CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

It is the question that has derailed more than one well-meaning Internet apologist. Skipping along the vast digital superhighway, our hero, the intrepid Internet apologist, cruises from atheist bulletin board to skeptical blog responding to the all too common ill-informed objections to the historicity of Jesus or the existence of God. Suddenly, he runs into the incensed atheist (the second most common of the breed next to the loud-mouthed boor) who says something akin to what this forgotten atheist on some forgettable infidel bulletin board said:

The whole idea that anyone who doesn't ascribe to belief not only in a higher power, BUT in this one particular 'God' over all others, when there is no real evidence that this god is right or the others wrong, would go to hell for eternity...this whole idea just seems to me idiotic. Like not only atheists, but all Hitler's Jewish victims would be in hell, Gandhi and the Dali Lama in hell......but Ted Bundy could say "I'm sorry Jesus."

Our hero gasps. How can he respond? Here is someone accusing God of having a cosmic pop-quiz that sends everyone who fails to believe that Jesus is God to a fiery pit where they will burn forever in agony while all of the slovenly Christians, including nasty mass murderers who knew the magic phrase, lounge idly on puffy white clouds, playing harps and eating soy-based escargot. The only thing that the poor non-believer is guilty of is not believing in God, right? And look at the list of really good people ordinarily cited by these atheists who are going to spend eternity in hell just because they didn't believe in God: Gandhi (the most common member of this list of really good people going to hell), the Dalai Lama (which one in particular is never stated) and ... uh ... other people like Gandhi. (Side note: Oddly, I've never seen a atheist on the list of people who should somehow be entitled to get into heaven because of what a great life he or she lived. I wonder if that's oversight of Freudian.) It's so totally unfair. What can our hero say in response to such criticism?

When I read this objection, I wonder exactly how much traction it got (if any) before modern times. At its heart the objection is based in the entitlement mindset which arises out of our modern societies' belief that we are all entitled to whatever we think we need. It is a belief that society owes things to us. Thus, under this mindset, you are entitled to free speech. You are entitled to freedom of conscience. If you get fired from your job, you're entitled to unemployment benefits. When you get older and can no longer work you're entitled to government support in your old age. If you get sick you are entitled to free health care.

When you die, you are entitled to go to heaven? Is that right?

I hate to shatter some delusions, but in my world there is nothing that I am entitled to that hasn't been paid for by someone else at some time -- often in blood. If I get sick, the government may have to pay for my health care (if I live in a country that has a universal health care system), but that isn't really free health care. The government is paying for it out of the taxes that it levies against its people. If the government pays for my support in my old age, that also comes from taxes. Freedom of conscience and speech? As the sorry history of the world shows, not everyone in every country has these precious rights. In America, where I sit, these freedoms were earned (and continue to be earned) by those willing to stand up and die in fights against tyranny. My ability to sit here and write what I please on this blog about my religious beliefs is owed, in a very large part, to the lives sacrificed by our forefathers and by those presently serving in uniform so that I could live in this free country.

So, if someone has to pay for any entitlement, who paid the price that says that everyone can go to heaven? Obviously, in Christianity the answer is Christ. His death on the cross was the price paid in blood that bought our way to heaven. And if we have an entitlement to heaven that was purchased by the blood of Christ then that entitlement comes through Him. Equally importantly, that entitlement comes on His terms, and those terms may not be open to everyone. But then, we instinctively understand that.

But wait, one might argue, if I have universal health care, then everyone should be entitled to health care no matter how poorly they care for their own health, shouldn't they? And if I have an entitlement to free speech then everyone should have free speech regardless of how stupid or sick their speech may be, shouldn't they? So, if I have an entitlement to get to heaven, shouldn't that mean everyone should be entitled to get to heaven, too? Or is there some limit?

It seems to me that everyone recognizes a limit to this. The incensed atheist quoted above implies that there is a limit when he says, "Like not only atheists, but all Hitler's Jewish victims would be in hell, Gandhi and the Dali Lama in hell......but Ted Bundy could say 'I'm sorry Jesus.'" You see, this atheist does not believe that it is right that Van-Morrison-look-alike Ted Bundy should be able to get into heaven after killing 30 (or maybe as many as 100) young women. And I certainly concur. I don't think that Ted Bundy, Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung (or whatever phonetic spelling you choose), Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin Dada, Jack the Ripper, or any of a long list of tyrants, felons, serial killers, rapists, child molesters and other bad people should be entitled to get into heaven either. In fact, I am certain that everyone would agree that if there is a heaven there are certain levels of degradation and evil that should disqualify people from going there.

