On God’s hiddenness and the nature of faith

I was recently involved in an interesting debate about the nature of faith in God and the alleged moral guilt of disbelievers.

It revolved around the problem of divine hiddenness: if God really exists and is interested in people believing in Him, then why does He not unambiguously prove His existence?

God's hiddeness
God’s hiddenness: despite all the wonders delighting our eyes and filling our soul with awe, nature remains very ambiguous and conceals its ultimate reality.

The discussion took place in the comment section of a blog post written by progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser entitled “Is the Atheist my Neighbour?

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When I wrote Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I had a very short endorser wish-list. That list consisted of folks who were leaders in their professions and exemplars of the kind of irenic dialogue between atheist and Christian that was the book’s reason for being.

Neither Richard Dawkins nor Ray Comfort made the list.

One of the people who did make that list was J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University. Schellenberg is an atheist and one of the leading philosophers of religion in the world today. His most important work in philosophy of religion is a powerful argument for atheism from divine hiddenness, an argument that he has honed over more than twenty years. Professor Schellenberg has pushed the dialogue and debate forward with a thoughtful and powerful argument, and all without animus or rancor. Indeed, while I have never met him, I know several Christian philosophers who count him not only an esteemed and worthy opponent, but a personal friend as well. You can visit Professor Schellenberg online at his website here.

All this is to say that I was delighted to receive the following endorsement from Professor Schellenberg for Is the Atheist My Neighbor? Given my goals in writing this book, an endorsement like this is worth its weight in gold, and that would hold even if the endorsement were etched in granite. The first sentence alone provides one of the best introductions to a book endorsement that I’ve ever read:

“There are some whose way of following the first of the great commandments has, in the matter of nonbelief, meant violating the second. In this brief and lively but remarkably full and acute discussion, Rauser shows the way out of this problem. Impressively fair, and writing not perfunctorily but with feeling, he has found a way to express genuine neighborliness both to atheists like me and to Christians who struggle to reconcile love and loyalty.”

Randal-Rauser_Is-the-Atheist-my-Neighbor

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Andy Schüler, a German Atheist reacted to another commentator arguing that rejecting God’s existence is never an innocent action.

Among many other things, he wrote:

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Schellenberg´s argument requires that at least some people who are open to the possibility of God’s existence and do not resist this truth still live and die as unbelievers. If you interpret the Bible in such a way that the existence of such people is impossible – then your interpretation makes the Bible evidently wrong about this matter (in a way that makes any further discussions impossible, because it forces you to accuse people who claim that they indeed are sincerely open to the possibility of God’s existence, yet also sincerely do not believe that there is a God, of simply lying about this). 

…………………………….

You don´t teach your kid that he or she shouldn’t touch a hot stove by letting him touch it. Or rather – you would be a terrible parent if you did it). And the scripture you refer to depicts God in an even worse light, God is like a parent that is an extremely skilled mentalist and not only does nothing to stop his little kid from touching the hot stove, but rather uses his skills to convince him that he  should touch it!

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My response follows. Please forgive me for the small pieces of German dialect scattered here and there 🙂

Hi Andy! 🙂
Long time, no see!
(Sit longi Zit hon ich nix meh von dir gehert!).

“Innocence or lack thereof has nothing to do with anything here. Schellenberg´s argument requires that at least some people are open to the possibility of God existing / not resisting the truth of this, yet still live and die as unbelievers.”

My own view is that people “dying as unbelievers” (or atheists for that matter) but sincerely and humbly striving for justice and love will inherit eternal life whereas people dying as egoistical self-righteous bigots will irremediably lose their existence and be no more.

In all his parables, Jesus never threatened anyone with hellfire for not believing in Him or engaging in sexual immorality but for
1) failing to feed the poor, weak, hungry or neglected
and
2) not repenting from one’s own unjust pride.

Even Paul himself didn’t embrace the whole view often attributed to him in that he wrote

“God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11”

If you read Roman 2, it seems quite clear to me that Paul believed in the salvation of righteous heathens dying as such, his other ideas notwithstanding.

It is ironic that those arrogant and unloving fundamentalists who keep preaching about “salvation by faith” and eternal torment are those who are the most likely to miss everlasting life, according to Jesus.

Given that, I find that Schellenberg´s challenges are far less impressive (albeit not entirely unproblematic, of course).

God is under no moral obligation to give clear evidence of His existence to atheists if their unbelief while dying isn’t going to damn them.

You’re quite right that we cannot make a choice about what we deem to be reasonable
(obwohl die Engländer das Wort “decide” sowohl als “entscheiden” als auch als “bestimmen”, “herausfinden” verwenden 🙂 )

Yet, the same thing cannot necessarily be said about our hopes .

Obviously, someone convinced that theism is extremely implausible cannot entertain any hope in that direction.

But what if you’re completely ignorant about whether theism or atheism is true?

Or what if you (as I do) believe there are intriguing pieces of evidence for the existence of a non-material world which aren’t, however, compelling?

It appears quite reasonable to think one can, in that case, consciously choose to entertain and cultivate hope in either direction.

One example might make that concept a bit more palatable.

Consider the proposition: “Our world is actually some kind of simulation run by beings we know nothing about . It all started five minutes ago with the appearance of age.”

Brain in the vat:
Brain in a vat. My thought experiment here is far broader than that and include the possibility of being part of a simulation of beings radically different from everything we can conceive of. Or being fooled by a deceitful demon about whose abilities and psychology we know nothing.

I’ve no doubt that most of us find that pretty absurd on an emotional level .
Yet, I do not think that anyone can show this to be widely implausible without begging the question and smuggling in assumptions about reality. And I spent quite a few hours exploring propositions aiming at rationally dismissing that possibility.
(You can try to prove me wrong if you so wish 🙂 ).

