacrifices himself on behalf of others. So, I think Kevin DeYoung nailed it. But I and I will say that I find that the God that he advocates is incompatible with my view of Christ. Now, he will say the same thing about me, but I mean, I think the divide is that stark, is that much of a contrast, at least within Protestant evangelicalism.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s fascinating. You mentioned a little bit earlier about how, we don’t want to, you alluded to we don’t want to get rid of the language of hell. And Richard Beck really points this out in the extras and the DVDs which are all just so great. And he says that we don’t want to get rid of the language of hell, but maybe understand it in a different way. What’s he trying to get at there?
KEVIN MILLER: Well, I am glad you keep mentioning the DVD because there are a number of things on the DVD that are only available in the DVD, for those who haven’t purchased it… Richard Beck, what’s he is trying to get at is we don’t have the language of hell we have just have psychology, sociology, politics, and those vocabularies aren’t adequate to express the gravity of how we feel when we are confronted by evil. You know, we almost lost our son actually about a month and half ago. He was close to drowning in a river near here where I live. He got trapped under a little waterfall. Let me tell that, that the depth of horror that we still feel whenever we drive past that place which we have to drive by frequently is terrible. So, you know, I can’t imagine losing a child to a violent death, you know, like a school shooting or something like that. It’s not enough to just use… that behavior is damnable in a sense. And I think what Beck is trying to get at is that we have to allow room to feel the full weight of evil in the world. And that’s again something we are trying to allude to at the beginning of Hellbound?. We don’t want to minimize… like if somebody is a universalist that doesn’t mean, there is a minimization of evil or suffering. But the question is how do we deal that or how does God deal with that, in the end. Is punishment an end in itself or is punishment or consequences are the means to an end? I think that’s really what the debate is when it comes to hell is that. I think sometimes its cast in a different way, where we either have eternal irreversible consequences or we have no consequences. Well, we have a legal system right now, where you know, we have pretty serious consequences, but they are not everlasting consequences and yet we still feel we are able to achieve justices. I think that’s one of the problems that we face here is how do we frame this whole discussion.
ADAM ERICKSEN: You interview some of the people at Westborough Baptist Church and you’ve taken a little bit of heat for doing that, right?
KEVIN MILLER: Yeah.
ADAM ERICKSEN: One the things that you ask them at one point, well, what’s the purpose of hell. And they say, well, God can send anybody to hell because that’s what God wants to do and who are you to question God about that. Well, there are others who say, well, if there is a hell, it has to have a purpose and God’s purpose is to redeem. So there are different views of hell and am just wondering like what you experienced was with that different views of hell being redemptive or not redemptive?
KEVIN MILLER: Well, the Westborough Baptists, I did get some flak for putting them in the film because again, who wants to promote them any more than they are already promoting themselves. They are self-promoters and they have a very hateful, spiteful message. But at the same time for me, what they were represent really what happens will become so fixed in the position and so it’s partly about what they believe but more about how they hold the belief, this very staunch rigid way of holding beliefs. Anyhow, I encountered in the making of the film people across the spectrum. Some people who really believe that the most loving thing God can do is basically condemn, the unrepentant to hell for eternity. Other people will hold the view of annihilation because that comes in different flavors and then different views of hell as being ultimately redemptive. I like the way that Robin Parry put it in the film where he basically says you can hold on to all of this language and all of this imagery that you want, but this is just not the end of this story.
Again it is punishment as a means of to an end. Because this the way I look at it, is the punishment that is an end in itself, it comes at the expense of somebody. It comes at the expense basically of the one being punished and it can only satisfy the one doing the punishing. So I find it really hard to see how that can be compatible with God who is loving. To basically take an action that’s ultimate eternal action which is one that is essentially self-centered because it satisfies God and it comes at the expense of the sinner which to me feels like scapegoating because there is got to be a victim for there to be peace. And that smells a little fishy to me, it smells a little too human. It doesn’t seem like revelation. We could come up with that on our own. That’s the way I always look at it. And if there is a revelation in the scripture you think it would come into this closed loop of violence and try to introduce a new way of thinking.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, reminds me of one of the things you say in the film, “If we just get rid of all of the evil guys, if we kill all the evil guys will there be any of us left?”
