Can God Be Benevolent if He Sends Your Children to Hell? (2 of 3)

Can God Be Benevolent if He Sends Your Children to Hell? (2 of 3) November 21, 2019

Are Christians okay with a god who could send their children to hell? Let’s continue our critique of an article by William Lane Craig (WLC) in which he defends the Christian position (part 1).

The doctrine of hell

WLC had divided the question into a psychological question (“How can you love and worship a God who you believe would do that to your children?”) and a philosophical question (“How can you think that is a fair and reasonable thing for anyone or anything to do?”).

His point about the psychological question is that if this is just someone’s personal opinion, “it would have no implications at all for the truth of the doctrine of hell.”

Hell? So much for Good News. But what is the doctrine of hell? Is it C.S. Lewis’s “gates barred from the inside” or fire ’n brimstone® or something else? He must make sure his answer is in harmony both with every afterlife passage in the Bible and with the doctrine of hell in every other Christian denomination. Don’t give us your interpretation but show that the Bible defines one unambiguous doctrine about hell.

Objective vs. subjective morality

WLC moves on to emphasize the critic’s relative (rather than objective) position on moral issues.

Suppose I were one of those persons who would not or could not bring himself to do X. That implies nothing about the rightness/wrongness of doing X or the truth/falsity that someone does X. It’s just about me and my personal psychology.

Uh . . . did you just deny the existence of reliably accessible objective morality? Well done, Dr. Craig. You’ve convinced me. I guess it doesn’t exist. One wonders, though, why you keep pretending like it does.

Children and the age of accountability

WLC next wants to make a special case for young children.

Neither God nor I would send small children to hell, for they are not morally accountable.

Show me, and again don’t just cherry pick verses to support your position. Make sure that no Bible verse contradicts your claim.

The age of accountability (the idea that children below a certain age are too young to be held accountable for their sin) comes from tradition, not the Bible. But the Bible makes clear that everyone has a sin nature and falls short.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).

The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies (Ps. 58:3).

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:12).

There is no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10).

These verses argue that children don’t deserve an exemption.

(An insightful video by Underlings argues that God’s plan is either that (1) dead babies go to hell or (2) they don’t. But knowing that most adults do go to hell, option (2) means that murdering babies is morally proper because it saves them from hell. With either option, God loses.)

The Bible and thoughtcrime

Back to WLC:

Neither God nor I would send anyone to hell “simply because of thoughts in their heads.” Where in the world did you get that idea?

Uh, from the Bible? The tenth Commandment demands “no coveting.” Jesus added a few of his own thoughtcrimes in the Sermon on the Mount: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” And, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Coveting, anger, and lust are thoughts in your head, they’re evidently all sins, and you know the penalty for sin.

God’s provision to get us out of the mess we’re in

And now it’s time for WLC to hurry to God’s defense because, Lord knows, he can’t defend himself.

People go to hell because they willingly reject God’s forgiveness and resist His every effort to save them.

How can I willingly reject what I’ve never been given good evidence for? Christianity’s sin/salvation story is nonsense. “God made you sinful, but that’s okay because if you believe in the unbelievable, he’ll not burn you forever” isn’t coherent, loving, or fair.

It’s misleading to talk about God’s “sending” people to hell. He desires and strives for the salvation of every person, but some freely resist His grace and so separate themselves from Him irrevocably. It’s not His doing.

Did he make the rules? Then it’s his doing. If I’m imperfect, blame my Maker. And even if humans are sinful, God could just forgive, since that’s how we do it and he’s done it before.

As for “freely [resisting] His grace,” I’ve never seen evidence of God’s grace, but apparently you think I deserve hell nonetheless.

God’s offer of salvation: take it or regret it

WLC moves on to discuss salvation.

What do you mean by “don’t believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins”? If they don’t believe because they are ignorant of the Gospel message, then they will not be judged on that basis. But if you mean that they knowingly and willfully reject Jesus Christ as their Savior, then, yes, God will judge them on that basis.

Or, option three, they understand the gospel message but have no good reason to believe that it’s anything but legend and myth. They might understand the message of countless other religions, but they probably don’t believe that they’re anything more than legend and myth, either.

