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Monday, August 4, 2008

Questions for Christians: Hell

This post is the first in a series I am planning, the purpose of which is to pose questions to Christians who come here (or go anywhere, for that matter) with the intent of converting us to Christianity, but also with an open mind about their own faith. I won't pretend that my ultimate goal isn't to have you deconvert from Christianity, but forget about that for now; each post for the time being will focus on a particular aspect of the Christian faith that the Christian would benefit from reconsidering.

We'll start with the following four questions about the doctrine of Hell, that being a place where the wicked and unrepentant will be tortured for all eternity after death. If you don't believe that Hell exists, or is such a place, then these questions won't apply to you -- but they will apply to most evangelical Christians.



1. How do you know that Hell exists?

Being an atheist, I don't believe that the Bible is completely true, or even largely true, so citing the Bible as evidence that Hell exists won't work on me. If the Bible is the only thing you have to go with, however, then our next discussion can focus on whether the Bible can be considered reliable evidence for anything at all.

Obviously -- at least I hope you find it as obvious as I do -- the fact that a large number of people might believe in something isn't proof of anything. Nor are near-death experiences of such a place, as these have been explained as processes of the physical brain. So how do you know Hell even exists?



2. How can Hell possibly be moral?

How can an all-loving God allow, still less create, a place of eternal torture? Doesn't torturing, or threatening to torture, a person indicate that you hate them, rather than love them and want a relationship with them?

Some apologists say that God doesn't send people to Hell, rather we send ourselves through sin. In the first place, however, we did not create Hell, God did, so this doesn't answer why God would deliberately create a place of eternal torture for those who disobeyed him. (Some will say that Satan, not God, created Hell -- but even if that unlikely scenario were the case, the fact remains that God seems to have no problem in making use of the place.)

In the second place, nobody ever chooses to be tortured. Ask any waterboarding victim if he chose to undergo that procedure. (Journalist and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens did voluntarily undergo the procedure, for the sake of an article he was writing -- he confirmed that it was indeed a form of torture, and that he would never do it again.) Ask any political prisoner if they would choose to be tortured. They never make that choice -- even in disobeying their captors, knowing that torture would be the result; that is not tantamount to choosing to accept torture, as the captors simply do not have the moral right to do that. Hell is flat-out immoral in any human sense of the word.

Would you respond, then, that Hell, while immoral by human standards, is moral by God's standards? If you allow that human and divine moral standards can diverge so widely, then you must also concede that other things which we consider immoral might be considered perfectly moral by God. Such as lying to humans. Such as telling us that we'll be saved if we accept Jesus and so forth, when he in fact has no intention of saving us, but intends to throw everyone, Christian and atheist alike, into Hell. Along with Hell, Christians can't provide any evidence that a single person is currently in Heaven. So the question remains: How can Hell possibly be moral?



3. How can Hell possibly be just?

This is a separate question from the above: it refers to the justice, or lack thereof, in subjecting a person to infinite punishment for finite crimes. If a person's only crime is jaywalking, you don't give him the punishment that you would give to a mass murderer; that would be gross injustice. With humans, every crime we could possibly commit, against man or God, is finite, and therefore merits finite punishment. But Hell is forever. It is infinite punishment. How, then, can it be a just punishment for any crime humans commit during our lives?

Some Christians say that, because the crimes are committed against an infinite being, they are of infinite magnitude. However, a defining characteristic of a crime is that it causes harm, either directly to its victims or indirectly to a society -- thus, humans can never commit a crime against God, as finite beings can only inflict zero or negligible harm on an infinite being.

Another unjust aspect of Hell is the impossibility of release; even if a person repents in Hell and is genuinely sorry for what they have done and is prepared to accept Christ, the vast majority of Christian sects teach that there will be no release for them. We are told that God will accept any sincere repentance from someone on Earth, regardless of what prompted it -- why would the same not apply in Hell? There can be no non-arbitrary answer to this question. So once again: how can Hell possibly be just?



4. Why is Hell necessary?

Why did God feel the need to create such a place in the first place? (Those who say that Satan, not God, created Hell, see above.)

The common answer here is that God has no choice, that he is incapable of existing in the presence of sin, and that Hell is the only metaphysical alternative to his own realm. But if that answer is true, then God is not God. Because God is, by definition, all-powerful -- he can handle the problem, quite literally, any way he wants to.

God could extinguish souls rather than subject them to torture. He could create another metaphysical realm, something like Earth, and keep them there until they get it right. He could simply forgive them unconditionally, snap his fingers (so to speak) to "cleanse" the soul of sin, and admit them into Heaven. To deny that God is capable of any of these things is to deny that God is all-powerful, thus to deny that God is God, and hence to admit that you are an atheist.

The only reason I can think of for God to create and/or make use of a realm such as Hell is because he is sadistic and enjoys the suffering of others. But, of course, this is incompatible with the existence of an all-loving God. So I ask again: why is Hell necessary?



If the Christian wants us to take the concept of Hell seriously, as something more than an evangelistic tactic to try to coerce us into becoming Christians, then the very least he or she must do is provide satisfactory answers to all four of these questions. To my knowledge -- and I have studied philosophy of religion intensively for over a decade -- this has never been done. If you are able to do it, you would be the first. Do you think you can do it? Or do you think you had better rethink the whole Hell thing?