KEVIN MILLER: Yes, there has to be someone around to turn off the lights.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It’s a great way to look at it. I want to invite our friends to ask questions and comments very soon, but before we do that one of the main, biggest themes that runs throughout Hellbound? is this idea of free will. And so there are people who are believers in free will and there are others who kind of challenged the modern or basic understanding of free will. Like Brad Jersac says, “Ask how free is our will if we are born in certain context, social situations and things like that?”. So I was wondering like what do you make of free will from these experience?
KEVIN MILLER: Well, you know, there is a very good reason why I am not a Muslim and it has nothing to do with my free will. It has to do with the situation that I was born into, and that I was socialized into. And it is a very exceptional person to be born in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan where I was born, who ends up becoming somebody fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. So that is so exceptional, it almost would never ever happen. I prefer to think in terms Richard Beck uses which is strong and weak volitional capacity because then you are not in an either or situation, you are really on a continuum. So I would definitely look towards the side of weak volitional capacity that the individual… and again I think this is an insight from mimetic theory is that the choices that we make are so enmeshed with our environment that I think we have a very hard time locating the ultimate responsibility in the individual.
I know we all want to do that, especially in the case of a violent crime, we all want to point the finger. But again, I would to look at… if you want to look at some of these people that have done mass shooting in the United States in the last little while. I think you can always draw concentric circles around these people to say you know what, they are all is embedded in the situation that somehow, you know allowed these to happen and that those concentric circles keep moving out, until they end up at our doorstep. And so, I think that a lot of times, this really heavy emphasis on personal autonomy and free will and that sort of thing is a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility for the other. So I really appreciate what Sam Harris the atheist had to say about this, which is you know, the more we begin to recognize our kind of co-responsibility for the choices that we make, the more compassionate we can actually become because we start to approach the other with the sense of responsibility as opposed to a sense of blame. Because we recognize there is a give and a take in terms of choices we are making.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s great, I love it. If anybody has a comment or a question, we will bring you in to talk with Kevin. Tim Brown send me some questions before the chat. Tim, I don’t know if you can talk, but am going to unmute you, I don’t know if I can, but Tim said, he may or may not be able to come in and ask a question, so he sent me some questions. I Am going to bring them up now, while other people formulate questions and comments, will bring them in. So Tim asks something of a mimetic question, it is a mimetic question, and it’s a good follow up to what we were just talking about. What role does biography play in how people see the issue of hell?
KEVIN MILLER: What role does biography play?
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah.
KEVIN MILLER: I think it’s decisive in the sense that, you know, depending on what type of context that you are born into and so you receiving a worldview from your family, or if you are part of a faith community or something like that, and, of course, there are also all sorts of experiential issue depending on what you have experienced in life, if you been victimized, and what have you. So I think you going to be predisposed to one position or another. So I think it’s very important role because really we are the sum… Charlie Sheen said that “I am the sum of the here now.” But I think we are often times the sum of our past experiences. They always weighing on us in one way or the other. We either being driven by them or we are reacting against them, I think.
ADAM ERICKSEN: it’s interesting you bring that up. In preparing for the show today I was listening to Hellbound? in my car and had it hooked up to my car while my children were watching a DVD coming down from the top of our ceiling in the car. And I didn’t know that my son in the far back wasn’t watching the show that I thought he was watching, he was listening to Hellbound?. In the beginning, you’ve got the Westborough Baptist people who are like “God hates those people! God hates those people!” and my son in the back says, “God doesn’t hate anyone”. And, right then, you know how Deuteronomy says teach your children. I was like, oh, my God, that’s so important and so illustrative of how it’s so important to form our children and one another in certain views of God, hopefully, healthy loving views of God. Because if you don’t, then… I guess this is all getting to how much theology, our views of God, our worldviews as a whole, I guess, impact what we do?
