Monday, July 30, 2012

Love, Choice, Hell

A Christian friend of mine posted a link on his facebook today that I felt the need to respond to. The linked page is from an apologetics website called  Fire of Thy Love. The article is a response to this atheist image:

Now, the Christian redefinition of "love" is something that tends to hit me hard because it uses a perfectly noble and powerful emotion that people yearn for and uses it to cloak some of the most disgusting aspects of the Christian religion. The response to criticisms of god's "love" and its compatibility with hell usually has to do with god-given free will. To quote the linked article:

"God loves us. God wants us to love Him as well and offers us the means to do so.  The Catechism says of Hell, To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice (1033.)  God, then, does not “punish” us for choosing to not love Him, but simply allows us the choice.  The pain of being without God comes from the emptiness that one has chosen, not from an action of that God.  Hell is not God influencing a soul, but rather God allowing that soul to experience the choice it made: a tuning away from God to a point of a complete lack of His presence."

I believe I have discussed this apologetic in the past, but I feel the need to address it again. To me, it makes no difference whether or not hell is to be a "punishment" or  merely a freely chosen separation from god. For one thing, there is very little practical difference between the two. Whether it is Jehovah or his creation lighting the furnace, the net result is eternal suffering. There is absolutely no reason or excuse for this result. Assuming the god spoken of in the Christian religion is omnipotent, he had any number of options for dealing with nonbelievers. He could have made hell non-eternal and allowed non-believers to go to heaven if they realized the error of their ways. He also could have created a world in which his presence was not necessary for happiness, meaning that those who chose not to love him would not have to suffer. According to Christian doctrine, the god of Christ and Abraham did not choose to create such a world. That should cause us to raise a questioning eyebrow when it comes to the moral fiber of such a being.

Secondly, if endless suffering is the result of making a bad choice, this is a situation in which libertarian free will is a bad thing. If our "free will" might lead us to destroy ourselves, then the god that Christians speak of should have withheld free will for our own protection. Just as it would be unethical for a parent to allow his or her three-year-old to run out in front of a bus without intervening, so would it be for an omniscient being to allow his ignorant (but apparently loved) creation to unknowingly destroy itself by rejecting him.

This brings me to my last criticism of this apologetic: the assumption that the choice is always God vs Not God. For a Christian, this choice seems very clear. Either you love and follow God or you reject him. The problem is however, for a non-Christian, this is not an obvious dichotomy. An atheist like myself, for example, earnestly and honestly does not believe that a god exists. I do not reject Christ because I truly do not believe that such a spirit exists. If I were presented with sufficient evidence, I would certainly believe. However, every scrap of evidence I have ever been handed in support of Christianity has also been handed me in support of Islam. Hindus and Wiccans experience miracles unique to their gods. Most faiths have some form of logical defenses for their beliefs or apologetics. The accept vs reject dichotomy is simply false for the non-Christian. If this is so and Christianity is true, then Yaweh still has quite a bit to answer for in terms of his part in allowing people to go to hell. Such a god could easily present himself more clearly and concisely with testable evidence. As is commonly asserted, this would not put a damper on free will. If sufficient evidence of something were akin to forcing belief, there would be no creationists, geocentrists, truthers or birthers.

My point is simply that, no matter what excuse is given, god is still very much responsible for hell according to mainstream Christian doctrine. Some Christians do not believe in hell, which creates a very different type of scenario. This is not a scenario that I am addressing in this response. But if hell is a reality for you in your belief system, it matters very little how it is spun. A good human mother loves you more than Jesus ever will.


  1. "If sufficient evidence of something were akin to forcing belief, there would be no creationists, geocentrists, truthers or birthers."

    True, but the issue isn't really forced "belief". Even if we assume Free Will, our beliefs aren't "chosen" by sheer force of will, on command. You couldn't, for example, choose to believe that horses don't exist. Perhaps over time you could trick yourself into believing it, but that's not really what we're talking about here.

    What it comes down to is whether sufficient evidence, or even overwhelming inescapable evidence, compels obedience. Whether it means a person has no choice but to follow god. I know many who say that even if they believed in Jesus as God, they would not follow him, and basically turn their backs on him, even if it meant eternal suffering.

    Therefore, as you conclude, the problem of Divine Hiddenness is really a problem (possibly an insolvable one) for the majority of Christian theological orientations.

    1. Yup, this is also a very good point. I meant to respond to an actual argument I've heard from Christians that the reason that God doesn't just show himself outright is because that would force us to believe. It's silly, but I have heard it said. ><


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