Hell Lecture with Mike Licona and Jeremy Evans
I recently got put onto this podcast, as a possible explanation for how the Christian God could be considered moral (in fact, the very basis for such) and all loving in the face of hell (which He created?). My basic reply is that, there ostensibly seems to be no way the Christian God, if He exists, could possibly be considered “loving” and still send, say me (or any other atheist, agnostic, skeptic, person of another religion etc), to hell for honestly not believing in Him, particularly when it doesn’t even matter what life we live (with this perspective you can understand why some apologists say “why be good without God?“). Christian ideology seems to value worship as more important than honest inquiry, in seeking the truth, or even, truth itself (it might well be worth doing a blog on what exactly truth means, and how we discover that truth, as I realise these terms can fail in a descriptive sense), I wonder how one is supposed to find answers in the world with a worldview that does not value honest inquiry and evidence. A Christian could say in response: “I follow the evidence where it leads and have free inquiry” to which I could say: “great, the difference is, my ideologies don’t punish you if you’re wrong, you’re free to have your beliefs and be happy, but under your system I cannot. I cannot follow free inquiry and the evidence where it leads without eternal damnation, this is totalitarianism.“ It seems the Christian worldview appreciates honest inquiry and the search of evidence as long as you come to the same conclusions as the Christian. Again, I ask, is this fair? Is this justice? This is not recognizable justice to me.
Now, I understand some Christians might say something like: “God is the most worthy of worship, by definition“, as a justification for the above, but that is generally not an atheists experience, and it’s certainly not mine or other religionists, and seems contradicted by the very doctrine of Hell. Allow me to explain. I’m going to touch on my personal experience with God in a moment, so let’s leave that out for a second, and talk about knowledge of God, from other areas. I have no knowledge of God, as I have no personal revelation from God, so I’m left to divine God’s existence from natural theology, the Bible, apologetics, evangelism, theology, philosophy, personal experience etc. These don’t convince me, moreover much of the basis for the religion and their understanding of God, the Bible, reads to me like a “Bronze Age tome” (to use Sam Harris’ expression) with the barbarism and brutality you would expect to see of that time, these things do not make sense if this is the manuscript of a perfect, loving being, teaching the world about itself (I’ll be as fair as I can and say “at least not without serious gerrymandering“). The justifications by Christians for these atrocities simply don’t convince me, this is where a Christian could say “that is you actively rejecting God“, which I understand, is how it seems to them, after all, why wouldn’t you want to accept the very cause of love, of beauty etc (even though those attributes seem to be contradicted by a being who would create a place of eternal torment for unbelievers, when a rapist can get into Heaven, simply if he believes? I guess that’s a “faith versus works” argument, but I don’t think a Christian would say a good person can get into Heaven, if he doesn’t believe). An atheist/skeptic other religionists don’t see those things coming from the Christian God. This isn’t a “naturalistic presupposition” (as how does this explain people of other religions, or atheists/agnostics who aren’t naturalists), it’s not a Post-modern “difference in worldviews“, atheists/skeptics/other religionists, don’t see, don’t think, don’t feel, that the Christian religion and by extension, don’t think their God is true, or is real, or is the most good, hence not worthy of worship and/or belief. Right or wrong they may be, but as this thesis states: how can they possibly be tormented by this loving being for eternity for that honest inquiry, for a lack of belief (and not necessarily an active belief that the Christian God does not or can’t exist), as the consequence of their inquiry. This seems to confirm their, and my suspicions that this being is either not all loving (hence not the most worthy of worship) or doesn’t exist (due to the contradiction in the love/Hell dichotomy).
I can’t speak for other or all atheists/skeptics/other religionists (though I assume it would still apply to many) I don’t a priori reject the concept of a god or gods out of hand, I don’t adhere to any philosophies that directly claim a god or gods can’t exist, I would consider myself a methodological naturalist, an agnostic atheist, an “agnostic in evidence, atheist in action“, things of this nature. I feel I have based my standards of evidence on solid grounds (things like the scientific method and consensus, philosophy, logic, reason, evidence, rationality etc), that I’m not making unreasonable, extraordinary conclusions based on the evidence I’ve seen. Without commenting on what is true, as in if God exists or not, I’ve read some books on both sides of the debate, and the atheistic side resonates with me, I understand it, can comprehend it, it makes sense, for plethora reasons, the other side, does not. Am I to be eternally damned, because I have honestly searched the evidence (and I’ve done so more than most of the people I know)? It seems so.
