The Hell with Christianity

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 10: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?”)

There are times when a Christian apologist’s chief task is to so corrupt our reason and morals that we are no longer able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Last week wasn’t too bad; Craig was standing up for Christian particularism as versus religious pluralism, and that would be fine if there were, in fact, one true religion. But to be true, a thing has to be consistent both with itself and with objective reality, and Christianity fails to meet those criteria, as we’ll see in today’s installment.

The problem with Christian particularism, according to Craig, is the Hell with Christianity.

The real problem concerns the fate of unbelievers outside of one’s own particular religious tradition. Christian particularism consigns such persons to hell, which pluralists take to be unconscionable.

He goes on to quote John Hick, his doctoral mentor, who started out a strong Christian, but studied other world religions, and the many similarities his faith had with pagan faiths, and gradually came to see the central elements of Christianity as myths. Hick just couldn’t believe that a loving God “has decreed that only those born within one particular thread of human history shall be saved.” And this, according to Craig, is “the real problem raised by the religious diversity of mankind: the fate of those who stand outside the Christian tradition.”

That’s inconsistency #1. All God would have to do is show up in real life, consistently, personally, and interactively, and there wouldn’t be all these other religions. There might be parties for and against Him, just as their are parties for and against Obama, but there wouldn’t be a diversity of opinion about which God or gods were real. One would be part of real life, the others wouldn’t. This whole ethical dilemma wouldn’t even exist. Everyone would know God was real, and could fairly be held accountable for their response to Him.

Craig’s response to this ethical problem is first of all to try and shift the blame for Hell away from God.

But what exactly is the problem here supposed to be? What’s the problem with holding that salvation is available only through Christ? Is it supposed to be simply that a loving God wouldn’t send people to hell?

I don’t think so. The Bible says that God wills the salvation of every human being: “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV). Or again, He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4 RSV).

So Craig is saying that God is not willing for anyone to go to hell, and therefore it’s not a problem that He sends people to Hell. Wait, what? Inconsistency #2: a loving God who cannot obtain His own benevolent will, even with infinite wisdom and power. And what’s worse, Craig tries to blame the victims for God’s harsh treatment of them. “Gosh, honey, I really don’t want to hit you, but you keep forcing me to. It’s really your own fault for choosing to provoke me.” Yeah, like that sounds any nobler coming out of God’s mouth than out of the abusive husband’s. Don’t believe me? Here’s Craig sharing God’s version of the abusive husband shtick.

God says through the prophet Ezekiel:

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?… For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the lord GOD; so turn, and live!…

Here God literally pleads with people to turn back from their self-destructive course of action and be saved.

“I really hate killing you and throwing you in Hell, but Me damn it, you’re just forcing Me to.” As though God were simply powerless to choose to, I don’t know, maybe NOT kill people and throw them in Hell? You know, because He truly wasn’t willing that any should perish?

Thus, in a sense, God doesn’t send anybody to hell… If we make a free and well-informed decision to reject Christ’s sacrifice for our sin, then God has no choice but to give us what we deserve. God will not send us to hell—but we shall send ourselves.

And who decides what we deserve, if not God? Craig is trying really hard to pass the buck here, but when you preach an omnipotent God Who is the creator of literally everything else, you don’t get to appeal to circumstances beyond His control.

Craig has a real problem here, and that is that he himself cannot stomach what the Bible really says about Hell. Read Matthew 25. Read Jesus’ description of God’s attitude towards the unsaved. It’s not, “Oh dear, you’re going to Hell, if only there were something I could do to save you.” God’s attitude can be summed up by two words: “Fuck you.” You pissed Me off, and I am throwing your ass in Hell, and you can stay there. No apologies, no regrets. The God of the Bible absolutely does throw people in Hell, and doesn’t ask for Craig’s approval or consent. Call that Inconsistency #3: Craig has to reinvent damnation before he can defend it.

Our eternal destiny thus lies in our own hands. It’s a matter of our free choice where we shall spend eternity. Those who are lost, therefore, are self-condemned; they separate themselves from God despite God’s will and every effort to save them, and God grieves over their loss.

Let’s count the inconsistencies in these three brief sentences. Inconsistency #4: a misinformed choice is not really free. God does not show up in real life, which limits us to the kind of choices where you either gullibly embrace whatever men tell you about God (and let’s face it, that could be almost anything) or else you stick to the facts, which ends up making you an atheist. If God is real and is hiding from us, His absence is denying us the opportunity to know what our real choices are, and thereby denying us the opportunity to make a truly free choice.

Inconsistency #5: separation. We have not separated ourselves from God. We’re here; God isn’t. It wasn’t skeptics who ascended into Heaven and left Jesus all alone here on the earth. We have no control over God’s willingness and ability to show up in real life. The gap created by His absence is not one we can bridge (not even by credulity and superstition). If God wants to eliminate the separation, it’s up to Him to show up.

