Answers in Genesis: Are we more moral than God?

This week a read an article in Answers in Genesis’ Answers Magazine asserting that if you think God’s cruel for sending people to eternal torture in hell, well, you just don’t truly understand God’s goodness (yes, yes that is indeed their argument), and a post by the Slacktivist in which muses that it must be awful to believe that God isn’t as loving as you want him to be. Reading these two in tandem brought to mind the “wager” I created while exiting religion. So hang on to your seats as we set off to explore Answers in Genesis’ argument, the Slactivist’s solution, and my wager.

Answers in Genesis on God and Hell

Here is an excerpt from an article by Tim Challies called “What Kind of God Would Condemn People to Eternal Torment” and published in Answers volume 7, July-Sept. 2012, p. 58:

On what basis can I so strongly and confidently assert the necessity and existence of eternal, conscious torment in hell, even if my heart naturally cries out in rebellion against the thought? Only because God’s word is clear on the matter. The Bible describes hell as a place where God pours out His wrath on people who have been created in His image. God the Father has appointed His Son to be the eternal Judge who will condemn people to hell. This is not momentary or temorary torture dispensed by Satan or his demons, but eternal torment poured out by God himself. This punishment will be inflicted upon conscious human beings, people who know who they are, what they were, what they have done.

It is truly, literally impossible to imagine a worse reality than this one. Yet the Bible, the best of books by the best of authors, the perfect book by the most trustworthy of authors, tells us it is so. If this is His judgment, then anything less wouldn’t be worthy of an infinitely holy, just, and good God.

Who am I to question God? If this infinitely holy and just God declares that hell exists and asserts that hell must exist, then rebellion against His will reveals a failure in my own understanding of justice and goodness. Do I know better than God? Or is it possible that I am far worse than God, infinitely worse, and that I fall woefully short of a complete understanding of God’s goodness and sin’s wickedness?

In other words, your conscience may cry out against condemning people to eternal torture for finite sins, but that’s because your conscience is broken. God may look horrible and evil, but actually he’s loving and good, it’s just that your ability to tell good from evil is flawed.

The Slactivist

What follows in an excerpt from a post by the Slactivist, a progressive Christian blogger, called Permisison Granted, Officially:

It must be an awful thing to believe that God will not allow you to be as loving, merciful and generous as you wish you could be. It must be an awful thing to want to be more loving, but then to think that God forbids it and, thus, that your desire to love is somehow wrong.

I think there are more than a few American Christians who just wish that someone would give them permission to heed their conscience rather than heeding the unloving, unkind, unmerciful things they have been taught about LGBT people.

So, OK, then. If you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to love LGBT people and to welcome them without qualification as equal members of the church, you have it right now. I’ve even made up a certificate.

In other words, if your conscience tells you to love gay people but what you’ve been taught about God forbids you from doing so, well, it’s what you’ve been taught about God that is flawed, not your conscience. If what you read about or are taught about God conflicts with what your conscience tells you, it’s your conscience, and what your conscience tells you about God (i.e. that he is good and loving, and that that means accepting everyone regardless of their sexual orientation) that is correct.

My Wager:

What follows is an excerpt from a post I wrote last summer, called Libby Anne’s Wager:

When it comes to the question of God, there are four basic options:

1. There is no God.
2. There is a God, but that God does not care about humans.
3. There is a God, and it is a good and loving God.
4. There is a God, and it is an evil and hateful God.

In the case of options one or two, what we do or do not do here on this earth does not ultimately matter in a cosmic sense and will have no consequences after death. In the case of option three, a truly loving God would care more about whether we live by love and help others than about whether or not we believe in him or her. In the case of option four, do we really want to serve a God who cares more about legalism than love, a God who sentences humans to eternal torture for not worshiping him or her? Therefore, whether one believes in a God, or in the correct God, matters less than does whether one lives by love.

The above is fairly self explanatory, but what really happened was that at some point I came to a realization that many who make the journey from religion to atheism have: that I was more moral than God. That the God I’d been taught about growing up, if he existed, was evil and cruel, and that my own sense of morality rebelled against his genocides and demands for blood. I realized that if there was a God it was either this (or another) evil God, or it was a God who truly was a God of love, and that that God would never condemn people to eternal torture regardless of their beliefs.

I could have responded to this realization by joining the Slactivist and trusting my conscience over what I’d been taught about God and over what a literal understanding of the Old Testament indicates, but I didn’t see any more actual evidence for this good God than I did for the cruel God, so I didn’t.


So, exactly what’s going on here?

First, Answers in Genesis does an odd bait and switch with options three and four of my wager: They argue that yes, yes that evil and hateful God does exist, but that actually he’s a good and loving God and that when we look at him and think he’s evil and hateful it’s just that our sense of right and wrong and good and bad is flawed. What makes him good and loving is, well, the fact that he says he’s good and loving. If we think what he says is good and loving isn’t, well, we don’t understand goodness or love!