Therefore, I think that in order to ground our entire knowledge and existence, one has to take a leap of faith and make a pragmatic decision (Entscheidung) not based on whatever reasons.

Schene Grisse uss Nordenglond 🙂

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Are all atheists wicked fools hurtling towards hell?

Atheism: a consoling delusion for people who can't handle the reality of God's existence.
The “atheistic delusion”? Is this a fair and intellectually responsible look at the situation?

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser wrote a very relevant post about some widespread harmful beliefs held by many Christians in America.

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Randal Rauser

A few days ago Jeff Lowder of “The Secular Outpost” started a new series on “stupid atheist memes”. His first installment was:

If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.”

Four years ago I did my own series along similar lines titled “How to Confound Christians with Bad Arguments.” The first installment was: “Compare Santa to Jesus.” Needless to say, naming and shaming this kind of ignorance is an important way to maintain the health of a belief community.

While I think it is worthwhile to point out the problematic memes in another belief community, it is even better to commit some time to pointing out the problems in your own community. And that’s why I’m doubly appreciative for Jeff’s new series.

I have always aimed to do the same thing by extending at least as much criticism to elements within my own belief community as I direct outside it. As a case in point, in a few weeks my new book will be in the marketplace. In Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I launch a book-length critique of a particularly pernicious Christian meme, namely the idea that deep-down atheists really do believe in God and they are sinfully suppressing this belief so that they may live with impunity.  I believe this is a very harmful meme which has left much misunderstanding, pain, and suffering in its wake. (Incidentally, the book also features an interview with Jeff Lowder. Bonus!)

So how ought we to respond to harmful memes? Must we always speak out against them? The Book of Common Prayer includes the following confession: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Note in this confession that there are two distinct sins. Yes, there is the sin of commission, namely those things we have done. But there are also the sins of omission, those things we ought to have done but failed to do. To propagate memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice within your belief community constitutes a sin (or if you prefer, an “error” or “indiscretion”) of commission. But to fail to censure memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice also constitutes a sin, namely a sin of omission.

In other words, there is no neutral place to stand with respect to this pernicious nonsense. Can you imagine the impact if every time one of these memes was posted or tweeted a chorus would rise up in indignation? Things would begin to change pretty quickly. To sum up, you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.

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My interaction with an atheist

Epicurus wrote an interesting comment:

I look forward to reading the book. I’ve always felt that Christians are trapped and must believe that non christians are suppressing belief because of Paul’s writings and attitudes on the matter.
It will be interesting to read Randal’s examination of the topic.

To which I answered:

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Lotharson

Not all Christians believe in Biblical inerrancy.

What’s more, Paul can be quite ambiguous on that very topic.

Saint Paul redacting one of his numerous letters.
The Apostle Paul writing one of his numerous letters.

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are
storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the GENTILE. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”

A straightforward interpretation of this passage would be that Paul did believe that HEATHENS were able to strive for good works, thereby inheriting immortality.

Consider further this parable of Jesus:

“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.”

White-dressed Jesus, sheep, malovelent goats
Jesus, the sheep and the goats

Were the righteous ones people who put their faith in Jesus during this lifetime and were “saved by grace”?

I think it’s a terribly convoluted interpretation of this passage.

A likely interpretation is that Jesus (and possibly also Paul) believed in a kind of virtue ethics according to which salvation comes through the cultivation of a just and humble Christ-like personality while sincerely acknowledging one’s sins and need for salvation.

Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more.

I certainly know quite a few atheists who are much closer to the spirit of Christ than many of his followers.

Cheers.

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Epicurus
“Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more”.That all sounds fine, but what do you do with verses that suggest differently? Because you don’t believe in inerrancy you can ignore them and use the ones you like?
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Lotharson

Hi.
My point was that, at the very least, Christians aren’t compelled to have such an attitude towards atheists.
While the Bible can often speak with conflicting voices, I do not think we can find anything telling us unambiguously that unbelievers are immoral but many things clearly asserting the contrary.

I grant your general point, however.
It would be terribly question-begging to base doctrines on verses we arbitrarily pick and choose, once we’ve already concluded that the Biblical Canon isn’t internally coherent.

Ultimately, I base my faith on God defined as the greatest Being which can exist.

In the end, I think this is a hope which cannot be proven through rational arguments. Neither can atheism or materialism.
(Many mainstream Christians in Europe consider “faith” as an existential decision to hope in God rather than as a set of knowledge claims).

I also think, however, that EVERY belief system must be grounded through unproven presuppositions.

Consider for example the possibility that we are living in a simulation which was created ten minutes ago.

Brain in a vat:
A brain in a vat: what if we’re all deluded?

I’ve no doubt that (almost) all of us find this completely absurd on an emotional level.

Yet I do not think that you can show this to be rationally implausible without begging the question in one way or the other.
(You can try to prove me wrong if you so wish).

Ooops, I might have gotten a bit too far from the original topic 🙂

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Epicurus
I want to agree with you, but when I read things like Romans 1:18-32, or Psalm 14:1, etc, I can’t
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My interaction with a Conservative Evangelical

A little bit later, a Conservative Protestant criticised my views on salvation:
Rob

So you’re advocating Pelagianism? There’s no need to go that far.

Rom 2 is tricky. Thee point isn’t salvation by works. If you read the whole chapter, the gist is to jolt Jews out of complacency in thinking that they can sin and be saved, merely because they possess the Torah as a birthright, and that many gentiles are actually closer to heaven than they.

