Hell, callous indifference and embarassment

Jonny Scaramanga has written a fantastic post describing a discussion between a fundamentalist Christian and a secularist about hell.

Liz Weston hell

I must say that I really admire Jonny. He went through horrific experiences as a fundamentalist child which led him to reject Christianity altogether.

Yet, unlike the New Atheists (also called antitheists) who engage in vicious attacks against all believers, Jonny is an extremely loving and respectful person, even towards fundies.

I think that all people cherishing an open society (where freedom and tolerance are fostered) should join their forces against those threatening its very foundation.

This is what Jonny wrote:

Fundamentalists: you have not been trying very hard to save me. Either you do not really believe I am going to hell, or you do not care. Which is it?

I wasn’t going to post this until next week, but I needed to get it online while the relevant Big Questions episode is still on BBC iPlayer so you can see what I’m talking about.

Liz Weston is a member of Christ Church Southampton. She was on The Big Questions this week to defend fundamental Christianity against the charge that it is harmful to children.

Let me say this first: I like her. She got a lot of bile from Twitter atheists when the episode aired, but I chatted to her after the show and she was genuinely nice. I got the feeling that we could have spoken for a long time and found many areas of common ground. Liz was shocked by my experiences of fundamentalism and expressed genuine regret. She was also far more tolerant than I was in my fundamentalist days. I got the feeling that where we disagreed, we could have done so without it being a source of animosity.

So yes, I think Liz Weston is a good person, and that’s important to remember in light of what I’m about to say.


The crucial exchange came about 44 minutes into the programme.

“Nicky Campbell: So who’s going there [hell]?

Liz Weston: Anybody who hasn’t put their faith in Jesus and trusted in Him as their saviour, his death on the cross to pay for their sins… But you can go to heaven, and it’s your choice if you decide to reject Jesus.

Amanda Robinson: But I have, so I’m going to hell.

Liz: That’s fine! You’ve chosen to reject Jesus. That unfortunately is your choice and I’d love to convince you otherwise but, yeah…

Then she shrugged, and laughed.

She looked a person full in the face, told her she was going to hell…

And she laughed.

Let’s imagine an alternative scenario: instead of Liz Weston, God-botherer, and Amanda Robinson, criminologist, this was a confrontation between a qualified therapist and a person with a life-threatening addiction.

Let’s say Liz is the therapist, and Amanda Robinson is a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or has a chronic eating disorder. Liz has the only solution, and it will definitely solve Amanda’s problem. Without it, Amanda is inevitably going to destroy herself in the slowest, most agonising way. How would we expect Liz to act?

Liz would be distraught. She would implore Amanda, through tears and agonising pain, to accept her help before it’s too late. She would be doing everything in her power to get through to her. Nothing else would matter. Every other point of discussion would be put on hold. Amanda cannot see her own need for help, but Liz can save her. The frustration of the situation would put Liz on bended knee, begging Amanda to let her in. If this failed, Liz would be broken, defeated, shattered by her own impotence and inability to help.

She probably wouldn’t laugh.

The situation Liz claims to believe is much worse. In our hypothetical scenario, there would at least be an end to it: Amanda would eventually die, and the suffering would end. In the case of hell, Liz believes the suffering is eternal, without a moment’s respite. Yet Liz was able to look at Amanda and laugh when she told her about it.

Either Liz does not really believe this, or she does not care.

This is repugnant. It shows how the fundamentalist doctrine of hell can corrupt the moral compass of an otherwise good person.

If Liz does not care, then the Christian claim to moral superiority is in tatters. The claim that only Christians are capable of expressing true love, because of the Spirit of God within them becomes absurd. Her religion is evil, and her claim to morality is bankrupt.

If Liz does not really believe it, she shouldn’t say it.

So which is it?”

Afterword: For the record, I believe that the most charitable interpretation of these events is also the correct one. I think Liz laughed because she was embarrassed. She knew how awful it was to tell Amanda she was going to hell. Now I’m sure this is the source of considerable cognitive dissonance for Liz. I am not saying she is lying when she says she believes in hell, but I think this demonstrates she doesn’t actually believe it as wholeheartedly as she says.

Also, I don’t mean this to be a witch-hunt against Liz Weston specifically. As I said, I liked her. This is a specific example of a wider phenomenon I’ve observed – evangelical Christians acting like they don’t care (much) as they tell someone they are bound for hell. It’s just that this one, usefully, happened to be televised.


Interestingly enough, I pointed out similar things in my post entitled “On Hell and Cognitive Dissonance“.

Conservative Evangelicals are unable to live consistently with their belief that every person dying as a non-Christian will be eternally tormented owing to sins she could NOT have avoided, due to God having cursed her with a sinful nature she never asked for.

Deep inside, most of them realize that this doctrine (combined with the claim that God is perfectly loving and just) is an affront against reason and morality.

While I believe that the Bible often has contradictory voices about quite a few topics, I fail to see any verse teaching eternal torment.

When properly interpreted, I think that the authors believed in conditional immortality, meaning that those rejecting God won’t inherit eternal life and perish.

But what does “rejecting God” means?

I think that progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser gave us a nice example illustrating what it does NOT mean.

To quote myself :

I am an inclusivist but not an universalist because I consider it very likely that at least some people will reject God beyond the grave.

Conservative Evangelicals typically defend Exclusivism (only those dying as Christians will inherit eternal life) using the following reasoning:

1) The Bible is the full and unique revelation of God (which is the central pillar of Evangelicalism)
2) There is no Biblical evidence that people will have a chance to choose God after having passed away
3) Therefore only Christians will get to heaven

Yet as Randal Rauser pointed out, this is an extraordinarily offensive assertion.

“They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, ‘Boil there, you offspring of the devil!’”

Now against this backdrop turn to the encounter between a cacique (or tribal leader) and his Franciscan captors. In this encounter Hatuey, the cacique, has been told he will be executed (for no greater crime, it would seem, than not being Spanish), but that he can still save his soul before his body is slain:

“When tied to the stake, the cacique Hatuey was told by a Franciscan friar who was present, an artless rascal, something about the God of the Christians and of the articles of Faith. And he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him, in order to be saved and go to heaven. The cacique, who had never heard any of this before, and was told he would go to Inferno where, if he did not adopt the Christian Faith, he would suffer eternal torment, asked the Franciscan friar if Christians all went to Heaven. When told that they did he said he would prefer to go to Hell.”

