Hell As The Absence of God

Robin: I know you don’t want to hear it, but Jesus loves you, Jaime.

Jaime: Yes, yes, a man who either never existed or who is long dead and rotted by now loves me—and will torture me in hell forever if I don’t worship him, of course.

Robin: He just wants you to love him but He won’t force you to do so.

Jaime: No, he’ll threaten me with hell if I don’t love him. That’s not coercive at all. Seriously, even if he was up there in some heaven, I could never love—let alone worship—someone who offered me the choice between loving him and being burned alive for eternity. I can think of fewer things more antithetical to true love. True love must be freely given, with no abusive threats of punishment if you don’t love as demanded.

Robin: Jesus agrees! That’s why He won’t force you to be in heaven with Him if you don’t want to be there!

Jaime: The other option is hell! That’s like some sick abusive husband telling his wife that she has two options—either she stays in the physically and emotionally damaging relationship or he “divorces” her—and keeps her chained up in the basement being subjected to non-lethal torture the rest of her life. And, as a bonus, he has the power and the unchanging will to make her live and continue suffering in that dungeon forever. By your definition, a woman who refused to be in this relationship would be “choosing” this torture. But this is ridiculous. For “choosing” your god to actually be “freely done”, under these circumstances, it is clear there has to be another option—we have to be able to be without your god and not suffering at all for it.

Robin: But you don’t get it, being without God is itself the punishment. To fix your analogy, it’s not like the husband tortures the wife physically if she leaves but rather it is that he’s not an abusive husband at all but a great one with whom alone she can be happy. And the wife suffers just by leaving him and living without him because she misses out on the one man who can make her life complete and fulfilling.

Jaime: I’m sure that’s what every bullying husband tells his battered wife—he knows she really needs him and is too stupid to understand that herself.

Robin: This isn’t about a bully, it’s about a perfectly good God.

Jaime: One who right there in the Bible is constantly having people killed for “disobeying” him? He drowns them in the story of Noah, he repeatedly subjects the Israelites to foreign invasions and captivities for choosing other gods, he orders genocides and the slaughter of all the first born of Egypt, and on and on. And then in the New Testament the threats of hell are not threats that people will just be without your god and feel unfulfilled—that’s only hinted at in 2 Thessalonians 1:9— the rest are threats of “eternal destruction” (also in 2 Thessalonians 1:9) in a pool of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43, Revelation 20:13f) or a fiery furnace where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Matthew 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41) because of unending pain. And there is no hope of ever being set free (Luke 16:19-31) having “learned one’s lesson” about how much one should really love your god. All of this sounds like real physical pain imposed by physical measures and not some “natural and inevitable emotional consequences of living without your god which are inherently painful to endure”. It sounds quite like your god does not think he will just be naturally missed if he leaves us alone, so he has to make people hurt in ways they do care about.

Robin: No, all that vivid imagery about fire is all just metaphorical, it all just represents being separated from God in a tangible way people can understand.

Jaime: Really? How do you know that?

Robin: Because when we’re dead we’re just spirits, we don’t have bodies you could torture.

Jaime: There are plenty of indications that your own Bible and influential Christian theologians teach that the dead are resurrected—and not that they simply become disembodied spirits. You do claim Jesus’s body came back to life, right?

Robin: Well, I just don’t think it’s consistent with God’s perfect goodness that he could physically torture people excessively and mercilessly like that. Even if they are physically resurrected, I think it’s just that they live without God and that itself causes inherent emotional pain. That’s people’s own doing. It’s like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had the choice to love God but when the serpent told them that they could be like God instead, they wanted that. They didn’t want Him, they wanted to be Him. So God let them have their desire—He kicked them out to rule their own lives and suffer the consequences of trying to live by their own foolish thinking rather than rely on His wise and perfect guidance. So, if we die still choosing to go our own way, God leaves us to our own way forever and that is our eternal misery if we have chosen not to love Him.

Jaime: But my life as an atheist not even believing in your god is not miserable. Why would it be any more miserable were I sent somewhere after life where I wasn’t around your god either? Why would this suddenly start eating me up inside then, when it certainly does not now?

Robin: Well, maybe you only think you’re not miserable now but deep down you really are.

Jaime: I would think it would be impossible to be miserable and not realize it! How could I be confused that I was happy when “in reality” I was secretly miserable? If I feel like I’m experiencing pleasure—or even just indifference, or even feeling, you know, just “blasé”—then how could that be misery unbeknownst to me. What do you even mean by misery if it’s something someone could not know they were experiencing. If hell is an eternity of thinking I’m as pleased as I am here on earth but “secretly” and “unbeknownst to me” being miserable then I’ll start packing for my eternal “suffering” in hell.

Robin: Sin has its own inherent consequences, even if you don’t realize it. Sin separates you from God because sin is the bad and God is the good. So when you sin it naturally takes you away from the good (G0d) and towards the bad. You will inevitably be empty and frustrated without the good, without God.

Jaime: Did you hear anything I just said—I don’t feel empty and I don’t feel frustrated.

Robin: That’s because you don’t know how full you could feel if you had God in your life or how much easier your life could be if you followed God’s ways rather than your own.