This opens up an entirely new way to approach this question. Consider the following mock conversation:

Skeptic: As a Christian, you think all non-Christians are going to hell, don't you?

Christian: Are you saying that Adolph Hitler should be in heaven?

Skeptic: What?! I didn't say anything about Hitler.

Christian: I'm sorry, I thought you were saying that everyone has a right to get into heaven. I mean, at least your question seems to assume that everyone has the right to get into heaven. So, I thought you might be saying that you thought Adolph Hitler had the right to go to heaven.

Skeptic: No, that's not what I was saying at all. I was saying that Christians believe that anyone who doesn't believe in their god should be sentenced to hell to be punished for all eternity.

Christian: Hold that thought about the nature of hell for a moment. We can get back to that. But I am more concerned with the assumptions of your question. After all, in generally-held Christian theology there are only two places to go: heaven or hell. You seem to be arguing that heaven is some type of place that we are all entitled to go to. Is that what you are arguing?

Skeptic: No, I am not arguing that. I am saying that people shouldn't be kept out of heaven for failing some spiritual pop-quiz.

Christian: Okay, we agree with that. But then that's not what Christianity teaches. You see, your question assumes that there exists some type of right to go to heaven that is taken away by God. Where do you get that idea from?

Skeptic: You're trying to twist things. What about devout Hindus and devout Jews? What about Gandhi and the Dalai Lama and ... uh ... other people like them? They don't go to heaven in your beliefs, do they?

Christian: Wow, you're harder to tack down then an eel. Look, I am asking a very simple question: why do you think that people start off with a right to go to heaven? Your question assumes that is the case. But since no widespread religious belief of which I am aware makes the claim that everyone has the right to go to heaven, I am wondering why you think that everyone should go to heaven. And if that's your belief, I am wondering why you believe Hitler should have a right to be in heaven.

Skeptic: No, you are twisting what I'm saying. I'm not saying everyone is entitled to go to heaven. I'm certainly not saying that Hitler should be in heaven.

Christian: Good, because, based upon what he did, I don't think that Hitler is entitled to go to heaven either.

Skeptic: But that's not the same as a good Hindu -- like Ghandi. If Ghandi can't get to heaven, then that's wrong.

Christian: Well, you know, I don't think that Ghandi has a right to get into heaven. But then, I can't think of anyone who has ever lived who has a right to get into heaven. So, I guess that I believe that no one -- Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Christian -- has that right.

Skeptic: Huh? No, you believe Christians will go to heaven, while the others will go to hell.

Christian: I don't believe that Christians are entitled to go to heaven.

Skeptic: Sure you do.

Christian: No, I believe that Christians are exactly like every other person who is a non-Christian. None of them are entitled to go to heaven. The only way that anyone gets into heaven is through the grace of God.

Of course, the conversation will never take place exactly this way. Skeptics are more unpredictable than quarks and enough of them think that "freethinking" means that they are entitled to make up facts in defense of their faith that the conversations take many unexpected dips and turns. But the mock discussion does bring out certain points that could be made.

The points are these: the skeptics who argue from this position fundamentally misunderstand the Gospel. Part of the Gospel message is this: all have sinned and fallen short of what God requires to get into heaven. Hence, no one -- no matter how good or Gandhi-like -- can earn their way into heaven. Once a person starts saying that someone like Jamphel Gyatso (the eighth Dalai Lama) should have an entitlement to get into heaven, then that person either has to draw a line saying what is good enough to get into heaven (and, concurrently, what is bad enough to keep someone out of heaven) or admit that her view requires that everyone be entitled to get into heaven -- even human slime like Theodore Bundy and Adolph Hitler. If they argue for the latter, then they are arguing against our innate sense of justice that would hold that people like 'Dolph and Teddy should not be allowed to simply have their tickets punched at the pearly gates. If they argue for the former, then we can ask why God cannot set the standards as He wishes -- after all, he's the one who paid the price that bought the tickets.