It is extremely blasphemous to state that Hatuey won’t have any chance to reach heaven.

So I think that the above reasoning can be turned on its head:

1) As perfectly loving God must give a post-mortem chance to many of those who have died without Christ
2) There is no Biblical evidence that people will have a chance to choose God after having passed away
3) Therefore the Bible cannot be the full and unique revelation of God
4) Therefore Evangelicalism is wrong

(Of course many people would contest 2), thereby invalidating the conclusion).

Finally Greg pointed out that the parable of the foolish and wise virgins has to be taken at face value, thereby showing that people not having chosen Christ during this life won’t be given a second chance.

A huge problem is that as a conservative Protestant, there are quite a few things in the Bible that Greg cannot interpret literally.

The parable of the sheep and the goats illustrates that very well.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Taking this parable at face value would lead one to believe that works play an important role in salvation, a doctrine Evangelicals passionately detest.

More importantly perhaps, this parable teaches that people having never heard of Christ were serving Him while doing good deeds and will usher into His holy presence.”

So I am confident that many people having died as atheists will inherit eternal life because the god they rejected was nothing more than a hideous idol they were taught to worship.

It is worth noting that Jesus never threatened prostitutes, tax collectors and homosexuals with a destroying fire but only self-righteous bigots.

I consider it very likely that while many loving atheists will joyfully accept God/Christ/forgiveness on the other side of the grave, Fred Phelps (the God hates fags pastor) will be judged and lose his life forever.

I fail to see why this is immoral, and many secular Continental Europeans I know agree that (if there is a God) such a fate would be a just reward for the life he spent spreading hatred, thereby developing a heinous personality making him unworthy of everlasting bliss.


47 thoughts on “Hell, callous indifference and embarassment

        • You can certainly passionately hope it 🙂

          As for me I believe that darkness can exert a terrible influence on a human heart where it is actively cultivated, such as in the case of Fred Phelps.

          But ultimately God could override his free will. I strongly doubt it but cannot rule it out either.

      • God would not override anybody’s free will. Rather, if Fred Phelps miraculously converted (as we should all pray) it would be because the Holy Spirit inspired him, not forced him.

        Ultimately the state of his soul seems to be an issue entirely put in God’s hands.

  1. Yet, unlike the New Atheists (also called antitheists) who engage in vicious attacks against all believers…

    Not all New Atheists are antitheists, and I don’t know any that commit ‘vicious attacks’ against anyone. They use words and arguments and criticisms and for this blasphemy are labelled by the religiously intolerant as ‘militant’ and ‘vicious’ and so on. Your post linked here to your delusion that New Atheism is equivalent to far right wing hate groups is evidence for this delusion.

    Consider your claim that New Atheists come from the ranks of fundamental religious believers is ludicrous; none of the four horsemen who impelled this movement in response to 9/11 fit your broad stroke and badly misguided description. Most New Atheists I am in contact with (several dozen) have significant knowledge of various religions – some from being raised in a faith, some from academic pursuit – but none from the ranks of fundamental right wing extremists equivalent to far right wing political hate groups.

    There are many in the ranks of New Atheists who are convinced that religion is a net cost to human well-being in need of elimination because the justification for acts that utilize particular religious beliefs are very poor and cause unnecessary harm. The term ‘anti-theist’ doesn’t mean these folk want to reduce the rights and freedoms of anyone; it means they are always critical of those who use such reasoning and reject utterly the claim that such reasoning is justified.

    • Hi.

      I have absolutely no problem with atheists using rational arguments against Christianity,

      But Antitheists employ gross mischaracterizations and consider the most stupid and evil forms of religious faith as an easy target to defeat.
      And once they have done that, they triumphantly proclaim they have refuted ALL religions.
      I don’t feel intellectually challenged at all by these folks and they are extremely unlikely to “deconvert” me if they replace rational arguments by a hateful and aggressive rhetoric (“you are an evil deluded moron since you are religious”).

      I would have much more respect for them if they acted as true scholars and tried to understand the extremely diverse religious movements on planet earth.
      If they did so, they would realize that there are many, many religious believers who reject the concept of “faith” as specific knowledge in the utter absence of evidence.

      • The central motivation for antitheism is based strictly on epistemology, namely, that because the method used to justify any and all religious beliefs is very poor, it cannot be granted any confidence. The same motivation applies to, say, alternative medicine where any resulting claims from the epistemology used to justify claims of efficacy deserve zero confidence. All claims from this kind of epistemology are therefore untrustworthy; it requires a better epistemology, a better method, to grant any confidence to these claims. Please note, this is not to say all claims by religious people or those who utilize alternative therapies are therefore deserving of restriction or punishment or death or whatever; it means that all claims derived from a poor epistemology are unjustified until derived from a better epistemology. God may exist, but not because anyone believes it does. Claims deduced from this belief are worth absolute rejection because it is based on a very poor epistemology. The antitheist recognizes that this very poor epistemology causes real harm to real people in real life and should be utterly rejected as a means of justification for any and all actions based on it. No amount of understanding the diverse religious movements addresses this fundamental and fatal flaw of any and all religious beliefs. That is the antitheist’s argument and it is a very powerful one.

    • Hello Tildeb. I wanted to respond to your later post, but there’s no reply button.

      I think I can see where you’re coming from regarding Lotharson’s statements regarding anti theists/New atheists. I think this is an issue of terminology and the way terms are to some extent generalisations. Like all generalisations they may convey some “truth” but it’s always a bit conditional.

      Personally I can see that some anti-theists come from a fundamentalist background, but as an ex-anti-theist myself, I would say that this is not a pre-requisite and I can’t say how many anti-theists do come from that background. I would say though, that many if not most would probably have similar anti-fundamentalist views.

      I think Richard Dawkins, if we can call him representative of the “movement”, is definitely “attacking” people of faith and the terms he often uses are at least harsh if not vicious. He is definitely of the view that religious belief is “stupid” and as a Christian it is hard not to take his comments personally and as an injury. Possibly this is similar to a Christian calling all New Atheists “vicious”. I’m not quite sure if that is what Lotharson said or meant, but he could clarify that.

      In regards your statement that anti-theists don’t “want to reduce the rights and freedoms of anyone”, I find that a bit paradoxical if as you say they are “convinced that religion……(is) in need of elimination”. I’m not sure how one would feel something needs to be eliminated, without taking some sort of steps toward that goal.