I can reject a serving of potatoes at the dinner table, but that assumes I believe those potatoes exist. I don’t reject unicorns or leprechauns, I just don’t have enough evidence to believe in them, or a thousand other mythical creatures, or gods.

The problem is not that they simply lack a certain belief but rather that they repudiate God’s provision for their sin.

You mean the sin that God made unavoidable? Yeah, my bad. Sorry about that.

Anyway, Paul made clear that we’re all good. In Romans 5:18–19, he said that humanity didn’t need to opt in to inherit Adam’s sin, but it also didn’t need to opt in to get Jesus’s salvation. So I guess I’ll see you in heaven, Dr. Craig.

Conclusion for the psychological question

So to sum up the psychological question, “How can you love and worship a God who you believe would do that to your children?” I guess I would answer that I know He would condemn them only if they deserved it. I trust in His justice.

Why trust God’s justice? It doesn’t match what we think of justice in the West. God ordered genocide on the Canaanites (here, here). He set up the rules for slavery. He flooded the world. Much of humanity today live in substandard conditions, which he could easily correct but won’t. These would be crimes against humanity if done by a person. WLC apparently wants to redefine justice so that whatever God does is just. No, God doesn’t get a pass, and Christians don’t get to redefine “justice” to make it easier for God to meet.

He goes on to liken non-Christians who ignore God’s offer of salvation to a drowning man who refuses a life preserver. The obvious flaw in this feeble analogy is that we all know that life preservers exist. A ticket to heavenly paradise, on the other hand, sounds like make-believe.

In part 3, WLC responds to the philosophical question, the one he said deserved attention.

Democracy doesn’t guarantee
an educated and logical populace,
but it does depend on one.
— Daniel Miessler (Daniel’s Unsupervised Learning)

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Image from Steve Shreve, CC license
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Raging Bee

    No. Next Question?

  • Gussie FinkNottle

    I don’t think it matters much which version of this doctrine they choose. They are all blatantly immoral. And Christians know it. My god, how they squirm! I guess they don’t like being forced to own up to being sociopaths.

    Of all Christian claims, I think this is the most damaging, especially to children. You never quite get over being told by a parent that, “hmm, that’s sad; I guess you’re going to H, then; we’ll miss you.” So even though I’m not one for proselytizing, this is the one topic where I will absolutely grind you into the ground.

  • Kev Green

    “What do you mean by “don’t believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins”? If they don’t believe because they are ignorant of the Gospel message, then they will not be judged on that basis.”

    Any Christian who believes this and then goes out and tries to convert people to Christ is truly a psychopath. Once a Christian has witnessed to someone, that person either converts or burns in Hell. The Christian has robbed that person of the potential to be forgiven due to ignorance. WLC really doesn’t think through the consequences of his claims.

    • Robert Baden

      I went looking at some of the Universalist sites after my parents passed. Some seemed to think you can make the choice even on Judgement Day, when it would be undeniable that the myth is actually true.

      • The Jack of Sandwich

        Why not after Jugement day?
        Choose hell over salvation? Ok, have a look at hell. Change your mind after seeing how bad hell is? A merciful God would pull you out of hell without a second thought. “Welcome home, son.”

        • Greg G.

          The Prodigal Hellboy.

        • CS Lewis said that the doors of hell are barred from the inside. Sounds like just another example of Christians knowing in their conscience that the Bible is outrageous, so they spin it a more pleasing way.

      • Phil Rimmer

        Christianity emerges into decency only with the UK Quakers. Any other brands are in varying degrees moral procrastinators at best, wreaking current harm for imagined, future restitution.

        https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/subdivisions/quakers_1.shtml

        What Quakers believe
        Among key Quaker beliefs are:

        God is love
        the light of God is in every single person
        a person who lets their life be guided by that light will achieve a full relationship with God
        everyone can have a direct, personal relationship with God without involving a priest or minister
        redemption and the Kingdom of Heaven are to be experienced now, in this world

        Quakers want to make this a better world
        Quakers work actively to make this a better world. They are particularly concerned with:

        human rights, based on their belief in equality of all human beings
        social justice
        peace
        freedom of conscience
        environmental issues – Quakers seek to live simply so as to reduce the burden on the world
        community life

        My offer to Christians over the years, after the opening question, “What’s a nice person like you doing in a religion like this?” is to have them consider jumping ship. Stay Christian, but work exclusively for the present.