As to the sheep/goats parable, note the word “brethren”. This does not refer to generic acts of charity, but to good deeds done to Christians, so the doer would in some sense be considered Christian (ex. he who gives a cup of cold water, etc.)

None of this contradicts Rom 1, which seems to suggest that unbelievers hold (“suppress”) the knowledge of God’s existence, out of base motives.

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Lotharson

Hi Rob.

I could as well say that Roman 1 is “tricky” and use Roman 2 to interpret it as meaning the collective sin of the culture rather than that of all individuals belonging to it.

Suppose that both Jesus and Paul believed that the deepest truth of the universe is that you have to believe in Christ on this side of the grave in order to be saved.

I think they would have said something like that:

“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 you did put your faith in me before entering the grave

Roman 2:
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgement will be revealed. 6 IF He “will repay each person according to what they have done.”, WE WILL ALL BE DAMNED. 7 To those who CONSCIOUSLY BELIEVED IN HIS SON DURING THEIR LIFETIME, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM: first for the Jew, then
for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good THROUGH BELIEVING IN HIM: first for the Jew, then for the gentile. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”

The fact that Jesus and Paul used very different words and phrases is a terrible fit to the classical Protestant view of salvation.

At the very least, I think that what I described earlier is a not unlikely view of salvation in the New Testament, regardless of whether or not you call it “Pelagianism“.

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I might add that Rob’s answers are pretty far-fetched in other respects as well.
While Paul’s main point in Roman 2 was certainly to criticise a belief in Jewish supremacy, the way he expressed himself makes it pretty likely he believed that humble heathens striving for a righteous life will inherit immortality and glory.
So, Rob’s remark concerning Paul’s main intention while writing this fails to engage with my reasoning.
As for Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, Rob’s argumentation sounds really bizarre to my subjective ears. It appears to go like this
1) The word “Brethren” in the parable refers to “Christians in need”
2) Thus, those who inherit salvation are those who helped Christians in need
3) A person helps a Christian in need if and only if she is herself a Christian
4) Therefore, all Christians will go to heaven whereas all unbelievers will go to hell.
 That’s the only way I can make sense of it.
While I cannot judge Rob as a person, I think that this particular argument wasn’t particularly convincing.
1′) As Jesus taught this, there wasn’t yet any Christian around and it seems quite clear that “Brethren” referred to his fellow Jews trying to do the will of this Father while he was preaching  in Israel. And whenever “doing the will of the Father” is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, it means good works towards God and one’s neighbour and not faith in Him as the only possible “fire insurance”.
3′) involves that, whenever confronted with a Christian in need, all Christians will help the person in question whereas all non-Christians will selfishly refuse to do so. This is truly an extraordinary claim which can be all too easily refuted by reading testimonies of Christians in areas of armed conflict.
Saying that these passages teach “salvation by faith only” nonetheless means that Paul and Jesus were quite sloppy in their choice of words and examples. Given their extreme ambiguity, it would have been then quite legitimate for the Church before (and after) Luther to interpret this in good conscience and perfectly legitimately as supporting the “false teaching” of salvation by works.
This comes over as a desperate attempt at salvaging one’s dogmas no matter what.
 
I believe that honestly leaving every Biblical text speak for itself instead of imposing a predefined pattern on it leads to two important conclusions:
A) The Bible is not inerrant: it can clearly speak with conflicting voices
B) The large majority of texts go against major doctrines held by Conservative Protestants. Indeed,
they’re at odds with the doctrine of hell understood as eternal conscious torment
they fail to teach that God cursed us all with a sinful nature because our first parents ate the wrong fruit.
– they’re at odds with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone and grace alone (as seen in this post)
they’re at odds with the belief that homosexuality is a far more serious sin than failing to help the poor.
and I could add many others.

Conclusion

So, this was doubtlessly a terribly chaotic post 🙂
During these two interactions, I obviously touched on a lot of topics. I hope that my readers have found some of this interesting, regardless of whether they’re Christians, atheists or belong to an entirely different species altogether.

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Are fundamentalists denying hell?

Those familiar with my blog know I am no big fan of Biblical inerrancy and don’t think that the Biblical authors necessarily agree with each other on every topic (Kevin Miller I interviewed holds similar views).

Still,as far as the nature of hell is concerned, I think that the overwhelming image of ultimate punishment is “death”,  naturally meaning the cessation of existence.

I interviewed Chris Date in that respect.

I find it amusing (albeit consternating) to see how fundamentalists unwittingly mistake their own tradition-conditioned interpretation (or should I say “distortion) of a Biblical concept for the real thing.

For the large majority of Conservative Christians, hell signifies eternally existing in an incredibly painful state.

Recently, Tim Challies, a creationist book reviewer took to task the growing number of Evangelicals who are  switching to conditional immortality (according to which immortality is a gift received by only the saved) and universalism (according to which after a shorter or longer period of torment in hell, everyone is going to be saved).

Here is his post I replied to.

A hellbound man screams forever.
Being in hell forever: many people believe it is the consistent Biblical description of the lost.

What I Would Have To Deny To Deny Hell

It was just a few years ago that everyone was talking about hell. One disaffected Evangelical had decided to use his platform and popularity to question the very notion of hell, and, not surprisingly, he caused quite a stir. The crisis came and went, of course, and it had at least one happy outcome: Many Christians had to examine what they believe about hell and come to stronger and better conclusions.

I believe in hell. I do not believe in some version of hell that owes more to Dante and The Far Side than sacred writ, but the hell I see revealed in the Bible—a hell of eternal, conscious torment. I wish there was no such thing as hell, but I have deteremined to live by the Bible and I simply cannot deny what the Bible makes plain.