      It may be that anti-theists only speak in terms of challenging faith through rational argument, which I don’t disagree with, nor condemn, but I agree with Lotharson, that it at least feels that some of these challenges use straw men debates, denigrating terms and quite aggressive language and postures. Although I would say that many Christians, often fundamentalists use the same approach.

      Where I take issue with you would be regarding your statement in your next post which characterises the “method to justify any and all religious faith is very poor”, also how this relates to your statement that”God may exist, but not because anyone believes it does. Claims deduced from this belief are worth absolute rejection because it is based on a very poor epistemology.”

      If by this you mean to refute such as “I know God exists because the bible tells me so”, then I agree with you. This sort of reasoning is closed and self referential and practically worthless. However I don’t think this is the approach that all people take to justifying religious “truth” and it is unfair and incorrect to categorise all religious belief as such and dismiss all religious belief on this particular ground.

      I believe that both the religious and anti-religious have many and varied presuppositions some shaky some more worthy, but I haven’t seen any coherent proofs from the anti-theistic camp (if there is such a thing), which would convince me that they come from a better position, or have particular techniques which can validly refute all religious claims or beliefs. Admittedly they do point out a lot of complete nonsense spouted by some religious groups and individuals, but because there are some flaws, maybe even major ones, this does not invalidate the entire enterprise.

      Maybe if you can unpack or elucidate some of your statements or thoughts, we can see where there may be agreement and where the real differences which need to be challenged lie.

      • Thanks for the comment, Ross.

        We kind of have to work backwards here. A religious claim is made and met with the question, “How do you know that?” If the answer relies on, “Because I believe it is so,” then we have a backwards method of justifying the claim. All such claims can be shown to be unjustified using this method no matter what the particular claim may be AND regardless if the claim itself might be true! This last bit is the point missed by those who condemn anti-theists and label them with all kinds of negative terms. Because the justification is insufficient – I believe such and such because I believe such and such – there is just cause to reject the claim solely on the basis of how it was justified. The person claiming to know something doesn’t know this at all; this person believes to know something they do not know. A better method – one that is not circular – has to be employed to justify the answer to a “How do you know that?” independent of one’s imposed confidence. In other words, claims about reality (and everything it contains) must stand on their own merits independent of those who claim to believe them before we can move away from the claim being a faith-based belief. And as soon as we do this move, we are no longer dealing with religion! Claims about reality stand or fall by the adjudication of reality. No religion is necessary for this adjudication. In fact, religious belief is an impediment placed between reality and our beliefs about it because it introduces a set order whereby claims must first be suitable for the beliefs themselves before they are adjudicated honestly by reality alone. And this is exactly the historical problem we see in action all about us everyday everywhere: people rejecting reality’s arbitration in favour of upholding a specific religious belief contrary to it (anti-evolution is a more popular one, but any claims about any kind of creationism will do for starters… including the catechism of and creeds supported within the Catholic Church).

        So when you say you don’t think the “I know God exists because the bible tells me so” is the approach that all people take to justifying religious ‘truth’ (assuming it is safe for me to replace ‘all’ with ‘believers’ and ‘the Bible’ with ‘scripture’… either directly in the case of literalists or interpretively by some kind of clergy), I think this is exactly what believers rely on a priori to justify faith-based belief claims presented problematically to be equivalent to knowledge. And I say this because these beliefs do not come out of a vacuum but must be specifically taught – catholicism to make new catholics, islam to make new muslims, buddhism to make new buddists, mormonism to make new mormons, and so on (which is why geography (and not the truth value claimed to be knowledge about reality for everyone everywhere all the time) most strongly correlates to religious populations. If you were born in Punjab, for example, you’d most likely be using the same line of reasoning about your justified belief in Sikhism.

        The competing and contrary nature of religious beliefs indicates that all cannot be true, and reality’s arbitration of central claims upon which religious beliefs are founded almost all require some unverifiable supernatural but historical intervention, means that the truth value of any are dependent on the belief granted to this one or that. As a dependent claim on belief rather than reality, all religious faiths are equivalently untrustworthy no matter how much sophisticated tweaking and interpretation and switching from literal to metaphorical reading the scripture undergoes.

        When we allow reality to be our guide for claims we wish to justify about reality, there is no need for religious belief. Such belief can and will be eliminated by time… just as Isis and Thor and Quetzalcoatl have evaporated by the loss of belief in them. And we see good evidence for this trend today regarding populations free to choose to believe or not.

        Anti-theism is not about vilifying people (some of who richly deserve vilification) but certain religious methods and ideas. Anti-theism is about exposing the untrustworthy justifications claimed to be true used in the service of this religious belief or that because this broken methodology is what is used to promote religious actions in the real world. And such actions are plentiful and compelling evidence that granting respect to ANY faith-based belief is itself a misguided source for tolerating ongoing harm carried out in its name in the public domain.

        • Hiya Tildeb.

          I think I can see what you’re saying here, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

          First I think you need to explain a bit more how “Objective Reality” is actually adjudicating here. If we are discussing the difference between religious belief and atheistic assertions which deny those beliefs, how are the atheistic assertions actually being supported by reality.

          I would also have to say that the same arguments can be raised toward an atheist about how they may support their own claims. Where is the difference between a religious person saying “because I believe it to be so” and an atheist saying”because I know it so, because reality told me”. A claim to having a knowledge based on “objective reality” also needs to be backed up. I personally see many atheists also making unsubstantiated claims and feel that there is little if any difference between their “belief paradigm” and that of a religious person.

          I think the issue here is trying to separate “knowing” from “believing” and how we are sure in what we know or believe. To some extent I would say it may well be impossible for man, who is subjective, to actually come to know “objective reality”. He may well have used the scientific method to raise the odds that it seems very very likely that….., but is that actually “knowing”.

          It seems to me to simplify and sum up what you have said is that on the one hand we have “Knowing Reality” and this precludes God and Religious Belief, because there is no God, set against anyone who disagrees with this point (generally the “religious”), and that they do not know reality.

          Maybe presenting some examples of where this “adjudication of reality” is working and how this directly negates religious belief would be helpful? I have yet to see it.

          • Hey Ross,

            You say, First I think you need to explain a bit more how “Objective Reality” is actually adjudicating here.

            A good beginning with a caveat: I never said Objective Reality. What I said was, Claims about reality stand or fall by the adjudication of reality.

            Remember, we’re talking about what method to use to do this. I assert that belief – no matter how strongly felt – is not a reliable or trustworthy method. In fact I think using this method is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self. That being said, is there a better method that allows reality rather than our beliefs about it to arbitrate?