The Slactivist, in contrast, opts for option three. Are there passages in the Bible that claim to be by God and say things that seem to us to be mean and hateful? Well, then those passages must not actually be by God, or must not actually mean what they might first look like they mean! Because God is a good and loving God, who loves everyone, and anything anyone says about God that makes him seem other than good and loving must of necessity be wrong.

Growing up, I was always told that those Christians who preached only love and not judgement were making up their own religion, and inventing their own God. This lovey-dovey God who was a-okay with gay people? He was a figment of their imagination. It was the God laid out in the Bible that we must accept, whether we liked him or not, because that was the God who was truly good and righteous, whether we understood it or not. In contrast, I would imagine that Christians like the Slactivist would accuse conservatives of being constrained by a book to keep God in a box rather than understanding his true goodness and love, which transcends any box or restriction.

I sometimes feel like conservative Christians and moderate/liberal Christians have different starting points: Conservatives start with a literal understanding of the Bible and go from there while moderates and liberals start with what they know to be good and loving in their consciences and then filter what the Bible says through that. But of course, I know this is too simplistic. Conservatives have plenty of their own filters – generally their pastors or Bible study manuals – while moderates and liberals have plenty of Bible verses that endorse their conscience-based approach. Still, it’s interesting to think about.

This discussion also points out that moderate and liberal Christians do agree with atheists on at least one thing: that literal God of the Bible, the one conservative Christians tend to emphasize? He’s evil and cruel, he’s not worth serving, and he doesn’t actually exist. People make him up. Conservatives’ take on him, in contrast? Well, he may look evil and cruel, but we swear, he’s not. It’s just that our consciences are off and the things he does that seem evil and cruel are actually good and loving.

Oh, and the other thing this post has made me realize? I dislike Answers in Genesis even more than I had previously realized.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • jose

    Jesus never resorted to that in his multiple street debates with pharisees and others, did he? “Look, I’m God, ok? You think you know better?”

  • Ron K

    It hurts me to say it as an Atheist, but I’m with AiG on this one.

    The fact is that people have different moral outlooks, and that some people have a really skewed conscience. Even “Acting out of love” leads to different behaviours in different people. This fact suggests that, at least with some people, their ability to differentiate good and evil is flawed. How do I know mine isn’t?

    If you accept that morality is absolute, then something is good or evil regardless of your feelings, desires or conscience. If God is the giver of such morality, or is its embodiment, and if the bible is an accurate representation of both, then AiG are right and the Slacktivist is wrong.

    This is the classic Atheist critique of liberal religious people — they’re already using their own emotions and moral compass to decide how to act, and later rationalise it with the bible, sometimes in a very contrived way. It would be more honest for them to admit that they’re acting out of their personal, human understanding of good and evil, and therefore might be wrong, than to continue to hold themselves or their interpretation of the bible as a moral authority for people in their church, other Christians and other people.

    Oh, and you forgot option 5 and 6 in your wager:
    5. God exists, and is neither completely evil nor completely good.
    6. God exists, and is morally neutral, or has nothing to do with morality.

    • Ron K

      And (how could I forget) Maimondes’ God, option 7
      7. God exists, and is completely good AND completely evil.

      • Dianne

        If God is omniscient and omnipotent, it’s hard to imagine how she/he/it can be anything other than completely good and completely evil, being, in a sense, everything.

        Another possibility: God is completely good, but God’s good is not humanity’s good. Maybe, to use TV trope’s term, it’s a case of orange and blue morality (moral systems so completely different from ours that assigning one the category good and the other evil makes no sense.)

        Yet another: Maybe the “God is my shepherd” thing is meant literally: God is the uber-predator that protects humanity from other predators and watches out for human’s comfort and health to some degree–but only insofar as doing so helps God’s overarching goals (i.e. having mutton for dinner when s/he wants it.)

    • Charlesbartley

      Tha is also a fundimentalist’s critique of liberal Christians, not just and atheist’s.

  • machintelligence

    Hank Fox over at FTB in the Blue Collar Atheist blog did a post about this a little over a week ago.
    One of the comments from Brownian is so good that I think you might want to look at it. Here it is , with apologies for lifting it in its entirety:

    Oh, no need to worry about the heat. I was just kidding about going to hell. There’s no one there.

    Consider these points:

    1: Heaven has an army. Angels, flaming swords, non-iron chariots, all that. And what is an army for but to defend that which needs to be defended from enemies, external or internal? So heaven is vulnerable.

    2: Hell is full of history’s most tactical masterminds. Alexander, Hannibal, Sun Wu, they’re all there. And if the stories of hell are true, they don’t want to be.