        I get no takers. No wonder my invoices for PR services to The Society of Friends go unpaid.

    • So if they tell you the Good News, you might go to heaven, and if they don’t, you will go to heaven.

      Somehow the Great Commission sounds worse and worse.

  • The original sin idea is a spherical mess -maybe WLC forgot that part-, no matter from what side you see it. Nor it can exist “free will” when the two options are “with me” or “against me” and there’s not a third one or more, nor one can talk of omnibenevolence when there’s no a temporary stance there (sort of purgatory) to clean sins -even the worst criminals in history do not deserve an eternity of torment, not even Stalin, Pol Pot, or the one that trips the filter among others.-

    It’s quite clear why the Fundies I know of say you must read the sourcebook with the heart, not the mind.

  • Joe_Buddha

    The doctrine of Grace is particularly dispicable. The idea that god can punish you or save you on a whim and you can’t do anything about it? At least that what it sounds like to me. The song, “Amazing Grace”, makes me cringe every time.

    • Quinsha

      I love the music but can’t stand the words.

  • eric

    He goes on to liken non-Christians who ignore God’s offer of salvation to a drowning man who refuses a life preserver. The obvious flaw in this feeble analogy is that we all know that life preservers exist.

    Oh, there’s many more flaws in his argument than that.
    1. We throw life preservers to people because we are not omnipotent. Were we omnipotent, we’d just levitate them out of the water, then snap our fingers to remove any water in their lungs. As God is (supposed to be) omnipotent, he could simply grant salvation to nonbelievers, period. No “offer” need be thrown out nor answered.

    2. When someone is drowning, we don’t stop trying to save them merely because they reject help. We keep trying to help. Against their wishes, if it comes to that. Lifeguards don’t ask permission to drag someone out of the water – they just do it. If a drowning person stops breathing and falls unconscious – and thus can’t possibly give informed consent – we still save them, informed consent be damned. If God stops trying merely because we reject the offer or don’t give informed consent, then he’s not even as caring or merciful as your average teenage pool lifeguard.

    3. As you mention earlier in your argument, in this analogy God invented the water. Invented the boat. Invented the imperfect life preserver. Invented the gravity that pulls the humans down into the water. Invented the inabliity of humans to breath water. So when the heavier-than-water can’t-breathe-water human drowns, it’s because God designed the entire system so that “drowning” would be the outcome of the human refusing help.

    • I Came To Bring The Paine

      Exactly.

    • Quinsha

      The other flaw comes to mind. The drowning person knows that he is drowning. No invisible bus there.

  • eric

    WLC:

    if you mean that they knowingly and willfully reject Jesus Christ as their Savior, then, yes, God will judge them on that basis…I guess I would answer that I know He would condemn them only if they deserved it.

    He’s taking a long and roundabout path to just admitting he doesn’t care about the immorality of hell (either that, or sees no immorality in it). For WLC, if your son or daughter rejects Jesus Christ as their savior, that means they deserve torture forever.

  • The Jack of Sandwich

    If they don’t believe because they are ignorant of the Gospel message, then they will not be judged on that basis.

    Which makes missionaries the most evil people on the planet.
    Think of how much better off we would be if the early Christian church had been eradicated before it had managed to write its ideas down?

    • Doubting Thomas

      Not just missionaries, but also Christian parents. There’s one way to guarantee their children don’t go to hell. Don’t tell your children about Christianity. Eventually all current Christians die out and everyone left is “ignorant of the Gospel” and no one goes to hell ever again.

      WLC is advocating for the death of Christianity.

    • I remember how one of the Fundies I follow gloated once about how they’d watch from Heaven how both unbelievers and those who mocked them being judged. Apart of that claims of them being in Heaven with a perfect body, with absolutely nothing of the stuff present on our world present there, etc.

      The part about brainwashing and other issues was left apart.

      • epeeist

        I remember how one of the Fundies I follow gloated once about how they’d watch from Heaven how both unbelievers and those who mocked them being judged.

        It isn’t just the Fundies. Try Aquinas’ answer to question 94 in the Summa Theologiae

        I answer that, Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

        This is his response to article 1. His responses to Articles 2. and 3. are equally jolly.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Christian compassion (unlike actual human bonding and empathy) has a switch.