40 comments:

  1. I am reposting a comment I made earlier because I am too lazy to rewrite it and I think it's a perfect response to this post. Hell is one of the most questionable aspects of Christianity. If God really allows billions of people to go to hell how could he be good? Why would you worship him except out of fear? I am still waiting for a response- how do you live knowing someone you love is being tortured?

    I seriously question Ray's and other fundamentalist's sincere belief in hell. I brought this up earlier and received only evasive answers. As much as they carry on about the unsaved atheist, we are nothing but a feather in their cap, brownie points for Jesus. Each one of them has either children, family, or friends doomed to hell. Not the wishy washy hell that liberals imagine. This hell burns and torments for eternity. The pain and terror are unimaginable (especially for rational humans).

    So tell me, if you truly believe that hell is so real and God so judgmental, how do you get up and face the day? As the fundies are always reminding us, you never know when death will come knocking at your door and take you or your loved one off to hell. Those who live with the uncertainty of salvation and the certainty of hell have a cloud hanging over them. Yet where is the panic, anguish, or any other normal reaction?

    I can't imagine giving birth to children with even the smallest possibility of hell in their future. It's not like having a child with a birth defect. It's not even having a child born into poverty and a broken home. It's bringing a being into this world that will spend eternity in excruciating pain. A person whom despite their faults, you love with all your heart. Any small falling away from the faith could cause their downfall. A temporary teenage rebellion could end in damnation. The odds just aren't in your favor- only 7% of the world is saved. A dozen children in heaven would not make up for one in hell. There is nothing God could ever do for me to blot out that lost child.

    So, enjoy your family now because someday they could be in hell. What a way to live!

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  2. Silent Dave I have to say for an atheist you are very intelligent to some degree, very good questions. You almost sound like a Christian.

    I would like to have a go at answering your questions even though you have already answered most of them yourself. You seem to know more than many so called Christians.
    1. How do you know that Hell exists?
    You know the answer to that one but you dont want to believe it. Its because the Bible says so. Yes, I know you could argue that till the cows come home so I will move to number 2.
    How can Hell possibly be moral?
    Again you seem to have answered yourself. Because God says so. He created Hell. He will send whom he chooses to hell. He even knew those destined for Hell before the foundation of the world. He will show mercy to whom He chooses and He will harden the hearts of those he will.
    You are very right, Satan did not create Hell, God did.
    3. Is Hell just?
    Yes it is. Why because God is a God who is just. And you know that one as well, yes you cannot repent in Hell, if that was possible or true we might as well burn all bibles and I would definatly not be a Christian. The whole thing would not make sense. You might as well do whatever you want now and repent in Hell.
    4. Why is Hell necessary,
    Again to show the righteouss judgement of God, He alone is good, He alone is Holy, He alone is merciful, He alone is just, He alone is love. Hell is necessary to demonstrate the character of God against the character of man.

    You see Dave, what I think you dont know- or maybe you know this already by the looks of it, is that God is the one who makes people Christians. I can argue with you forever, but only God can make you realise that you are wrong. He is the one that opens your eyes, thats why the bible says you have to be born-again. Even Faith is a gift of God. He will save whom he will and the rest will spend eternity in hell.Thats why He Is God. Your heart is so hard because God has not given you mercy. I think you also know that but you just hate it.At the same time you can not blame God for your sin, you are responsible for your own hatred for Him.

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  3. These are good questions and I look forward to the answers.

    I am often disappointed when I find that the answer is often something like "Who are we to understand the mind of God?", but then as an answer to the next question, they presume to know just that.

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  4. Jean:

    All of your answers assume that the Bible is not a book filled with contradictions that has been changed many times over to suit many different peoples' will. Is there any evidence outside of this book for your God specifically?

    You mentioned in a previous post that creation was evidence of your creator. Why isn't it evidence of another creator? How do you know it was necessarily yours (the God of the Bible) who created it?

    I have to say for an atheist you are very intelligent to some degree, very good questions.

    I know you are probably used to hearing such insults to the intellect of Christians from atheists, and that is too bad, because personal attacks are not a good way of communicating a point.

    It is really hard for me to even consider what you are saying when you begin by insulting me.

    Thanks for your answers.

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  5. "Silent Dave I have to say for an atheist you are very intelligent to some degree, very good questions. You almost sound like a Christian."

    You still have yet to address why it is that educated people are more likely to be atheists, Jean.

    This fact directly contradicts your backhanded insults in regards to our intellectual capacities.


    As an aside, I love when people who can barely string together coherent sentences and frequently misuse common words calls me a bit dim.

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  6. Actually, one cannot have their Jesus, their bible, their hell or their heaven unless they can show their god to exist.

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  7. Jean--

    Silent Dave I have to say for an atheist you are very intelligent to some degree, very good questions. You almost sound like a Christian.

    I'll take the high road and let that comment pass.

    1. How do you know that Hell exists?
    You know the answer to that one but you dont want to believe it. Its because the Bible says so. Yes, I know you could argue that till the cows come home so I will move to number 2.


    Fine -- as I said, that'll be addressed in a future post.

    Again you seem to have answered yourself. Because God says so. He created Hell. He will send whom he chooses to hell. He even knew those destined for Hell before the foundation of the world. He will show mercy to whom He chooses and He will harden the hearts of those he will.
    You are very right, Satan did not create Hell, God did.