KEVIN MILLER: Yeah, I think so, too. You know, I was just going to speak about that too. Miroslav Volf wrote a fantastic book called The End of Memory, where he looks at the roles that memory plays in identity. And I think that’s a very, very fascinating discussion because not only do our memories really form who we are, it gets into the question of how will our life be remembered, or how will God remember our lives. And I think that we will be defined by the worst things that we do or by the best things or whatever. So I think that, yeah, it’s a very important thing to consider.
SUZANNE ROSS: Kevin I wonder if I can raise the issue from the perspective of my sister who is a Jehovah’s Witness. And we talk a lot of about the end times when God is going to decide who is going to be with God for eternity and who is going to go to hell for eternity. I can only listen to her on the subject for the long time because I already love her and know she is a nice person. So, most of the time when I hear people say they are believe in hell, I conclude they must be nasty and mean somehow deep inside. But I know that’s not true about my sister. And after listening to her for a long time, I finally realize that her concern, her beliefs in hell comes from her concern about suffering in the world. And that when she sees that people are victims of other people who cause them suffering, she thinks that, first of all that God will make their suffering whole, that God will alleviate their suffering at the end, but that there will be consequences for the people who cause that suffering. And without those consequences, there will be no motivation to repent, to reform yourself. So her ideas about hell are born out of this deep empathy with people who are suffering. I wonder if you encountered that or how you, digest all of that?
KEVIN MILLER: Yeah, I will agree that you know, I think that often times, our desire for hell is the result of empathy or compassion, and just this cry to say this is wrong and, you know, if God doesn’t make this right, God is evil. Because then God is just perpetuating that. And so, I totally understand that. You know, I came to faith through a group of people, Mennonites, brethren, folks, and who are very staunch believers in hell but were some of the kindest, I mean, the thing that drew me close to them was they were the most kindest, loving people I knew. And so, yeah, far be it from me to say that believing in eternal hell is as a result of you being an angry, vicious person or that it turns you into one, but at the same time, we have to look at history and we have to say that, collectively, that this belief in hell has fueled some of the most atrocious behavior that we have ever witnessed. If you go back to really the beginning with Augustine, you know, saying that in some of their reformers, after following that saying that people who are heretics are worse than murderers and should be treated as such. Because they are endangering people for eternity, so better little fire now than fire forever, and so… and also I think, unconsciously leads to sort of almost a secularized version of these ‘us and them’ thinking where we start to use this belief in us being righteous to justify by some of the worst violence imaginable. So I would say this, is that I think within our own justice system, we recognize and hold them for different purposes to justice. So, obviously, there is this idea of retribution; you do the crime, you do the time. We have a desire for public protection which is why certain people need to be removed from society, who have returned certain behaviors.
But, on the other side though, I think that the ultimate goals we are trying to work towards in our justice system are rehabilitation, restitution and the highest goal will be some kind of reconciliation between the offender and the victim, and between the offender and society. So I think even in our own justice system the highest good it can achieve is ultimately redemptive, that doesn’t minimize the consequences of people’s behavior. So when a murderer and say parents of his or her victim are reconciled, that doesn’t come to a minimization of what happened, it comes through the offender fully recognizing the extent of the evil that he or she committed and repenting with tears. That there is ultimately forgiveness. I mean that’s powerful, that’s extremely rare. But it is powerful, and it is achievable. So if I would just say the ultimate good that can be achieved in the universe, I would hope, it is that that would become the ultimate end of all evil that happens in the world. Because I think anyone who is victimized that cry for justice, they want to offender to recognize what they’ve done. And this is one of the problems I have with hell as it depicts the sequestering of everyone that’s evil is that how can we ever achieve healing if we are never able to confront the offenders that has wronged us. You know, we need that and if these people are annihilated or somehow removed, I mean, I just think okay, if God is going to sort of magically fix people, well you know, how can you really achieve psychological, emotional wholeness?