      • Brian Curtis

        The revenge fantasy is a cornerstone of many devout Christians’ faith, and it’s disturbing to see how much time and imagination they put into it. Many of them apparently lead very frustrated, angry lives.

    • Steven Watson

      That actually happened. We have no idea what James, Cephas, and John taught. Other than what Paul raged against while he was hijacking the cult. Then the Gospel writers did it in their turn to Paul and one another. What you and I THINK Christianity is doesn’t actually square with what is on the page anyway. Not that anyone bothers to read it without substituting the recieved “wisdom” of whichever loony they follow for what’s in front of them.

  • 3vil5triker .

    Okay, so I have two propositions.

    The first, is that God is simply not all powerful. Oh Christians will say he is, but when you get into the details of what that actually means, we can see that they place all kinds of limits on what God can do, and apparently, one of them is saving people from Hell.

    The other is that God doesn’t actually send people anywhere and that Heaven and Hell are actually the same place; what changes is the way people perceive and react to it. If God is the embodiment of everything that is good and Hell is a state you place yourself in when you actively reject that good, then I would say there are a lot of people who are in Hell right now, even though they’re still alive.

    We’ve all seen them: people who become thoroughly immersed in a hateful ideology, obsessed with policing harmless behavior, actively harming others while claiming to help them, and basically becoming a twisted parody of themselves. They are in Hell. And the bars to their self-imposed prison are indeed locked in from the inside. And they only have themselves to blame.

    • eric

      The other is that God doesn’t actually send people anywhere and that Heaven and Hell are actually the same place; what changes is the way people perceive and react to it. If God is the embodiment of everything that is good and Hell is a state you place yourself in when you actively reject that good…

      Why would anyone rejecting God’s definition of good place themselves in a state of hell? Or let me put it differently: why did a supposedly omnibenevolent God design the afterlife to have only those two options? I actively reject a lot of God’s OT proclamations about what is good. But that doesn’t mean I want or should be forced to hang out for eternity with Hitler. How about a bit of the afterlife reserved for the vast majority of humans who are somewhat in agreement with his embodiment of good? To use another analogy: God’s goodness shines forth through the afterlife. If it feels good, you bask in it entirely – thus, heaven. If it feels bad, you shut yourself away from it entirely – thus, hell. Is that a reasonable analogy? If so, then why can’t God issue sunglasses and sunscreen for those of us who might not want the full exposure to divine goodness?

      • 3vil5triker .

        Okay, up front I want to make clear that I don’t actually believe in Hell or condone its existence, especially not in the way its presented by most denominations of Christianity. I’m just exploring different ways to conceptualize Hell, but its not something I take that seriously.

        That said, I think there is a difference between what an actual omnibenevolent God would define as good and what humans with their religions would qualify as good. I’d say that souls in the afterlife are in a state where all pretense is stripped away and the truth of things becomes clear. In that case, Hitler’s punishment is being Hitler. He’s suffering, not as the result of some “goodness rays” being emitted by God, but from the simple fact that he has to live with being himself. For Eternity.

        An alternative to this, which is closer to what I posted initially, would be that someone’s mind becomes so warped and twisted that they become unable to discern what is actually good, and to them good feels like evil. An example of this would be today’s Trump supporting Evangelical base.

        To them, equality is oppression, the truth is fake news, advocating for policies that improve people’s lives is “evil socialism and communism”, separation of church and state is religious persecution and Trump is the absolute embodiment of a Godly leader. Can you imagine what it must be like for these people to live in a prosperous, free and fair-minded society?

        It would be Hell.

        • Brian Davis

          So Obama was the actual embodiment of Satan.

        • 3vil5triker .

          To them? Pretty much, although I’d say more like the Anti-Christ to be precise. Check out this article from another Patheos blogger: “How to Reckognize the Anti Christ”.

          According to the article, what makes the Anti-Christ such, is not so much that he will do evil things, but that he will do good things without giving credit to God. Think about that for a second.

