Monday, December 21, 2009

Hell: Fact or Fiction?

SKEPTIC: It seems to me that Christianity is based on a system of bribes and threats. If you believe, you get to live in heaven forever after you die and if you don't, well, sorry, but God will torture you forever in a fiery pit called hell.

It's the latter option that I think is particularly offensive, and which is a giant disconnect for many people who might otherwise be open to joining the ranks. I have a really hard time trying to get my head around the idea that a "just" and "loving" God wants to forever torture a good and loving person just because he believes in a different religion or no religion at all. Seriously? God is so spiteful that he will torture billions of people forever? If our earthly father acted in such a heinous fashion, he'd be arrested for child abuse.

PREACHER: What is the difference between a bribe and a reward, or of a threat and a warning? Is it not based on the authority and character of the one giving it? When the IRS warns me to be honest in my tax return, I take it seriously because there are stiff penalties based on law if I am caught cheating. Likewise, when the IRS allows tax deductions for charitable giving I see it as a reward for doing something the IRS recognizes as worthwhile. If some incredulous person tried to lure me to do something wrong to get money, that would be a bribe. If someone with no credentials told me to pay them money or else ...., that would be a threat. The only reason you see God's promises and warnings as bribes and threats is because you have rejected His authority and don't believe that He exists.

Doesn't atheism come with its own set of bribes and threats? If you assume that your Creator doesn't exist, then you can enjoy lots of sex in your favorite color without feeling guilty. Atheism's ultimate threat is, "If you've believed in God all your life and He doesn't exist after all, won't you be very hurt and disappointed?" Quite an empty threat for someone who knows God personally!

I don't think you can equate God's judgment of guilty sinners (and since all men are sinners His judgment is just) with child abuse. We don't become His children until we believe on His name and accept Christ's substitutionary death on the cross for our sins (that act demonstrates His love). Otherwise we are just His creation. Since He made us, He has the right to do with us as He chooses. If you believe it is a woman's right to terminate the life of her child in the womb, shouldn't God have the right to withhold eternal life and blessings to those who refuse to seek and acknowledge Him?

SKEPTIC: "Bribe/reward" - "threat/warning", you're arguing semantics. But the bottom line remains (according to mainstream Christian theology), God is going to punish billions of very nice earthlings by torturing them over a fiery flame in some sort of demented barbecue for all eternity. Just because they didn't find their way to the one and only "true" religion - Christianity. Sorry mormons, muslims, jews, hindus, buddhists, skeptics, freethinkers, and atheists. Pack your bags and get your passport stamped - you're goin' to hell.

This doesn't seem just a wee bit sadistic to you?

As far as your contention that atheism employs comparable bribes and threats, you're saying that getting to have lots of sex is comparable to going to heaven? Hmm...okay, you got me there. That's a perfectly solid comparison. I'm down with that. Seriously. But to then compare being "hurt and disappointed" to being baked alive in an eternal oven - I dunno. I'm not quite seeing the equality there.

PREACHER: I think you missed my point. It wasn't about equality, it was about the disparity between our views that I was talking about.

SKEPTIC: I'm still looking for some sort of logical justification for this horrendous theology. You justify it by saying that "Since He made us, He has the right to do with us as He chooses," which I suppose is the justification that any abusive parent would make, to use an earlier analogy.

PREACHER: He is not a parent under the authority of the state or human opinion, He is the Creator - the ultimate authority.

SKEPTIC: Well, I suppose you're right. It would be hard to drag God into a court of law and hold him accountable for his transgressions, since he gets to overrule pretty much anything in the universe. I guess it's the ultimate veto. He's God and so if he wants to torture billions of people for eternity, I guess that's just fine with you. You'll just trust that he knows what he's doing.

You conclude by arguing, in some sort of odd comparison to abortion, that God should "have the right to withhold eternal life and blessings to those who refuse to seek and acknowledge Him." Once again, we are in agreement! If Christian theology taught that non-Christians wouldn't get an invitation to the big party in heaven - fine. That's fair. But to then require them to be tortured forever seems a bit rude.

PREACHER: Certainly from a secular humanistic perspective God is not good. (You probably have a book with that as its title sitting on your bookshelf.) And, not only is the final state of unbelievers unbearably cruel, history is full of terrible sufferings of humanity - disease, natural disasters for which it would seem reasonable to blame the Almighty directly.

Then there is man's inhumanity to man. That God doesn't seem to intervene suggests that if He exists at all He mustn't be very great. And, the state of man doesn't seem to improve. The 20th century has been labeled the most violent of all history. I don't see a change for the better in the 21st century so far. Even today a growing majority of the human race barely eeks out an existence while a privileged minority like you and I can enjoy a life abundance. Isn't that reality? And, those who try to make this reality better are called "good". How ironic for you that very many of those who are trying to make the world better are also followers of this evil religion that says there is a day of Divine judgment on all of humanity and those who are not acceptable to Him (that includes everyone who have not accepted His Son) have a very uncomfortable eternity.

The eternal all-knowing almighty God who has revealed Himself in creation, history, and more specifically in the Bible doesn't really need our seal of approval. He can do whatever He wants (even what may seem sadistic to us) and still pronounce only Himself good. (It is interesting that Jesus said that there is no one good except God.) Our opinions about how He manages the universe are irrelevant to Him. And if we cease to exist when we die as you believe, then our complaints are at most only a temporary annoyance to Him.

I find His revealed explanation about why the world is in such a big mess very reasonable. He created a perfect world that He called very good. It was ruined by man's choice to rebel against Him, but He promises to restore everything to perfection again. What is really amazing though is that He promises that those of us - part of this ruined creation that needs to go to the incinerator, who put our trust in His Son and what He sacrificed for us, get to stick around with Him for the rest of eternity enjoying His restored creation. He is more than just good. He is unbelievably merciful.

SKEPTIC: You begin by making a pretty good case for atheism, but then conclude that all the horrible things that happen in the world can be laid at the feet of man. God is just an innocent bystander. If Adam and Eve had just had the good sense to not eat that darned fruit, all the horrible things that have befallen mankind would never have happened. D'oh!!

I'm not at all sure why you would consider it ironic that many of the people who try to help make the world a better place are Christians. Of course, there are many individual and groups who do good work in the name of Christ, just as there are many secular and humanistic people who do the same. All should be respected for the work they do.

But I do agree that you can't blame God for all the bad things that happen - since God is just someone we as a species have made up. Once you accept the fact that there is no God, you finally realize the simple truth -bad things happen sometimes, and good things happen sometimes. It's called life.

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  1. I have a follow-up question for the skeptic. How do you know for sure if something we call bad is really bad or what we call good is really good without any ultimate authority? It seems to me that if you take God out of the picture, there is no real good or bad.

  2. Paul,

    I think you're kind of beating a dead horse with this "ultimate authority" business. You seem to think that God is some sort of cosmic cop that we need to consult to figure out what's right and wrong. The reality is that mankind has done a pretty good job figuring out the difference between right and wrong all by himself, usually because it was in the best interest of him and his community.

  3. I keep bringing up the issue because I am not satisfied with your answers. A universe that came about by strictly natural processes is amoral. It is irrational for a morality to develop out of that.

    If you really think that mankind has done a good job of figuring out the difference between right and wrong, then why hasn't war and crime been eliminated? Why do educated guy like you and I disagree sharply on some important moral issues like abortion and homosexuality? We are at a stalemate because I don't recognize you as my moral authority and you don't recognize my moral Authority.


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