But what if I did? What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I can think of at least four major denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of unspeakable torment.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what seems so clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture

Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve either joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly, it is present in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.

I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church

If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.

If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

I Will Deny the Gospel

I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.

If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.

Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.

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Distorting the Biblical texts

Here was  my response:

“He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,  just
as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the
same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange
flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of
eternal fire.”
Jude 1:7

” and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by
reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would
live ungodly lives thereafter;”

2 Peter 2:6

So, Sodom and Gomorrah are an example of what will happen to the ungodly.

Have these cities been eternally tortured ever since their destruction?

Was their conscious pain exhibited as an example during the first century A.C?

Does this very thought seem a bit laughable?

The wasted valleyes of Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah many centuries later. Is it an image of the painful eternal separation from God the lost has to endure?
Or is it a clear image of irreversible destruction?

As for Jesus, what about

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

According to your view, one should read this verse as:

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the
soul: but rather fear him which is able to torment both soul and body in
hell.”

With all due respect, I cannot help but think that interpreting these texts as conscious torment is a ridiculous force-fit.

Concerning the rich man in Hades, I can only quote my interview with Chris Date
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“the problems are twofold. First and most importantly, the parable isn’t even set in hell. It’s set in Hades, the underworld, the place of the dead. The rich man’s brothers are still alive, and he, dead in Hades, pleads that someone would go and tell his still-living brothers to repent. None of this would be possible in the eschaton. Besides, the text explicitly states he’s in Hades. And we know that one day mankind will be raised up out of Hades, given once again living bodies, at which point they will be finally judged. So there’s simply no good argument to be made for the traditional view from this parable. Secondly, there’s little reason to believe Jesus intends for the parable to be taken as a
realistic description of the afterlife in the first place. Scholars of ancient Jewish literature have found several very similar stories that are sort of life fairy tales, or folk tales, not intended to be taken literally, but communicating a moral point. And Jesus appears to take these and turn them on their head, sort of telling his hearers that they’ve got things all wrong when it comes to the rich and the poor.
Imagine, if you will, if Jesus were to come to us today and tell a story very similar to Humpty Dumpty, but whereas the king’s men in the original could not put Humpty back together again, in Jesus’ version the king himself puts Humpty back together again, as an illustration that God will one day raise his people from the dead. No one would think that Jesus was saying the afterlife would literally be like what happens in Humpty Dumpty. We’d all recognize that he was co-opting a common fairy tale of our day in order to communicate spiritual realities, like he does in all his parables. So I don’t see any reason to take the parable literally. But let me reiterate that that’s only secondary. Even if one is inclined to take Jesus’ parable as a generally realistic account of
the afterlife, the most it could lead one to do is embrace dualism and a conscious intermediate state awaiting resurrection. Again: The parable takes place in Hades, not hell.”
*****

What’s more, in the passage of Revelation you quoted, it is said that “Hades” will be thrown into the lake of fire.

What does that show us? Two things:

1) Hades cannot be a permanent state of miserable existence, it’s going to have an end
2) being in the lake of fire cannot mean being tormented, for “Hades” is an impersonal concept incapable of feeling anything.

Therefore, it is quite natural to conclude that landing in this lake of fire involves being destroyed irremediably.

The damned scream out loud in the fiery lanscapes of the lake of fire.
Will Hades “the Death” be eternally tormented in the lake of fire?
Or will it be no more?

Argument of silence against eternal conscious torment

I think that an excellent argument from silence can also be made against ECT.

You believe that eternal conscious torment is a doctrine of crucial importance.

It is the worst thing which can happen to someone therefore we should preach it everywhere.

If so, why did not God act accordingly?

Consider the overwhelming majority of the Old Testament (at the very least between the time of Abraham and that of the prophet Jeremiah) how often do you find someone ambiguously evoking an everlasting state of painful existence as a punishment for sin?

Never. The retribution of misdeeds is always associated with DEATH and it is incredibly far-fetched to imagine that the ancient Hebrew writers meant “spiritual death” while existing miserably.

Likewise, in the Acts of the Apostles, while judgment is mentioned at some places we can never find any mention of unending suffering.

If ETC were true , we would expect the writers to clearly and unambiguously announce and preach it.
But this is absolutely not what one finds.
I think that in this specific case, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence: these are failed predictions which are so significant that they largely suffice for showing that these Biblical writers did not view hell as never-ending torment.

If the Bible inerrantly taught the doctrine of conscious eternal torment, our Biblical texts would look very different from what they are.

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An interview with progressive Methodist minister Roger Wolsey

I had recently the immense privilege to interview Roger Wolsey who is a fascinating man in many respects.

Hi Roger, thank you very much for having accepted my invitation. Could you please tell us what your background is?
Sure. It’s an honor. I’m a 46 year old “Gen X” American. I was born and raised in Minnesota. I’m a Christian and grew up in the United Methodist Church. I originally thought I’d pursue a career either in politics or in conflict resolution/mediation – yet felt a call from God to become a pastor 2 years after I graduated from college. I earned a Masters of Divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO and am an ordained United Methodist pastor. I currently serve as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I am an advocate for progressive Christianity and have written a book called “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity” – which is an introduction to progressive Christianity. I also blog for Pathos, Elephant Journal, and The Huffington Post.
a typo up there, should be Patheos.
Alright! And you owe your own existence to this methodist congregation, am I correct? 😉
Indeed. In fact, my parents met each other when they were grad students at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. : )
I was born in 1968, the year that the UMC became a new denomination – and was likely one of the first people baptized in that new denomination. (along with my twin sister)