    So let me see if I've got this straight:

    1. God created a particular soul,
    2. God predestined that soul for eternal torture before its earthly existence began,
    3. The soul having been destined for damnation, God hardened the heart of that soul so that it would not take the necessary steps in earthly life for salvation,
    4. Those steps not having been taken, God sent that soul to eternal torture, and
    5. All of this is moral because God says it is.

    Do I have that right, Jean? Is that your position?

    3. Is Hell just?
    Yes it is. Why because God is a God who is just. And you know that one as well, yes you cannot repent in Hell, if that was possible or true we might as well burn all bibles and I would definatly not be a Christian. The whole thing would not make sense. You might as well do whatever you want now and repent in Hell.


    Has it occurred to you that Hell, if it existed, would be unjust and would therefore would indicate that God himself, despite whatever he said, is unjust?

    Let me put that another way: Has it occurred to you that things might not be as you think they are?


    4. Why is Hell necessary,
    Again to show the righteouss judgement of God, He alone is good, He alone is Holy, He alone is merciful, He alone is just, He alone is love. Hell is necessary to demonstrate the character of God against the character of man.


    So you're saying that Hell exists, ultimately not for purposes of punishment, but ultimately for purposes of demonstration? It's God's way of communicating a particular point to humanity?

    If so, why would it be necessary for God to communicate that point in that particular way? Keep in mind when you answer that God is all-powerful, and thus no logically possible state of affairs is impossible for him to bring about -- nor, by your own admission, does he have a problem making people receptive or unreceptive to certain ideas. So then why not, for instance, directly implant the message that God wanted to communicate directly into human minds?

    Another follow-up question, for clarification: Do you believe that there is no such thing at all as a loving human? As a merciful human? As a just human?

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Milo said,

    "I seriously question Ray's and other fundamentalist's sincere belief in hell....So tell me, if you truly believe that hell is so real and God so judgmental, how do you get up and face the day?"

    I disagree on this point. I really do believe that people in Darfur and elsewhere are experiencing hell on Earth. Yet even though I occassionally donate to charity, get depressed about all the suffering in the world, and base some of my voting decisions on such issues, I also enjoy a lot of leisure time and have a generally mellow disposition.

    Ray and the Raynaics spend more of their time trying to save people from the imaginary torment of Hell than I do trying to save people from the real torments here on earth.

    I think that the ability to enjoy pleasures and be relaxed even while terrible things are going on elsewhere is just part of the human psyche.

    Now I think it's possible that beliefs come in different forms and strengths. For instance, I believe that matter is made of atoms, but that fact might be purely intellectual in the way that a more mundane belief--such as that running into a wall would hurt--is not. The fact that I'm made of atoms doesn't propogate throughout my entire network of beliefs in the way that many practical, everyday facts do.

    It may be that for a Christian, the concept of hell is like the concept that we're all made of atoms--it's just too distant to keep in the front of your mind when everyday concerns are occupyin your attention.

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  10. Also, I think it's interesting to consider how a belief in hell warps a person's moral compass. Consider this statement from Joshua Black:

    I didn't get to have any conversations at the Prayer Station last night, except a brief exchange with a protester who was quite angry with me because I didn't back the cause she was standing for. Apparently, a young black man was gunned down by the local police, but was shot in the back. The protesters insisted that it was a racially motivated murder, not justifiable homicide.

    I don't know what happened, so I didn't just take their side. Plus, everyone who is screaming for justice right now will be begging for mercy come Judgment Day, and that is far more important.


    Here, even a person's death is trivialized because it has nothing to do with a person's eternal fate.

    Same Harris makes an interesting point when says that for a true believer, a neighbor who might say something to your kids that would lead them astray from the path of God is more frightening than a neighbor who is a sexual predator. Afterall, the effects of molestation are temporary whereas the effects of straying from Christianity are eternal. I think that this is inescapable for fundementalists. It is also a view that beats down real human concerns and takes the wind out of efforts to address them.

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  11. Geoff,
    I don't understand the fundamentalist mindset. I agree they hold the concept of hell as an abstract but that is part of what I don't understand. A person starving in Darfur is not your mother, sister, or child. For example, Susy Fundie's mom died. Her mom was not a christian. Her mother is now in hell. How does Susy cope everyday if she believes in her heart that her mother is in hell? I have lost someone close to me and I know I would be miserable for the rest of my life if I thought that person was in hell. It just doesn't seem like a normal human reaction to be so blase about those you love. And I can't understand why you would want to worship a God that obviously didn't give a damn.

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  12. One other comment-
    I don't believe the stuff about loving the unbeliever and wanting him to come to Christ and all that bs. I think the basic motivation on that is confirming their own beliefs. Because there is no real evidence for their faith, every convert is a huge boost to their cause. Likewise the fact that there are so many unbelievers eats at their confidence. I sense more gleeful joy at the thought of sinners in hell than I do remorse.

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  13. Silent Dave

    I am sorry for the comment I made before saying
    'Silent Dave I have to say for an atheist you are very intelligent to some degree, very good questions.'
    I did not mean to attack you or be rude. It was wrong of me...

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  14. Thank you, Jean, I appreciate that.

    And now, if I could direct your attention to the follow-up questions I asked above . . .