Inconsistency #6: every effort to save us? Get real. The most fundamental, trivial, and obvious “effort” would be to show up in real life, tell us that He loves us, and offer us a relationship with Himself. Notice I say “in real life” and “tell us,” not “show up in an ancient legend” and “tell a few guys who died 2,000 years ago.” Does He want to save us, or did He stop caring once the apostles were gone? Show me a tangible effort happening in the real world (as opposed to happening in the superstitious worldview of a self-convincing Christian), and then we’ll talk.

Inconsistency #7: God grieves? Not in the Bible. It makes believers sad because it’s so obviously inconsistent with the idea of God as a genuinely loving Father who really cares whether or not the vast majority of His children suffer for all eternity. But time and again, in the parables of Jesus, the “guilty” are dispatched to their eternal judgment with nary a particle of remorse or regret on the Lord’s part.

William Lane Craig, like many modern Christians, is simply re-writing the doctrine of Hell to try and minimize the obvious inconsistencies in the story. He fails, but the fact that he needs to try is proof in itself that the Gospel is flawed and untrue. There’s no difference between Mohammed thundering across North Africa saying “Convert or face the sword” and Jesus saying “Convert or face Hell” except that Jesus is nastier. Otherwise the argument is the same: believe what I tell you, or get hurt. Trying to find a moral justification for this kind of extortion is simply a waste of time and energy. Or, from another point of view, it’s an apologist’s job security, because the search for a good answer will never end.

In the spirit of the latter view, Craig presses on, trying next to tackle the problem of the injustice inherent in the idea of returning infinite punishment for finite sins. You’re going to love this argument.

We could agree that every individual sin that a person commits deserves only a finite punishment. But it doesn’t follow from this that all of a person’s sins taken together as a whole deserve only a finite punishment. If a person commits an infinite number of sins, then the sum total of all such sins deserves infinite punishment.

Now, of course, nobody commits an infinite number of sins in the earthly life. But what about in the afterlife? Insofar as the inhabitants of hell continue to hate God and reject Him, they continue to sin and so accrue to themselves more guilt and more punishment. In a real sense, then, hell is self-perpetuating. In such a case, every sin has a finite punishment, but because sinning goes on forever, so does the punishment.

Assuming God is merciless, of course. Otherwise, since He’s the ultimate arbiter of how much punishment each sin deserves, He could, for example, arrange for the punishment earned to be slightly less than the punishment received, and thus allow His beloved children to eventually escape from the torments of Hell. Or He could simply pardon them—it’s not like He’s going to be impeached for showing too much mercy as Judge. Or, to take it in a different direction, He could simply make them unconscious, or even non-existent. They might not be saved, but at least they’re not being tortured for all eternity, or racking up more punishment. Or again, He could not send them to Hell in the first place. The Bible does say that the wages of sin is death, and the people at the Last Judgment are pretty much all dead, so they’ve paid the penalty already. There’s supposed to be a few wicked people left alive at the Second Coming, but Jesus already has his sword out to slay most of them, so just bump off the rest too, and voilà, the sin is atoned for.

Besides, people aren’t like that. Look at the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was repentant, and begging for mercy, not defying God. One of the main themes of Hell is that you’re sorry you’re there and you want to get out. Great literature notwithstanding, it would indeed be better to serve in heaven than to rule in hell. If Hell were as bad as the Bible says, sooner or later everyone would figure out that resistance was futile, and would submit. The idea of perpetual rebellion is a myth that’s not consistent with human nature as it exists in the real world. A merciful and loving God would use punishment to achieve correction, not to create self-perpetuating sin.

Second, why think that every sin does have only a finite punishment? We could agree that sins like theft, lying, adultery, and so forth are only of finite consequence and so deserve only a finite punishment. But, in a sense, these sins aren’t what separates someone from God. For Christ has died for those sins; the penalty for those sins has been paid. One has only to accept Christ as Savior to be completely free and cleansed of those sins.

But the refusal to accept Christ and His sacrifice seems to be a sin of a different order altogether. For this sin repudiates God’s provision for sin and so decisively separates someone from God and His salvation. To reject Christ is to reject God Himself. And in light of who God is, this is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and therefore plausibly deserves infinite punishment. We should not, therefore, think of hell primarily as a punishment for the array of sins of finite consequence that we’ve committed, but as the just penalty for a sin of infinite consequence, namely the rejection of God Himself.

You see what I mean about the chief task of apologetics being to so confuse our reason and morals that we can no longer distinguish between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Here’s William Lane Craig facing one of the major inconsistencies in the Christian Gospel, and rather than acknowledging that such inconsistencies are a sure sign of falsehood, he tries to lose us in a shifting quagmire of unfounded redefinitions and arbitrary ad hoc suppositions, in order to cloud our ability to discern what justice really is. Why is infinite punishment justified? Because the sin has infinite consequence. Why does the sin have infinite consequence? Because it leads to infinite punishment. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Notice how he re-writes the Gospel. According to the Bible, Jesus died to pay the penalty for all sin, not just finite sin. If a failure to believe in God constitutes an entirely different class of sin, one that is not covered by the blood of Jesus, then Christians are screwed too. They may believe now, but there have been times when they did not believe (and times when they’ve doubted even after believing, which is why Craig is writing this book). Millions of Christians will tell you that rejecting God is not forever, because they themselves used to reject Him. To say that such sins lie outside Christ’s atonement is to imply that Christians are being saved with unforgiven sins. And if God can save those whose sins are not forgiven, then as a loving Father He ought to be saving the rest of His children as well, forgiven or not. The alternative is to damn everyone, repentant or not.

