Hell, Motivations and Reasons for Believing in God

 Fiery questions about hell and faith

I’m currently having an interesting discussion with two ex-Christian fellows on „Debunking Christianity“ who wrote the following comments:

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Rizdek
This is a bit off topic, but I’m interested in what others think. I have recently exchanged posts with someone on another website. This person claims to have become a “Christian theist” again after being what they called an agnostic/atheist for 10 years. But the interesting thing is they outright admit and even seem to revel in the fact that the reason they now believe in their “God” was a logical decision because of the fear of hell and the hope for heaven as a reward. Now, I imagine those factors might be part of why some Christians, for example, act morally, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone come right out and admit that THAT was the reason they started to BELIEVE there is a god. I could be wrong, but I don’t even think Pascal used that as a reason TO start to believe there is a god. At the most it seemed his little “wager” was a line of reasoning that comforted him because he already believed there was a god and he figured he was just as well off continuing to believe in the god he already thought existed as those who did not believe in any god at all. I don’t agree with even that line of reasoning, but I think that’s what he thought.
Has anyone else ever heard anyone actually admit that fear of hell and desire for heaven was the reason they decided to start to believe in god?
 
Rizdek
Not sure why you think someone realizing they no longer have a basis to believe in a god they THOUGHT was good and loving would not be disappointed. I was disappointed decades ago when I came to the realization I didn’t think there was a god. I did NOT become an atheist because I was angry at god, the church or other theists. I really didn’t even want to be an atheist. It was a simple admission after waking up morning after morning with the realization that I had no basis to believe there was a god. Later I became aware that I had much less cognitive dissonance once I fully embraced the idea that I no longer believed there was a good caring god who wanted folks to love and serve it. When I realized there wasn’t a god of this kind, I stopped having to worm my way around sticky, absurd or seemingly contradictory Bible texts. It became clear to me that these texts seemed that way because they WERE sticky, absurd and contradictory. I stopped having to meld the good god I thought existed with the suffering I was aware of then and became more aware of later in life. In a purely material world, suffering is a natural outcome of life. But it was much less understandable when I thought there was a good god who designed and maintained the world the way it was. I am relieved now that I don’t have to make excuses for a god to others, but more importantly, I don’t have to keep lying to myself and force myself to believe things that don’t seem true.

 
 mcygnet

D Rizdek nailed it. It’s like resigning as press secretary for for a corrupt politician: the relief you’d feel at no longer being obliged to spin lame rationalizations for your boss’s behavior would be felt simultaneously with the disappointment you’d feel over your boss’s shortcomings. Feeling duped is, to say the least, disappointing.
Of course, you’re right, Son of Lothar, that McD’s arguments are not the height of apologetic sophistication. And given how many flavors of Christianity there are (each sect claiming nobody previously had gotten Christianity exactly correct), one is well advised to check out the views of dudes such as Swinburne, Plantinga, Schaeffer, Wright, and Craig. But if one takes the Arminian view that salvation is available to any who adopt a certain set of free will-derived beliefs, you’d hope it wouldn’t require a post-graduate degree to get one’s mind around the arguments. A guy like McD ought to be able to get the job done.
The preceding should also answer your other question: agnostic? Not so much! 😉

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I’m really thankful to both of them for their insightful responses which raise many interesting questions and problems I’m going into now.

To begin with, I view hell as being the separation from God stemming from the free choice of a person who will eventually cease to exist. The question of retribution is another matter, if libertarian free will really exists, I find it just that a person is punished according to the way he or she has violated the Golden Rule.
I might be wrong, but instinctively I would find it unjust if the infamous Fred Phelps (the “God hates fags“ pastor) would inherit eternal life without having to pay anything.

However, I believe that God will never condemn a person holding any beliefs for honest reasons.
That is to say, if someone is honestly convinced that God doesn’t exist, it would be completely wrong for her to lie and to pretend she believes in the Almighty. And if she dies as an honest atheist, God will propose her eternal life with Him, and it is up to her to accept or to refuse this offer.
It is extremely blasphemous to state or to preach that God will punish honest atheists with eternal torment.

This is why I see nothing wrong with God letting bad Evangelical apologists not use the best parts of their brain 🙂 even if this means losing converts.

For a conversion before death isn’t what matters most.

Albert Einstein once said:
If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge. „
I largely agree with that, tough I don’t believe that striving for rational knowledge is enough, for it fails to provide us with meaning and values.
But it is indeed a sad fact that for quite a few individuals, only the fear of jail or hell can be a motivation to act morally.

I personally don’t hope in God and lead a Christian life because I fear that otherwise, I’ll be burning endlessly. I believe that God loves me as he loves every other human being and that the only reason I’d not inherit everlasting bliss with Him would be my own final decision to reject Him forever.
I try to follow Him during this earthly life because I deeply long for meaning, love and justice and if He’s a perfect being, He is the best place to find them.

Of course, this requires faith (which I define as “hope in the midst of insufficient evidence“).
As I’m currently explaining in other posts, I believe we’ve decent grounds for rejecting materialism (and even naturalism which can hardly exist without it) and for believing matter isn’t the ultimate reality, that mental things aren’t reducible to it.

And if that’s the case, it is not unreasonable to believe that a Mind is responsible for everything but this can by no means be proven, it demands a leap of faith, for there are also reasonable forms of atheism  where there exist irreducible mental facts and emergent properties.
But once this leap of faith has been made, it appears quite rational to believe that this Mind is perfect  in every respect.
And if I look at all religions, it seems to me very likely (provided His existence) that this perfect Mind revealed Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I think that if you investigate the gospels from an atheistic viewpoint, you cannot conclude that the resurrection really occurred  But if you approach them from a Theistic (and perhaps even Deistic) perspective, a good case can be made that God raised Jesus from the dead.

And if you’re genuinely agnostic, I think that the available evidence is intriguing  enough to justify hope in the crucified God.

I expect none of my readers to agree with me at this point, I’ve merely clarified my position and beliefs.

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3 thoughts on “Hell, Motivations and Reasons for Believing in God

  1. This is the best sermon that I have ever heard on ‘our unbelief’:

    [audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/i-believe-that-i-cannot-believe.mp3" /]

    It’s a doozy. Pass it on.

  2. Hello New Adam 🙂

    Thanks for your interesting contribution through this sermon.

    I agree we need to confess and pray against ourselves, I often say
    “God, please don’t allow me to behave in this unjust manner, to hurt another person, don’t allow this to occur!”, if I feel too weak to repent.

    However, I’m absolutely not a Calvinist. If atheists cannot believe without God’s help, and God does nothing, then God is responsible for their atheism, not themselves.

    I’ll take a look at your own blog or podcast, please feel welcomed to comment here on any topic whenever you wish.

    Lovely greetings.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  3. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20: 12-15 NIV)

    Conclusion: Only those who are already dead go to the lake of fire – those who were never alive. (Remember that Jesus once said, about them “Let the dead bury their own dead.”)

    God kills no one!

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