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  15. I would highly suggest for you, and any one else interested to read the book ""The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions." by self-professed secular Jew and mathematics/philosophies teacher David Berlinski.
    This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism. "If you have the time please check the book out

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  16. Jaajoe,

    I read through your link. In the last paragraph you say this: "If there is no God to watch what you are doing, then why should you be circumspect in your behavior?" This is the 'you can't be moral without a deity' fallacy and that is just what it is, a fallacy.

    You also say this:

    "Certainly the Germans at Auschwitz, who gassed Samuel Goldfein, did not believe that God was watching them. As Berlinski points out, that is the real problem with atheism."

    Again, you are saying that without your deity there can be no morality. That is false.

    Your final line:

    "Thank you, David Berlinski, for providing an irrefutable response to the militant atheists."

    How is this irrefutable?

    You mention some different lines from Berlinski such as: (on Dawkins)

    "“He is not only an intellectually fulfilled atheist, he is determined that others should be as full as he.”

    How is that particular opinion irrefutable?

    And then this:

    When speaking of Stephen Hawkings bestseller, A Brief History of Time, Berlinski notes that it is “a book widely considered fascinating by those who did not read it, and incomprehensible by those who did.”

    I read it and didn't find it incomprehensible, so that is definitely not irrefutable.

    I understand that you say you liked the book, but to say that it offers irrefutable responses is false.

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  17. Hi Silent Dave,

    Since it seems that you are genuine in your request for a satisfactory answer to your questions I will attempt to do so for you. You broke your post up into 4 separate questions, so I will only address the first point here and will try and address the rest in kind (that is, one at a time as time permits).

    Your first question is this:

    "1. How do you know that Hell exists?"

    Since you do not accept the Bible as trustworthy, I won't use any Scripture in my response to you. While I believe in Hell because the Bible and Jesus teach that it exists, I do not expect you to believe so when you do not take these as authoritative. However, since you deny personal testimony of those who claim to have gone to Hell (e.g. 23 Minutes In Hell by Bill Wiese) and the testimony of the Scriptures on this matter, I wonder what you are really looking for....

    It seems to me that you are searching for intellectual coherence in regards to the remaining three questions. As for this question, there is no empirical evidence to be offered if you reject out of hand all possible types of evidence that could support it. As for me (after all the question asks why I believe in the existence of Hell), I believe because I believe Jesus.

    Of course, this is not satisfying to you, but when I was first converted to Christianity all I accepted was that Jesus lived, died, and was raised to life again on the third day. The rest has followed in time. The belief in Hell was one of the last points of dogma that I accepted (along with Tithing) since it was one of the largest sticking points I had when I was an ardent detractor of Christianity. My belief in Jesus is founded most securely on a personal experience of Jesus (which, again, is not convincing to you but was amazingly convincing to me) and the historical reliability of His life, death, and resurrection. You may be surprised by my admittance that I do not want to believe in Christianity if it’s not True … in fact, I enjoyed my life before my conversion. However, what I want to be True and what I actually believe to be True are different matters entirely, and it would be unreasonable for me to denounce a belief in Hell simply because the implications are unsatisfactory to me. After all, who am I?

    So, I believe in Hell because I find Jesus’ testimony to be reliable. Surely you would admit that the Bible and Jesus taught that Hell existed, even if you don’t accept their testimony as valid, right? On this point I have found that reasonable people can disagree, although I believe that an honest evaluation of the evidence yields no other possibility than to believe that Jesus was a real person who believed He was God in the flesh, and who was able to convince others of this claim through miracles including, but not limited to, His resurrection – a belief which they refused to denounce (declaring that they were eyewitnesses of His resurrection) under threat of death and torture. Since I believe Jesus, I believe in Hell.

    I will attempt to address your next three questions at a later time to show that they are at least coherent within the realm of Christian Theism. If you are not looking for coherence, please let me know so that I won’t waste either of our time.

    Take care.

    P.S. Yes, I do find it obvious that the number of people who believe something has no relevance on its truthfulness. I try not to use the bandwagon fallacy, lest I would convert to Wicca or Islam since they seem to be attracting folks in large numbers now-a-days. I reject those world views because they don’t stand up to scrutiny, unlike Jesus.

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  18. Jaajoe wrote (from the site he linked to:)

    If there is no God to watch what you are doing, then why should you be circumspect in your behavior? Certainly the Germans at Auschwitz, who gassed Samuel Goldfein, did not believe that God was watching them.

    Actually, those Germans did believe that God was watching them -- and they believed that He thoroughly approved of what they were doing. Not unlike the Ray Comforts, Pat Robertsons, Fred Phelpses, and for that matter, every Christian evangelical and apologist alive.

    Christianity is all about what the adherents to any given sect thereof believe God wants of them. Atheism, on the other hand, while not entailing any one particular moral philosophy, does entail a finite lifespan, human social values as the highest values, and no possibility of receiving cosmic forgiveness for your screw-ups -- you make a mistake, you're stuck with that mistake.

    So Christianity may (or may not) be compatible with morality -- but only atheism demands morality.

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  19. Milo,

    You said:

    "I think the basic motivation on that is confirming their own beliefs. Because there is no real evidence for their faith, every convert is a huge boost to their cause. Likewise the fact that there are so many unbelievers eats at their confidence. I sense more gleeful joy at the thought of sinners in hell than I do remorse."