SUZANNE ROSS: So the way you described the repentance is so beautiful because it’s almost as if the threat of punishment gets in the way of people being able to be honest with themselves and their victims. In other words, it makes you defensive. If am saying, “You know Kevin, you really hurt me and I am never going to talk to you again, blah, blah, blah.” You, right away, you are going to say, wait a minute, you hurt me. There’s not going to be a mutual ability to confess to one another. So there is a way… it’s so paradoxical to me because the threat of punishment is often seen as the path to good behavior, where the way you just described it, it might get in the way of people being fully honest with themselves about what they have done.
KEVIN MILLER: I will give you a contemporary example, the government of Canada just took this unprecedented move a few years ago to apologize to Canada’s aboriginal people for the way they were treated especially within the residential school system which was managed in conjunction with certain churches in Canada. And for years the fear of the legal situation that would put the government in if they actually come forward and acknowledge guilt prevents that reconciliation from happening. So, I think that you are correct there, that fear of punishment… again there are certain places and points in time where fear of punishment maybe does keep us straight and narrow road. But, I think in an ultimate sense, it means that our behavior is just being modified, our hearts are not being changed.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Tim has some more questions going off, this, “Do you think there might be some deep wounds that is met by imagining others being others being tortured forever?”
KEVIN MILLER: I think so, in a sense, but I think even the person who is really, really hurting from some kind of injustice… I mean, the way I put it is this, if you believe that God… in heaven, all the tears will be wiped away and all that sort of thing, like if you hold to this sort of traditional view that in the end, God will make all things right. I will sort of ask the question if, you know, if, whatever and horrible thing happened to you, if you lost family member or whatever, if, in the end, all these things are restored to you, now what do you want to see happen to the person who wronged you. And I think that we tend to view these type of questions through the lens of our pain and suffering which blinds us to this idea of that, if you are a Christian, you are also supposed to hold this view that God is all powerful that God in a sense can unravel everything that’s been twisted up. And so, I would encourage people to have faith… a bigger view of God to say that God isn’t limited the way we are. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we just want people to pay, because that’s the best we can do. There are certain things we just can’t undo, so the best we can do is at least make the bastard pay, so, to speak. And that gives us a bit of satisfaction.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Tim follows that up with that with “Thanks for the insight, I am trying to understand why folks need help. Why do folks need help?” I don’t know, do you have any thoughts about that Kevin?
KEVIN MILLER: Yeah, I think in the same way we all need justice and hell seems like the way we are going to get it. And like Rob and Parry in the movie, I want to encourage people to think beyond simple retribution, that there is a way to have justice that doesn’t come at the expense of the offender, because we are all offenders and it doesn’t come at the expense of the victims because we are victims. There can be a way of achieving that sense of justice without somebody paying for all eternity, except maybe God.
SUZANNE ROSS: Right, because that kind of justice is wholeness, meaning no one is excluded from the caring community. Which goes back to what you were saying that hell is just like if God doing this, God is scapegoating. So God excluding some people and telling us to love our enemies, which is kind of a little bit of a double bind situation.
KEVIN MILLER: But to be included in the community there is a process and a path, right, you can’t just say, “ok, fine, you back in”. No, we have to deal with what happened here. You know, that’s the way our families hopefully operate. That’s way we operate in community here. So that’s again… I know somebody like Kevin DeYoung will accuse me of using horizontal reasoning, you know, but the thing I will say is that the one thing that seems unfathomable to the people in the Bible isn’t God’s wrath. Nobody says I don’t understand the wrath it’s like I don’t understand your mercy. So when in Isaiah, God says my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways; it’s in the context of God treating his enemies with grace. And you know that’s something to consider and, often times, I’ll hear, especially from the reform camp as well, this unfathomable aspect to God’s wrath. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case in the bible. Wrath makes pretty good sense to all of us, I think.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah. You mentioned the Bible which is good. It is often a stumbling block on all kinds of sides for this. In the film, Mark Driscoll does this a great job of kind of giving us the different views of hell that people think are in the Bible, at least. There’s eternal concept torment, the one that he likes, and there is annihilationism, and there is universalism. With all the Bible talk… what do you make of all the Bible talk in the movie, I guess?