23 comments:

The objection can be taken as an objection against grace. So the atheist might think it's not fair for non-Christians like Gandhi to go to hell, while many morally inferior (as he sees it) Christians go to heaven. But that just assumes that

...going to heaven is a matter of merit, which assumption you address.

Why I don't believe in Hell

Please read all four pages.

Joe, this violates our comment policy because it is an effort to "steer readers" to "long posts on other websites." I am leaving it up this time, but please don't do this again.

Speaking for myself, I am not going to read all four pages. If you want to summarize, please do so. I did read the first few paragraphs, and the fact that you don't believe in the concept of hell as traditionally taught by the church (favoring instead a form of annihilation) is largely irrelevant to what I wrote because you agree with the fact that there are consequences to moral action (which we both agree is what hell is).

I don't disbelieve in hell (actually I have a very robust belief in hell); but for various complex technical reasons I think I'll just comment for registration purposes and watch for a while. {g}

JRP

But, for a more substantial comment: regardless of details, and of whether we happen to like a system proposition or not, the first and most important question should be, "Is it true?"

There are plenty of things I wouldn't like (in fact I would rather hate) about atheism, or many other philosophies and religions, if they were true. If it comes to that, there are things I would rather like about the details of various religions (or even atheism in some regards) if they were true.

But so what? I can either discover and accept reality as it is, or pretend it's something different; and if I willfully pretend it's something different (insofar as I can see it to be one way and not another), then at best I'm going to be risking bumping my head (so to speak) against the full weight of that reality. Because reality is going to go on being what it is, regardless of my opinion about it. (Indeed, insofar as I have any ability to change reality to something else other than what its details currently are, pretending those details are already something else is going to handicap me from actually effecting any change, more likely than not.)

To emphasize again: even if I happen to very much like an idea, the more important question is not whether I happen to like it, but whether it is true. If it is, great!--if not, then I am the one who had better adjust my beliefs in accord with the way reality is (whether only currently or permanently), or else I will sink into self-deception at best.


Now, as it happens there are ideas about hell, including among Christians, that are frankly appalling to me: I don't want them to be true. But my wants are not the ground of reality; instead, I have to be careful about whether my wants lead me to salt the scales of assessment in favor of something that, as it happens, simply isn't true.

And I think, in principle, this is the point to Bill's article. If we feel or vaguely (but strongly) think that something is factually wrong (or factually correct), fine. But a responsible assessment requires clarifying why we think (and should think) something to be factually correct or incorrect (including morally risible). True, there are times when we don't have time for reflection, and so we have to act on what little light we can see (or think we are seeing or even are just feeling) at the moment. But fairness to our opposition requires taking (or making) some time to do more than piffling away whatever it is they believe that we find ourselves in opposition to.

That's true about Christians in considering other people's rejections of hopeless punishment (or of punishment at all). And it's also true for those of us who reject a Christian's (or any other person's) belief in favor of some kind of hopeless punishment (or of punishment at all).

JRP

(PS: I'm a Christian in the hopeful-not-hopeless-punishment camp, by the way, for those readers who don't know. {g})

hey Bill I forgot about that policy. Sorry about that. that also means I can't steer them to my two tables on the curret piece. But I can't make tables here. It also means you can't document things.

Meta,

I think it's okay for the original author of a post to put up a quick link pointing to a long post on another website. Though it would be better to include that retroactively in the body of the main post (with a brief comment announcing its addition.)

Similarly, documentation of an article should be presented and linked to (even if retroactively) in the original article. But since the article's original author has (obviously! {g}) already contributed substantially, a brief note from him in the comments pointing elsewhere for documentation (like a footnote) would be proper.

We're just trying to avoid people showing up to not have a conversation by pointing the discussion somewhere else (especially if they're promoting themselves thereby.)

There used to be a way for any registered visitor to add brief link trackbacks at the bottom of articles, though, after the comments. {squinting} I can't tell if that's still activated since the site redesign, though... doesn't look like it...

JRP

Jason,

Your comment on what I am saying is beautifully said. I know I believe in hell (although I don't believe in fire and brimstone and demons with pitchforks because I believe that the Bible teaches the first two only metaphorically, and I believe it doesn't teach the third at all). I know that you believe something different. However, I echo your statement that we need to try to try to arrive at the truth even if it is not tasteful to us.

Well said.

not tasteful and morally reprehensible are two different things.