    Sorry to burst your bubble (take your ball of yarn?), but the fact that more people are headed to Hell than to Heaven actually backs up what the Bible says:

    "[Jesus talking] “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it." [Matthew 7:13-14, emphasis added]

    Jesus plainly states that there are many headed to Hell and few headed to Heaven. Your comment suggests that you don't truly understand Christianity, and therefore your assumptions regarding those who believe it are understandably mistaken.

    In fact, it is your ardent denial of Jesus in light of the testimony of your own conscience and the historical evidence that the Bible is reliable, Jesus really existed, and that there was an empty tomb after His crucifixion that fits directly into what the Bible declares ... far more than numbers of people converting would do. My confidence in my faith rests solely on the person of Jesus Christ, not on who or who does not accept Him. And I can sleep well at night knowing that I have done all I can to tell everyone I have the ability to the good news of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ, even when the majority of people mock me or abandon me for telling them the Truth. This is nothing new.

    "Now when they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We will hear you again about this.”" [Acts 17:32]

    "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." [1 Corinthians 1:18]

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  20. jrk83,

    There are several things I want to say in response to your answer, but pretty much all of them will be covered in future installments of my Questions For Christians series, so for the time being my response will be, "stay tuned."

    As for what I'm looking for, and your assumption that it's coherence within the Christian framework, has it occurred to you that these posts are intended for your benefit, not mine? Has it occurred to you that it might be you, not me, who will change his mind as a result of these discussions? If you don't think that will happen, then fine. But if you're absolutely closed to the possibility of it happening, then you can pretty much leave now, as nothing I have to say, now or in the future, is intended for you.

    And yes, I realize open-minded dialogue is a two-way street, and yes, I'm open to the possibility of converting as a result of my discussions with Christians -- but you inquired as to what I'm looking for in this post, and you were respectful enough to warrant an honest answer, so here it is: I'm looking for you to become an atheist.

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  21. jrk83, you said:


    Jesus plainly states that there are many headed to Hell and few headed to Heaven. Your comment suggests that you don't truly understand Christianity, and therefore your assumptions regarding those who believe it are understandably mistaken.


    What the author of Matthew was referring to was moral and personal decisions, not bare acknowledgment of facts. He meant that few people would choose to live moral lives, few people would choose to worship God and Christ.

    The scriptural evidence is clear, however, that the God depicted therein had the power, the means and the motive to share the gospel message with everyone directly, without relying on human intermediaries -- by the gospel message I mean "just the facts" of the situation: that God exists, that Jesus died for your sins, etc. Having done that, we would have the information needed to make a "decision for Christ." We could decide in the negative if we wished, but we would be forced to admit that, yes, this God fellow spoke to me, and yes, he said such and such.

    So the existence of atheists is indeed strong evidence for the falsehood of Christianity.

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  22. Silent Dave,

    I appreciate your candidness, and please note that my willingness to enter this blog in particular and engage you is primarily for your benefit and not mine. If we are taking each other at our word, then we have similar aims: I to show you the error of your ways and you to show me the error of mine.

    In the interest of full disclosure I'll let you know that I will be a tough nut to crack (so to speak, but I figure you and the rest can have a bit of fun with me calling myself a "nut") since my conversion to Christianity came while I was a buddhist and attending the University of Michigan as a philosophy student. Believe me when I tell you ... I was entrenched in godless thought and philosophy.

    As already mentioned, Hell was one of the biggest intellectual roadblocks for me prior to my conversion to Christianity, so I find particular interest in discussing this topic with those who use it for their own disbelief. It is important to point out however, before investing the time that will be necessary to address your final three points, that you asked how it is possible that Hell is moral, how it is possible that Hell is just, and why Hell is necessary (I have to assume, based on the nature of the God of the Bible). Demonstrating possibility is much easier to do than demonstrating actuality ... and actuality will only be proven after death (if at all).

    Therefore, you have framed the question in my favor since you have implied that Hell is impossible and this is (at least one reason) why you do not believe. Again, as I already stated, your interest in converting me from Christianity to atheism will need to address the topics of the historical reliability of the Gospels and Acts (which is well beyond the scope of this particular posting, but perhaps will come up if I do indeed "stay tuned").

    Take care.

    P.S. Regarding your second post and your assertion that the author of Matthew intends something different than I suggest, the context does not agree with your claim that this is simply in regards to living a moral life. Matthew 5-7 involve a rather lengthy discourse from the mouth of Jesus about the kingdom of heaven. To say that He jumps topics from entry into the kingdom and every other path leading to destruction (i.e. not into the kingdom of heaven), but instead about a moral life is contrived. Yes, Jesus is talking a lot about morality but clearly no one can hope to enter heaven on their own strength and moral choosing if Matthew 5:48 is correct: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

    Shortly after the passage comparing the few with the many Jesus declares: ""Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" [Matt 7:21-23, emphasis added] Clearly the deeds these who are rejected performed looked like a life of morality and good deeds, but Jesus will tell them to go away because He didn't have a relationship with them. This same teaching is clearly stated in Hebrews 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."

    As for the final objection you make, that atheists are good evidence that the God of the Bible doesn't exist due to His power, means and will to make Himself known to all, reflects part of the same misunderstanding of Christian theism that prevents you from seeing the possibility and necessity of Hell. I will address this misconception in my later posts to you if you are still interested in reading what I have to write.

    God bless.