But the bigger problem with Craig’s attempt to dance around this inconsistency is his idea of which sins are worse. Things like theft, lying, adultery and so on are wrong because they do harm. Simply failing to believe in God is not, in itself, a harmful act. There are millions of people in the world who neither know nor care that I exist, and I am not in the least harmed by their lack of belief in me. How much more is Almighty God above any possibility of suffering harm at the hands of men! Unbelief is not only a lesser sin, it’s not a sin at all, especially given that the reason for our unbelief is God’s own failure to show up in real life. If He’s truly offended by our failure to see Him while He’s hiding, then why hide?

In a way, though, Craig is telling us something true and important, because there’s one kind of God that can be harmed by unbelief: the imaginary kind. Gods who are brought into existence by the imagination and superstition of men, and whose continued (subjective) existence depends on the continued belief of men, can indeed be harmed by unbelief. Fictitious deities, once forgotten, cease to have any existence at all.

So maybe Craig has a point. Maybe his God is vulnerable to the harmful effects of skepticism and the reality-based worldview. Maybe there’s a reason why, when he tries to cover up one inconsistency in the Gospel, two more inconsistencies pop up. Maybe his God only exists within the mental confines of his own particular, personal (and at times unscriptural) worldview. That would explain why his God, Who’s allegedly not willing for anyone to perish, turns out to be sending people to Hell just for failing to see Him when He doesn’t show up. No matter how you try to spin it, that is a seriously messed-up doctrine. And yet, without a Hell to be saved from, what do you need a Savior for?

55 Responses to “The Hell with Christianity”

  1. Frances Janusz Says:

    It would be indefensible to torture anyone eternally for anything, but for making an honest mistake about the nature of reality?
    Reading your dismantling of WLC’s weasel arguments has been a real pleasure. I actually wish the book had been longer!

  2. Skepticali Says:

    Thanks again for doing this! It makes my head hurt (with sympathy) at the careful (and probably painful) detail in which you decompose and analyze some of Craig’s claims. Fascinating and deeply disturbing!

    • Ron Murphy Says:

      “… and *analyze* some of Craig’s claims” – The irony is that, according to Craig’s wiki bio, he’s an ‘analytic philosopher’. It makes you wonder what sort of analysing Craig is capable of; and it’s enough to make you despair for philosophy.

  3. mikespeir Says:

    Again, I’m going to urge you to make this a book. I’ve been downloading each installment (for only my personal reference, I promise) and the whole comes to just three short of 200 single-spaced word processor pages. That would work out to close to 250 pages in print, I think, just as it is. You would probably want to flesh it out a bit and rework it here and there, but I think you’ve got a 300-page book easy, one that needs to see the light of day.

  4. J. Simonov Says:

    “Things like theft, lying, adultery and so on are wrong because they do harm.”

    While I personally agree with you, on the internal logic of Christianity, I’m not sure this would be so. It seems to me that sins are simply whatever God says they are, rather than things that are harmful per se. This could be why Craig gets more worked up over the gravity of rejecting the crucial parts of what he believes his God to be saying, rather than over things that are prima facie harmful.

    • rustywheeler Says:

      This.

      Once again, striking at the core difference between ‘morality’ and ‘righteousness’. Christians don’t really care about morality, which involves the relative harm to others of our actions. They care about righteousness and call it morality.

  5. fatalotti Says:

    There are four big arguments that come out of your work here, Duncan:

    1) If God so hates sin, and is omniscient, why would he create a system that contains Hell, in which he is assuring that sin will perpetuate for all eternity? I mean, God is supposed to hate sin more than anything, but he actively chose to create human beings that would win, and then actively chose to dismiss them to Hell for all eternity where they can go on sinning? I hate sauerkraut passionately. Would it make sense if I cooked it every night, and poured it over my cereal every morning? Of course not! If you hate something, you don’t bring it into your life, and then make sure it sticks around. You do what you can to ensure you never have to see it again.

    2) A LOT of Christians will claim that God sent Christ to die for our sins, and is saving us to maximize his glory. I’ll bite. If God wants to maximize his glory in saving sinners, shouldn’t he save as many sinners as is possible, namely all of them? Hrm…

    3) God is claimed in Scripture to have defeated death. “Oh Death, where is your string, where is your victory?”, yada, yada, yada. If that’s the case, then why are the VAST majority of sinners going to Hell for all eternity? Is this what it looks like when God defeats something? Barely escaping with a scant percentage of the bounty, while Satan/sin/death claims the lives of billions upon billions over the course of history? Sounds like evil won big time, and God is just grabbing a few Christians to save face.