    3: Hell is the worst possible punishment God could come up with. He’s got nothing worse. So what possible deterrent could there be against trying to break out of hell and overthrow heaven? Try and fail, you’re no worse off than if you hadn’t tried at all. You’re still in hell. And if at first you don’t succeed, there’s always tomorrow.

    4: Heaven and hell are both eternal. Infinite in time. If something has a non-zero probability of happening, given an infinite amount of time in which to happen, it will.

    5: Nobody’s heard from God in a long time. Generations ago he was meddling in the day-to-day affairs of mortals, smiting this city, turning that one into a pillar of salt. These days he seems to have turned off his cellphone ringer and didn’t even bother to set his out-of-office email autoresponder.

    Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is not just that heaven will be overthrown by the denizens of hell, it’s highly likely that it’s already happened, and the God that Christians pray to is just a head on a pike.

    All of that notwithstanding, I love the idea of a BBQ joint in the afterlife. I just hope we can get set up while angels’ wings are still plentiful enough that we can charge a reasonable mark-up.

    I wonder if they carry salmonella.

    You might want to read the original post and the other comments as well. I wish I were so creative.

  • Gordon

    When I “lost” my faith, the first thing I was glad of was that I was free to listen to my conscience.

  • charlesbartley

    The amazing thing to me is that more people don’t see how immoral the God of both testiments is. As one of yesterday’s posts’ discussion said (summarized): If he makes the rules then he is a pretty lousy rule maker. I believe that I am more moral than God. I think your wager is right on.

  • A Reader

    I also had a lot of issues with god’s “morality” when I started questioning. After all, since God is all-powerful, he could make anything good, right? But then I looked at the world and some of the things that happen here–rape, murder, abuse–and I realized that there was just no way. In no possible universe could God choose to make something that profane “good”. Because of this I reasoned that God couldn’t control morality, and therefore was not “all-powerful” as claimed. After realizing that science better explained not only the physical mysteries of the universe (evolution, Big Bang, etc.), but also how humans get morality…there was pretty much nothing left in the “God” column of things anymore :)

    • BabyRaptor

      That, and the fact that he shits by and does NOTHING while all those things happen.

      I once had a pastor tell me that god allows such things to “bring himself glory.” I wanted to be sick.

      • BabyRaptor

        **Sits. WOW, autocorrect. So sorry.

  • Lee

    This reminds me of a fanfic I heard referenced once, and meant to read, but never did– where there was a rebellion in hell because God was just that sadistic, so people who had nothing left to lose said ‘fuck this’. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I’ve been trying to find that story but can’t :( I believe it was someone in your extended blogging network, Libby Anne, who mentioned it– either from a blog you linked to or from one linked to from there. If you know it would be much appreciated :)

  • JW

    Your post immediately made me think of the second chapter of John Stuart Mill’s autobiography, which talks about his upbringing and his father’s faith (or lack of it). Mill’s father’s “perplexity” with religious belief came from the fact that if one truly believed in an omnipotent and benevolent being who created an unjust world such as this, then there was no argument against the descriptions of that being’s morality in the old or new testaments that couldn’t be reversed and thrown back into their faces. Mill put it this way: “Those who admit an omnipotent as well as perfectly just and benevolent maker and ruler of such a world as this, can say little against Christianity but what can, with at least equal force, be retorted against themselves. Finding, therefore, no halting place in Deism, he remained in a state of perplexity, until, doubtless after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction, that, concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known.” ( It seems to me like an interesting (and intellectually consistent) approach to the problem. Mill then goes straight into a discussion of hell and what sort of horrible moral being it would take to devise such a place, or to create a race which would be overwhelmingly subjected to it.

  • kagekiri

    Excellent post, Libby Anne!

    I used to subscribe to an extreme version of “God seems evil, but that’s only because we’re bad judges of character” for a long time.

    If you start out from the “humans and evil and horrible,” you can see it as even worse than that: All the horrible things are totally deserved, so God doing horrible things isn’t injustice. All the good things that happen are merely mercy.

    That, of course, requires a LOT of self-hatred and general cynicism about humanity, but it was what I personally fell back on to justify the horribleness of various things in the Bible, like Job’s family dying for a bet with Satan or God wiping cities and nations out without giving them even a chance. “Well, I guess our base nature is hell-deserving, so literally anything horrible that happens is less punishment than we deserve”.

    This also made me feel no pride in any good things that happened or I achieved, because hey, God’s the one who gave that to me, I don’t deserve the pride or self-esteem, and in fact, pride was a sin; eventually, feeling good about myself became something I felt guilty of and avoided. I pushed for false humility and hated myself for any shred of pride I had in my talents or achievements; praise made me incredibly uncomfortable.