KEVIN MILLER: This is one of the problems is that this type of… It’s probably true that every theological issue, it can’t be decided on the Bible alone. And so, you can always marshal a set of verses that seem to support your position, but then there is going to be a remainder. Maybe a small remainder, maybe a large one, that you somehow are going to have to deal with. And you are also going to be dealing with isolated verses or passages versus big theological concepts. So, you might take the concept of love and then how do your weigh that against, you know, certain verses in the Bible. So you’re going to have to apply reason and you’re going to have to apply tradition, you’re going to have to apply experience and so. The question really becomes whose theological grid is yielding the most accurate results. And then how do you even determine what most accurate results is, what’s the measure? And so, I think this is really where the debate happens. I find it kind of comical how many times people will say, they’ll approach me and say if I disagree with them it’s because I haven’t read the Bible. Well, if you just read the Bible, then you will just come to agree with me. Well, you know, if you want to stay within the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment, you have vast disagreement in all sorts of issue, in terms of how do people get to hell, is it God’s choice or our choice, what is the nature of the punishment in hell. that sort of thing like, very significant disagreement everybody reading the same Bible, because we are all applying a different interpretative grid. So I think that that’s the thing that we really need to discuss is really the interpretative grid, and that’s, I think, where the debate is. It’s not about who has respect for the Bible and who doesn’t.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s interesting. Tony Ciccariello has a comment that he wants to make, so I am gonna bring him in. But as I bring Tony in, I want to ask you this, Kevin. A lot of people in mimetic theory has taught me that Jesus should be our grid, our primary grid, but somebody like Scot McKnight who I have a lot of sympathy with will end up saying Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else,in the Bible, and so you have to take it seriously or whatever he means, by seriously. What do you make of Jesus who talks about hell all the time or frequently?
KEVIN MILLER: I would make two comments. Number one is yeah, I have heard other people and there are people in Hellbound? who say Jesus should be our interpretative grid. But, you know, Mark Driscoll would agree with me on that, and but he will say that Jesus is my interpretative grid, he coming back with a tattoo down his thigh with a sword in his hands, and he is gonna kick some ass. So yeah, that’s my interpretative grid. But it’s a very different Jesus.
And the other side that I will say, well, does Jesus talked about hell all the time? We talked about that in the film. He doesn’t really because the concept, he is talking about Gehenna. And the term Gehenna is very different from our view of hell. The other thing is to listen to who did Jesus talk to about hell or this sort of punishment to? It’s virtually never the general public, it’s always the religious authorities who hold this belief. What he is constantly doing is deconstructing or showing how this belief is going to come back and bite them. And so, again, this is one of the things we wrestle with when we deal with the character of Jesus in the Gospel is when he will appropriate a certain views like he does like in say Luke 16, when he talked about the rich man and Lazarus. Is he appropriating a concept at the time or he ratifying it, in the sense of saying that yeah, this view is the correct one. I think that’s one of the debates we tend to constantly have.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Great. Tony, we can’t see you on the chat. If you want to hit the cam button, your image will come up but I think you can go ahead… Oh there you are, hello, Tony.
TONY: CICCARIELLO: Hi, how are you? What a great discussion. Thanks so much, Kevin. You know, I enjoy the terms we used in mimetic theory as we talk about some of the texts that are a little difficult, texts in travail. I like that way of putting it and also, I think the thing that we have to add to the whole discussion is that we today are living a life in Jesus and that we have some input. It’s not just what we get from this text and what have you. But my question was, how do we overcome? We are in this cultural situation, we have a biography, we have a free will. What are the things that we can do to transform ourselves? Are there actions or disciplines or so that we can overcome these revengeful actions in ourselves. And I wonder what you thought about that, and if there are some disciplines that you evolved yourself with, Kevin.
