From: Good Goats
The time when I understood most clearly the dangers of reading the vengeful punishment passages in the Bible literally was when I was called to a mental hospital to see my friend, Bill Wilson. Guards ushered me into his room. Bill’s hands were chained to his bed and he had a bandage over the right side of his face. That morning he had tried to gouge out his right eye. When I asked him why, he quoted to me Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your member than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Everyone knew Bill was crazy for taking the first part of that passage, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away,” so literally. But I realized that Bill was no more crazy for taking the first part of that passage literally than I was for taking the second part literally and believing that God would vengefully throw me into hell.
Bill was no more crazy than I was as an adolescent when I walked into a gas station and saw a calendar with a picture of a nude woman on it. I thought, “Now I have committed a mortal sin, and if after leaving here I am involved in a car accident and die, I will go directly to hell.” And Bill was no more crazy than the many parents I have overheard saying to their children, “You better behave or God is going to punish you.”