            We can use the model method that is conditional on what reality shows us by means of evidence (or its lack where it should be present) adduced from it. This model to be granted our highest confidence must account for all the evidence. Models that account for some but not all receive less confidence and become more tentative. That means we aim to account for evidence that seems to support the claim as a well as evidence that does not. All evidence requires accounting in the model method, and we find this out by creating hypotheses and then testing those by adducing whatever evidence reality provides. This means the evidence is required to be the same for everyone everywhere all the time, which tends to be empirical. But by far the most convincing models yield tentative and conditional claims about how reality works by applying through technologies, therapies, and applications. If these work for everyone everywhere all the time, then we are justified in granting a high degree of confidence that the model works. But even then, we don’t hold any certainty because it might yield to a better model. An example is classical physics that produced many claims that worked perfectly well to produce applications, therapies, and technologies for everyone everywhere all the time. But special relativity and quantum field theory has shown evidence that the model does not work in the very large or very small fields. That doesn’t mean classical physics isn’t knowledge or doesn’t work; it’s fine for almost everything we might ever encounter but there is better model now available and so theoretical physicists use it while engineers continue to use the classical model.

            How much or how little confidence we grant to any model is conditional on how well its explanations work in reality. And work, they do. Your world is filled with such explanations that you entrust with your life. This is a high degree of confidence. Yet you put exactly the same understanding aside to make room for religious claims that are contrary to them. The reanimation of dead cells, for example that you have zero evidence to justify adduced from reality but still grant a very large amount of confidence for strictly religious reasons of allowance. You are willing to allow Jesus to be resurrected by an interventionist divine agency active in reality – and then claim this is evidence for this divine agency – in spite of nothing but contrary evidence from reality that such a reanimation is possible or likely. In fact, such a claim stands opposite to how we ‘know’ reality works for everyone everywhere all the time (calls for similar divine intervention for every dead child and loved one in the world go unanswered), in spite of explanations about cells used in therapies and technologies and applications you entrust with your life. You compartmentalize the resurrection and keep it separate and distinct from the reality you inhabit in order to allow it to be conceivable… conceivable in order to be possible… possible in order to be likely… likely but only insofar as an extraordinary event accomplished by an agency able to suspend and reverse and alter reality itself… in order for you to believe it really did happen. Again, the circularity of the line of reasoning is absolutely typical of how faith-based beliefs are justified.

            Now here’s the part of religious epistemology that reveals it’s uselessness: you will ignore all contrary data that such a reversal of irreversible cellular death is unjustified by reality everywhere for everyone all the time and select only evidence you empower with your belief to be sufficient evidence for this specific claim to be justified but not the claims of other contrary religious reanimations: evidence you allow here but not there such as scripture, testimonials, hearsay, and religious authority.

            It’s not reality empowering this belief after adjudicating it (by the absence of compelling evidence that could be present, such as faith-healing only when Jesus is invoked and only then by the pious!) to be possible; it’s your willingness to make an exception not to respect reality but to offer justification to a claim that, according to reality, deserves none. By granting confidence to a claim that is contrary to how reality operates, you are granting a faith-based belief more authority than reality itself,. In effect, you are imposing such a contrary belief to reality on reality and telling it to bugger off adjudicating anything. Your belief alone suffices. And that’s a guaranteed way to fool yourself into justifying why your beliefs and not reality is the higher authority for granting confidence. The problem is, this is the medical definition of delusional thinking in action.

            This striking similarity should give you pause….

          • I used the term “objective reality” in relation to your “adjudication of reality” just to reinforce my belief that there is an objective reality. I may have misunderstood how you were using the term.

            I would agree that an empirical approach to a claim that Jesus rose from the dead, would on the whole say that this seems very unlikely. Dead people stay dead, dead things stay dead. I think most Christians would recognise this and recognise that his rising would therefore have to be “miraculous” and contrary to general reality. I’m not sure that the “adjudication of reality” here disproves this happening. If we were there at the time and we saw him rise or stay dead, then the adjudication of reality would surely “prove” if this did or did not happen. I would not use this belief to prove anything to anyone.

            So at the moment, the belief in a risen Jesus is a belief and no-one can prove it. I can agree with that. However I think if someone were to say it could not possibly have happened, goes beyond the principle of falsifiability and ends up being a “faith statement” of equal value to any other faith statement.

            I can’t actually see how you get from here to what you seem to be saying in your last paragraph, that belief is in effect purely delusional. I think there you are stepping way beyond the bounds of what the analogy can actually hold and are in danger of making an overly simplistic and insulting statement which actually misunderstands the use and nature of medical definitions.

            So far your argument appears to be that because “religions” use many faith statements which are either contradicted by “science” or cannot be verified, then they are “not true” and if anything tantamount to madness. Please correct me if that’s an incorrect summation.

            If so, I think this is appears to reduces “religion” to certain aspects of what religion is about and misses a lot of why it actually is about. So far I can’t see that you have yet given a comprehensive justification for why an anti-theist can make claims as to why “reality” has disproven religion. Maybe the format of the internet is too restricted to enable this?

            On the whole this particular post just appears to be the creation of a “straw man” to be easily torn down. I think you make many insightful points, which are not in themselves incorrect, but I think the larger conclusions which are made, are not supported by the selective and few points made.

          • Thanks for considering my long comment. I’ll try very hard to keep them shorter.

            You say, So far your argument appears to be that because “religions” use many faith statements which are either contradicted by “science” or cannot be verified, then they are “not true” and if anything tantamount to madness. Please correct me if that’s an incorrect summation.

            My argument is that claims justified by religious belief are insufficient because they ignore or exempt reality’s arbitration of them. I outlined how the exemption occurs for claims contrary to the way we understand how reality to operate. My argument is that this question shows that when asked, “How do you know Jesus rose from the dead?” the answer comes not from reality but from a contrary belief imposed on it. A special exemption. This shows that the claim – a central tenet of Christianity – is based not on reality nor on any understanding of how reality operates but on a claim justified only by faith. This is not a “gross mischaracterization” whatsoever, but a typical foundational claim that must be accepted on faith alone and first.

            Remember, the original comment I made to Lotharson;’s assertion that New Atheists (equivalent in his mind to anti-theists) “employ gross mischaracterizations and consider the most stupid and evil forms of religious faith as an easy target to defeat.” I responded that antitheists were responding to the very poor epistemology used to justify confidence in central religious tenets. I wrote, The central motivation for antitheism is based strictly on epistemology, namely, that because the method used to justify any and all religious beliefs is very poor, it cannot be granted any confidence.