          They would actively reject and oppose that which is good, of which God is supposed to be the ultimate embodiment of, just because it fails to conform to their cultural expectations. They would trade away prosperity and material comfort in exchange for being able to remain at the top of the social hierarchy; or put another way, they would rather rule in Hell than to live as equals in Heaven.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          They would trade away prosperity and material comfort in exchange for being able to remain at the top of the social hierarchy; or put another way, they would rather rule in Hell than to live as equals in Heaven.

          Would??!!

          That’s what they ARE doing, and have for a couple generations now 🙁

        • 3vil5triker .

          Touché.

        • eric

          I’d say that souls in the afterlife are in a state where all pretense is
          stripped away and the truth of things becomes clear. In that case,
          Hitler’s punishment is being Hitler. He’s suffering, not as the result
          of some “goodness rays” being emitted by God, but from the simple fact
          that he has to live with being himself. For Eternity.

          AIUI, the definition of psychopath or sociopath includes the notion that the individual feels no remorse; has no real understanding of the pain they cause. They lack the mental architecture to empathize. So in this conception you’re promoting, sociopaths experience heaven while basically okay people who agonize overmuch about their difficult moral decisions experience hell.

          Ah, but what about “the truth becomes clear?” You pooh-poohed my notion of ‘goodness rays’ but you’re proposing something similar; you’re proposing that God alters our mental architecture. He messes with our minds in a way that makes basically good people happy eternally and basically bad people unhappy eternally. That’s pretty evil. But I see no way out of the conundrum: don’t fix the sociopath, and he enjoys a happier eternity than most of us. Fix the sociopath, and God has taken an active role in bringing eternal pain to someone when He didn’t really have to…and heaven becomes analogous to a drug high; an altered state of mind.

          Lastly, your ‘truth becomes clear’ concept doesn’t remove pain and suffering from heaven. I love my son. If he grows up to be a bad person, well I won’t condone his badness but I’ll still love him. Decades from now, we’re both dead. Presuming I’m reasonably okay, I get the “truth brings you heaven” experience. But he gets the “truth brings you hell” experience. Now there I am, living eternally, knowing that my beloved son is in hell and that God chose to put him there by making the truth clear to him. Do you think my eternity is going to be happy? Do you think I’m going to thank God for that?

        • 3vil5triker .

          Why should happiness and suffering be mutually exclusive? Aren’t they both part of the human condition?

          Forget about the afterlife for a second. If your son, after years of living as a bad person, reaches an epiphany that causes him to re-evaluate his entire life, won’t that cause him a great deal of suffering? Won’t he be burdened by guilt, regret and remorse and have to live with that pain for the rest of his life? It doesn’t mean that his entire existence will be comprised of unending agony, after all, he comes to better appreciate his father who continued to love him despite everything. And even though you lived a relatively good life that has brought you a great deal of joy, you still suffer, knowing the pain he’s going through. But you have each other. So you support each other as best you can.

          Honestly, I think the ideas of perpetual bliss and perpetual agony that surround the traditional Christian definitions of Heaven and Hell only make sense in a purely abstract discussion and kind of break apart once you try to bring them into a specific application. If there was to be any kind of afterlife I think it should be comparable to real life; with its own set of ups and downs.

        • eric

          Forget about the afterlife for a second.

          But that’s what this whole conversation is about! You proposed a specific model of the afterlife. I’m trying to see what it entails.
          Now, let’s get back to this “makes the truth become clear” action God does to our souls when we arrive in the afterlife. Does that change the sociopath’s psychology, or not? Either way, your idea has some serious theological and philosophical downsides. If it does alter the sociopath, then your afterlife basically feeds us a mental drug. It changes who we are. Which many people (including the sociopath) would likely strenuously object to as immoral coercion and thus an evil act by God. If it doesn’t alter the sociopath, then your afterlife basically rewards ignorance with bliss.

        • 3vil5triker .

          From the onset I’ve been using these concepts of Heaven and Hell as metaphors for real life; its mostly in the parts you didn’t quote from my initial post. There’s also the fact that the afterlife isn’t real. But my point was that if we could think of a resolution to the scenario you presented in a real life setting, then why shouldn’t it work for an idealized and fantastical version of it?

          And also, everything we experience changes who we are. Going by that standard then existence itself would be evil. But according to some Christian traditions, God is supposed to be Being itself, so maybe that’s not that far off the mark.