https://i1.wp.com/www.kyumc.org/console/files/oImage_Library_FQADXU/Wesley_Foundation_copy_copy_XMYNBCXQ.jpg
That’s truly a cute tale 🙂 You obviously believe one can honor God by being a passionate trumpet player, don’t you?
Well, yes. For me, playing my trumpet is one of the ways that I pray and commune with God. Music inspires others in ways that spoken word can’t always do.
Do you identify yourself as a progressive or as an emergent Christian?
Progressive. I understand progressive Christianity as being the post-modern influenced evolution of mainline liberal Christianity.
What’s the main difference between progressive and liberal Christianity?
Well, there are several. Progressive Christianity is less colonial and less patriarchal. And, while progressive Christianity fully embraces the insights of contemporary science, including the theory of evolution, it is less overly enamored with science and less willing to cede everything to science. It’s less needing to find scientific explanations of various miracle stories in the Biblical text, and more willing to simply receive the text as it is – as story. Progressive Christianity is less modern and more post-modern – willing to accept that God’s fully at work in all other world religions. Finally, progressive Christianity has more consensus that homosexuality isn’t a sin.
Re: science, progressive Christianity is more willing to embrace paradox and mystery than liberal Christianity was.
Finally, it’s more passionate than liberal Christianity and more embracing of poetry and the arts. Oh, it’s also more eclectic and willing to draw insights, prayers, and practices from the entirety of the Christian – and even non-Christian- traditions.
I wholeheartedly agree with the bit about homosexuality. Theologian Roger Olson once defined liberal Christianity as the rejection of anything supernatural (at least in our world). Do you think it’s a good summary?
Answer: Perhaps. That certainly rings true for me. However, another progressive Christian writer, Roger Lee Ray, also fully rejects the supernatural. He and I disagree on that. That said, I embrace panentheism instead of supernatural theism. However, for me, there really is some portion of God that is transcendent and “relatable as a person.” I don’t pray to myself.
I pray to God.
That’s truly fascinating. Could you (shortly) explain what you mean by this panentheistic personhood?
It’s a bit hard to do justice to that question in a Skype interview. I describe that in full in the chapter about God in my book Kissing Fish. However, in the panentheist view, God is fully immanent within all of Creation – and – fully transcendent from the Created order. Both aspects are ways for various people to connect and relate to God. Some can commune with God simply by being in nature, others do so in a more private inner prayer life that can take place just as readily in an ornate gothic cathedral as in a plastic booth at McDonalds. That’s the more transcendent aspect IMO. Though — as with a circle, if you go far enough in either direction – you reach the same point. Paradox.
That said, as a Christian, I believe that the qualities and characteristics of God are well conveyed in the person of Jesus – including God’s passions and emotions. However, I don’t pray to Jesus, I pray to the God that Jesus prayed to.
Okay, thanks..
For most (albeit not all) Conservative Evangelicals, the Gospel might be summarized as follows:
1) God created Adam and Eve in a state of moral perfection
2) they ate the wrong fruit
3) consequently God cursed their billions of descendants with a sinful nature
4) everyone deserves an eternal stay in God’s torture chamber due to an imperfection the Almighty Himself made inevitable
5) Therefore people can only avoid this fate by believing in Jesus
6) All people dying as non-Christian will agonize during billions, billions and billions of years…
Can one call this a “good new”?


I suppose that view may work for some. But it’s clearly circular reasoning, clearly triumphalisitic and exlusiveistic, and clearly dysfunctional.
Those premises and ways of viewing the faith don’t work for many people today. Hence, the rise of progressive and emerging Christianity.
That view, to my mind, isn’t truly a robust faith in God, but instead, merely “fire insurance” — believing because you have to. : P
Would you be able to put your own view of the Gospel in a nutshell?
Hmm. Let me give a crack at it.
God created the world and the people in it. Life has the potential for real joy and beauty, but due to our free will, humans have a tendency to not act wisely or in our truest best interest. We abuse our free will and oppress and limit ourselves and others. Through the life, teachings, and example of Jesus, God has provided a way for humans to transform from a more reptilian – fear based – way of living, toward a more trusting, just, and compassionate way of relating to ourselves and others. To the extent that we follow the Way of Jesus, we can know and experience salvation/wholeness. And the good new is that we don’t do it all on our own. God’s grace provides when our efforts can’t — but again to the extent that we allow and receive it.
I’d also say that the good news is that each day is a new day, a fresh start, and we aren’t defined by or limited by our past.
Thanks 🙂 You obviously don’t believe in inerrancy. Is there a sense in which one can say that the Bible is inspired?
True, I don’t believe that the Bible is without fault. That said, I’d contend that everything that I just stated is amply supported by the Biblical texts. I’d say that everything that humans create is in some way inspired by God. Part of how we are created “in God’s image” is our creativity. We’re co-creators with God. I believe that some of our creations are more blessed and condoned by God than others, and that those things that are truly blessed and condoned by God are especially inspired. Many poets, artists, musicians, song-writers, etc. tap in to “the muse” – which is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit – and the people who wrote the texts in the Bible were especially seeking to tap into God’s inspiration and co-create with God. To the extent that they got it right – it’s notable. As are the glaring instances when they were off the mark.
Amen to that! What’s your take on how to approach social justice issues?
Well, again, I devote a chapter to that in my book. Here’s a link to a sermon that I wrote that explains it pretty well. “Band-aids aren’t enough” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2012/08/band-aids-arent-enough-progressive-christian-social-justice
Essentially, I’d say that as a prophet, Jesus and his message were as political as they are spiritual. The top two subjects that Jesus spoke about were politics (proclaiming and describing the kingdom/empire of God which is subversive to worldly powers) and economics – money and our relationship to it.
Authentic Christianity comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. It soothes our souls and lights a fire under our butts to effect social change.
To your mind, why are so many American Christians convinced that they ought to be Republicans in order to follow Christ?
I think that’s less the case than it used to be. That notion arose in about 1980 with the wedding of the election of Ronald Reagan with the creation of the so-called “Moral Majority” – which essentially turned the Grand Old Party into “God’s Own Party.” That was the same time that the Southern Baptist Convention was hijacked by fundamentalists. Since they are the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., that set the tone for popular American Christianity for many years. Thankfully, that era is waning and more and more younger American evangelicals are overtly seeking to distance themselves from the Republican party. Indeed, more and more Americans are “coming out” as Christian Liberals. Check out the massive growth of “The Christian Left” Facebook page!