    4) Lastly, there is one huge thing that God could have done to make sure that NO ONE goes to Hell, and this works whether you’re an Armenian, Calvinist or whatever: Never create man in the first place. God is supposed to be self-sufficient, and not in need of anything from man. So if it was inevitable and unavoidable that creating man would lead to ultimate and infinite suffering in Hell, why create man? I just don’t see any answer for this last one, and I’ve never heard an adequate response.

  6. lonelyatheist Says:

    I have really enjoyed reading your deconstruction of WLC’s book. I have been listening to the Reasonable Faith podcast for the last several months (you know, to get a sense of the other side’s point of view) and his arguments always sound impressive, but I always have a nagging feeling about the arguments. You have put in words what has always been this nebulous feeling of wrongness. Thank you for your clarity and wit! Keep up the good work. And is it just me, or does WLC’S strike anyone else as incredibly arrogant?

  7. Billb Says:

    Count me as another who really enjoyed this series. Thank you for putting your time into it! I will certainly stick around should you decide to review another apologetics book.

    One to consider: “A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists” (http://www.amazon.com/Shot-Faith-Head-Confident-Believer/dp/1595554343). Judging by the ad hominem in the title, it’s another defensive response to the “New Atheists” targeted at believers rather than at the atheists themselves.

    A very interesting variation on the Hell theme is the Calvinist scenario. In this approach, our eternal destiny is preordained by God before our birth, and *not* chosen by some sort of libertarian free will on our part. In my mind, this makes God even more monstrous than the one Craig believes in. The interesting part is the Calvinist/Reformed explanation — or lack thereof — for this paradox. They don’t really *try* to *explain* how humans can be considered responsible for their own predestination. Rather, they baldly and emphatically assert that there is no contradiction. Contrast this with Catholics, who tend to acknowledge their theological contradictions but celebrate them as “divine mystery”. Or generic Evangelicals, who tend to ignore entirely any theological difficulties.

    In the words of the Westminster Confession: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

    The logic of Calvinism is a fun rabbit hole to explore, when you’re in the mood for surreal thought experiments. :)

    • steve oberski Says:

      I watched a video of a debate a few years ago, with I’m fairly sure WLC arguing for the existence of god, unfortunately I can’t recall the con side.

      WLC’s position on hell must have “evolved” since then, when asked why god would condemn everyone born before the coming of Jesus to hell he replied that god arranged to have everybody who would have rejected him anyway to be born before the coming of Jesus. Voila, problem solved. What a monster that man is.

  8. Billb Says:

    ^ Sorry, my comment wasn’t intended as a response specifically to Len.

  9. Pacal Says:

    What is also funny is that Mr. Craig ignores the problem of the billions of people who have lived who have never heard of Christianity. Are they damned? And what about those whose through no fault of their own were not given to contemplate a fair knowledge of Christianity? For example a 19th century Hindu peasant who hears only garbled views of Christianity. And what about children and the mentaly handicapped and ill? Craig bllithly dismisses also that billions of people may have sincere religious faith that is different from his own and that they for good and satisfactory reasons (to them), they find good. To Craig that is rejecting and hating God. Arrogant describes this perfectly. But then it appears Craig advances no arguement to show that Christianity is the “true” faith it seems aside from mere assertion.

    Oh and does Craig ever get into the question about what Christian faith is the ‘true” one? My suspecion is that only the “Evangelical” faith is the true one and thus he puts the majority of Christians into hell also. I note that Craig’s belief that the Christian God, or his version of it, is rejected only through hatred of God / Christ is simple agit – prop aside from demonizing non-believers. I note further that Craig thinks non-belief is justifiably punished by eternal torture. I further note that Craig non-belief is worst than any other sin which includes murder, rape, slaughter etc. I will now godwin. THus a Christian Nazi who died believing in Jesus has his personal savior will likely go to heaven, despite in this case his involvement in the mass murder of helpless men, women and children etc. Wheras Anne Frank will burn in hell forever because she died a nonbeliever. In other words Ann Frank was a worst sinner than the mass-murdering Nazi and thus deserves a greater punishment. The moral idiocy of that arguement is obvious. But then in this mindset what is genocide as compared to having incorrect beliefs.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Actually, Craig does address the question of “what about people who never heard the gospel,” we just didn’t get to it yet.

      • trog69 Says:

        Bent over in my chair, wringing my hands, and murmuring, “Good. Good!”

        Wonderful to hear, and what an awesome job so far. It couldn’t be directed at a more smug and despicable person than Craig.

  10. Geoff Says:

    Thank you for taking time to write all of this out! I’ve been lurking ever since you started this series, and this one is my favorite entry by far.