KEVIN MILLER: I mean it’s… you know. I guess the first thing would be to say I don’t think it’s a matter of, I mean, discipline does a play a role. But I think the first thing is just even really being aware. That is what I find so helpful about mimetic theory. First of all, become aware of our susceptibility to imitate the violence in the other or to imitate the aggression in the other, so just to become conscious. And I think then it becomes, what the discipline is, I guess, is in the heat of the moment, choosing not to imitate. And I think this goes back to the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. That’s what he seems to be systematically trying to show us how to do. It’s not just refrain from imitating the enemy, but to present a new model to the one who is showing aggression against you. So that you are not just trying to avoid certain behaviors but you are actively stepping into a different way of relating. But at the same time, I mean awareness. Anyone who is smoker is pretty aware that they are detrimental aspect of smoking but he continues to do it. So we can be aware of our propensity to these behaviors but it’s still hard to stop and I think that this is where it just comes back to looking at, what’s wrong with us. What kind of wounds are active in our hearts, going back to our biographies. And what sort of help do we seek to help liberate us from these types of things, because bad choices are always a result of you know, disordered affections somehow. So how can we find healings from those things.
TONY: CICCARIELLO: That’s good. Thanks.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Tim brings up another actual personality in Hellbound?, I think his name is Chad. Is Chad the guy who was the youth pastor, I think? And then, started blogging, got fired because he was questioning traditional atonement is that?
KEVIN MILLER: Yes, he is an associate pastor. Yes, as he said in the film he’s been kind of pushing the buttons on same-sex marriage and that sort of thing as well. He’d written a blog about what he lost when he lost his view of hell. That was really the final straw for his congregation I think, and yeah, Chad Holtz was his name.
ADAM ERICKSEN: There is more to this story right?
KEVIN MILLER: Yeah, when we interviewed Chad we knew there was something going on in terms of his family situation. And we later subsequently found out that he entered residential treatment for sex addiction after our interview. And he came out of that experience with a statement where he basically recanted, he was a universalist when we interviewed him, and he basically recounted his views of in universalism, said he’d been arrogant and all that kind of stuff. And stated that he was returning to a view of hell as a place of eternal torment. And for us that came right basically when we were picture locking the film and so it presented us with a challenge what should we do. Should we pull Chad from the film and try and find somebody who had gone through a similar situation? We actually considered and approached a guy named Jackson Berrels who is a youth pastor from the west coast, who had gone through a similar situation. But, after reflecting on it, we ultimately decided to keep Chad in the film because on one sense it seems like his about-face had been so abrupt that I personally was very suspicious of it. And so, I kind of thought what happens if go through all this work to take him out of it film and put someone else in only to have him change his views yet again, a few months later? And the other side I just felt my experience of Chad and the argument he presented in favor of universalism was so much a part of his biography. I just really had a hard time believing that this statement that he had written really represent what he actually beliefs and I think that he wrote it for other reasons. That’s my personal view. I have never confirmed that with Chad.
SUZANNE ROSS: The question in the chat room from Kathy. Can I bring in something? Kevin, when you were responding to Tony ’s question about how do we not just not return violence in kind but offer some kind of new model, the question in the chat room from Cathy was about maybe film is a very good medium for showing that sort of alternative Sermon on the Mount kind of behavior. What do you think about film as a medium for sharing that and do you know of any project, films, that are already in existence?
KEVIN MILLER: Well, I would say that virtually any great story, imbues this concept. I teach on screenwriting, quite frequency and there is an always a… Really with the battle that’s going on film between the protagonist and the antagonist is a battle of escalating imitation. And there is a point in any story which we call the ordeal which is the lowest possible moment in the film for the protagonist. They really deserve death in that moment, because they just were so stubbornly refusing to accept the change that’s being asked of them. But they survive, they survive the ordeal. And it’s always due to an act of grace.