            I also wrote, All such claims (religious claims based on faith) can be shown to be unjustified using this method no matter what the particular claim may be AND regardless if the claim itself might be true! This last bit is the point missed by those who condemn anti-theists and label them with all kinds of negative terms.

            Yes, Jesus may have risen from the dead, but the ‘explanation’ that it happened and was the work of a divine agency are empty assertions, devoid of compelling evidence, and suggests an event contrary to the way we understand how reality operates. This is not knowledge and it’s deserving of our greatest skepticism. In other words, the claim can be rejected entirely because it is a faith-based belief imposed on reality and not deserving of any confidence regardless if it might somehow be true!

            The same argument is pertinent to a someone suffering from a delusion, someone who insists that beliefs held about reality but unsupported by it are still reasonable and rational. They’re not… even if clothed in religious terminology and imagery. The person is still delusional if they grant more confidence to the contrary beliefs than the reality that adjudicates it. You may find this description insulting, but from where I sit, this is exactly what religious folk do; they empower beliefs – not by reasonable arguments and rational examples reached by rational people who do not share the beliefs but wish to adjudicate them fairly and honestly – by ratcheting up the confidence level in unjustified beliefs to the point where drinking the cool-aid seems reasonable. It isn’t. It is deeply unreasonable because it utilizes a method that relies on faith… a guaranteed method to fool one’s self.

          • i must admit I’m finding it a bit difficult to follow some of your logic here. So I might need further clarification.

            In terms of believing that Jesus rose from the dead, yes this is a faith claim and believed in different ways by various people. Generally most people I know would state that there are additional qualifiers that support belief in this, such as the reports of others that it happened at the time (which of course can be critiqued) and that aspects of the consequence of it’s happening have been attested to by many people over many years. Also the significance and efficacy of this may be quite noticeably present in the believer’s own life. So this does not mean that belief in it is irrational, even if in certain ways it is impossible to “prove”.

            I’m also wondering about your use of “reality” here. In some places you use “reality adjudication” which seems to be a method to come to a conclusion about something and then you use “reality” in a context which you appear to be using as a bold assertion of fact.

            For instance you say;

            “I also wrote, All such claims (religious claims based on faith) can be shown to be unjustified using this method no matter what the particular claim may be AND regardless if the claim itself might be true! This last bit is the point missed by those who condemn anti-theists and label them with all kinds of negative terms.”

            Yes I can see how this method can be used to show a claim is unjustified, but It doesn’t ultimately prove it is unjustified. I can see that all we end up with is two points of view where one person says “I believe Jesus rose from the dead, but I can’t prove it” and the other “I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead because I can’t prove it”.

            Although I agree that there may be no physical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and that the assertion does need to be met with skepticism, I would have to say it is not an empty assertion nor can I see overwhelming reason to reject it entirely.

            Regarding the delusional belief statement, the last paragraph shows a lack of understanding of the contextual contingencies necessary to determine a diagnosis of “delusional belief”. The example stated is more of fitting a set of assertions to a theoretical set of circumstances to make a point than any real understanding of mental illness and delusion.

            Ultimately, if what you have stated is the standard viewpoint of an anti-theist, I can’t really see much difference between this and that of your standard fundamentalist. We just have a lot of belief statements outlining and discussing a theoretical set of propositions coming from two different pre-suppositional viewpoints. Really neither have actually proved anything apart from that they disagree.

          • How much confidence should we grant to faith based claims? At the very least, I think I have explained why we should grant that these claims are deserving of a higher rather than lower amount of skepticism. Yet look at how much is built on just these kinds of wobbly faith-based claims as if they were true: there really is a heaven (and here are the rules for admission) and really is a hell (and here are the consequences of rejecting the rules of admission)! Believers don’t apply increasing skepticism the further from these foundational faith-based tenets we go (which at least would be reasonable); they build worlds out of air and assume it has great substance… enough to be the most important consideration to how we live our lives. This is a recipe for disaster based on an assumption that our beliefs – because they are religious, you see – define reality. But then a curious thing happens using this kind of methodology: these beliefs are not presented as if highly conditional on belief but as if true… and then highly selected bits and pieces of reality is brought to bear in its defense against criticism as if reality supported such religious beliefs! Take a moment and digest the scope of this intellectual dishonesty.

            Not unsurprisingly, you’ve done exactly this by assuming that selected evidence from reality actually supports your faith-based belief that Jesus was resurrected! You are trying to present the resurrection as if deduced from compelling evidence independent of your faith-based belief that it historically happened even though every bit of reality indicates that the idea of reanimating dead cells goes against the how we understand the world – reality – operates. As I’ve said, you are willing to grant a special exemption to this supposed event FIRST before considering how much or little confidence to grant to the claim in support of your religious beliefs. You did not look to reality and assume that this reanimation is possible because it sometimes happens. It doesn’t and you admit this. So it’s not reality that informs the exception you want to grant. Presenting highly selective but very poor evidence that it actually happened to justify granting confidence to a notion contrary to how we understand reality to operate is either intellectually dishonest or delusional. Belief in the reality of controlling alien radio is not justified by wearing the tin foil hat; the wearing of the tin foil indicates an unreasonable and a priori belief in controlling alien radio waves. It is compelling evidence of delusion being exercised.

          • Unfortunately you have now rather confirmed Lotharson’s views that Anti-theists resort to ridicule, mockery and emotional bullying. I see no reason to carry on with this discussion past this point so won’t.

            I am fully aware of what conclusion you will make from this as it will just confirm your own closed, internally referential belief system. In this you are no different from the “fundamentalists” who you seem to feel have no basis to make their claims.

            Earlier you claimed that those who condemn anti-theists miss a point which you think refutes the condemnation. I would have to say that many people do not actually miss this point, but just recognise it for what it is, which is making a point to claim a “falsafiable” viewpoint, with little or no actual intention of honouring one. The problem you are finding is that many actually see what you are really saying, whereas you do not.

            The main thrust of your argument has been to borrow a technique of jurisprudence and mis-apply it to a metaphysical debate. The “adjudication of reality” as you put it, is a simple and crude technique used to use probabilities to come to some kind of decision. It is similar to the scientific method used within a “scientific” framework to deduce to some level of certainty whether a hypothesis is correct.