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  23. silent dave said
    1. God created a particular soul,
    2. God predestined that soul for eternal torture before its earthly existence began,
    3. The soul having been destined for damnation, God hardened the heart of that soul so that it would not take the necessary steps in earthly life for salvation,
    4. Those steps not having been taken, God sent that soul to eternal torture, and
    5. All of this is moral because God says it is.

    Do I have that right, Jean? Is that your position?

    Yes Dave in a way you are right, its called Election. Its difficult for the human mind to understand that, you see that is why we are not God. I understand that and at the same time I don't. Yes you can attack me on this one, but I am not afraid to be honest. Having said all that God is a good and just God. If what you have said is not true, then God would not be sovereign. So Election makes sense. If you want to learn more about Election and Predestination go to gty.org. An American Pastor called John MacArthur does good teachings on the subject.

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  24. Jean, you said that Election 'makes sense'. I say that Election is another apologetic excuse to make sense of an ancient superstitious dogma that didn't make sense in the first place.

    If anything in the bible made sense we wouldn't have 50 million apologists running around trying to make a buck off of people by trying desperately to explain it and defend it.

    You can excuse ANYTHING, even slavery, by saying that it's moral because your deity says it is. That is one of the biggest loads of bs I've ever heard. This is starting to beat the Rayniac crowd.

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  25. Jean:

         It looks evil to me. More importantly, if we postulate an evil god, the evil god doing all that and calling it good makes sense. It's not difficult for my mind to understand. It is plainly evil, but you call it good because you hope to get something out of it.

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  26. jrk83,

    Again, choosing to enter into a relationship with God and Christ is separate from a bare acknowledgment of the facts. This is something you would probably agree with me on -- but what you don't seem to realize is that the former entails the latter. One has to be aware of God's existence before one can choose whether or not to enter into such a relationship. My point above stands: God, if he existed, would have means, power and motive for implanting knowledge of his existence directly into the human mind, this has not happened, therefore God probably does not exist.

    Jean,

    If any human being, or any deity other than God, did the things in 1-5 that I listed, would you consider that human or deity to be good and/or just?

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  27. jrk83, I neglected to add:

    When I asked how Hell could possibly be moral or just, I was using a figure of speech. I was not asking you to demonstrate the logical possibility of the morality of such a doctrine; rather, my use of the word "possibly" was meant to express my befuddlement at the fact that anyone could seriously consider Hell to be moral and/or just. My intention was for you to consider the question of whether Hell is actually moral or actually just, not merely possibly so.

    I realize I have only myself to blame for this lack of rigor, and if you choose to interpret my questions in terms of logical possibility, instead of actuality, I cannot stop you. However, if you do so despite this clarification, it will be evident to all present that you are more interested in scoring rhetorical points than you are in actually examining your own belief system, and you should expect to be treated accordingly.

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  28. Silent Dave,

    "Again, choosing to enter into a relationship with God and Christ is separate from a bare acknowledgment of the facts. This is something you would probably agree with me on -- but what you don't seem to realize is that the former entails the latter. One has to be aware of God's existence before one can choose whether or not to enter into such a relationship."

    Agreed. However, you are at least aware of the possibility of God's existence and therefore you have the choice to either seek Him out (to see if such existence is true) or to ignore the possibility of His existence. Merely hiding behind deceptive philosophy is not a true seeking, and could better be classified as a suppressing of the truth (cf. Colossians 2:8 & Romans 1:18). As mentioned before, I sought God and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ (which is amply attested in the historical record if we apply the same standards to it as we do to other events and people) was proof enough for me to choose to accept Him and His claims. Since you have started with Hell in this series of questions, I wonder if this is the biggest obstacle for you ... but would it change your mind if someone who you know was killed and who came to life (after telling you in advance this would happen) told you that Hell was real, and indeed that He was the one who created it since He is God Himself in the flesh? It convinced me.

    "My point above stands: God, if he existed, would have means, power and motive for implanting knowledge of his existence directly into the human mind, this has not happened, therefore God probably does not exist."

    I agree with you that God has the means power and motive to make His existence undeniable. For example, He could sit on a mountain and make us fetch His humongous slippers for Him. However, what you fail to recognize is that the God revealed in the Bible has these attributes that you suggest, while also having the restraint to allow for freedom. The mere presence of this God in all of His glory would be coercive in the highest degree and would therefore eliminate the possibility of freedom. Without freedom there cannot be love. Coerced love is an oxymoron. So, as I have already stated, your point is based on a false premise: namely, because someone can do something and wants to do that thing, then they will do it. This is certainly a false premise ... one example is that I could lock my son in a room all day only going in to give him food and/or change his diaper. I certainly have the means (he has a bedroom with a door), the power (since I'm much stronger than he is), and [potential] motivation (to protect him from the danger of the outside world). However, despite these things I do not (and would never) lock my son in his room all day everyday. Why? Because his freedom is worth more than my motivation to protect him from certain things. The possibility that he will grow up to despise me (especially during his teenage years!) does not diminish the fact that as a good father I can and must allow him to grow up and make his own choices. If he wants to run away from a good home I won't stop him, although I could if I took away his freedom.

    Read the story of the prodigal son again in Luke 15:11ff. Notice that the Father allows his son to leave to a life of sinfulness, debauchery, and hedonism. It takes the son repenting and returning to the Father in humbleness for the relationship to be restored, and while the Father does not go out to retrieve his foolish son, he is waiting with open arms and is prepared to throw an elaborate celebration when his son returns. The Bible does not teach that God coerces us to follow Him, but it does teach that all have enough evidence to make their failure to seek Him unexcusable.