Okay, thanks for this summary. What are you up to now?
I’m going to be taking a sabbatical the first half of 2015 in order to write a new book – and collaborate with two other writers on another book yet.
The working title for my upcoming book is “Orange Duct Tape Jesus.” Stay tuned for developments!
That will most likely be truly stunning! 😉 I thank you very much for all the time you granted me.

How fundamentalists create hell(s)

Progressive Christian blogger Fred Clarke recently called my attention to a worrisome phenomenon taking place in the deepest centre of fundamentalism in the United States.

His post was meant as a parody.

******

The Harrowing of Hell House

As the Christian Nightmares blog reminds us, it’s that time of year again. October means Halloweeen — trick-or-treating, haunted hay rides, and — at places with names like “Greater Works Deliverance Ministries” — it means Hell Houses.

https://i2.wp.com/hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/images/e-misferica/4.1_images/41_lg_smalec_1.jpg
Hell Houses are an irredeemably bad idea — a combination of the very worst forms of evangelism with the very worst forms of community theatre. The only thing worse than their warped soteriology and eschatology is their stunted, politicized, culturally shaped notion of what constitutes human sin. Or maybe the writing and acting.

They’re so very awful — and, ultimately, cruel — that some might be tempted to respond by, perhaps, Creating a Scene.

Disclaimer: I do not, of course, advocate interrupting, disrupting or otherwise interfering with any actual Hell House production. That would be uncivil and even, potentially, a misdemeanour. So the following suggestions are just a joke. No one should actually do any of these. Certainly, definitely, absolutely, probably not.

Option No. 1: If not for you meddling kids.

Cast size: 4

Props required: purple dress, bulky rust-colored turtle-neck, large-framed eyeglasses, chartreuse V-neck, cravat. (Optional: Groovy van, Great Dane).

Attend Hell House event dressed as Velma Dinkley, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, Fred Jones, and Daphne Blake.

When the first demonic characters appear, Velma loses her glasses and stumbles, blindly into the performance space. After she blunders into the “demons,” Fred and Daphne step forward to unmask them, after which Shaggy says, “Zoinks! It’s the youth pastor!”

Scoobies

Option No. 2: The Hell House in the Woods.

Cast size: 3-5.

Props required: Short-sleeve white dress shirts, unfashionable ties, pocket-protectors, ID badges, clipboards, lab coat, sweater vest (for optional Roger the Intern).

Attend Hell House event dressed as Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins and Amy Acker’s characters from The Cabin in the Woods. Pretend to be orchestrating the demonic characters of the Hell House and the torment of the teenagers playing humans in the cast, but maintain a business-like, corporate attitude. Calmly explain to other attendees that the torments of Hell may seem cruel and unpleasant, but that we must placate the ancient ones and its the task of these sinners to be offered up to them.

Cabin33

Option No. 3: Who you gonna call?

Cast size: 4

Props required: Matching gray jumpsuits, proton packs, high-tech-looking goggles,  four large trenchcoats (to hide the jumpsuits and proton packs), smart phone with Jackie Wilson mp3 cued up.

Attend Hell House dressed as the Ghostbusters. At the first appearance of demonic characters, whip out the proton packs and start firing. As you are escorted off the premises, hit play on “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” and sing along, enthusiastically, on the way out.

Cautionary reminders: Don’t cross the streams. And if anyone asks you if you’re a god, say yes.

GB

Option No. 4: He descended into Hell …

Cast size: 1-12

Props required: White robe, beard, sandals, shepherd’s crook, stigmata. Bathrobe/sandal/beard costumes for assorted patriarchs and prophets (see Acts 7, Hebrews 11 for casting suggestions).

Arrive dressed as Jesus of Nazareth. At the first mention of Hell, shout “Come with me if you want to live” and begin escorting the dead from the Underworld and into Paradise (outside). The gates of Hell House will not prevail against you.

Harrowing2

*****************************

I just discovered hell houses through this post. I’m truly horrified by their wretched theology.

These Conservative Evangelicals worship an evil demon they call God.

He CURSED people with a sinful nature in the first place and will eternally torture them for misdeeds they were BOUND to commit.

Never mind the fact that the concept of sinful nature can’t be found within the Bible.

Never mind that the concept of everlasting torment is at odds with or unsupported by almost all Biblical texts.

Any human acting like the Conservative Evangelical god would be seen as a psychopathic monster.

I am also appalled by their focusing on sexual immorality and drugs while ignoring sins related to social justice and lack of charity.

Let’s consider one of their favourite passage for arguing for endless torments:

“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.”

In other words, NON-believers practising charity are worthy of heaven whereas BELIEVERS failing to do it are worthy of hell, meaning irremediable destruction.

