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"a Case For Hell"


GeorgeW
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If anyone is interested, this is a link to an Op-ed in the NYTimes titled "A Case for Hell." It was written by the Ross Douhat a regular (and conservative) columnist for the Times.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/opinion/25douthat.html?hp

 

His closing is a good summary of his case, "Is Gandhi in hell? It’s a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there’s a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven?"

 

He seems to suggest that justice demands unequal outcomes. And, he implies that behavior, not belief, is the criterion. Of course, it presupposes a life after death in some form.

 

I am not endorsing his ideas (in fact I disagree), but it presents an interesting counter argument to the Heaven-but-no-Hell theology.

 

George

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Maybe after death we finally "Get it" and the hell is that we have to live with all the crap we distributed during life.

 

My view is that we won't know until we ride in the hearse so live a clean life , love everyone and don't sweat the small stuff.

 

steve

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I think one of his best insights in the thing is how important Hell is to much of western humanism. The whole God's justice needs eternal punishment thing... meh. If God decides it doesn't need that, who am I to complain?

 

One potential problem with the justice reason for Hell is the assumption that cosmic justice equals our very limited, species specific sense of justice.

 

It also assumes the existence of relatively unfettered free will of which I am unconvinced.

 

George

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It seems to me that punishment has 2 purposes.

 

A loving parent might punish his or her child as a teaching tool. It hurts the parent as much as it does the child but the parent is willing to shoulder that pain for the good of the child. I don't see Hell in this version.

 

The second type is a vindictive punishment where You did this to me and I deserve justice in return. I see no love or learning in this only a sick sort of childish domination issue where the punished in many cases are more righteous than the punisher. I see a version of hell here.

 

steve

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It seems to me that punishment has 2 purposes.

 

A loving parent might punish his or her child as a teaching tool. It hurts the parent as much as it does the child but the parent is willing to shoulder that pain for the good of the child. I don't see Hell in this version.

 

The second type is a vindictive punishment where You did this to me and I deserve justice in return. I see no love or learning in this only a sick sort of childish domination issue where the punished in many cases are more righteous than the punisher. I see a version of hell here.

 

steve

 

Steve,

 

Good points.

 

How about if we reversed it and considered Heaven a reward rather than Hell as a punishment. Would that be more just?

 

(I am being the devil's advocate, maybe literally :-))

 

George

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Steve,

 

Good points.

 

How about if we reversed it and considered Heaven a reward rather than Hell as a punishment. Would that be more just?

 

(I am being the devil's advocate, maybe literally :-))

 

George

 

Or at the very least Paul's advocate: We're human, all humans sin, and the penalty for sin is death unless you are within Christ. IIRC, Paul doesn't mention Hell ever*, but the idea of a reward fits pretty well. (I really need to read Bernstein's history of Hell one of these days)

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How about if we reversed it and considered Heaven a reward rather than Hell as a punishment. Would that be more just?

 

Nope, I see no difference

 

I see no room for differential reward/punishment from a loving God.

 

steve

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For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ John 1:17

 

It seems to me that "justice" is a concept tied up with the Law.

 

Within a world of justice we can well sit down and consider what punishment is merited by another, or indeed what punishment we fear for ourselves given the way we have lived. It seems a world of tit for tat, a consistent world, a world without the unexpected gifts of mercy and grace.

 

"He seems to suggest that justice demands unequal outcomes. And, he implies that behavior, not belief, is the criterion"

 

As far as I'm concerned Ross Douhat can suggest whatever he likes.

 

Far better to look towards "grace and truth" and their implications, implications seen perhaps by George McDonald......

 

I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing; without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice.

 

This so - at least for me - because "truth" involves "dying" for each other, living for each other, forgiving one another..........."mutual forgiveness of each vice opens the gates of paradise" (Blake) And because "salvation" is not one way traffic between the divine and each individual, but necessarily involves all.