Now, if we accept all that (and I can see there would be points of contention for a theist in there), there is also the matter of revelation. God has not, as far as I’m aware, personally revealed Himself to me, I have no personal communication/experience with Him, that I’m aware of. A Christian may argue that He reveals himself in nature, in the arguments, through reason, but they have failed to provide me and other atheist/skeptic/religionists with compelling evidence. If this being was all-powerful, and His presence was obvious, and everywhere, it is mystifying that the universe looks to me to be a system mechanistically operating, that science/scientific discoveries and the consensus of scientists appear to operate without recourse to the divine. The God hypothesis, does nothing to answer any questions for me, it appears an ad hoc solution to problems, and not backed by reliable evidence. Within the bounds of our admittedly limited knowledge, the universe makes sense to me, based on solid, reliable, confirmable, evidence and sound philosophy based on such. I conclude from this, coupled with the fact that God has not reveled Himself to me, personally, that I can’t accept the claim the Christian God exists (until such time as I am revealed to, or the evidence compels me to accept the claim). I’ve searched, I understand the consequences, if Hell exists, I don’t want to go there (let’s assume for the sake of argument no other religion or doctrine exists and Christianity is unified in it’s ideas), I invite His presence, I want to know truth, but I lack it. So, if He exists, how can He damn me for eternity to a place of torture and torment, for seriously, and honestly looking at the evidence, failing to see His existence and His failing to give me a revelation (which many if not most theists say they’ve received, and that many of them have been quite dramatic)? Most of all, how can He do this and still be considered all loving? It seems there are 2 options, either He isn’t loving, or He doesn’t exist.
The only responses I’ve personally received in discussion about this are: redefinitions of love (to make them almost inconceivable to us), “God can do what He likes” (which does not make Him all loving), or as this podcast above suggests, it’s me who is the problem, that God can’t reveal himself to me, due to my complete and utter corruption by sin, because of my depravity (this seems to forget the sinners and atheists/skeptics God has converted, purely by revelation, *Paul*). Let’s see if there’s anything to this interview.
I guess my first question is, how they’ve come to know any of this? How is what they’re saying about Hell and God any more reliable than any other scholar who contradicts them based on exegesis? Is it based on revelation? The Bible? And how does this compare to secular evidence, philosophy and the evidence by science (as in when it contradicts the Bible)?
They talk of people who rejected “Christ on the earth” and have a “rebellion against God“, (“people will be consigned for their rejection of Christ“), remember I was talking about the morality of Hell in light of atheists/agnostics/other religionists who have had no relationship, no experience with the Christian God or Christ, personally, and have had to base their conclusions simply on things like natural theology, evidence etc. I can’t reject something I’ve never experienced (as in I can’t reject God’s personal revelation to me). The above quotes imply a reality I don’t think exists. I don’t accept a concept of Christ (historicity, supernaturalism etc) based on an honest search of the evidence but I do not reject the Holy Spirit (a personal relationship or communication) as I’ve never experienced it. How is it moral I’m condemned to hell for something not offered?
“The atheist who has persisted in a life of rebellion“
“If you persist in your rebellion for a while, then you’ll get exactly what you want, and the thing that atheists want is a dominion that is completely independent of the affairs of God“, these quotes seem to profoundly misunderstand atheists, this is a Christian theological view of an atheist. Atheists, by definition, necessarily don’t believe God exists. But according to these gentlemen, apparently they do, and apparently they want to go to Hell? This just doesn’t make sense. Let’s assume atheists did believe in God and Hell, but simply reject Him, why in the, forgive the expression Hell, would they want to go there? If they know it’s real, they know what’s in store for them . They know all this yet they do it simply because they want to act how they want? That feels like projection on their part, how they would react if there was no God, which says a lot about them, but it is not assertion based in reality.