    In regards to your original question and my intention to answer you, you said:

    "...my use of the word "possibly" was meant to express my befuddlement at the fact that anyone could seriously consider Hell to be moral and/or just. My intention was for you to consider the question of whether Hell is actually moral or actually just, not merely possibly so."

    In fact, I do believe Hell to be both actually moral and just, however I cannot demonstrate such a thing to you because you deny that "sin" is even really a problem. Therefore, if you are being honest, you will only accept the justice and morality of Hell as a possibility if certain axioms are granted, namely those of Christian theism. This is why I suggested that I must assume you are looking for coherence in Christian theism. If you deny at the beginning that "sin" is what the Bible says it is, then you have made an unreasonable request for someone to demonstrate to you the justice and morality of Hell since "sin" could never warrant Hell in your view. If you are unwilling to explore the concept on its own merits then you are simply using a rhetorical question (to which you will accept no answer) in order to justify your own lack of searching for God. This will not be a good excuse on judgment day if indeed there is one.

    So, with all this being said, I will ask you plainly: are you actually willing to explore the concept of Hell as it exists in Christian theism, or was your question merely a rhetorical device that was not intended to receive an actual answer from someone who actually believes the Bible? If you are not actually looking for an answer, this will be my last post to you here. If you are willing to explore Christian theism and the Hell that is professed therein, then I will gladly address your other questions on this matter.

    Take care.

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  29. jrk83,

    Tell you what: I'm not going to answer that question.

    The reason is that if I answer in the affirmative, you'll take that as a license to evangelize, whereas if I answer in the negative, you'll leave. I prefer the latter to the former, but over both alternatives I prefer that you open your own mind to the possibilities.

    That isn't going to happen, however, if the time you remain here is proportional to the time I remain a viable possibility for conversion in your eyes -- and your question suggests that that would be the case.

    I'll wait for your response before addressing your other points.

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  30. However, what you fail to recognize is that the God revealed in the Bible has these attributes that you suggest, while also having the restraint to allow for freedom. The mere presence of this God in all of His glory would be coercive in the highest degree and would therefore eliminate the possibility of freedom. Without freedom there cannot be love. Coerced love is an oxymoron.

    This proposition is proven false by at least two examples in the bible.

    Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They had perfect fellowship with God because sin had not yet entered the world. Yet Eve exercises her free will and disobeys God's direct command and Adam quickly follows suit.

    Lucifer, an angel, openly rebels against God despite knowing God intimately.

    Eve and Lucifer had direct first hand knowledge of God. Their belief in God was not based on faith. Both exercised free will and went against God. Lucifer does not love God. All of the angels have the choice of whether or not to love God. Don't forget Lucifer recruited many angels to his side. Therefore the mere presence of God in all his Glory is not coercive.

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  31. Silent Dave,

    You didn't answer my question because:

    "The reason is that if I answer in the affirmative, you'll take that as a license to evangelize, whereas if I answer in the negative, you'll leave."

    Actually, if you answered my question in the affirmative I would take that as the opportunity to attempt to answer the questions from your original post which you specifically invited Christians to do. You explicitly said that the purpose of your post is to "...focus on a particular aspect of the Christian faith that the Christian would benefit from reconsidering" yet you are not willing to actually look at the "problem" of Hell from the Christian perspective. You much prefer asserting your own misconceptions about Christianity to an honest discussion of the question, and accuse someone who does not believe in Hell simply as an evangelistic tool to coerce people into believing since, as already noted, coercion is incompatible with Christianity that wants to accept your invitation to answer your questions of simply wanting a license to evangelize. Frankly, I could just post evangelism type posts without your permission. You are not looking for satisfactory answers to your question, nor are you open to discussing it as you plainly state that you prefer I leave.

    So I will leave. However, your accusation that my mind is not open to honest examination of my faith is based on false presuppositions much like your original post. You have produced a straw man argument and rhetorically requested an answer, however someone willing to do so you admit you would rather have me leave than actually do what you originally asked. It's too bad that your characterization of Christians as non-critical thinkers and puppets to some book have nothing to do with reality. Sure, some "Christians" fall into your categorization, just like some "atheists" fit into the categorization of immoral self-involved jerk-wads. Unfortunately, there are some "nice" atheists and some genuine "Christians" who fit neither mold. But by all means, don't let the facts get in the way of your stereotyping. And before you state that Christians are always stereotyping atheists, be careful ... I've done no such thing so your superlatives are misplaced.

    And just so no one else can accuse me of skirting the questions ... if you really want to know what the Bible has to say about Hell -- and not base your conclusions on the Hollywood portrayals of the place -- then please feel free to post your own questions or even copy and paste our friend (not so) Silent Dave's questions and I will provide the answers that have satisfied my intellectual objections to it.

    Take care.

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  32. Milo,

    In regards to my assertion that if God made His presence undeniably known that this would be coercive, you said:

    "This proposition is proven false by at least two examples in the bible."

    Your criticism fails for two reasons. First, Silent Dave was saying that God could make Himself known if He wanted to and was real. Both Adam and Eve and Satan are very aware of the existence of God. In fact, they have no choice but to believe that He is real.