Jaime: I don’t know, I feel pretty damned fulfilled. And I feel like there is plenty of good in my life without your god. In fact, I would say I know there is plenty of good in my life without your god. Saying your god is identical with goodness and that all badness is identical with being separated from your god is meaningless. Sex is good—is your god sex? Food is good, is your god food? Power, respect, fame,  accomplishments, friendship, romantic love, and all the people themselves whom I love—they’re all good; are they your god too? What about all the virtues I have that lead to good things in my life without any need for your god’s intervention and which are themselves delightful to have? Is my generosity your god? Is my sense of humor your god? Are my powers to investigate truths your god? All these things are good and I can have them without your god because they are totally distinct and independent from your god.

Robin: Well, God is gracious, he gives so many of His good things even to ingrates who spit in his face and reject Him.

Jaime: So now I’m an ingrate?

Robin: I was speaking generally.

Jaime: No, you were speaking specifically. Now you’re speaking passive aggressively. Are you calling me an ingrate?

Robin: God has given you these gifts and you refuse to thank Him, but instead say horrible things about Him—that He’s a torturer or that He’s like an abusive husband. Does a “torturer” or an abusive husband give all the wonderful gifts of life and love and laughter that God has given us?

Jaime: There is no evidence your god even exists, let alone that it gave us those things.

Robin: But say He does exist and is the source of all these things—could you fault Him for feeling pained if those creatures to whom He gave such wonderful gifts refused fellowship with Him? And then how could you call it torture if He honored the choices of those who freely wanted not to be with Him by allowing them to go to some place without Him, even if that made them (and Him) suffer? He gives us all these gifts and even the right to be miserable by denying Him—if that’s our free choice.

Jaime: Not believing someone exists is not “refusing to be with” that person. I mean, seriously, Robin, why do you refuse to be with Aquaman? Why do you reject him so? Don’t you see how you will one day deservedly suffer emotionally forever with an Aquaman-shaped-hole in your heart after you die because of the ways you “deny” Aquaman in your life?  Why won’t you just accept that Aquaman loves you and that only in Aquaman will you find fulfillment? Why won’t you accept that all the good things in life that you currently enjoy are not nearly as good as they would be if you also knew Aquaman? Don’t you see how an eternity in which you have all of Aquaman’s gracious gifts except for the presence of Aquaman himself would be a terrible fate from which you should want salvation?

Robin: God isn’t Aquaman. God is goodness itself. You must believe in goodness. You have gone on and on about the goodness of this and the goodness of that. God is that eternal goodness itself.

Jaime: If “God” is just “goodness” then I already have plenty of “God” without any need for Jesus.

Robin: But God is a personal being with whom you need a personal relationship. And for that relationship to happen you need Jesus’s mediation, otherwise you will remain in sin and unable to have communion with God. We are born sinners rejecting God and incapable of doing good without God. God, who is goodness itself, is necessary for us to be good or have goodness.

Jaime: That’s empirically false. I have plenty of goodness in my life without your god and know plenty of good deeds carried out by atheists and members of other religions than the ones that worship your god. So, no, I don’t need a personal relationship with a fictitious deity in order to have goodness and you can’t go around rationally conflating an impersonal abstract universal like “goodness” with a personal being like “Yahweh” or “Jesus”. Abstract universals are no more personal than numbers are. And goodness and beauty and truth and love, and all other such things, are concepts which do not entail personhood in any way whatsoever. And the things in which these universals are manifest are entirely acquirable without any belief in your weird superstitions, your implausible supernatural metaphysics, or your bronze age myths and confusions.

Robin: But what if I’m right and Goodness is a personal being called Yahweh, who intervened in history and sent his Son Jesus to die for your sins. And what if He is also Truth and Beauty. Would it be irrational to say we should rightly love Goodness, Truth, and Beauty and that without them we would be in a hell of our own making—a hell which was not the fault of Goodness, Truth, or Beauty, but which just resulted by default when we chose to be without them—that is, without He who is these things.

Jaime: The Abrahamic God, as depicted in your own Bible and in the Muslims’ Koran, is evil in every possible way. He commands genocides, child sacrifices, infanticides, slavery, patriarchy, theocracy, and the death penalty for the slightest offenses. The writings he allegedly inspired are filled with falsehoods that make His most fervent of followers the most willfully unscientific and even anti-scientific people of all modern people. His deeds are ugly—and none is uglier than the gruesome child sacrifice in which he has his own son brutally crucified. To equate that being with Goodness, Truth, and Beauty themselves is not only to baselessly personalize these clearly impersonal things, but even to go further and contradictorily conceive of their personification in terms which make them tantamount to being the epitome of Evil, Falsehood, and Ugliness themselves.

Robin: Well, you can think that all you want but the God of Love still loves you whether you believe it or not. And I’ll be praying that that love floods your heart so you can no longer deny it no matter how much you want to.

Jaime: So you didn’t understand anything I just said at all. Nice.

Continued…

Your Thoughts?

More such fictional debates on Camels With Hammers:

Is It Just A Mystery Whether God Exists?

Examining Some Alleged Divine Attributes

A Debate About The Value of Permanent Promiscuity

Moral Perfectionism, Moral Pragmatism, Free Love Ethics, and Adultery

On The Ethics of “Sugar Daddies” and “Sugar Babies”

A Debate About the Wisdom of Trying to Deconvert People

Atheist Fundamentalism?

Bullying or Debating? Religious Privilege or Freedom of Speech?

Immoralism?

God and Goodness

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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