  11. Jason Says:

    WLC is an idiot. The Bible is extremely clear that God and only God sends people either to Heaven or Hell. If God is truly omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, then that means He is in absolute control of all things at all times. Yes, we are puppets/robots. Get used to it. Why does God choose to save some but not all? Because he wants to. Why does He create men just for the sheer sake of sending them to Hell? Because He wants to. “But that’s not fair.” God is completely unconcerned with our notions of “fair.” As far as He is concerned, it would be “fair” to send everyone to Hell. Because He is unfair, though, He chooses to save a few.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      And yet Jesus prayed that if it were possible, God might “let this cup pass from me.” Apparently God couldn’t, even for His only begotten Son. In other words, it was not possible for God to save anyone except by this bizarre and brutal atrocity. He’s not the highest power after all.

      • Anonymous Says:

        And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39 KJV)

        Jesus makes it clear that this is the result of the Father’s will, not that the Father’s hands are tied. Jesus is an example of how we are to submit to God’s will, regardless of the cost. Jesus was in the unique position of being both fully God and fully man. The only reason that Jesus didn’t sin in his life is because he is God. Being fully man at the same time, I’m sure he didn’t want to die in a horribly painful way.

  12. Jason Says:

    And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39 KJV)

    Jesus makes it clear that his death is not the result of the Father’s inabil

  13. Jason Says:

    inability, but His will. Jesus was in the unique position of being both God and man. The fact that he was/is God is the only reason he never sinned, which is why he was a sacrifice without blemish.

    So why didn’t God just make man perfect to begin with? Why put Jesus through so much pain and suffering? Because He wants to, and no one can argue with Him.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Right. He’s a heartless bastard who doesn’t love us or want what’s best for us. He puts people into Hell because that’s where He wants them to be, and they have no say in the matter whatsoever. Which means we’re actually free to live life as we choose, since it won’t affect the outcome either way.

  14. Dennis Says:

    Craig has enthusiastically endorsed a book by Dr. Paul Copen which sports the rather ambitious subtitle, “Making Sense Of The Old Testament God”. In it the author concludes quite simply that God is morally justified in doing whatever he does, period. The problem is that WE don’t understand the circumstances and conditions. If only we did, we would have an appreciation that God is morally justified in doing whatever he does.

    Really it only amounts to trying to make that positon a little more palatable by providing what he considers mitigating circumstances which ultimately blame the victim. Although I’ve not heard Craig use the word, he strongely believes in the Aseity of God. God is wholly and completely independent and therefore is totally determinitive of all he does. What is moral is moral because God says it’s moral. What is just is just because God says it’s just and so on. There is no standard outside of God by which God may be judged. If God appears to violate the standards he has defined for us, then you just don’t understand and ultimately, it doesn’t matter because God can do whatever he does and by definition it is good, loving, just, benevolent and so on. This is a position which is demanded by the theology of the OT and NT making God omnipotent and omniscient.

  15. Rob Says:

    It’s depressing that none of this will convince anyone. Isn’t faith obnoxious? You can have airtight logic and it just doesn’t matter.

  16. Brian M Says:

    Given the pain and suffering in the world created by this “God”, then the only possible moral position is that of utter rebellion and rejection. Because your God, no matter how “complete” is utterly lacking in grace and truth and is unworthy of worship. Why even bother with your worship, because your utterly random and unbound deity can and does ignore it anyway?

    No thanks. Who would want to spend eternity with such a being?

  17. Ann Says:

    Just some thoughts. I think the Bible indicates a certain amount of compassion towards those who have never heard. Perhaps people appear to be “unbelievers” because of the way they are wired–in other words, they can not hear or see things that scream out at others, and my hope is that they would be categorized as those who had not heard. I personally think the order of world, both macro and micro, speak loudly of a unifying force I choose to acknowledge as God. I happen to believe God incarnated as Jesus, and I don’t find it that hard to believe (most of the time), but that’s just me. Now that I’ve chosen to believe, I feel responsible for seeking to know and follow the way of Christ. I think the way of Christ, not necessarily Christ Himself is the only way to God…it’s the way of compassion, humility, charity and self-sacrifice. All of the Hell and eternal torment mentioned in the Bible may not even occur for most people because at a certain point they will be shown things in such a way that they can “hear”. Those are just my thoughts today; I really appreciate this blog and the eloquence of Deacon Duncan=)

    • Ron Murphy Says:

      It’s true that we can miss the obvious sometimes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo) – but often the missed can be checked. A more insidious problem is when people see things that are not there. If you see something and there is zero evidence for it, how do you distinguish between a real vision and an illusion, or a delusion? How do you distinguish reality from wishful thinking? What are your objective criteria for deciding that Jesus is the son of God?

      Bertrand Russell: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only, what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bare out. Never let yourself be diverted, either by what you would wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. Look only and solely at what are the facts. (http://ronmurp.net/2012/04/26/bbc-4-beautiful-minds-richard-dawkins/)

      So, Ann, when you say ” I happen to believe God incarnated as Jesus, and I don’t find it that hard to believe (most of the time), but that’s just me.” I agree. It is just you.