    Secondly, the reasons for disobedience and outright rebellion are different for each case. First, if you read the account of the Fall in Genesis 3, you'll see that although Adam and Eve "walked with God" His presence was not with them during their temptation. If God were standing there while Satan tempted them then they would have been coerced, however He left them alone so that their choice of who to listen to could actually be free.

    In the case of Satan, he was created as a more glorious type of being than we are ... so much so that Satan actually believed that he might be greater than God and therefore attempted to set himself up as being like the Most High (cf. Isaiah 14:14). We do not have much biblical description of the Fall of Satan so you make an assumption that may not be accurate. However, we do see that when angels appear to humans in the Bible that they fall down to worship these angelic beings, but are told not to do so because they should only worship God. If these beings are seemingly worthy of worship by humans it is understandable that perhaps Satan, the most beautiful of all the angels, could have the ability to fall away from God and convince others to do so (even other angels) when that same ability is not afforded to humans who find themselves in the presence of God Almighty.

    In any event, those angels who fell away made their choice and have no opportunity for redemption. Humans are more fortunate in that redemption is available through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because God's presence is veiled in this life, we are afforded much more grace and mercy than any of the angels received. They were only allowed one mistake. Yours and my own mistake counters are still running.

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  33. jrk83,

    You are missing the point. My question may not be exactly the same as Dave's but it is in the same vein: "God could make Himself known if He wanted to and was real." Why doesn't God answer the question of his existence in a direct and concrete manner so that all should have evidence that God exists? According to the bible God can make himself real, so what stops him now? Your answer is God does not want to step on our free will. But as you admitted a person can have absolute proof of God's existence so that faith is unnecessary and yet still have free will to choose whether or not to love and obey.

    If God were standing there while Satan tempted them then they would have been coerced, however He left them alone so that their choice of who to listen to could actually be free.

    That is a curious statement since God is supposedly omnipresent and is certainly omniscient. He really would be standing over their shoulder watching.

    It seems like God is purposely ambiguous so that as many people as possible will go to hell.

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  34. jrk83,

    First you're saying that you're not leaving, then you immediately proceed to not leave.

    First you say that you're not here to evangelize, then you say something like this:

    Humans are more fortunate in that redemption is available through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because God's presence is veiled in this life, we are afforded much more grace and mercy than any of the angels received. They were only allowed one mistake. Yours and my own mistake counters are still running.

    ...which I think any reasonable person would view as evangelistic rhetoric.

    First you accuse me of making unwarranted assumptions about your motives, then -- in the same paragraph! -- you do the same about me.

    Perhaps it's for the best that my forthcoming post will deal with Christian morality.

    And if you want to ignore it and my future questions, or answer them somewhere safe from my being able to read your answers and tell you why you're wrong, that is, of course, your option.

    Now, to quickly deal with your other points:

    Your criticism fails for two reasons. First, Silent Dave was saying that God could make Himself known if He wanted to and was real. Both Adam and Eve and Satan are very aware of the existence of God. In fact, they have no choice but to believe that He is real.

    Actually, I was referring to the latter, not the former. Mere awareness of the existence of God is a necessary precondition for any sort of relationship to God, loving, hating, cheese sandwich selling, or whatever. It is this mere awareness that God, if he existed, would therefore directly bestow upon humans.

    Thus, my original argument still stands.

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  35. I said,

    First you're saying that you're not leaving, then you immediately proceed to not leave.

    Obviously, that should read "First you're saying that you're leaving," etc.

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  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  37. Jrk83:

         If you think you can answer intellectual objections to hell, I invite to answer my blog entry "Why the threat of hell?" You can, of course, find it on my blog. If you take the challenge, good luck. You'll need it.

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  38. Jrk83:
    First of all, outside of the bible, I haven't seen much (if any) evidence of this Jesus fellow ever actually having existed, much less any evidence of him being resurrected, so please share with me your sources which convinced you to believe in him as the son of god (err, believe in him as god? Whichever it is.. Or is it both?)

    Second of all, how is a god saying "love me or spend eternity in hell" NOT coercion? I'm pretty sure that if I knew for sure that the god of the bible actually existed, I could in no way TRULY love him due to that threat of hell alone, though that has absolutely nothing to do with why I don't believe such a being exists. (I know a lot of christians like to say that we atheists are just mad at god, or don't understand god etc, which is why we claim not to believe.. Not saying you think that, I just wanted to clarify for anyone who may think that about me.)

    I think I had more to say but my mind just went blank because I'm extremely tired. Maybe I'll pick up where I left off later.. Night night.

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  39. Silent Dave,

    I don't believe in hell defined as a place of eternal torment, but I am a Christian. My intent is not to convert you. Although in my heart I desire that your conversion will occur before you die, but if it doesn't I believe it will occur after you die. I think conversion before death has some definite benefits, but I believe the timing is God's descision not man's. I like your questions, especially 2,3, and 4 and my answers are it's not, it's not, and it's not.

    My understanding is fairly well described by your comment, "He could create another metaphysical realm, something like Earth, and keep them there until they get it right. He could simply forgive them unconditionally,". I believe humankind was forgiven unconditionally when Jesus was crucified. I think that will be revealed to all at some time. We Christians who don't believe in hell think your last 3 questions are good for all to think about.

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  40. I know this is old, but I thought I'd let people know that Real Live Preacher, a man I respect a lot, is doing something similar to this on the topic of Hell:


    http://reallivepreacher.com/node/298

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