    In contrast, every bad thing I did made my desire to be punished worse, as I was obviously throwing God’s grace back in his face. By the end of my faith, I was begging God to kill me and send me to hell, so I wouldn’t have to suffer from the horrible guilt I had about so badly wasting Jesus’ sacrifice and hurting God by sinning.

    So yeah…that’s kind of a sub-possibility of the conservative view. It’s probably not held by many who are still alive, because it is pretty warped and depressing, but I couldn’t see any other way around it, because my church simultaneously preached things like “being created in the image of God” and “having the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” means we COULD make moral judgments, and the only reason God could do those things and not be unjust was if we all deserved it.

    • Rosie

      Um, yeah. Even though I haven’t “believed” for nearly 20 years, this kind of thinking STILL invades me on dark days. In fact, it seems weird to me that so many conservative Christians seem to brush it off so easily.

  • Emma

    I recently took a classics course, and read some texts that had some interesting commentary on the issue of loving gods (particularly Greek gods).

    One is Plato’s (quite short) dialogue “Euthyphro,” where Socrates tears into another person’s claim that what is pious is that which is loved by the gods. Socrates takes this apart by asking if means that something is pious because the gods love it, or if he means that the Gods love something because it is pious. One of the problems with the first option that Socrates points out is that the Greek gods in the myths are hugely petty, spiteful, and egotistical, and thus are terrible arbiters of morality.

    Another interesting text on this subject is Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” This is a much much longer text, where a ton of Greek/Roman myths are woven together into one epic-length poem. One of the major themes is that all the stories are told in a way that emphasizes the gods’ pettiness, spitefulness, and all-around jerkishness.

    Also, doesn’t the Book of Job talk about this issue? My interpretation was that God’s really long speech towards the end was basically saying “I’m God, I’m all powerful, you’re a puny human, you don’t get to question me.” But that’s my interpretation.

  • smrnda

    The answer that I usually get is that since God is ‘holy’ (which, if holiness is something other than ‘goodness’ I’ve never heard any sensible definition) and that it is the nature of holiness to be repulsed by unholiness, and that ‘the holy’ cannot stand the presence of ‘the unholy’ and has to send ‘the unholy’ to hell.

    One problem is that it turns this quality ‘holiness’ into something along the lines of ‘predisposed to throw a hissy fit over even the tiniest thing.’ The other problem – if God is repulsed by our unholiness – like our belief that infinite punishment is too much for any finite action, then might not holiness be as repulsive to us as unholiness is to God, the way that I get bothered by excessive neat-freaks who can’t stop compulsively cleaning a room or location that is already clean? When I also hear talk of how God rules heaven or how it works, it seems to work by turning every being in heaven into a mindless praisebot that just goes ‘ho-ly ho-ly ho-ly’ all the time. I mean, you can’t have a meaningful universe without a little schmutz in there.

    Plus, just because I’m repulsed by something doesn’t mean that I have to actively work to make someone miserable – that would be a pretty bad quality. I’m kind of repulsed by homophobes, but I don’t want to actively take them all and throw them in a pit and pour burning coals on them.

    I also get a little sick of the ‘all people are equally bad and sinful’ bullshit. I knew a guy who said he’d rather be in heaven with the “humble” people who murdered people and molested kids but who ‘saw the light’ and found Jesus than in a hell with people who ‘pretend to be able to establish a moral world on earth.’ In other words, a place full of people who think muttering off some magic words absolves you of accountability.

    The other thing is that it seems to be a belief totally without compassion – since everyone is an awful sinner who deserves the worse, there are no crimes against people, only actions that offend God’s sensibilities. You get this bullshit when someone goes against how bad it is that they ‘offended God’ (who is, apparently, infinitely powerful and cannot be destroyed) but have no concern for the people they hurt.

  • math_geek

    I feel the need to point out that Catholicism, a religion you have some experience with, has a third option of Purgatory, which takes some (not all) of the edge off.

    Most Catholic theologians would define “Hell” as a deliberate rejection of God’s will and in fact tie the entire concept of Heaven and Hell to free will. God gave us free will which means he gave us the power to make meaningful choices. I honestly think it’s OK to be a bit horrified at the meaningfulness of them.

    I sincerely don’t understand the people who say “I am more moral than God.” Would Hitler have also said he was more moral than God? Than you? Ugh Godwin’s law, I am not comparing anyone to Hitler, but instead trying to suggest that he also may have been doing what he “believed” was right. Even more ridiculous than the concept of God and Jesus Christ is the concept that I am the most moral being in the universe, or even that it is my understanding of morality that is the most perfect.

