Preachers often preach “fire and brimstone” sermons. The most famous sermon of the First Great Awakening in America was entitled“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The Second Great Awakening made frequent use of the mourners’ bench where “sinners” in need of repentance were placed just below the preacher’s podium and they were supposed to have the hell scared out of them so they confessed their sins and sought salvation. With this as our heritage it is no wonder that Christians often have thoughts of heaven, hell and eternal judgment on their minds.

Our roots in western Christianity also gave us the ideas of penitentiaries that replaced corporal punishments with long years in prison cells. The idea was to give the time for the offender to become penitent. When capital punishment was the sentence, the condemned were accompanied by a member of the clergy to hear last minute confessions and pray for the eternal soul of the condemned. The idea of an eternal judgment was seen as more grievous than the maximum sentence human society could mete out. Again, it shows how much we had judgment on our minds.

It saddened but did not surprise me when I read a study that showed religion made children meaner and more judgmental than those who practiced no religion at all. When God’s punishment for sin is on our minds we will be more likely to judge and less likely to be altruistic. Yet churches have often operated on the assumption that society will be kinder when morality is based on Biblical ideas of punishment for sins and forgiveness only by God’s grace at Christ’s expense. Apparently, however, the opposite is true. Those who are not constantly reminded of a punitive God who threatens eternal damnation are more likely to treat others with kindness.

So what’s on your mind? Is it love for everyone? As human beings we connect when we respond to common needs without needing to judge. And keep in mind we are humans in the hands of a loving God.