          Still, I’m not sure about your characterization of allowing a sociopath to feel remorse as immoral and evil. Would you say the same about allowing a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear for the first time? In a very real sense a sociopath has been deprived of one of his senses.

          I’d say that a change in perception brought about by a better understanding is less about changing who you are than it is about giving you more choices about who you want to become.

        • eric

          my point was that if we could think of a resolution to the scenario you presented in a real life setting, then why shouldn’t it work for an idealized and fantastical version of it?

          But there is no resolution to the scenario that I presented. So, without that premise your conclusion has no weight.

          And also, everything we experience changes who we are.

          I agree. However we draw a very real distinction between the changes we experience as a result of our own choice vs. those forced upon us vs. those violently or extremely forced upon us. It’s choosing a job vs. paying child support vs. being raped. Your description of God and the afterlife is far more like the third than the first.

          I’m not sure about your characterization of allowing a sociopath to feel remorse as immoral and evil. Would you say the same about allowing a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear for the first time? In a very real sense a sociopath has been deprived of one of his senses. I’d say that a change in perception brought about by a better understanding is less about changing who you are than it is about giving you more choices about who you want to become.

          This is actually a very active discussion within the deaf community. Some deaf parents want their kids to be deaf. In fact they argue for the right to puncture their kids’ eardrums to achieve this end. Most don’t hold this view, but for your philosophy, that doesn’t matter. The real, empirical, existence of such people disproves your idea that there is some ‘greater perception’ or ‘better understanding’ that we would all agree is an improvement over what we have. No such agreement exists. Your “change in perception brought about by better understanding” is a coercive change than some people won’t want. So God either forces them to do it against their will (an evil act), or doesn’t, which leads to the “ignorance is bliss” unfair outcome.

        • 3vil5triker .

          I get that morality is subjective but we’re talking about fixing a disability, not raping somebody. And the whole problem with being a sociopath is that they don’t have a choice to begin with. If you want to defend somebody’s choice to not have a choice, then fine, but it just gets absurd when taken to its logical conclusions. By your standards, knowledge itself is evil, especially if it exposes uncomfortable truths.

          I never asked to be an atheist, but my mind was changed, very much against my will. I guess we atheists are evil, given that our very existence can provoke a coercive change in perception that many people don’t want.

        • eric

          we’re talking about fixing a disability, not raping somebody

          “Disability” is subjective. What you see as a disability, someone else may see as not or even as a positive (I imagine that a mass murderer who feels no guilt might view being offered the chance to feel guilt would see that as a massive negative). That should’ve been clear from my last post. In those cases, “fixing” them will be seen by them as an invasive, coercive, immoral procedure.

          the whole problem with being a sociopath is that they don’t have a choice to begin with

          No, that’s not the problem with your scenario. By all means, I’m in favor of God giving someone a choice to be “fixed” in the afterlife. That’s doing something with informed consent and there’s no moral problem with that. The problem comes when God in your scenario doesn’t give the person the option. And a different problem comes when God gives the person the option, the person says no, and this results in either a reasonably good person experiencing a “hellish” afterlife or a very bad person experience a “heavenly” afterlife. Neither of those outcomes is either just or merciful. In fact, if the afterlife works this way – works the way you’re proposed in your model scenario – then it becomes an adaptive advantage to be emotionless and unsympathetic/unempathetic. Because those people automatically get the “heavenly” experience no matter what crimes they commit.

          I admire your attempt to make a better model. And the “heaven/hell is in how we perceive it” concept is definitely an appealing option that people have presented before (the Robin Williams movie “what dreams may come” is a good example). But it’s seriously flawed.

          Then again, most models of an afterlife we can conceive of are seriously flawed…probably because, philosophically, any conception of an ‘ideal’ afterlife is bound to have some logical inconsistencies in it. One can certainly imagine an afterlife. Getting it to perfectly reward/balance good and evil behavior while being internally self-consistent is a lot harder.

        • Steven Watson

          I very much doubt Hitler would ever see himself that way. WWII happened, he was being bombed in a bunker, and he STILL didn’t understand it that way. He’d have said “Jew-God, Kiss my Arse.”