Here they’re talking about hardened hearts: “it’s talking about a character that has been cultivated by persistence in rebelling against God, it cultivates a character that sustains a heart of rebellion” (he is talking about the Pharoah from scripture, but this seems to apply to atheists, generally). Again this misunderstands atheists/skeptics/other religionists, and the definition of what it means to be one of those. In the case of atheists, there is no rebellion, in the sense that we have personal knowledge of God’s existence (say revelation), but simply want to “party and drink and have sex“, we are unaware that He exists and have been unconvinced by arguments and evidence.
“once you’re set on that course without intervention your heart hardens… without Gods intervention we would be left to our own devices, we would be completely hardened, thank God he intervenes, but there does come a point, where a person becomes perverse, that God lets them die….that means there is a point of no return…..that the heart or the disposition can be so hard, so callous, so set against the things of God…. that God literally let’s them die.” Viz a recent post by Russell Blackford here, about how apologetics seem to be as in your face and offensive to atheists as theists consider the “Gnu Atheism” to be to them, listen to the way they laugh about calling people perverse (“it’s a process, haha, you don’t wake up perverse“), how is this not offensive and disgusting?
I don’ think this gets around the problem at all. It is merely insulting. I’ve never experienced God, not rejected Him, never experienced Him. Does this make God culpable? Is God responsible for not saving me? When you couple this with the theology that God created me, created who I am, and my predispositions, I have to wonder where my responsibility starts and His ends. The response to this simply seems to be to an ad hoc system where God can’t do wrong: if you become a Christian, it’s because God reached you, if you remain an atheist, it’s because you’ve closed your hardened heart off to God. I just don’ think this simplistic view aligns with reality. As demonstrated above, it certainly doesn’t match my experience.
“You have sin, you have transgression, you can think for example in Romans we have the law of God written on the heart of every mean such that none are with an excuse. We suppress the truth that is in us, suppression is active, it’s not passive, we don’t undergo suppression we suppress it, we fight it. That’s the rebellious nature of the heart. Persistence in that is what causes perversion.” Let’s start off with the law of God written on our hearts, and that I am without excuse, this does seem like at least prima facie evidence that it is my fault that I go to Hell. We do have to ask the question though, does this really get God off the hook? Or does it make matters worse? Now we have a situation, where I’m condemned to Hell, from birth because of something God has written onto my heart, He then presumably creates me, in direct conflict with this directive, to value and to find appealing/convincing, the scientific method, reason, logic evidence and atheistic argument. What about people of other religions, are we to believe that God created them, to worship other Gods? Now the Christian could say something like: “You simply have it wrong, you have hardened your heart, you have rejected God, God doesn’t make you believe anything, you do that when you reject His love, using your free will“, aside from the fact that this presupposes a non Christian has knowledge of God, which is false, this doesn’t get God out of trouble either, if I’m wrong or if a religionist is wrong, that is not their fault, in the sense that if they have honestly searched the evidence, and found other claims to ring true, how can they be punished for honest inquiry. You can’t make yourself believe something you don’t. Why would a loving God eternally punish someone for following what they perceive to be truth? It seems the original thesis still stands.
Another out is given to God in the expression: “We suppress the truth that is in us, suppression is active, it’s not passive, we don’t undergo suppression we suppress it, we fight it. That’s the rebellious nature of the heart. Persistence in that is what causes perversion” again it is us, not God who sends us to Hell. This appears to fall victim to the same analysis above. It just doesn’t mesh with reality, there would be no such thing as an atheist if this were the case, if this were a reality. To get around this it seems Christians would have to assert they know me or any other atheist/skeptic/religionist better than the atheist/skeptic/religionist know themselves, I’m not sure on what authority they have the right to do this, except on the assumption the Christian worldview is true, but then the evidence seems to contradict the worldview, in this case.
I’m about half way through the podcast, I’ll do more on it, if an when I can be bothered…. Enjoy.
Licona M., Evans J., (2011). Interview: The Problem of Hell. Podcast, retrieved 14/05/2011.