As I get older and grow more nostalgic, I've found myself re-examining the thousands of seemingly disparate threads that have been woven together over the years to create the tapestry of my life. When I consider my religious inoculations, many booster shots came from the usual places: an early fascination with dinosaurs, a strong curiosity about biology, astronomy, and science generally.
However, there is one life lesson that derives from, perhaps, a more unusual source: Ernest Scared Stupid.
This idea of unconditional love is, I think, poorly understood, especially among religious practitioners who believe in a God that loves us but who also must be feared. That very idea is an oxymoron. Any Being that threatens you with eternal damnation cannot love you unconditionally. Ernest's waltz with the troll is the perfect metaphor for selfless affection and is even more profound, to me anyway, than the sacrifice of Christ.
No, I'm serious! If the Christian God is a god of love, then He has a funny way of showing it. The very nature of His affection is apparently contingent; follow these commandments, meet these standards, and you will find His love. Very well, you can have your conditional love, but Ernest taught me about a better love, the love of a child, pure and incandescent. This is, I think, closer to a Jewish conception of God, in which the very idea of a loving God who doles out eternal punishment is laughable. There is no slight, no matter how evil or corrupt, that justifies eternal damnation, least of all from a loving God.