    • Janney Says:

      All of the Hell and eternal torment mentioned in the Bible may not even occur for most people…

      Does it help you to imagine that the sentence of eternal torment is applied sparingly? Is that how you reconcile the idea of hell with the idea that “the way of Christ” equals “the way of compassion, humility, charity, and self-sacrifice”?

      • Ann Says:

        I see what you’re saying…the Bible is indeed scary in parts, and who am I to soften it with my imagination. However, I find that life in general can be scary if you only look at the scary parts. I think the Bible and Christianity is loaded with words of comfort and encouragement for most people. Back in biblical times and throughout history, religious persecution was rampant—probably more so than today. Jesus taught His followers to pray for their enemies and to not take revenge. Maybe, since many of them ended up being tortured/killed, the hell and torment parts enabled some of them to hold up under duress with the notion of future justice from God.

  18. Janney Says:

    Maybe…the hell and torment parts enabled some of them to hold up under duress with the notion of future justice from God.

    Maybe so. In any event, the best thing we can say about their sense of morality is that it was underdeveloped. And the same must be said of you, if you believe that “hell and torment” equals “justice.”

    But I get the impression that you’re a little shy of signing off on that item, so maybe the way of Christ simply includes things you don’t like very much.

  19. Mike Gantt Says:

    Craig is a fine man and possesses erudition which I will never attain. Nonetheless, his conception of hell is merely something he inherited from traditional institutional Christianity. He is doing the best he can with it, but he’d do better to throw it out and start over – going to the Bible to see for himself what it teaches.

    The true biblical teaching is that everyone is going to heaven. This is the work of Jesus Christ, before whose time biblical writers indicated that everyone went to Sheol (Hades). Jesus came for the express purpose of changing this outcome. In other words, the institutional church has misinterpreted the Bible’s teaching (which is to say Jesus’ teaching) on human afterlife.

    Jesus did describe hell, but it is something that occurs on this earth and in this life. It is the alternative to life in the kingdom of God.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      I’ll grant you that’s a much kinder and more humane doctrine than what Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46. The problem is that it requires you to go back and reinterpret the Bible according to a more modern, secular morality. If the Bible needs that kind of help in order to correct its texts, it’s kind of worthless as a guide.

      • Mike Gantt Says:

        I reject modern secular morality so it could hardly be the basis for my view. I came to it by reading such Scripture passages in context, thus allowing its words to be understood in the ancient milieu in which they were uttered. It is the distorting lens of institutional Christianity and secular modernity that obscure the Bible’s plain teaching on the subject.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        And yet the context in Matthew 25 is all about foolish virgins who arrive at the wedding feast too late, and find the door shut, and the host refusing to recognize them. That parable is followed by one about a master who punishes a slave for returning the money he had been given to keep, on the grounds that the master expected his slave to return more than he had been given. In that parable, too, there is no talk about the servant being eventually forgiven, even though Jesus directly applies that parable as a description of what it will be like at the final judgment.

        You’re entitled to your own opinion, of course, but it seems pretty clear to me that you’re following only whatever interpretation seems right in your own eyes. I hear what you’re saying when you say it, but I don’t see it written anywhere in the New Testament. In fact, I daresay that if you tried to express what you claim as the “plain teaching” of the Bible, using only direct, verbatim quotations from the Bible, you’d find yourself unable to express the ideas you are preaching. They’re simply not written there.

      • Mike Gantt Says:

        There are certainly straightforward verses which support the point I am making – such as Rom 11:32, 1 Cor 15:22, Titus 2:11, and others. The traditional heaven-or-hell doctrine gives them short shrift, but no one should insist that they are not there.

        As for the parables in Matthew 25, you don’t have to take my word for anything. Just read them in context and see that Matthew 24 and 25 are one discourse by Jesus. And the subject is not human afterlife, but rather what happens when the kingdom of God comes. You are still somewhat tied to your traditional evangelical moorings if you think that the kingdom of God is something that happens after you die. Rather, it is a spiritual reality – the government of God through Jesus Christ. Go back the questions Jesus’ disciples asked Him at the beginning of Matthew 24. Those are the questions Jesus is answering in Matthew 24-25. And none of those questions are about what happens when you die.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        Right, they’re about what happens at the final judgment. For most people, that is after they die, but according to the Bible there’s supposed to be at least some that are still alive. And I notice that the wicked are condemned to punishment whose duration is the same as that of the blessings of the blessed: everlasting. Grossly unjust, of course, so it’s not surprising that even some of the other NT writers rejected it, but there it is.

      • Mike Gantt Says:

        In Matthew 24-25 Jesus said the kingdom would come before His generation passed away – a point affirmed over and over throughout the rest of the New Testament. Thus what is described in Matthew 24-25 is past tense for us, not future.