 

(See what comes of isolating a word - "justice" - from Reality-as-is, and trying to apply a set law to it...... :o )

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Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

 

In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

This is the cliche free will defense that has long been debunked by atheist critics of religion and liberal theologians yet fundamentalists still keep holding onto it as if it's convincing to anyone but their own followers. The idea that a god who would threaten you with eternal torture for not believing in something there is no evidence for existing is absolutely absurd and immoral. That's not a choice at all. It'd be like if the mafia sent you a death threat to follow all their demands when you had never even met the mafia before or know anything about them. No one would say you had a choice in that matter so I don't know why fundamentalists think hell is a choice in any sense of the word. I fail to see how everyone going to heaven when they die would take away our free will anymore so than a flood "forcing" everyone to move to another location takes away our free will. Even assuming universal salvation would take away our free will, which sounds more horrifying? Having all sense of morality be determined rather than a choice or being tortured forever for failing to make the "correct" gamble? In any case, many Buddhists don't believe in free will and seem to get along just fine and most Buddhists seem to be more peaceful and moral than most fundamentalist Christians do.

 

As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism.
I don't know what definition of humanism Anthony Esolen is using, but last I checked, secular humanism doesn't believe in hell or God.

 

Is Gandhi in hell? It’s a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there’s a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven? 
So this guy doesn't even answer the question on if Ghandi deserves to go to hell and then goes off on some off-topic rant about the immorality of a fictional soap opera character? I don't know about this apologist, but where I come from, we call that logical fallacy a red herring but I'll play his game. Of course immoral actions deserve punishment but there are two problems with the doctrine of hell. First, the punishment has to fit the crime. If our society considers it immoral to torture terrorist suspects even for a so-called "righteous cause", to punish anyone with infinite punishment would surely be a crime against humanity worse than the Holocaust. At best, this argument might be used as a justification for a temporary hell like purgatory, but even with this argument, the second problem is that fundamentalist Christians obsess over all the wrong "sins." When they should be concerned about our government torturing innocent people they label as suspects, fundamentalists rant and rave about how gays deserve to burn in hell for all eternity because they dared to love another person. While fundamentalists rant and rave about how aborting a fetus is akin to murder, they try to pass laws to kick out any foreign children just because it was their parents who entered the country illegal. In fundamentalist Christianity, their idea of justice is to torture anyone who doesn't agree with them on everything for all eternity and I fail to see how that's justice in any sense of the word. Edited by Neon Genesis
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Of course immoral actions deserve punishment but there are two problems with the doctrine of hell. First, the punishment has to fit the crime. If our society considers it immoral to torture terrorist suspects even for a so-called "righteous cause", to punish anyone with infinite punishment would surely be a crime against humanity worse than the Holocaust. At best, this argument might be used as a justification for a temporary hell like purgatory, but even with this argument, the second problem is that fundamentalist Christians obsess over all the wrong "sins." When they should be concerned about our government torturing innocent people they label as suspects, fundamentalists rant and rave about how gays deserve to burn in hell for all eternity because they dared to love another person. While fundamentalists rant and rave about how aborting a fetus is akin to murder, they try to pass laws to kick out any foreign children just because it was their parents who entered the country illegal. In fundamentalist Christianity, their idea of justice is to torture anyone who doesn't agree with them on everything for all eternity and I fail to see how that's justice in any sense of the word.

 

Again to be the devil's advocate, I think there are cases of horrible evils that are never punished in this life. I don't know the ultimate fate of the fictional character Tony Soprano, but there are likely real mafia hit men who died a natural death at and old age surrounded by a loving family in a comfortable home. Conversely, there are perfectly wonderful, people who died early, alone and in great anguish. Believers in both Heaven and Hell (versus Heaven only or neither) see the afterlife as providing ultimate justice.

 

Many scholars believe that the idea of an afterlife with Heaven and Hell developed late in 2nd-Temple Judaism as a result of the oppression of Antiochus. They could not understand the suffering of righteous people while the wicked prospered. Therefore, the reward and punishment must be in another life.

 

(I am not advocating this, only trying to understand the basis for the idea)

 

My biggest problem with this is the idea is it is premised on unfettered free will which I do not think exists.

 

George

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Again to be the devil's advocate, I think there are cases of horrible evils that are never punished in this life. I don't know the ultimate fate of the fictional character Tony Soprano, but there are likely real mafia hit men who died a natural death at and old age surrounded by a loving family in a comfortable home. Conversely, there are perfectly wonderful, people who died early, alone and in great anguish. Believers in both Heaven and Hell (versus Heaven only or neither) see the afterlife as providing ultimate justice.

