Amazon Review of my Hell Essay

Someone named James D. Zimmerman has reviewed the volume The End of Christianity, edited by John Loftus (Prometheus; 2011) on Amazon. I found this paragraph especially interesting:

So, “many Christian denominations have long since dispensed with hell?” I wonder which ones these are. Catholics? The Greek Orthodox? Southern Baptists? Here is what the Greek Orthodox Catechism says awaits people following the final judgment:
The condition of each individual will no more be changed, but those, who have gone into Paradise will live in Heaven eternally happy, and those who have gone into Punishment will live in Hades eternally unhappy (page 39).
The Roman Catholic Catechism says the following:
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs (section 1035).
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the following on May 9, 1963, as part of a statement of Baptist Faith and Message:
God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will he raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.
(Each of these sources is available online.)
Have these doctrines been officially renounced? When and where? By whom? Catholics and Baptists no longer believe in an eternal punitive hell? I am afraid I will need more than Mr. Zimmerman’s assurance on that point.
Mr. Zimmerman complains that I offer accounts of hell from non-biblical sources. My critique is aimed at the traditional doctrine of hell as expressed by the most orthodox, learned, and influential philosophers, theologians, preachers, and teachers of mainstream Christian traditions, and this is why I cited the views of such persons. In short, my critique is aimed at the opinions of Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, et al. Now Mr. Zimmerman might prefer that I address only the Biblical sources on the afterlife, but, alas, my essay was not written with his preferences in mind. Mr. Zimmerman, of course, has the right to focus on whatever sources he pleases, but then I have the right to have my essay judged on its on terms.
Now what really seems to be getting to Mr. Zimmerman, the real basis of his ire, seems to be that I could not resist some snide remarks at the expense of Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. Zimmerman huffs that “any honest Christian” is sure to be put off by such remarks. Gee, I know a number of honest Christians who dislike Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin even more than I do. I can only conclude that Mr. Zimmerman has tacitly defined “honest Christian” as those who share his political predilections. And he thinks that I am arrogant?
Maybe I am expecting too much from a review posted on Amazon, since, apparently, anybody can post pretty much anything there. Still, it would be nice to get a response that exhibited a modicum of intelligence. Or at least spelled my name right.

“The weakest links in the book are Dr. Keith Parson’s “Hell” and Dr. David Eller’s “Is Religion Compatible with Science?” (chapters 10 and 11). Since this is specifically a book focusing on Christianity, it’s unclear why Eller spends over four pages defining religion in general (258-262). And since many Christian denominations have long since dispensed with hell, Parson’s chapter will be entirely irrelevant to them. For those stalwart bible-literalists, Parson [Sic. Actually, it is “Parsons.” If you criticize someone you should at least get his name right.] wastes three pages offering descriptions of hell from extra-biblical sources (such as Dante, Jonathan Edward [Sic. Actually it is “Edwards.”], and James Joyce). Any honest Christian – and they are the target audience (20) – who sloughs through those pages, is sure to be put off by Parson comparing former Vice President Dick Cheney to Hitler and Stalin (238) and calling Sarah Palin a fool (246). Such mud-slinging is needless, even hypocritical; Parson’s later decries apologist Jerry Walls as “insufferably arrogant” for saying “only the irremediably wicked” reject Christ (253).”

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Belief in heaven is more popular than belief in hell. However, in the year 2007, about 7 in 10 Americans said they believed in hell:
    ========
    June 13, 2007
    Americans More Likely to Believe in God Than the Devil, Heaven More Than Hell
    Belief in the Devil has increased since 2000
    by Frank Newport
    GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

    PRINCETON, NJ — Roughly 9 in 10 Americans believe in God or a universal spirit, while fewer than 10% are firm in their belief that there is no God. Eighty-one percent of Americans believe in heaven. At the same time, 7 in 10 profess belief in the Devil and in hell. These updates of Americans' beliefs were measured in a May 10-13, 2007, Gallup poll survey.
    ==============

    Only 76% of Americans identified themselves as Christians in 2008, so if 6 of the 7 in 10 Americans who believed in hell (in 2007) were Christians, then nearly 80% of Christians believed in hell (60/76 = .79) around 2007 and 2008.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Another sad fact to justify your concern about traditional/conservative Christian belief…
    ==================
    December 17, 2010
    Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism
    Belief in evolutionary origins of humans slowly rising, however
    by Frank Newport
    PRINCETON, NJ — Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement.
    ==============

    Among regular (weekly) churchgoers, the proportion of strict creationists jumps up to 6 in 10!

    "Americans who attend church frequently are most likely to accept explanations for the origin of humans that involve God, not a surprising finding. Still, the creationist viewpoint, held by 60% of weekly churchgoers…"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04029133398946303654 David B Marshall

    Dr. Parsons: I think you've answered him fairly well in substance, but I also think it evident from his comments that Mr. Zimmerman is, in fact, intelligent. (Even if he mispells names, a habit I cultivate, too.)

    The crux of the issue about Cheney and Palin is that if your goal is to persuade conservative Christians, and if most of them are also conservative politically (as New Atheists often assure us), such pejoratives undermine your goal. They may also telegraph a bias on your part consistent with self-deception. Describing an obviously bright person as lacking even a modicum of intelligence, reinforces the suspicion that you may be letting your emotions get in the way of objectivity. Of course, this does not defeat your points about hell, but it may render your argument less practically persuasive.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Bradley,

    Thanks. The data you cite show further why I consider such a response as Zimmerman's disingenuous or at least uninformed. The doctrine of an eternal, punitive hell is still accepted by many of the largest Christian denominations.

    Hell is not as popular as it used to be, and I consider this to be progress. Even some evangelicals are moderating the ferocious old doctrine. Jerry L. Walls, for instance, retains hell, but holds that God will give at least some a "second chance" after death. Such "eschatological evangelism" will be directed at those who were under social or psychological circumstances that blinded them to the "truth about Christ." Such post-mortem proselytizing aims to level the epistemological playing field so that all have an equal chance at salvation. This is an attractive idea, but has problems of its own. I will be at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for a conference in April, and I think I will ask around to get their opinions on Walls' suggestion.

    Mr. Marshall,

    I try not to cast aspersions on the character and/or intellect of anyone except those (like Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin) who deeply deserve it. Mr. Zimmerman may be highly intelligent, but the passage I quoted is not. My remark aimed to characterize the passage, not to denigrate Mr. Zimmerman's I.Q.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13609656346736636990 Luke Talley

    Among denominations who are taking a strong conservative stance on the reality of hell and that people who reject the Gospel will go there, what denomination do you think is the most firm in their commitment? I would have to say that Southern Baptists would have the vote in my opinion. And I would further add that the burden of biblical evidence supports their claims.

    I fear that more and more denominations will crumble into a stance of denying the reality of hell. The dangerous thing about rejecting the reality of hell is the fact that you are rejecting a good bit of what Jesus had to talk about. We all know the truth that Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven. What is the domino effect of this?

    If you reject what Jesus had to say about hell, what is to keep you from rejecting what he had to say about anything else? And if you reject other things that Jesus said, what is to keep you from rejecting other words of the NT? And so the argument goes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14479224236264150172 Ben Schuldt

    Hey Keith, I've responded at length to Christian apologist Drake Shelton's response (who mostly quotes WGT Shedd) to your chapter on hell in "The End of Christianity." Enjoy: http://double-woe-seven.blogspot.com/2012/04/christian-apologist-drake-sheltons.html


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