    • Interesting. My own fantasy heaven is one where everyone goes after they die. The catch is that we all get infinite moral wisdom. That means that someone like Hitler or Stalin create their own purgatory as they beat themselves up when they consider all the harm they caused. This would give us all-good beings in heaven, plus people would get punished (by themselves) as they needed it.

      • Phil Rimmer

        With infinite moral wisdom you’d have to turn off pleasure, though, else Hitler will find gratification in his infinitely satisfactory self-purging. Wicked behaviours turning out to be rewarding seems a misstep.

        Whilst here, can I give a shout-out to David Eagleman’s collection of “afterlife musings”, SUM? The posed topic (what might an afterlife beneficially consist of) is really a great sort of question to better explore our lived lives.

        • In my vision, the pleasure of an evil action (“Sweet! I now have Phil’s wallet, and that’s $60 for free!”) would be far less than the pain (“Poor Phil! He might well have had immediate plans for that money, and now I’ve made him have a terrible day!”).

          I’m not familiar with Eagleman’s writings. I see that “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives” is a book. You recommend it, I take it.
          https://www.amazon.com/Sum-Forty-Afterlives-David-Eagleman/dp/0307389936

        • Phil Rimmer

          Mighty fine of you. But look, you did take that money, and in the Confessional you were given a penance to perform that was meant to be arduous, but you Bob, self flagellating, metaphorically, are now feeling good, really good. Were you not meant to suffer? Where is my restorative Thomist schadenfreude?

          David Eagleman is a splendid neuroscientist, mulitple author with at least one TV series to his name. I recommend him as highly as Robert Sapolsky. Essential reading to understand fellow human beings.

        • Yes, but now you’re comparing the clumsy approach we have here on earth vs. Bob’s Perfect Heaven.

          Thanks for the book tip.

      • Greg G.

        But how long would that last? I forgave myself my foolish indiscretions of my teenage years within a decade. I think the worst I did was sexually abusing myself.

      • 3vil5triker .

        I find it curious that the Christian ideals of forgiveness and redemption for those who have wronged people in life does not extend to the afterlife. Its like two completely different ideologies got mushed together somehow.

        • Forgiving is what you must do. God is an old-fashioned kinda guy, and he just punishes.

      • Steven Watson

        Nice fantasy but I don’t think it can be anything more. If there is pyschopathy or sociopathy involved in either case, that is a neurological deficit that they are no more responsible for than if they had sickle cell anaemia. Morality as science is not yet out of the womb, what it will find we can’t know yet. We might have to say “Crumbs, Dolfie and Joe were as much right as they were wrong!”. Like the rest of us. Morality is subjective at the moment. Subjective; situational; collective; and personal. Human morality only applies to humans, can only be applied by humans. One of those guys had a rather different definition of human to you and I; and both had rather different definitions of good.

    • NSAlito

      I have a blessing/curse that I use for both wonderful people and a$$holes:
      “May you spend the rest of your life in your own company.”

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    People go to hell because they willingly reject God’s forgiveness and resist His every effort to save them.

    So if I’m not in the mood to hang out with god my only recourse is to be in hell? Why not build a separate version of heaven for people to spend time in? Is god in capable of giving people space and pleasure?

    • Michael Murray

      I think He’s like one of those partners who are devoted and loving but maybe just a touch controlling.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        A touch?

  • 3vil5triker .

    I also wanted to recommend the article written by Melinda Selmys over at the Patheos Catholic channel titled: “The Abuses of Hell”. I thought it was an interesting take on the subject.

    • Michael Neville

      The article is interesting but I found the comments of Jim the Scot and 3vil5triker to be even more interesting.

      • Pofarmer

        Jim is something else.

        • Steven Watson

          Why is it called the Catholic channel? I don’t look in very often and it is fifty years since I was even notionally one, but they all seem to be peddling some heresy or other; not anything I recognise as Roman Catholicism.

        • al kimeea

          He seems to be something of an ‘amorphous blobist’ with his faith in a gob

  • The Jack of Sandwich

    Jesus died so that we could go to hell!

    • Steven Watson

      It wouldn’t phase me: I’ve been to Butlin’s.

  • Carstonio

    The concept functions no differently from tiger repellent. There’s no reason to take advocates’ word for it that the Christian deity exists, or that heaven and hell exist.