 

Many scholars believe that the idea of an afterlife with Heaven and Hell developed late in 2nd-Temple Judaism as a result of the oppression of Antiochus. They could not understand the suffering of righteous people while the wicked prospered. Therefore, the reward and punishment must be in another life.

 

(I am not advocating this, only trying to understand the basis for the idea)

 

My biggest problem with this is the idea is it is premised on unfettered free will which I do not think exists.

 

George

 

Thomas Talbot (in his book "The Inescapable Love of God" offers an argument against the "free will" defence for Hell. Given that God wills the very best for us, and given that we ourselves would wish the same, the idea that any human being would make a FULLY INFORMED decision against God is incoherent. And if not FULLY INFORMED, then it is not ultimately free in the sense necessary to justify hell.

 

And personally, I have never read the works of any Universalist who argued that there was no "punishment" for wrong doing, only that such would not be "eternal".

 

Anyway, a few websites for those interested.....

 

Universalist Websites

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Thomas Talbot (in his book "The Inescapable Love of God" offers an argument against the "free will" defence for Hell. Given that God wills the very best for us, and given that we ourselves would wish the same, the idea that any human being would make a FULLY INFORMED decision against God is incoherent. And if not FULLY INFORMED, then it is not ultimately free in the sense necessary to justify hell.

 

 

I think we are the product of our genetic makeup, our upbringing, our social milieu and our personal experiences. Maybe, there is some small measure of free will within these constraints. So, to judge everyone according to the same objective standard would be greatly unfair in my opinion. To judge according to a standard that is not perfectly clear ("FULLY INFORMED") to everyone would also be grossly unjust.

 

George

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If anyone is interested, this is a link to an Op-ed in the NYTimes titled "A Case for Hell." It was written by the Ross Douhat a regular (and conservative) columnist for the Times.

 

http://www.nytimes.c...douthat.html?hp

 

His closing is a good summary of his case, "Is Gandhi in hell? It's a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there's a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven?"

 

He seems to suggest that justice demands unequal outcomes. And, he implies that behavior, not belief, is the criterion. Of course, it presupposes a life after death in some form.

 

I am not endorsing his ideas (in fact I disagree), but it presents an interesting counter argument to the Heaven-but-no-Hell theology.

 

George

 

Interesting topic George.

 

In terms of controlling society, there is no better method than the carrot and the stick. Heaven and Hell is the ultimate expression of that concept.

 

As a child, I was frightened to death by the imagery of eternal punishment in Hell. About once a month, the pastor would describe the torments of Hell quite vividly with lurid detail: worms eating your flesh, your skin being melted away to the bone, devils mocking and laughing at you all the while you are fully conscious and experience all of the excruciating pain without such as a drop of water for comfort - and this goes on for eternity.

 

I tell you, it was a very effective tool. I marched in step to the drumbeat of Christian dogma and pushed aside all contrary views as the devil tempting me (because, it was explained, Satan is lonely in Hell and would like nothing better than to turn G-d's followers astray to join him in eternal punishment).

 

The problem with this view, however, is that it makes G-d the bad guy. After all, it's not ME who's condemning you to death-by-worms, it's that dude - G-d. So, don't blame me! Just keep your nose clean.

 

You have to admit, as a behavioral science technique, it puts Pavlov's dog to shame.

 

NORM

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Interesting topic George.

 

In terms of controlling society, there is no better method than the carrot and the stick. Heaven and Hell is the ultimate expression of that concept.

 

NORM

 

I don't think I agree with your thesis that the basis of Heaven and Hell is control. In fact, when the concept arose in Judaism, it was the socially and religiously dominant elite, the Sadducees, who did not accept it. It was embraced by the Pharisees, The Essenes and the Jesus movement.

 

I think the idea of ultimate justice was then, and still is, the underlying motivation.

 

George

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I don't think I agree with your thesis that the basis of Heaven and Hell is control. In fact, when the concept arose in Judaism, it was the socially and religiously dominant elite, the Sadducees, who did not accept it. It was embraced by the Pharisees, The Essenes and the Jesus movement.

 

I think the idea of ultimate justice was then, and still is, the underlying motivation.

 

George

 

I am referring to a modern context. And, I am mainly referring to it as it affects Christians, not Jews.