This passage does NOT teach that all people dying as non-believers will be eternally tortured. Quite the contrary. It teaches salvation by work , a doctrine Conservative Protestants passionately detest.

I am extremely confident that many loving and humble people DYING AS ATHEISTS will be in heaven where they will gladly accept to worship the good God they did not believe in after having repented for their trespasses.
It would not shock me that much if many religious self-righteous bigots won’t inherit eternal life and will end up being no more i.e. returning to dust.

Let us give the say to the leader of the Church of Rome for a while:

 

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The main root of religious evil

The problem of religious evil

The New Atheists keep saying that religious atrocities and bad behaviors directly spring out of the supernatural character of their beliefs.

I think they’re deadly wrong, because there are no more logical connections between the general belief “There is a supernatural creator” and evil actions than between the conviction “There is no supernatural world” and the atrocities committed by Russian communists in the past.

No, I think that the main cause of religious wickedness consists of the evil nature of the deities the believers in question are worshiping.

A recent post from liberal pastor David Hayward illustrates this truth very nicely. It concerns fundamentalist Pastor Mark Driscoll who has reached an impressive track record of abuses ever since he began preaching.

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"The Gospel of Abuse" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Many people are calling for forgiveness for Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church so that he and the church can get back to preaching the gospel as effectively as it had and get back on the road to success, just like it was before things started unraveling.

Andrew Jones of Tall Skinny Kiwi has written a good summary of what’s transpired up to now.

My question is: “What is the gospel?” Like this cartoon attempts to portray, isn’t the gospel about how we treat people, rather than how effectively we convert them?

Marshal McLuhan wrote years ago that “the medium is the message”.

This means that it’s not just the words you say, but how you say it and the culture it emerges from and the community it creates.

It’s become more than apparent that Driscoll’s and Mars Hill’s gospel is about abuse. It’s not about the emancipation of the human being, but the heavy-handed control of them.

This is not just about a few behavioral issues. The church’s behavior emerges out of its attitudes, beliefs and theology. Driscoll didn’t preach a healthy theology but struggled with some unhealthy behaviors. Rather, the unhealthy behaviors were born out of an unhealthy theology.

Driscoll abused people because this is his idea of how God treats people. Driscoll’s and Mars Hill Church’s god is an abusive god, a god who scorns gays, dismisses women, ridicules differences and bullies anyone who disagree with him. Their god is a god who presses his agenda with complete disregard for those who challenge it and are harmed by it.

No wonder they behave this way! Because their god behaves this way.

So all eyes are on Driscoll and his church this morning. What’s going to happen? Certainly not just a slight adjustment of policy. What is required is a complete overhaul of not just practice, but belief. Not an easy task!

Are you a survivor of church abuse? Come talk about it with us.

Sophia is a survivor. Read her story.

My art is all about freedom. Hang it in your house or work space!

******************************************************

This was my response.

Thanks for this great series of posts, David!

You truly hit the nail on the head while pointing out that the fundamental question is “What is the Gospel”?

For passionate Calvinist Mark Driscoll, the “Gospel” can be summed up through the following points:

1) God predetermines everything occurring in the universe

2) God led the two first human beings to eat the wrong apple. As a consequence, He cursed their billions of descendants with a sinful nature making wicked deeds inevitable

3) Consequently every human being “deserves” an eternal stay in God’s torture chamber.

https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/lake-of-fire-bg.jpg?w=575&h=436

4) God sovereignly determines IN ADVANCE those who will suffer forever and those who will be saved from this unending Ausschwitz .

I think it is undeniable that the god worshiped by consistent Calvinists is a heinous fiend (if you can pardon me this terrible understatement).
Calvinists keep saying that atheists aren’t able to live consistently with their assumptions whereas THEY are the ones facing tremendous cognitive dissonances.

They profess that God, the most perfect Being, is actually far worse than the most odious human criminal having ever lived.

If there really is such a thing as a “doctrine of demons”, I can’t think of a better candidate than Calvinism.

What infuriates me the most is that people like Mark Driscoll and John Piper passionately and joyously defend the (alleged) reality of never-ending torments for billions of people having been PREDETERMINED by God to act badly.

For me, this is similar to Germans in the Third Reich joyfully supporting the extermination policy of their Fueher.

The Gospel is a Good New for everyone and social justice is astronomically more important (in volume) that homosexuality.

For Calvinists, the Gospel is the most terrifying, despairing and absurd horror movie one can envision.

The misbehavior of Mark Driscoll is only the tip of a gigantic iceberg full of a loathsome and reeking theology.

If your most fundamental beliefs lead you to call the most horrendous evil “praiseworthy”, you’re bound to either bear incredible cognitive dissonance or act accordingly.

 

 

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John Loftus and the instrumental mindset

Militant atheists often present themselves as dispassionate and incredibly “bright” seekers of truth whose conclusions are always impartial and well grounded.

I think that nothing can be farther from the truth and I want to illustrate this trough the behavior of a very active American anti-theist.

 

John Loftus is a former fundamentalist who became an anti-theist and views it as his greatest purpose in life to “debunk Christianity“.

sometimes agree with his criticism of fundamentalism and conservative Evangelicalism, but find that he most often utterly fails to address the position of his strongest opponent.

He has also made it perfectly clear that his goal is not to rationally examine religious topics but to use everything he can to reach “the end of Christianity”, like a perfect ideologist.

 

Consequently, he usually picks and chooses the worst passages of the Bible while picking and choosing their worst interpretations and concludes from that the whole Bible and Christianity in general is wicked.

(Click here to see another anti-theist using pretty much the same strategy).

 

So I was very surprised as I found  a blog post from him where he states the Bible teaches that hell means annihilation (the irreversible loss of one’s existence).