    We do know, however, that it’s horrifyingly monstrous to suggest that anyone deserves to suffer for eternity. It may be possible for someone to believe in that deserving without the person being a monster, but offhand I don’t know how.

  • Carstonio

    Among the many flaws with the evangelical version of redemption? There’s no such thing as inherited guilt. Even if we grant that Adam and Eve did wrong by violating a rule, it would be unjust to hold their descendants accountable.

    We’re talking largely about the same people who defend the Confederacy by presuming that inherited guilt is a thing, while insisting that their ancestors who held slaves or commanded Southern troops were innocent of wrongdoing. They ignore the alternative of acknowledging that their ancestors did the wrong thing but that this has nothing to do with the descendants.

    • Pofarmer

      So you’re saying “Christian thinking” is poisoning our view of ourselves and history?

      • Carstonio

        No, because I’m talking only about a certain segment of Christianity. White evangelical theology in the US originated as a rationalization of slavery, and today it remains a rationalization of injustice. While evangelicals are a minority of Christians in this country, they are vocal and politically active far beyond their numbers, and Trump’s most devoted acolytes.

        • Steven Watson

          That lets the other loons off the hook. Even the most milquetoast Xtian enables the toxic simply by breathing.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      A Christian once explained to me that we all share the guilt because we all would have defied god in the same way.

      I tried explaining that:

      1) Even if true, being punished for something I wasn’t given the opportunity to do is absurd.

      2) If making the same error is a necessary part of the human condition, then punishment makes even less sense (as does free will). How does this address an impulse I neither created nor have any control over?

      Unsurprisingly, we didn’t see eye to eye.

      • Otto

        3) It is pretty arrogant to have certainty about what each and every person since the beginning of humanity would do in that situation…and very convenient for him too.

  • RichardSRussell

    I’ve long been astonished that Christians can claim with a straight face that, yes, the Yahweh of the Old Testament was a petty, vengeful, murderous jerk, but that everything was set right by Jesus (according to the fanfic of his most devoted followers, known as the New Testament). But that’s got it exactly backwards.

    Sure, if you did something that pissed off the easily irritated Yahweh, he’d smite you where you stood, plus your family and half the innocent bystanders in the county as collateral damage. But that was it. Dead. Done. Finito. Period. Game Over. Sayonara. Hasta la vista. It wasn’t until Jesus came along that they invented the concept of “No no no, my friend, we’re gonna fry your sorry butt forever! And not just for the actions you actually performed but for some of those naughty little thots you’ve been having!”

    Think about it. Which of these 2 arrogant, flaming sadists was actually worse?

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Add it to the list of Christian behaviors/arguments that belie the idea that the afterlife is more critical than the worldly one.

      • As in suffering in this world up to being prosecuted is acceptable, since eternal life is the prize and it’s more than worth both of the former.

        One has also to wonder why the NT narrative is not present at all on the OT, especifically when Adam and Eve screw up things,

    • C_Alan_Nault

      “but that everything was set right by Jesus ”

      And yet we are all born sinners because of what Adam & Eve did. ( I don’t know about anyone else, but I was never placed in the Garden of Eden & instructed to not eat the forbidden fruit).

    • David Cromie

      I have often been tempted to think that there are two very different mythical ‘gods’ being pushed in the so-called ‘bible’ – Yahweh, and JC (no relation). As demonstrated in the OP, each one would be as cruel and arbitrary in action as the other, if they could be proved to exist in the first place.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Can god be benevolent if he punishes people for sins committed by other people?

    Can god be benevolent if he punishes other people because you won’t do what god wants you to do…. AFTER god makes sure you won’t do what god wants you to do?

    According to the Bible god does both.

    Spoiler: the answer to both questions is no.

  • Derek Mathias

    Thanks for the shout-out, Bob (Underlings here).

  • Joe_Buddha

    “Can God Be Benevolent if He Sends Your Children to Hell?”
    No. This has been another in a series of short answers to silly questions. 😉

  • Another excellent essay, Bob! I especially liked this statement: “Christianity’s sin/salvation story is nonsense. “God made you sinful, but that’s okay because if you believe in the unbelievable, he’ll not burn you forever” isn’t coherent, loving, or fair.”