And I like to say grace accepted in the ordeal, and grace extended in the climax. So what tends to happen often is that in the climax of the film, when the protagonist confronts the antagonist there is an offer that is given to the antagonist that will try and save the villain from him or herself. And so I think there is a sense where the protagonist has learned the lesson and often times that offer of salvation to the villain is refused. Sometimes it’s accepted. One of the classic places where it is accepted, of course, is Dark Vader, is saved by his own son. So I think there is an intuitive sense within fiction and within cinema of this type of thing. Ultimately the only thing that can save us is to break from imitating our enemy.
SUZANNE ROSS: It’s the novelistic conversion.
KEVIN MILLER: Right, it doesn’t just save us. It saves the enemy from themself and saves the world, depending on what kind of a story we are looking at?
SUZANNE ROSS: Cathy is still interested in a documentary project, though, Kevin.
ADAM ERICKSEN: I don’t know if you have seen it, Kevin, but the movie that comes to mind for me is called As We Forgive. It’s by, I forget who it’s by. It’s about the reconciliation forgiveness process that happening in Rwanda with the Hutus and the Tutsis. And I have only seen the trailer, but it’s so powerful the way that you bring these people who have committed tremendous acts of horror with people who have killed their family members and you begin to see themes that both of them are experiencing as the one comes to acceptance and repentance of what they have done and the other gradually comes to the point of being able to forgive. So yeah, that’s a great documentary that kind of challenging documentary that goes through this process.
KEVIN MILLER: Well it becomes a model for us. There is something that really appreciate about Walter Wink, if you read his book, Engaging the Powers he talks about the path of non-violence and how it just seems so feeble when you compare to military solution or something like that. He goes and shows countless examples where people, because they couldn’t resort to the violence, before fumbling for the gun when you should be pursuing a more creative solution. He shows how the arrive at these incredibly innovative solutions where people refuse to imitate the violence of their enemies and it just led to this revolution in terms of their situation.
But yeah, I mean, something I been toying with as well is inactively pursuing actually, is a documentary I am calling (Necessary) Evil, necessary in parenthesis, that really tries to in a more overt fashion tries to bring out the power of mimetic theory as a way of really examining the many conflicts we find ourselves in, and trying to show why we keep ending up in these cul-de-sacs and what can ultimately lead us out of them.
I think that what scapegoating always is, scapegoating is always a necessary evil, that’s what we think it is. Our evil is always necessary. And even in Rwanda, you know why the genocide always happens, genocide is always a preemptive strike. So yeah, horrible what we are doing, but, if we didn’t do it, imagine what they would do to us. The NSA, they are using that same logic all the time. If we didn’t spy on everybody in the whole freaking world, imagine what will happen. So yes, what we are doing isn’t good, but what will happen if we didn’t do it, is way worst. So that seems to be the logic.
ADAM ERICKSEN: The other argument is well everybody else is doing it, so we can spy on everybody, they are spying on us. Man, this vision that’s going around amongst political leaders these days. Maybe it’s always been there now it’s coming out, I don’t know but it’s very dangerous. We got one minute left, Kevin, which gives me a perfect amount of time to bring out another gigantic topic when it comes to hell.
One of the views I really like about Brad Jersac in the documentary, is that he kind of tackles this myth, the Christian tradition has only taught one view of hell, which is eternal conscious torment. And so, the idea from that is that all the universalism is a modern notion of what Mark Driscoll says is a bunch of wusses who don’t wanna take hell seriously. But Brad, in fact, brings something else into the conversation, specifically, Gregory of Nissa and I was wondering if that part of the conversation had any relevance for you in this discussion?