Ah, but it is only morally reprehensible if you take the language literally. But I believe the language to be metaphorical in nature -- much like the description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation is metaphorical. (Do you really expect streets of gold?)

Are you familiar with C.S. Lewis' arguments about what hell is like?

JRP: {{But a responsible assessment requires clarifying why we think (and should think) something to be factually correct or incorrect (including morally risible).}}

Meta: {{not tasteful and morally reprehensible are two different things.}}

Yep. But also included. {g}


BK: {{Ah, but it is only morally reprehensible if you take the language literally.}}

Lewis does a much better job avoiding outright moral reprehensibility than many theologians. But then, he considered an orthodox universalist to be his Teacher. {g!}

And, as much as I love and admire Lewis (whom I consider to be my own Teacher, as well as MacD after him), I think he was still inculcating, not so much a moral reprehensibility (I doubt anyone actually familiar with his theology could fairly or even sanely say that), but still a moral discontinuity of a technical sort.

Still, Lewis was doing his own best to be both technically accurate and faithful to the testimony of the scriptures, insofar as he could see to do so. I have technical disagreements with his position; but I can't, and don't, fault him in the least on his intentions, including trying to be charitable even to outright enemies of God. {bow!} {s!}


And considering that Meta's annihilistic position is very if not entirely similar to Lewis', I'm willing to bet he is familiar with C. S. Lewis' arguments about what hell is like. {g!} For example, that after a certain point in natural history (and after every possible opportunity for repentance and salvation, including post-mortem) hell per se will no longer exist and people will no longer be hopelessly tormented--though from God's own omniscient perspective they'll always be existing in a state of final hopeless punishment (somewhat like a bug splatting at right angles to a window instead of continuing onward in flight.)

I don't actually agree with that; but I think I can agree (MacD, too) that that would be the next best scenario.

JRP

"Skeptic: As a Christian, you think all non-Christians are going to hell, don't you?

Christian: Are you saying that Adolph Hitler should be in heaven?

Skeptic:"
if i say yes, where does your argument go from there?

Well, I for one would be curious why you, personally, believe that Adolph Hitler should be in heaven.

Answering yes to a 'Should be' implies you have at least a logical and maybe even a moral rationale for your answer. Meaning there should be more detail to your answer than only answering "yes" to the question.

Where Bill's argument goes from there depends on those details. (Or, alternately, on whether you were only asserting a yes without actually having a rationale in favor of Adolph Hitler "being in heaven".)

Anonymous,

I believe I already answered your question in the original post. As I said there: The points are these: the skeptics who argue from this position fundamentally misunderstand the Gospel. Part of the Gospel message is this: all have sinned and fallen short of what God requires to get into heaven. Hence, no one -- no matter how good or Gandhi-like -- can earn their way into heaven. Once a person starts saying that someone like Jamphel Gyatso (the eighth Dalai Lama) should have an entitlement to get into heaven, then that person either has to draw a line saying what is good enough to get into heaven (and, concurrently, what is bad enough to keep someone out of heaven) or admit that her view requires that everyone be entitled to get into heaven -- even human slime like Theodore Bundy and Adolph Hitler. If they argue for the latter, then they are arguing against our innate sense of justice that would hold that people like 'Dolph and Teddy should not be allowed to simply have their tickets punched at the pearly gates. If they argue for the former, then we can ask why God cannot set the standards as He wishes -- after all, he's the one who paid the price that bought the tickets.

So BK's imaginary god is going to send good people to this imaginary Hell.

'Hence, no one -- no matter how good or Gandhi-like -- can earn their way into heaven.'

All those aborted babies have no entitlement to Heaven.

Steven,

I'm pretty sure BK also wrote, "The only way that anyone gets into heaven is through the grace of God."

Which, to me anyway, actually sounds like entitlement! {g} (The scriptures call it "the inheritance", or "the allotment of the inheritance", of phrases of that sort.)

It seems to me the question is not simply about entitlement per se, but the ground for entitlement. If aborted babies 'go to heaven' (in any relevant sense of that phrase), do they go there with absolutely no entitlement at all?--which would be the same as saying they go there apart from any authorization to go there (not even God's authorization!! Nor 'their own' authorization either.)