            You seem to have used it to make concrete statements about reality and feel this justifies or “proves” your beliefs. However, within the legal situation, this “burden of proof” is a technical term within a specific setting. Any Lawyer would realise that this burden of proof can and does result in innocent people being judged guilty.

            I don’t think you recognise the irony in that you have practically stated that through your logical deductive process that you can and would deny the resurrection of Jesus, even if it is true.

            I have been more than patient with you and have tried to resist the temptation to meet your insulting statements like with like. Unfortunately you have not accorded me the same courtesy. If you cannot see that you have been frequently accusing me of making statements I have not made, or that you have accused me of “delusional” thinking with no justifiable basis for these assertions, then I suggest you seriously look at learning how to construct a valid and coherent argument and how to propound it.

            I don’t know where you have got your ideas from, or why you feel this need to attack religion and people with religious beliefs, but I would suggest you seriously take a good look at the reasons behind your current stance. If anything you appear to be in denial of your own inner issues and desperately projecting these onto others, to assuage some inner turmoil.

          • You state that I resort to ridicule, mockery and emotional bullying.

            Oh really? Quote me, please.

            I have made an observation backed by compelling evidence that there is no difference, no “gross mischaraterization”, no use of “stupid and evil forms of religious faith” between granting confidence to a faith-based belief and granting confidence to delusional thinking, and both for exactly the same reason: there is no means available using this method to respect reality’s role to adjudicate claims made about it. In fact, the belief is granted a special exemption… a methodology I have said that is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self. This argument is not to ridicule, not to mock, and not to emotionally bully anyone: it points out there is no difference in method between delusional thinking that relies on exempting beliefs from reality’s arbitration of them and religious thinking of central tenets that relies on exempting beliefs from reality’s arbitration of them.

            If the argument is wrong, explain how. Don’t presume you have special access to some special motivation of denial you presume I must have to argue as I do. That’s just a really weird diversionary move used solely to shift what seems to be your inability to address the argument and show me how delusional and faith-based beliefs are somehow qualitatively different with blame that I an unpleasant person. The unpleasantness you feel and then project is entirely of your own making.

        • Hiya Lotharson :-). I’ve just looked at your definitions and see where you’re coming from. Personally I would maybe divide anti-theists further into at least two camps. Before I was a Christian I was an atheist, as I could not possibly see how there could be a God, what with all this marvellous science and so on which disproved him. I was also an anti-theist in that I felt, as religion was wrong, it should not be allowed to continue, additionally as I believed religion could be harmful, then at least aspects of it should be challenged and stopped, if not the whole thing. However I don’t think I would have endorsed bullying, legal sanctions etc. etc. So maybe there are differences in anti-theists, call them nice ones or nasty ones or what-ever.

        • But anti-theists have an impressive track record of intolerant hatred towards ALL religious believers.

          Could you provide some source material for this claim?

          • Just go to a forum or blog held by them.

            Pretend that you are a progressive Christian utterly opposed to the religious right but that it isn’t the only possible form of Christianity.

            Then tell them that their arguments are most often only valid against fundamentalism.

            Observe their reactions.

            I (and many other progressive and liberal believers) were harshly bullied after having written that in a very respectful way .

            Incidentally, there are many non-militant atheists I have talked too who agree with this observation and find it is not a decent way to treat kind opponents.

            I sincerely wish you were able to prove me wrong but I strongly doubt it.

            In an upcoming post I’ll go into the anti-theistic critique of “faith” and show why it is so frustrating and counter-productive for both sides of the argument.

            The purpose or “raison d’etre” of my blog is to overcome the culture war and to foster a pleasant and fruitful dialog between people from many worldviews.

            So I also combat any kind of bigotry and intolerance, whoever the victims and the perpetrators are.


  2. Terrific post. I was literally going to give the story of the sheep and the goats in the comment section, but you ended up giving it in the body of the blog!

    As a Catholic I read this dialogue and think of the tremendous disconnect that the “faith alone” doctrine has caused. (now when its properly understood it may not be a problem but it seems it is misunderstood in droves)

    Here is another important passage:

    ““The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12 47:48

    This shows that God will indeed not expect as much from people who are ignorant as those who should know better.

    You ask the right question. What does it mean to reject God? What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

    Believe he exists? Do we just need to believe he died on a cross and rose? Ok even the demons believe this. Do we even need to know his message of love? (Demons will know he preached that as well.) Do we need to embrace his message of love? Only when we start to do that do we separate ourselves from the demons.

    You can see plenty of bible passages that talk about our actions in this life being important.


    Before Christianity was “Christianity” it was called “the way.” Now when I ask those who deconverted how they are going to live their life they act as if that question is irrelevant. They understood being Christian as believing in the literal interpretation of obscure bible passages and certain scientific views. They did not even understand being Christian as a way to live your life. Of course, beliefs are important in Christianity. But people need to understand who Jesus was before they can accept him. They need to understand what he wants us to do and be willing to do their best to do it. You do not need to believe Noah literally marched every animal 2 by 2 on an ark.

    • “““The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12 47:48”

      It is a pretty problematic passage, because Jesus seems to endorse an evil form of slavery while using this illustration, thereby upholding the status quo.

      Was it no contradictory to his central message about loving everyone (and even our enemies)?

      • I am not sure he was endorsing slavery. Any more than his talking about wages endorses capitalism. He was making an analogy that people would understand.

        But I am not sure he really cared that much about political structures. His message addressed something much bigger than politics of our short time here.

        “Was it no contradictory to his central message about loving everyone (and even our enemies)?”

        I am not sure what you mean here. Can people from antiquity who owned slaves not be loving in a Christian way?

        Don’t get me wrong I am not pro slavery in any way. But I see the message of love as transcending these bad political structures.

  3. The scholastic theologians distinguished between the poena damni and the poena sensus. The poena damni consisted of the absence of the Beatific Vision, whereas the poena sensus consisted of various pains inflicted on the senses. It was held that there was a realm of Hell called the limbus patrum, where people incur the poena damni, but did not incur the poena sensus, but instead some degree of natural bliss. This was where the pre-Christian saints dwelt until Holy Saturday.

    It seems profoundly unfair that unbaptised babies who never sinned themselves should be tormented, but, rightly, they wanted to retain the utter gratuity of salvation and so it was speculated that unbaptised babies would, like the folks in the limbus patrem, incur poena damni, but attain natural bliss in the “limbus puerorum”. Some speculated further that there would be righteous pagan adults who would incur the poena damni, but be blessed by God with natural blessings.