 

“Since I was able to question my Christian faith for the first time once I believed in Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism as the best Biblical description of hell, see here, I thought I’d offer a few brief notes on that view, from a Biblical perspective. I know there is a debate about this going on among Christian circles, but here are some of the things that those who dispute it must deal with:

We should not confuse the reality of hell with its images. The images of hell are of: 1) “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46); 2) “eternal destruction” (Matt. 10:28); and 3) banishment into the “darkness” (Matt. 22:13; 25:30). How we interpret these images depends on other Bible verses. In the O.T. the wicked will cease to exist (Psalm 37, Mal.4: 1-2). Jesus in the N.T. shows us that the purpose of fire in punishment is to destroy or burn up the wicked (Matt.3:10-12; 13:30,42,49-50). According to John R.W. Stott: “The main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction.” [Evangelical Essentials, (p. 316)]. Paul likewise emphasized destruction (2 Thess 1: 9; I Cor. 3:17; Phil. 1:28; 3:19). Peter likewise stressed the sinners’ fate as that of destruction (2 Pet. 2:1,3, 6; 3:6-7). Even in John’s book of Revelation, the lake of fire will consume the wicked (Rev. 20:14-15). G.B. Caird: “John believed that, if at the end there should be any who remained impervious to the grace and love of God, they should be thrown, with Death and Hades, into the lake of fire which is the second death, i.e., extinction and total oblivion.” [Commentary on Revelation, (p. 186)].

“The Bible uses language of death and destruction, of ruin and perishing, when it speaks of the fate of the impenitent wicked. It uses the imagery of fire that consumes whatever is thrown into it.” But “linking together images of fire and destruction suggests annihilation. One receives the impression that ‘eternal punishment’ refers to a divine judgment whose results cannot be reversed rather than to the experience of endless torment (i.e. eternal punishing).” [Pinnock, Four Views of Hell, p. 144].

L.E. Froom claims that conditional immortality was generally accepted in the early church until its thinkers tried to wed Plato’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul to the teaching of the Bible.” [The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, Herald Pub., 1966]. Biblically speaking, human beings are not immortal. God alone has immortality (I Tim. 6:16); well doers seek immortality (Rom. 2:7); immortality is brought to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10); those in Christ will put on immortality (I Cor. 15:54), so that they now partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

If human beings don’t have immortality until they die in Christ when God grants it to them, then according to the Bible we cease to exist after we die. We are annhihilated, and that’s our punishment. And since according to the Bible God is judging us all along the way, there’s no need to believe that the figurative pictures of a great white throne judgement are literal events one can expect to experience, either.”

 

A far better defense of the concept this is the Biblical view of hell can be found in my interview with Chris Date.

 

Still, I was really stunned to have found that on the website of John. Annihilationism is a doctrine which is far more reconcilable with our moral intuitions than eternal torment, so it would have made more sense for John to defend the view the Bible really teaches that everyone of us will be literally tortured (as another member of DebunkingChristianity actually did).

So, does that mean that John wrote this out of intellectual honesty even if this makes Christianity taste more palatable? This is what I first thought before I saw one of his comments on the website of Dr. Glenn People:

 

My experience was that once I gave up an eternal hell it was a relief to me. Claim differently all you want to. But it allowed me to consider that I might be wrong without the threat of an eternal punishment.

And so the question remains whether annihilation will hurt or save the church. Without such a threat there is, well, no threat. It’s not quite the same as universalism but close. If all will be saved or if no one will suffer an eternal punishment then there is less motivation for missionary work or evangelism, and less of a need to preach correct doctrines rather than pop psychology which helps grow a church.

Without an eternal hell then another problem surfaces with the atonement? Typically the substitutionary doctrine says Jesus paid our punishment on the cross, but if there is less or no punishment then why did he need to do this at all? Why die to save human beings from extinction? To cease to exist is no punishment at all and therefore nothing to save anyone from.

I know you’ll answer these questions to your satisfaction, but these answers don’t satisfy me.”

 

So on average (according to Loftus) the doctrine of conditional immortality is a good thing because this would lead Christians to get less evangelistic and more willing to rationally question their faith.

I’ve grown convinced that John Loftus views everything as means to the end (of Christianity). As Randal Rauser wrote:

” Having just leafed quickly through it I was struck yet again by how much Loftus brought his Christian fundamentalism with him when he became an atheist. I see, for example, that his critique of Genesis 1-2 includes fundamentalist assumptions about reading ancient literature as a scientific account. Moreover, the book even ends with a “Commitment Page” (p. 467) in which Loftus asks the reader to sign their name that they are now an atheist committed to propagating atheism in the world. Once an evangelist, always an evangelist, I guess.

I hope to have a review of Loftus’ book sometime in August (I have two time sensitive reviews that I need to get out first).”

 

I think we can know beyond any reasonable doubt that John Loftus has remained a missionary fundamentalist.

More generally, searching a reasonable conversation with an American anti-theist is akin to seeking a rational discussion with a far-left or far-right politician who is doing everything possible to bring about his or her reforms.

It is an utter waste of time and I advise all my fellow Christians (both Conservative and Progressive) to avoid wasting your time on such websites where mockery, bullying and ridicule are commonplace. If you feel outraged by something they wrote, write your response on your personal blog but don’t challenge them in their own lands.

 

I’m really glad that in France and Germany, one can find PLENTY of non-militant and tolerant intellectual atheists who are willing to engage in friendly and rational challenges with no ax to grind.

In a truly open society (as defined by Karl Popper) it should certainly be possible to discuss about worldview differences without getting disagreeable.

 

 

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