    • HJ Hornbeck

      God loved us so much that he gave us the ability to reject him, and thus suffer eternal torment as a consequence? That makes no sense to me. Which is more moral, that I give the child I love the option of falling down a well and becoming paralized for life, or that I do everything within my power to remove that option?
      While it’s true that there are shades of grey to morality, and it can sometimes vary wildly based on the circumstances, we are talking about an infinite punishment here. Which finite crime is worthy of a eternity of torture? I would fit the punishment to the crime, yet God is happy to over-punish on a massive scale. No change of circumstance or information could ever make the Christian God more moral than I am, as a result. For that matter, nothing could make that God more moral than a serial killer or a bloodthirsty tyrant; the morality of the person in question doesn’t matter, because no person is capable of inflicting infinite torture, either directly or through inaction.

      • math_geek

        I would say that God gave us the ability to make meaningful choices. In this particular case, a really really meaningful choice. You may protect your child from falling down in the well, but you certainly don’t keep them in a bubble forever? At some point, you let your child go out into the world to face the risks and joys of being alive and free for themselves.

        What would we look like without free will? What would the alternative be? And in what way are we “free” if we are all brought back and tied to God in the end?

      • Azel

        If God, with its traditional attributes (specifically omniscience), exists ? He gives us the illusion of making meaningful choices not the ability to do so, and if he uses that to disclaim his responsibility in throwing people in a lake of fire for all of eternity, is the worst prick of all of creation.
        “Free will” being in such a case but an illusion, we can look exactly the same as we do now. Face it, if there is someone omniscient around, our decisions are not free, they are already preordained.
        You ask the question of in what way are we free. If God exists we are not, we are but puppets on a string, puppets given the illusion of free will with a master using that masquerade of independence to punish us for every slight, imaginary or real, and without any sense of measure.

      • Ariel

        math_geek: You protect a toddler from falling down the well by putting a fence around it so they physically can’t get there. You protect an older child, teenager or adult by putting up a sign *so that they know the well is there.* Free will is meaningless if you don’t know what you are choosing. An adult has free will, so they can if they choose commit suicide by jumping down the well, but I would argue that it is the opposite of giving them free will to let them fall in the well by accident.

        If the condition for “not going to Hell” is “become a Christian, attend church regularly, and follow the rules in the King James Bible”—and a lot of fundamentalists seem to claim that it is—then, in order to *choose* between Heaven and Hell, I need to have some reason to believe that the Christians are right. In order to choose not to jump down the well, I need a sign telling me the well is there. The position of most scientific atheists, myself included, is that we just don’t have that reason. As it is, if God exists, then he is putting us in a position where we have to blindly guess whether the Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc. etc. are right. And then he goes on to punish people horribly for all eternity for the “crime” of guessing wrong. They didn’t choose to be wrong—they didn’t have the information they needed to be right. That sounds pretty immoral to me.

      • math_geek

        If God exists we cannot have free will? This is just silly. You have the power to make choices. The fact that those choices have consequences is in no way a negation of that free will.

        Please do not confuse me with “King James Bible” Christians. Their theology is primitive and embarrassing. It is stunning that the Chrstianity of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Francis has degenerated to this. One cannot reconcile their teachings with the theology of Christians from 1000 years ago, and one cannot conceive that the King James Bible is the most accurate translation of the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts that make up the Bible. I would point out, however, that these Christians make up the tiniest minority of what can reasonably be called Christianity. To name them the archetype is simply irrational.

        I am not among those that believe that a failure to believe Christianity in this life is the qualifier that sends one to Hell. My religion (Catholicism) is very quiet on the subject, so I can only make my own guesses. I think C.S. Lewis hits it exactly on the head when he points out that God takes pleasure in raising up people who do evil out of the earnest belief that they are doing good. I do not, however, think that we are under no obligation to examine our conscience. We have these minds, and we need to use them to determine the truth as best as we are able. We have to make sure that our actions conform to our beliefs rather than requiring our beliefs to conform to the actions we desire. How this looks on a case by case basis is not for me to know.

      • HJ Hornbeck

        math_geek: Due to a mix-up, my reply is further down the thread. Search for “This isn’t keeping them in a bubble, this is protecting them from potential harm.” Sorry!

      • smrnda

        On the idea that you don’t keep your kids in a bubble forever.

        At some point in time you let your kids make their own choices. However, sometimes parents disagree with the choices their kids make as they get older, but it’s not because the kid is doing something wrong or destructive, but just something different.

        My father continues to flip out that I didn’t keep playing the piano and violin. I quit doing those things when I was 9. He still thinks I made a bad choice, even though I work as a computer programmer and make plenty of money. Now and then he brings it up like he’s still upset that I didn’t make ‘the right choice.’

        My father’s idea of what I should have done isn’t better than mine, just different, but in the end he isn’t me and can’t know what really would work for me. So when people go on about people who defy God whom God has no choice but to punish, why does God have to have so many specific ideas about what people do in every area of life? To me, the God of the Bible condemns people for about as logical of reasons as if my father decided he hated me since I’m not playing the piano.