    Do you find this “HellLite©” an attractive idea? Personally, I’m rather attracted to the idea that Elysium and Valhalla actually exist…

  4. Aha another easy post Lotharson! This is a subject which causes me much angst and really challenges me.

    I would have to say that I haven’t much of a clue about “Heaven”, “Hell” or the “World to Come”. I will borrow St. Paul’s point here that we see things through a glass darkly, or I do anyway. In my readings of the bible I see a fair amount of different stuff about the World to Come and Gehenna, but no real clarity.

    I think one of the problems here is that historical church doctrines have influenced how we look at these issues. I don’t believe the traditional Protestant view of Heaven or Hell, as many of us were brought up on, is actually the biblical view. I.e. The saved go to a magical place which is lovely the unsaved to a fiery pit of torment. Or the Good go up and the Bad down. Here I think the Roman Catholic views are probably a bit better at describing a more complex understanding of “life after death”. However, In the European theatre I think there is a much less understood view on Millenialism. Over here it’s more about life after death and Heaven and Hell being something quite different to the World we currently live in. In America there is a greater emphasis on the restored World, being placed some time in the future.

    Ultimately, I may be accused of sitting on a fence here, but we really don’t know. It may be foolish to create any hard and fast doctrines on information seen through the dark glass.

    Where I am at is that a number of things are alluded to in the bible and we need to think where that leaves us in discussions with others. I applaud the lady in the video on the one hand for trying to communicate important eternal truths to someone else. However I don’t agree with the manner or content with which she did it. Without knowing her it’s difficult knowing exactly what she was saying, but I think I can see where she was coming from. Regarding the laughing, I will say that maybe this was an inappropriate response, probably caused by the particular circumstance of the programme and not reflective of how she normally feels about the issue.

    For me, I think the faith and bible rightly commands us to communicate the Gospel to others and this Gospel is beneficial and deliberately rejecting it is un-beneficial. However do we really understand the Gospel? Did the Christian lady in the bible truly understand it?

    The protestant view of “faith alone”, or at least its interpretation as I see it misses out the importance of works. It also doesn’t seem to cover those who have not heard the Gospel. Although I can see how that conclusion can be reached.

    In conversations with those who don’t believe, I think that I am not going to present a well formed “apologetic”, based on thoughts and knowledge which I have not fully formed myself. I am more inclined to discuss that which I know reasonably and that which I have experienced. Rather than relying on “Holy Scripture” to convince someone, I need place more hope in the “Holy Spirit”, to both help me form my words and to work in/on the other person.

    As I said, I feel that it is important to communicate something of the reality of a real God and the real possible consequences of truly rejecting Him. I’m not sure that the lady in the video, along with many others, is necessarily doing this. If the Gospel preached is not the true Gospel, then how can someone else respond?

    • Hello!

      I also haven’t much of a clue about how heaven and hell will play out.

      But considering God’s moral perfection allows us to rule out some options, such as Him eternally tormenting people due to sins they could not have avoided.

      • Hiya 🙂

        I tend to wrestle with and then give up on this one. In my reading of the bible, God is at some stage going to judge. There appear to be judgments leading to punishment and also to rewards. I believe God will be just in all this but beyond that I’m not sure.

        Whether or not there is a Hell I don’t know. I think some of, if not much of our understanding comes from Greek and other beliefs such as Hades. The OT doesn’t mention much if anything on Hell. I’m not sure if the imagery is just that, all imagery. There have been times and probably still are when Hell seems to visit the here and now.

        From verses such as the servants, it looks like God will not hold people responsible for what they could not avoid, and yes I think his perfection and love will make for a more complex and just solution than we can imagine.

        My ideas on hell are that this is a separation from God, eternal and unbreakable, which will be very upsetting to say the least. I think God’s judgement will be based on what people do during life, related to what they know. So you don’t need to have said Jesus is Lord, if that option never occurred for you. The decision/judgement will also, I think be based on works, but will depend on the motivation/faith for those works.

        However this is just speculation!

        The Phelps chappie is obviously misguided, unpleasant and downright nasty, but I would not put him in the same category as mass murderers or vicious sadists. We should all pray for his repentance and not his damnation!

  5. >Do you find this “HellLite©” an attractive idea? Personally, I’m rather attracted to the idea that Elysium and Valhalla actually exist…

    Yes even thought I personally don’t believe in Limbo it is attractive since it shows Heaven is a pure gift but also God is ultimately just. He doesn’t owe you or I Heaven but He doesn’t inflict eternal torment on those who haven’t earned it either.

    Ultimately the true pain of Hell is the spiritual pain of loss of the Beatific Vision.

    Once beyond the grave the lost soul cannot even will to accept salvation.

    Hell is truely locked from the inside.

  6. Lotharson, if you haven’t read C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce”, do so right now. You can find it easily online free.

    One of the greatest treatsies ever written on Heaven and Hell. In my opinion Lewis’s finest work.

    Worth noting in advance: Lewis doesn’t actually ascribe to the vision of Heaven and Hell that takes place in the book. He is what you would probably call a traditionalist. What I said holds true regardless – it is a philosophical masterpiece, a must read for anybody even remotely interested in the subject. And a quick read, by the way!

    • Hello Lothar! I would second that endorsement of The Great Divorce wholeheartedly, and also thoroughly recommend The Last Battle (also CS Lewis, but you may need to read the previous narnia books). This has plenty to suggest (gently) about both “heaven” and “hell” and (as it is a children’s book) is very easy to understand (a great help to those of us with teeny-weeny minds). I read it now and again because when I do I feel
      A Great Presence warm me and whispering “Everything’s all right”. Tchuss

    • Hallo Lothar! I wholeheartedly recommend The Great Divorce but also The Last Battle (end of the Narnia series so a bit of reading required first, worth it though). Because it is a children’s book, it helps those of us with teeny-weeny minds (like mine) to get to grips with some of these issues.
      When I read it, I feel a Great Presence whispering “everything’s all right”. Tschuss!

  7. “Let’s say Liz is the therapist, and Amanda Robinson is a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or has a chronic eating disorder. Liz has the only solution, and it will definitely solve Amanda’s problem… Liz would be distraught. She would implore Amanda, through tears and agonising pain, to accept her help before it’s too late.”