        Both the blessings and curses described in that passage are everlasting. However, our time on earth is not everlasting. Therefore, those blessings and curses go on forever, but we go elsewhere when we die. To heaven.

  20. Janney Says:

    The true biblical teaching is that everyone is going to heaven.

    I could be wrong, but doesn’t this render every religion irrelevant? Including Christianity?

    And doesn’t it mean that murder is the best thing you can do for somebody? And doesn’t that mean that suicide is just the application of good sense? And familicide is just your right and proper duty to the ones you love? And genocide is just really effective disaster prevention? And, while I’m rolling, global thermonuclear war is a consummation devoutly to be wished?

    • Mike Gantt Says:

      Janney,

      God is merciful, but He is also just. Our placement in heaven will be a function of God’s judgment as to how morally we lived on earth. Many people will be ashamed when they get to heaven. Don’t be one of them.

  21. Janney Says:

    Mr. Gantt,

    You mean, heaven has neighborhoods, and some of them are nicer than others? More to the point, you mean heaven has suffering?

    Also, I’m pretty sure my point stands.

    • Mike Gantt Says:

      Janney,

      If you’d never been to earth and I told you that you were going to earth, you probably wouldn’t have a very clear perception of what the experience would be like. Not only that, if I gave you ten pictures of ten diverse places you could go on earth once you got here, you still wouldn’t have a clear picture of just how diverse and large the planet is. There’s every reason to expect that heaven is far more vast and diverse than earth. Therefore, your view of the accommodations in heaven is quite limited.

      If you call shame and regret forms of suffering, then, yes, those experiences await those who deserve them to the degree that they are deserved. The apostle Peter was thrilled to see Jesus risen from the dead, but his joy was mitigated by the shame he felt for having denied His teacher at a critical time. Fortunately for him, it was a momentary lapse in an otherwise courageous life that certainly puts me to shame.

      James 2:13 is where we find the principle “mercy triumphs over judgment.” You don’t have to think about this principle very long with respect to the afterlife to realize that a heaven for all with specific placement according to moral merit is the only outcome that is a fitting expression of this principle. As Jesus said, many who are first here will be last there, and vice versa. The traditional heaven-or-hell scenario is a complete violation of mercy triumphs over judgment. Jesus Christ is not one to preach something He does not practice.

  22. Janney Says:

    Mr. Gantt,

    For the sake of clarity, I’m just going to observe, again, that my point stands. If getting into heaven were the acme of our existence, then expediting the process would be the most loving and responsible thing we could do for our fellows.

    If we were in danger of jeopardizing our own heavenly bliss by committing mass murder (since, apparently, just getting into heaven is no guarantee of happiness), then mass murder would simply be that much more selfless and saintly.

    If we were in danger of jeopardizing other people’s heavenly bliss by killing them (because we’d be pre-empting their future moral development, or something), then clearly we would have to kill only the really good people, and give everyone else a chance to improve.

    I’m assuming you disagree with all this, but you seem rather shy about saying so, and also about explaining where I’ve gone wrong. I welcome your correction.

    • Mike Gantt Says:

      Janney,

      The problem with your argument is that your premise is false. You say “If getting into heaven were the acme of our existence…” It’s not. The acme of our existence is to serve our Creator.

      To apply your argument to football, you are saying that the objective is to finish the game and go to the showers; therefore one should run out the clock – or even forfeit if possible – to achieve that end as quickly as possible. No, the objective is to win the game in the time allotted and therefore one should play as well as he can.

  23. Janney Says:

    Mr. Gantt,

    The problem with your argument is that your premise is false.

    Well, no. It’s just an idea, with an “if” on the front. I mean, I don’t like it either, but the question is: does the conclusion follow from it?

    To apply your argument to football, you are saying that the objective is to finish the game and go to the showers; therefore one should run out the clock – or even forfeit if possible – to achieve that end as quickly as possible. No, the objective is to win the game in the time allotted and therefore one should play as well as he can.

    We agree! This life is the one that matters, and it should be lived accordingly! You don’t believe in death, of course, but your appreciation for earthly life doesn’t seem to suffer from that, perhaps because you believe earthly life is the football game and heaven is just the shower afterwards.

    Of course, if heaven really were a better place, then we’d be right back to that premise neither of us likes: there would be a good reason to expedite our loved ones’ departure.

    • Mike Gantt Says:

      I don’t share your attraction to the premise. Heaven is a better place, but how much better depends on how we first live in this temporary place. Living well here does not include assuming to ourselves the right to decide the time of anyone’s departure – even our own.

      Your suggested attitude would suit well the student who says, “My goal is to finish school and live adult life; therefore, the test I’m taking is a waste of time so I think I’ll just turn it in blank because that’s the fastest way to finish.” Fortunately, few students fit this profile.

  24. Janney Says:

    Mr. Gantt,

    I don’t share your attraction to the premise.

    I almost certainly find the premise more unattractive than you do (and the conclusion it leads to, more to the point). I believe in death, after all. But I get to dismiss the whole issue out of hand, and you don’t.