 

Ultimate justice may be the ideal, but as it plays out in reality, I believe it is more carrot and stick.

 

I am, however, familiar with the theory concerning the Pharisees, Sadducee and Essene movements of which you speak. I believe either Crossan or Borg has devoted part of a book on that theme. Those were different times.

 

NORM

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Again to be the devil's advocate, I think there are cases of horrible evils that are never punished in this life. I don't know the ultimate fate of the fictional character Tony Soprano, but there are likely real mafia hit men who died a natural death at and old age surrounded by a loving family in a comfortable home. Conversely, there are perfectly wonderful, people who died early, alone and in great anguish. Believers in both Heaven and Hell (versus Heaven only or neither) see the afterlife as providing ultimate justice.

 

But if someone won't be satisified unless their enemies are being tortured in eternal fire for all eternity, is it really justice and who's being the immoral person then? And how do we decide who's worthy of being punished for all eternity? If we all accept Hitler deserves eternal hellfire for torturing innocent people, should Bush go to hell too for torturing innocent people? Should Obama go to hell for allowing Gauatanamo Bay to stay open? Should the majority of Americans go to hell for enabling these politicians for voting for them in office? Where do we draw the line from people who deserve to go to hell to people who don't? Even accepting some people just deserve to go to hell, infinite punishment can never be justified for finite sins. That would be like beating a child to death just for talking back to their parents.
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Again, only as the devil's advocate, Is it just fior Hitler and Mother Teresa to enjoy exactly the same fate?

 

George

 

Perhaps there is really no one to punish or reward? Perhaps life is its own punishment or reward?

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Perhaps there is really no one to punish or reward? Perhaps life is its own punishment or reward?

 

Does this assumes that there is no afterlife, or that there is and justice occurs only in this life?

 

(I repeat my disclaimer)

 

George

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Perhaps there is really no one to punish or reward? Perhaps life is its own punishment or reward?

 

The progressive worldview I inherited owes much to Spinoza. Consider the following:

 

A judging God who has plans and acts purposively is a God to be obeyed and placated. Opportunistic preachers are then able to play on our hopes and fears in the face of such a God. They prescribe ways of acting that are calculated to avoid being punished by that God and earn his rewards. But, Spinoza insists, to see God or Nature as acting for the sake of ends—to find purpose in Nature—is to misconstrue Nature and “turn it upside down” by putting the effect (the end result) before the true cause.
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Hi!

 

It seems to be part of being human that we wish for things to be fair and to see justice done in the end. We are collectively bothered that life is not fair. It has been curious to see how that has played out in theology. George, I asked my 6th grade Sunday School teacher the very same question (except instead of Mother Teresa, I used my teacher as the good example). I remember this was something that very much bothered me about Christianity at the time.

 

Thirty two years later I have completely shifted my focus toward trying to stop evil from happening and trying my best to love my enemies rather than debating what is going to happen to them after this life. I spend very little time thinking about heaven or hell. But...

 

I will be very surprised if the awesome God I love has a place of eternal punishment for anyone (even Hitler!). At one point I read some books and found Scott Peck's "green room" in his book In Heaven As on Earth a "fair" solution - a place where the dead go to work out the issues that cause them to be unready for heaven. Similarly, I can see how reincarnation (trying again and again until our souls are right) has appeal to humans.

 

However, I think that I can trust God to have created a better plan than any human could think of, if what I've seen so far in nature is any indication. If not, and there is no afterlife, I still will have experienced abundant life in this lifetime, trying my best to glorify God by loving others well.

 

Janet

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As I understand it Christian Universalism expresses the hope of the eventual reconciliation of all things in Christ.

 

Rather than the eventual and ultimate division of all things into an eternal felicity and an eternal alienation, despair and suffering.

 

Positing that those such as Mother Teresa and those such as Adolf Hitler must endure different experiences at some point in no way contradicts the first hope, that of Universalism.

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Again, only as the devil's advocate, Is it just fior Hitler and Mother Teresa to enjoy exactly the same fate?

 

George

Is it fair that since Hitler was a Christian he'll get to go to heaven if he just asked Jesus for forgiveness before he died but Anne Frank will be tortured for all eternity in hell just because she was a Jew and not a Christian? Edited by Neon Genesis
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