    I agree with pretty much everything else in the piece, but I think this bit’s wrong. I have some experience with therapists, and (a) they tend not to offer cures or solutions and (b) they definitey don’t implore on bended knees or in tears. That’s just not how therapy works. A friend or family member would act like this, but not a therapist.

    The thing is, in therapy you have to want to be healed, and ultimately it’s you the patient who has to provide the solution – and to walk the path of freedom. The therapist can only encourage and steer you in finding that path. And I think something similar applies to the path of spiritual healing and liberation.

    But no, the therapist wouldn’t laugh.

  8. “1) As perfectly loving God must give a post-mortem chance to many of those who have died without Christ”

    This is surely false – and obviously so.

    A much more plausible claim, although contestable, would be: “1) As perfectly loving God must give a chance to many of those who have died without Christ.”

    Why must the chance be post-mortem? is there something special about post-mortem chances that makes them the preferred option for a loving God?

    • Hello Glenn.

      First of all, let me say I feel truly honored to see you comment on this forsaken backwater of mine 😉

      You are right, I was kind of sloppy here. A loving God would give a chance to everyone, and this might very well happen during this life as the Roman Catholic teaching of “anonymous Christianity” (or the parable of the goats and the sheep not knowing Jesus) teach.

      “A much more plausible claim, although contestable, would be: “1) As perfectly loving God must give a chance to many of those who have died without Christ.”

      As Jerry Walls puts it, this is hardly contestable if love means “searching the ultimate good of a person”.
      I do believe, however, that it is more questionable than if hell meant “eternal torment” instead of “merely” (ironic smile 🙂 ) losing one’s existence.

      Friendly greetings from Europe.

      P.S: by the way I just linked to your post after having read your blog policy in more depth.

      A German (and perhaps even French) translation could hopefully follow, but right now I am very busy trying to produce scientific papers in the shortest delay.

      Almost all French-speaking and German-speaking Christians believe that conditional immortality is a cultic doctrine.

    • I have just found and read (admittedly a bit quickly) Glenn’s post on Dualism which, in many ways is a bit terrifying. I’ve not got onto the second part of the series yet but it does speak to a situation I’m in. A Christian friend of mine is very much concerned with defining his personal and universal theo/philo-sophy in terms defining mind, body and spirit (a bit like the shelves in the book shop !) and definitely treats these as separate and distinct categories/things. I have a fair bit of trouble discussing that I see no biblical reasoning for these distinctions, or at least not as separable entities(?). As Glenn says, we are looking back through eyes which have heard (I like a nice mixed metaphor) much about soul body dualism, mind/body/spirit “trialism”(?), body/mind/spirit/heart “quadwotsitism(?) etc. etc. He is a Universalist and believes everyone will end up forgiven, with God. I can’t see any compelling “biblical” reason for this belief.

      My current understanding is that historically, the Hebrews started with a view that you lived and then died and that was it, which developed somewhat to themes which mention bodily resurrection, but this is not a major theme at all in the OT. During the Intra-testemental period a lot of new thoughts seemed to have been introduced and discussed, possibly due to Hellenistic influence, which gave rise to the situation we see in the NT, where there is a lot of discussion about what is going to happen “beyond the grave”. So by the time of the NT we are dealing with a lot of stuff which appears to have little if any scriptural precedent, but was a fairly hot topic. Within the Jewish context it appears to be divided between the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees who didn’t. So in both cases we were talking about life after death with everyone being present at a “judgment” (each one being an inseparable body/soul).

      I can see that what is in the NT supports two major categories (and possibly several minor sub-categories), where you get those on God’s side and those not. I see that the two options appear to be broadly, the rewarded who have a good time with God in physical bodies and the punished who are in eternal torment in physical bodies. I can see some grounds for having the state of “annihilation” as well, whereby the body and soul with it die and cease to be, though I wouldn’t want to make a doctrine out of this option.

      I can’t see any particular reasoning to support a need for any further “chances after death”, although the point about being baptised for the dead does throw in a “curve-ball” here. I would say that God is able to judge people on what they are like whilst they are alive, knowing what they would do after death. So here I think people who have not “confessed that Jesus is Lord”, will be judged on whether they would have if the circumstances were right and don’t need to be placed into those circumstances.

      I can see that this is offensive to some, personally I would much rather judgment not to need any punishment or torment, particularly eternal. However on this matter I have to go with what I think the bible is showing which does include this.

      I will now resort to my usual cop-out which is that any discussion this side of the “veil” is to some greater or lesser extent, speculative and nobody really knows what will actually happen, but whatever it will be should encourage us to seek and follow the Lord because he will reward us with good things. Being terrified into following him seems to be somewhat coercive and possibly invalidates any actions, so is probably not of God.

      • Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” is one you should read as well. The title is a reference to another book called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” that argued for universalism. Lewis wrote in his preface “[that author] speaks of the marriage of Heaven and Hell – I speak of their divorce”.

        • Malcolm, I’ve read those and I think they’re on the bookshelf, though a re-read would not go amiss as I did find them very good. I would be tempted to lend them to my friend, but he’s a wee bit resistant to challenging his beliefs, it’s taken a year for me to even understand more than a quarter of what he’s saying!!

  9. You might like my comment on Randal Rauser’s blog, where I talk about humans being the ones who create hell. This would be both a handy way to get God off the hook with respect to its creation, and also a more compelling way to think about it.

    I find it fascinating that people get so up in arms about hell. I can see some reasons for it; after all, it seems like the ultimate bogeyman, with which you can get people to do whatever you want! On the other hand, to claim that this is the worst bogeyman of them all makes certain claims about the human psyche which I haven’t seen empirically supported. Indeed, perhaps the Spanish Inquisitors or the SS or KGB agents could induce more fear and cause more behavior modification. I’ve just never seen empirical evidence that hell is the worst of them all.

    If I were to assume evil motives, which is sometimes fun and sometimes accurate, I would say that people do not wish to admit that they could be creating hell for others or for themselves, by their thoughts and actions. It is, after all, a very scary idea! According to this, “Socrates believed that nobody willingly chooses to do wrong.” (Plato’s Gorgias) Well, creating a hell for someone is pretty much the opposite of “willingly chooses to do wrong”. At this point, I turn to from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quoted by Ralph C. Wood:

    It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an unuprooted small corner of evil.

    Who wants to admit that? Christians are called to. Most other people would rather not admit the true evil in their hearts—they’ll admit to badness, but not true evil. That’s scary stuff. (Dexter’s “dark passenger”, anyone?)

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