On the other hand, if they (or anyone else) have authorization to go to heaven (in any relevant sense etc.), then by corollary they have "entitlement" (if that term means anything cogent to the discussion at all.) The question then is, what authorization?--what (or more precisely who) provides the ground for that entitlement? And why?

I think Bill did answer that ("by the grace of God"); even if he wasn't as clear as he could have been about the concept of "entitlement" per se. {s!}

JRP

Hey Jason, thanks for trying to answer Steven, but I think that for the most part the idea that there might actually be thought behind his comments is the only "imaginary" part of this post.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Steven,

I honestly don't see any sense at all in trying to reason with you. Your comments are always on the verge of insanity and assume things that are not true while using outlandish rhetoric that makes no valid point. I am tired of your empty posts, so I deleted the foregoing. If you want to try again and try to make sense this time, go ahead. But I will simply delete any more stupidity.

The problem with your argument is that it limits the choice to two extremes. Do I think Hitler should go to heaven? No, I do not. Do I think Hitler should be hideously tortured for all eternity? NO, I DO NOT! Nobody deserves to be treated like that, not even Hitler. Why not simply punish him for a finite amount of time? Or why not just erase him from existence? I also don't see why christ had to die to save us from our sins. If God is all powerful he could have found a way to get everybody into heaven without putting his son (who was also himself?!?) through such torment. Why not just forgive everyone for our sins if he loves us all so much? You would probably say to this that God is just and has to judge us by our sinful nature which means that we all deserve hell. But then you say he found a loophole in his own laws by sending Christ to die for our sins! Surely this is a violation of Gods justice? If wiping away our sin is as easy as that, why do you have to believe in christ for it to work? What about people who never heard of Jesus? Why did Jesus have to die to wipe away our sins? God could have wiped away our sins as simply as snapping his fingers. If God is truly all powerful and all knowing then the only reason that people suffer in this world or the next is that God wants them to, gets pleasure from their suffering and created them solely for the purpose of suffering. To suggest anything else would be blasphemy.

The Bible presents a pretty good consideration of what is 'good' and 'evil' with the last half of the Ten Commandments.

Confucius also presents a pretty good moral guideline. Aristotle. Hume, Locke, and many many more.

It is this: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

TorsoB,

I was waiting for a while in case Bill wanted to reply; but it's possible that he didn't actually register for thread tracking. (This has to be manually done by checking a box when making a comment, even for the person who writes the original post.)

I myself am of the studied belief that God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all three Persons) will eventually (later if not sooner or even already) lead Hitler to repent of his sins and be reconciled to God and to his victims. Other Christians (such as Meta among the Cadrists) go for annihilation; most of us, such as Bill, believe in one or another kind of eternal conscious torment. (There is more than one variation of that.)

We all however agree that, insofar as it is possible for God to heal and to excuse sins, God will do so. That isn't the problem.

The problem is that even if God is willing and acting to forgive sins (not only excuse inadvertences and heal sicknesses), the sinner has to be willing to repent. Otherwise he's holding onto his sin.

God can go a long way toward leading the sinner to repent, but God won't just treat the sinner as a puppet or a malfunctioning computer program: people are also responsible for their actions. So long as someone insists on holding onto their sins, they aren't receiving God's forgiveness, and are continuing to act unjustly.

Any inconvenience God puts them in to remind them they are sinning and to teach them why they ought to repent, would by tautology be a punishment, no matter how light; and that punishment can be expected to continue, and to increase insofar as necessary to achieve the goal, as God sees fit.

God doesn't inflict that punishment merely from on high, however: He voluntarily suffers the punishment with us, and that's part of the meaning of the cross (as a visible enaction, once and for all in history, of what God is always doing for us.)

I take it that among other points involved in accepting the cross is that we come to realize that God is not a tyrant, not even a benevolent tyrant of the sort we would like to be on our side (or of the sort whose side we would like to be on): no tyrant, even a benevolent one, would do that for the sake of helping his own enemies.

(As far as accepting Jesus as Lord goes, I think the scriptures indicate that Jesus' own clearly visible operations as Lord will usher in the first of two very large waves of successful evangelization upon His second coming. So that's something God can and will take care of in His own good time; but it makes a difference to our life here and now to get on board cooperating more specifically with Him, too, which is why we ought to be cooperating with evangelical efforts today.)

JRP

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