        Also, if God wants us to love him, I don’t think I ever loved my grandparents – we just didn’t have enough contact and the generation gap was too big. I saw them about twice a month for years on end and I didn’t feel like we could connect. I did connect very well with friends, mostly since we were part of the same age cohort, were into similar things, and we accepted each other and also talked all the time. How does God expect us to put a relationship with him first when it’s missing any of the things that go into a ‘relationship?’ Talking out loud looking at the ceiling thinking that God hears me is not communication.

      • Azel

        math_geek: I didn’t say “if God exists”, but “if an omniscient god exists” even if I should have repeated omniscient in the third paragraph, that’s an important difference. Because if an omniscient being exists we can’t do anything contrary to what the omniscient being knows will happen (otherwise, it wouldn’t be omniscient). So, in such a case, we don’t have the power to make choices, only to play out a script (unknown of course, where would be the fun otherwise ?)

    • Conuly

      Hitler was a mass murderer. God condemns people to torture for some indeterminate amount of time, probably forever, even with purgatory as an option.

      My understanding of morality might not be perfect, but it’s hard to see how it’s not better than somebody who’s a-okay with torture.

      • HJ Hornbeck

        > You may protect your child from falling down in the well, but you certainly don’t keep them in a bubble forever?
        This isn’t keeping them in a bubble, this is protecting them from potential harm. I am not micro-managing their experience by capping the well. Likewise, God would not hamper your free will by preventing you from falling into eternal torture. So why doesn’t He? He has every incentive to, and the means.
        > What would we look like without free will? What would the alternative be?
        We would look identical. Belief in free will does not grant free will. Imagine an android programmed to think it has free will; any “demonstration” of free will, such as a random gesture, will be interpreted by it as proof of free will, and yet to an outside observer that action was completely deterministic. The only way to prove to this android that it’s deterministic is to “lift the veil” and reveal the deterministic programming behind it. Likewise, we have no way of proving we have free will unless we possess complete knowledge of how we work, and all things that could indirectly influence us into having free will.
        > And in what way are we “free” if we are all brought back and tied to God in the end?
        I agree. We cannot have free will if God has any motivation to interfere in our life, and possesses omnipotence, omniscience, or omniprescence. He will be morally required to remove our freedom.

      • HJ Hornbeck

        Whoops, hit the wrong button! Sorry, Conuly, my reply was to someone else.

      • math_geek

        “God would not hamper your free will by preventing you from falling into eternal torture. So why doesn’t He?” This really does fall under my principle that I as a finite human being cannot possibly understand all of an infinite God’s actions. I can only understand that which has been revealed by observation, revelation, and reason.

        “Belief in free will does not grant free will. Imagine an android programmed to think it has free will; any “demonstration” of free will, such as a random gesture, will be interpreted by it as proof of free will, and yet to an outside observer that action was completely deterministic. The only way to prove to this android that it’s deterministic is to “lift the veil” and reveal the deterministic programming behind it.”

        Now I understand you. If we cannot determine anything as simple as whether we have free will, we can determine nothing. I’ve chosen to reject nihilism because regardless of whether or not it was true I would live my life as if it weren’t true, and being unable to conform my actions to my beliefs, instead determined that my beliefs should mirror my inevitable actions. If we can determine nothing about ourselves, than what is even the point of asking the questions?

        As for your last, maybe freedom IS moral…

      • HJ Hornbeck

        > This really does fall under my principle that I as a finite human being cannot possibly understand all of an infinite God’s actions. I can only understand that which has been revealed by observation, revelation, and reason.
        I can never comprehend all the digits of Pi, but that doesn’t stop me from calculating areas with it. A finite understanding is not only sufficient in many circumstances, it can be used as a defense. I had no that when I closed my front door this morning, it would set off a chaing of events that would seriously harm someone. Should I be held accountable? Of course not; my finite understanding of the world keeps me from being responsible. Likewise, I have sufficient reason to conclude the Christian God is less moral than the worst serial killer that will ever live. Even if my finite reasoning skills lead me astray, I cannot be held responsible for being wrong.
        > Now I understand you. If we cannot determine anything as simple as whether we have free will, we can determine nothing.
        Did you just dismiss free will as a simple problem? Something which has been a heated topic among philosophers for at least 2,500 years? A problem which requires perfect, total knowledge to answer? Now I understand how seriously to take your opinion.

  • Eamon Knight

    As it happens I got a tract on Saturday from some front-door evangelists (for once, it wasn’t the JWs), entitled “God says: Please don’t go to Hell”. The eponymous phrase is repeated throughout the text, in between the Scriptural explanation of how I will, in fact, go to Hell if I don’t accept Jesus.