    Heaven is a better place, but how much better depends on how we first live in this temporary place.

    So the difference between your afterlife idea and the traditional one is that, traditionally, people believe divine punishment is outsourced to an independent contractor, and you believe it’s handled in-house. That doesn’t strike me as much of a difference. I commend your omission of corporal punishment, but clearly you expect God to apply righteous consequences one way or another. He’s certainly not going to guarantee heavenly bliss for everyone, right?

    Living well here does not include assuming to ourselves the right to decide the time of anyone’s departure – even our own.

    I’m telling you, this doesn’t matter. If murder were the right thing to do, then sacrificing my own heavenly standing to do it would be the right thing to do.

    Your suggested attitude would suit well the student who says, “My goal is to finish school and live adult life; therefore, the test I’m taking is a waste of time so I think I’ll just turn it in blank because that’s the fastest way to finish.”

    Again, for good measure: if you think I’m just being selfish and irresponsible, then imagine me running around dispatching other folks to their heavenly reward, in spite of the cost to myself.

    And that’s a pretty big metaphorical shift, by the way. First you said that this life is the football game, and the afterlife is just the post-game shower. Now you’re saying that this life is just schoolwork, and the afterlife is mature independent adulthood. What’s it going to be? Is the afterlife appealing enough to justify serial murder? Or is this life important enough to justify not letting everyone out early?

    (And remember, if this life is only important because it’s a test that determines our happiness in the next life, that just means we should only kill the really good people.)

  25. Mike Gantt Says:

    Janney,

    Your arguments are not with me, but with straw men of your own making.

    As I’ve said, I don’t accept the premise that “heaven is the acme of our existence.”

    I don’t accept your analogy of outsourced versus in-house punishment as relevant to the discussion.  Whether it is the traditional view of heaven-or-hell or everyone goes to heaven, God is in charge.  What forms of agency He uses are secondary.

    I don’t accept your notion that afterlife must be binary – that is, to use your expression, “heavenly bliss” or not.  Certainly there are a variety of stations in earthly life; therefore, I don’t find it hard to conceive of at least that much variety in the stations of heavenly life.  Otherwise, why would Jesus have said that many who are first here will be last there and so on?  But, again, you’re making me repeat myself.

    I don’t accept your premise that everyone going to heaven means murder is a good thing to do.  It doesn’t matter whether you are motivated by selfishness and irresponsibility on the one hand or “selflessness” on the other.  You would be usurping rights not yours, and you wouldn’t be sending anyone to heaven who wouldn’t have gone there anyway.

    You seem to think you are racking up points…but your debating partner is one of your own imagination.  You argue as if I am presenting the traditional heaven-or-hell scenario, with the hell eliminated.  In the first place, I’m not eliminating hell, I’m moving its time and place.  In the second, the traditional view of heaven – a semi-catatonic state of unmitigated and endless bliss, with clouds, harps, and all – is not one I share.  Rather, I see a heaven infinitely more variegated than the variegated earth we see before us.  In your imaginary debating partner’s view, getting to semi-catatonic bliss as quickly as possible is what it’s all about.  Argue with him if you will, but it seems to me you’re wasting your time.

    In your penultimate paragraph you further misrepresent my views.  I did not say that the showers represented the totality of the afterlife experience.  Rather, they are the beginning of it.  (Surely you would agree that the first thing all of us will need after living in this decadent world is a good shower.)  This life is not about schoolwork, but about education, of which schoolwork is just a part.  I think we will be reflecting a long time there on what we learned here, and thus we will continue to be educated even while there.

    Your last paragraph reveals once again your stale conception of heaven.  I expect our happiness there to be not just a function of what we did here, but a function of what we do there as well.  This life is like the two-week summer camp from which you return to live at home when it’s over.  The more limited experiences are here; the wider and extended experiences are available there.

    I’m quite willing to continue a dialogue with you, but for it to be productive you need to pay more attention to the positions I take rather than the positions you assume I am taking.  If you think you have me hemmed in to some particular position then by all means make your case as to why you think that’s so.  But just to repetitively assign to me positions which I reject does not make for effective communication.

  26. Janney Says:

    Mr. Gantt,

    …you need to pay more attention to the positions I take rather than the positions you assume I am taking.

    If you say so. I’m under the impression that your positions don’t make any sense, and that I’m just working with what I’ve been given. But we do agree that this conversation is repetitive and unrewarding.

  27. The next Harold Camping | Alethian Worldview Says:

    [...] a lot of Harold Camping (without the end-of-the-world fixation). Speaking of his views on hell, he writes: I came to it by reading such Scripture passages in context, thus allowing its words to be [...]

  28. The Problem of Hell | Sarvodaya Says:

    [...] every part of Craig’s odious book, and the one devoted to chapter 10 is humorously titled “The Hell with Christianity.” Though his style can be abrasive and at times profane, he makes good points once you look [...]


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