KEVIN MILLER: Well, it brings up a few things really quickly, number one when should never negate an idea just because it’s new or accept an idea just because it’s old, or vice versa. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s right, just because the majority believes something doesn’t mean it’s right, and just because the minority accepts something it’s not automatically wrong. I will say there are some good reasons why eternal conscious torment became the mainstream view, one of the primary one is the alignment of church and state beginning around the time of Constantine because universalism doesn’t help a tyrant very well. Eternal conscious torment is very useful to a tyrant. And so, I think it’s only natural that it would become the majority of view because it’s the most pragmatic in terms of the situation that you are dealing with. So, yeah, I think that we don’t decide scientific question based on what the majority of scientist believe, we decide them based on the evidence and the arguments. And so, I think we should pursue theological questions the same way. So that we need to free ourselves to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and I think that’s the best way to approach life in general, because, you know, the universe is what it is, no matter what we believe about it. I think we just need to try and maintain a healthy naivety about everything.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Certain healthy agnosticism is always good. Tim is caught up on (Necessary) Evil. You said you are actively pursuing necessary evil as a documentary?
KEVIN MILLER: Actively pursuing funding at this point. So I want to make the film in collaboration with Michael Hardin actually. Yeah, we are seeking funding and, you know, in the development phase in terms of structuring the whole thing and everything like that.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Awesome. It sounds amazing, so you that’s great.
SUZANNE ROSS: I will buy the DVD.
ADAM ERICKSEN:: You got your very own. Nice. Tim says you and Michael will make a great team, an awesome team. I mean you do, Michael plays a very important role in Hellbound?, I mean you end with Michael’s words. Why was Michael so important to this film?
KEVIN MILLER: Again because I think he holds down the fort in terms of mimetic theory and bringing things around. There is an interesting sort of balance there where Mark Driscoll says in the beginning of the film that people who are asking questions are just like Satan in the garden. And we come around full circle with Michael saying really the ones who are trying to decide between what’s good and what’s evil brought us right back in the garden where what we really want is to be like God in a sense we start to imitate Satan. So I think that’s kind of funny, but Michael, yeah, he never lets other people forget he’s the one that gets to close the film.
ADAM ERICKSEN: I think …too because the words are just so, beautiful at the end, I love. Also, juxtapose with the image of these people sending out boats into the river. That’s in New York right?
KEVIN MILLER: Yeah, that’s what’s on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, that’s was a lantern festival and it’s funny it’s one of those rare happy accidents where I thought wouldn’t that be a great closing image for the film and it actually worked out. Yeah, it doesn’t happen too often. I mean I am talking about when I first heard about it and I thought we knew we were going to New York, I thought that be cool. Yeah, the footage actually ended up serving the purpose of the film.
ADAM ERICKSEN:: And I think Michael there quotes 1 John saying “God is light” and in there, there is no darkness at all the boat with light and going off. It’s awesome, it’s great imagery. Kevin, we are a couple of minutes over, I just wanna thank you for being with us, it’s been a pleasure, love the conversation.
KEVIN MILLER: Thank you, guys, I appreciate it.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Awesome. Kevin, before we let you go, could you tell people where they can find your work and your DVD and support you in your further work?
KEVIN MILLER: Sure, yeah. Just to go Hellboundthemovie.com you can check out trailer for the film and all kinds of stuff for the film. I was blogging there, and now kind of blogging more on my Patheos Blog which is also called Hellbound?. But, yeah, if you want to get the DVD or there are other ways to access the film, as well, you can find out at hellboundthemovie.com.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Awesome. Great. Thank you, Kevin.
SUZANNE ROSS: Thanks, everyone.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Right. Thanks, everybody.
SUZANNE ROSS: Bye bye
ADAM ERICKSEN: Take care, see you next week when we talk with Mark Anspach about his book, well the introduction to René’s book, Anorexia and Mimetic Desire. So we will see you then. Kevin, you are awesome. Thanks.
KEVIN MILLER: Thanks, guys.
SUZANNE ROSS: Bye bye.
The Hellbound? DVD can be purchased here.