    But: God’s the one sending me to Hell in the first place — it’s not somewhere I’m taking myself, not even unawares — so it’s more than a bit disingenuous to have God turn round and be the one pleading with me to save myself from the situation he set up in the first place. It really is just a cosmic protection racket: “Nice soul ya’ got there bud — shame if it should, like, catch fire ya’ know….?”

    • josephine

      This reminds me of a previous post by Libby Ann that said Christianity offers a solution to a problem it creates. We don’t all innately know we are sinners, are destined for hell, and are in need of a savior. Christianity tells us those things (creating the problem), then offers the solution of Jesus the savior.

  • Tricia

    I tend to think of hell as a subjective state. That is not the same as saying I do not believe hell exists.
    In “The Brothers Karamazov” Father Zossima defines hell as the condition of being unable to love. I think anyone with a little experience of life and human beings will know that this state “exists” and that it is tortuous enough. I think this is what Christ, God, who is love, saves us from. . . Christ being the revelation of the love God in the flesh, a love so great that it could not be destroyed by death or by hate.

    I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for a Christian to simply breezily decide they do not believe in hell. Christ (in the gospels) spoke a heck of a lot about it, and if you don’t go in for the eternal conscious torture stuff, you’ve got to find some way of working this into your theology that does make sense (at least I felt I had to). However, it’s also clear that Christ, in his teachings, was a master of rhetoric, imagery, metaphor, and hyperbole. Near the end of John he himself acknowledges that he had been speaking to them up till then in figurative language.

    As far as the afterlife goes, if one presupposes the existence of a soul that transcends the physical body, it’s possible enough (for me) to imagine that the hellish state of being unable to love continues into an afterlife without having to assume a hateful God, especially because interpretations that suggest this does not go on forever but culminates in annihilation, “the second death” after the final judgement in Revelation, make sense to me.

    And yes, this is all simply my interpretation, and no, I can’t prove any of it. I believe a lot of things I cannot prove. Just some thoughts.

    • smrnda

      If God gives people the ability to love, then why, on earth, do people’s ability to love seem totally disconnected from whether or not they believe in God or not? In many ways I tend to find that people can love better than God can – the vision of God in the Bible is of a total control freak who can’t love anyone who still has an independent will or personality or feelings of their own. I guess, given that I’m mostly a materialist who looks at the physical universe, ‘love’ seems to be hardwired into people on a deep physical level. It’s like when people tell me that the only reason everybody isn’t a serial killer is that God is directly intervening to stop them – since there are adequate materialistic explanations, I see no room for a supernatural one I mean, I think that people even sometimes show a level of forgiveness that exceeds God’s. A person can just .say ‘no big deal’ to so many things that apparently God throws a fit over. We can accept people who are less than perfect. I mean, non-religious people I know don’t give their spouses guilt-trips over having had sex before marriage.

      I also kind of think that authority and love is incompatible. Love requires respecting someone else’s autonomy. Love means allowing someone to disagree with what you want for them. A desire for total control over a person just seems the opposite of ‘love’ to me.

      • Tricia

        “If God gives people the ability to love, then why, on earth, do people’s ability to love seem totally disconnected from whether or not they believe in God or not?”

        I think there is a world of difference between belief as a kind of airy intellectualized assent to the concept of a deity, and belief from the heart, the seat of the affects, which is more like a deep allegiance calling forth from the core of one’s being to the God. We are told that God judges us according to our hearts, not according to our conceptualizations. I have the idea that a non believer who lives by love is closer to the kingdom than many who call “Lord, Lord,” but do not *know* Him, kind of like what Libby said, and also similar to some of the teachings of Christ.

        “I think that people even sometimes show a level of forgiveness that exceeds God’s. A person can just .say ‘no big deal’ to so many things that apparently God throws a fit over. ”

        Yet Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” as he was being tortured and murdered.

        “I also kind of think that authority and love is incompatible.”
        I do not agree with this assessment.

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts and commenting on my comment. It was of interest.


  • Aniota

    I have to agree with your conclusion, Libby, about moderate/liberal Christians filtering the Bible through their own presuppositions about what is right and wrong. In all the years I’ve discussed morality with Christians and their take on the Bible about this issue I never once have found a coherent methodology as to assert which Bible verses can still be applied to situations nowadays other than the implicit substantiation of one’s own moral perspective – that seems to exist wholly apart from what the Bible actually teaches on the issues at hand – or usage of those completely vague phrases like “love thy neighbor” that can be translated into meaning whatever one so happens to like or dislike.
    This became so much clearer when I started pointing out contradicting verses to someone asserting the applicability of a certain verse to a present situation, for example women’s rights (this goes either way in favor or against said situation). Bible verses contradicting one’s own judgement of the situation at hand are either being ignored or explained away in a manner that can just as well be applied to the verses quoted to substantiate one’s own assertions about morality. Over the years this led me to believe that the Bible is not at all used by moderate/liberal Christians for gaining moral insights but only to strengthen their belief in what they already hold as moral or immoral to begin with.
    I do not necessarily see this as a bad thing (hell, it’s way better than asserting those Iron Age rules still are to be followed today), merely bad argumentation that rests upon the belief that quoting the Bible adds some sort of authority unto one’s views.

  • estraven

    I concluded a long time ago that I was more moral than the Christian conception of god. As a parent, i would never, ever consign my children to eternity in hell, no matter what they had done. I would never withhold myself from them. i would never make them guess what it was i wanted them to do, and then, if they failed to guess right, punish them. and so on.

  • Cassandra

    While the concept of Hell is canon for nearly all denominations of Christianity, there is little scriptural support for it. Most references to Hell in the Bible are actually the Hebrew word “sheol”, which is more appropriately translated “the grave” or “the land of the dead”. The fiery pit imagery is mostly gathered from Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy (neither of which are canonical sources, obviously, but regardless have managed to work their way into the ecclesiastic subconscious).

  • arc

    I like the pointing out that liberal Christians and athiests have considerable agreement concerning the conservative take on God.

    These sorts of agreement to me seem far more important than debates about metaphysics. I really don’t care what kind of cooked-up way-out crazy metaphysics you have, so long as you’re a decent person; contrariwise, you and I can agree completely on everything metaphysical but if you’re an arsehole I don’t want to know you. (Not that metaphysics isn’t interesting and fun and maybe even important in other respect)

    It’s also worth noting that there’s a considerable amount of metaphysical diversity within theism, and even within a particular congregation (it should be obvious that children have a very different idea of God to theology professors). Pick a worked-up notion of God, and actually 90% of people including theists will be a-that-particular-theo-ist.

    There’s also a considerable metaphysical diversity within atheism, too.

    this is all masked by our handy reflexive categories.

  • Skyknight

    At least AiG hasn’t (yet) gone into supralapsarianism, a truly loathsome doctrine that unfortunately didn’t disappear with Jansenism–I think Charles Colson, at least, holds the belief.

    For those of you not familiar with the term, supralapsarianism is the belief that from the very beginning–before the first angel or first mote of dust was created–God intended that there be (at least) some who, no matter how hard they tried otherwise, would never be able to attain any fate other than an eternity of torment in Hell, just as there would be some who, no matter how little they tried, would never be able to attain any fate other than an eternity of bliss in Heaven. (The term is to contrast with infralapsarianism, which suggests that God only began marking people for reprobation AFTER the Original Sin, with everyone’s initial default being election.) Dual ultimacy–the idea that the identities of both the elect AND the reprobate were decided upon from the very beginning as well–seems to be integral to this, or at least a common component.

    Where it REALLY gets vile (as though this weren’t pH 2 already) is the reasoning the Jansenists and Colson used. While it WOULD be good if humanity were constructed so not a one would ever know perdition, that is actually regarded as counter to God’s desires. It would render his love knowable and glorifiable, yes, but NOT his justice or unswervingness (and unfortunately, in these schemes, justice seems to have very little to do with interdicting wickedness before the fact, instead primarily focusing on punishing wickedness after the fact). In order for THOSE to be known fully, there HAD to be those dedicated to Hell from the onset, so God would have a valid canvas to paint with his integral-to-his-being wrath. That’s the important bit–love and wrath are equally integral to God’s being, but you can’t exactly put them together on one canvas, as they necessarily neutralize each other then. So, you need two camps–the elect to paint love upon, the reprobate to paint wrath upon. Only then can BOTH elements be glorified. Anything less would mean God wouldn’t get all the glory and awe he possibly could. Abjuring his own need to display wrath is apparently right out.

    And this, ultimately, is the chimera at supralapsarianism’s heart. It posits that the primal foundation of existence and purpose isn’t love or life, but merely glory. Put another way, love, justice, and good don’t exist for their own sakes, but only because they’re useful to catalyze God’s accrual of glory. God desires love only insofar as it brings him glory. God first desire wasn’t to love or be loved, only to attain endless glory…and he hasn’t really changed that, or gained any OTHER desires. It makes me wonder whether he can even be said to have free will in this, if he might be a literally-mindless glory addict. NOTHING else is real to him.

    The supralapsarian God isn’t capable of love. Or, for that matter, hate (remember, reprobation is ALSO only there to accrue glory). Only greed.

    • Skyknight

      {sigh} And now I’m REALLY unsure which contemporary theologian expressed the supralpsarian view, or at least something akin to it. Colson? Driscoll? Sproul? Spurgeon? {whimper}