Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. You can see (by the number in the title) how many times I have replied to his videos or articles. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him (from 8-1-19 to this date). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, the atheist author, polemicist, and extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the ultra-insulting Debunking Christianity blog. Dr. Madison made his cramped, insulated mentality clear in a comment from 9-6-19:
[T]he burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked. . . . I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.
John “you are an idiot!” Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, so that he and Dr. Madison could avoid replying to yours truly, or even see notices of my replies (er, sorry, rants, rather).
This is one of the replies to Dr. Madison’s series, “Things we Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (podcast episodes 13-25). I have already replied to every previous episode. He states in his introduction to this second series:
[A]pologists (preachers and priests) who explain away—well, they try—the nasty and often grim message in many of the sayings attributed to Jesus. Indeed, the gospels are a minefield; many negatives about Jesus are in full view.
I am replying to episode 15, entitled, “Jesus fails as a great moral teacher in describing the Last Judgment” (8-4-19). Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue.
Matthew 25:31-46 (RSV) “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Please don’t tell us that Jesus is a model example of compassion. This text is brutal. It’s super-vindictive. If you fail to feed the hungry [and do other good deeds] . . . you deserve eternal fire? Maybe a good scolding, maybe some coaching on how to do better, instead of eternal fire. No. A God of love would not operate this way. Who deserves to be banished to eternal fire, after all? . . . Maybe Hitler, maybe drug lords, crime family bosses, priests who rape children. Yes, we may say they deserve hell in moments of outrage and anger. But shouldn’t God do better at anger management? No great moral teacher . . . tells people that eternal fire is God’s solution. I’m looking at you, Jesus. How sad that this revenge theology, this get-even theology, is right there at the heart of Christianity.
I generally approach the topic of hell and the task of the Christian to defend what at first glance seems horrible and indefensible, in three different ways: all analogical arguments:
1) Free Will and the Free Offer of Salvation I’m not interested in gloating over anyone who goes to hell (this is what a recent atheist thread claimed many Christians were doing; taunting atheists). I’ve devoted my life (as a Catholic apologist) to help prevent people from going there; so that they will want to, and will be able to go to heaven. I understand that many people (especially atheists and other non-Christians) detest hell. So do I. I don’t want anyone to go there.
Any “Christian” who does is barely a Christian at all. I would immediately question his or her status, if they exhibit such a heartless, cruel attitude. God doesn’t want anyone to go there, either (2 Peter 3:9). This is what a lot of folks don’t seem to get. He desires for all to be saved, but He won’t violate our free will. That was the whole point of Jesus dying for us, so we don’t have to go to hell. He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
God is like a Governor who gives a pardon to a prisoner who has a life sentence. All the prisoner has to do is accept it and walk out a free man. Atheists who complain about hell and hold it against God are like a prisoner who is pardoned and refuses to accept the pardon, then blames the Governor for their remaining in prison (!). Does that make any sense? Not from where we Christians sit. I don’t see why either a Governor or his messenger ought to be despised because a prisoner turned down his pardon. That makes no sense to me.
It’s a place no one need go to. God has offered a way out. Folks don’t wanna take it. Then they blame Him because they spurn His grace or reject Him altogether. Once having rejected Him, they blame Christians for continuing to believe the doctrine that we believe God revealed in His revelation.
I don’t see it as unethical at all. If God exists, we were made for Him, and find our ultimate fulfillment in union with Him in heaven. If God grants us free will, there has to be such a thing as an alternate to being with Him in heaven. And that option is hell. It’s terrible to be separated from God. It was never meant to be that way. So God offers a way, by His free grace, to avoid hell.
The objection seems to me to be based on this notion that God “sends” people there, as if this was a despicable arbitrary act of an utter tyrant and hateful entity. The actual truth of the matter is that God allows us free will, even if it means that we choose to reject Him.
But I don’t see that God (within a Christian schema) can be blamed for the horrors of eternal hellfire, since He offers everyone the way to avoid it. But what happens is that people don’t want to take the offer; don’t want to serve God (which requires difficult changes of behavior), and delude themselves into thinking that hell will be a great big party, with all the best musicians, thinkers, and “cool people” there. They’ll be anything but “cool” there (in every sense).
The dumbest thing a person can do is reject and disbelieve in God, or in His goodness and mercy, then we would expect that there would be some extremely severe consequences to this in the long run. Since souls are eternal by nature, that consequence is an unending place or state that is separate from God, that we have no remote conception of now: how horrible it is. And to end in hell is entirely our fault, not God’s.
On what possible basis can one conclude that an eternal existence apart from God, of creatures who have expressly rejected this God, is an a priori impossible or unjust or implausible state of affairs? To me it’s rather simple: we are creatures who will exist from this point into the future. We will never have an end to our existence. We’re like a ray in geometry: with a beginning but no end. We can be with God in eternity after we die or without Him. The choice is ours. No one has to go to hell if they will simply believe in God and follow Him, enabled by His grace to do so.
Why does Dr. Madison and atheists in general seem to have this notion that God must work eternally to redeem souls? He is under no such obligation. He only has to give every person an adequate chance to believe in Him or reject Him, and we believe as Christians, based on revelation, that He more than amply does that in this lifetime.
Atheists presuppose that what God does to redeem a stray soul is never enough, and then we’re back to blaming God again for the rebel, rather than placing the blame with the rebel, which is where it belongs. This makes no sense. We always want to blame God for everything. It’s a sort of “cosmic blame-shifting.” We never want to blame evil, rebellious man for anything. He’s always a poor, pitiful victim, and it’s always God, God, God Who is supposedly at fault for not having done enough.
Do we blame a parent when he or she does absolutely everything that they should to adequately train and provide for a child, yet the child goes astray in the exercise of his or her free will? We all know people like this. Is it their fault (at least in terms of primary responsibility) or the child’s?
2) Analogy of Human Legal Systems of Justice God as the Creator has the “prerogative” to judge His creation when they have gone astray. We have earthly judges who do the same thing. A criminal commits a crime. He is given a fair trial, found guilty, and is then judged, if deemed guilty. We’ve even had the death penalty. But it’s inconceivable that God is the Cosmic Judge?
When a criminal rebels against the laws of a society and is caught, convicted, and imprisoned for life, we don’t say that the “cause” of his imprisonment was the laws of the state that he violated, and rail against the very notion of law as the horrible, unjust cause of this guy’s suffering! He brought about his own demise by going astray. Likewise, with human beings, God, and hell.
The penalty for very serious crime in a civil sense is life imprisonment. That’s just how it is. Law itself is not to be blamed.
The penalty for very serious sin and rebellion against God in spiritual reality is eternal torment in hell. That’s just how it is. God (the ground of moral law) is not to be blamed for that. . . .
Because God is Creator He also has the prerogative to judge. This is analogous to our experience. Society takes it upon itself to judge the criminal and punish him if he supersedes the “just” laws that govern the society, in order to prevent chaos and suffering. If that is true of human society (one man to another), it is all the more of God, because He is ontologically above us (Creator and created).
The societal analogy is perfectly apt. If someone rebels at every turn against every societal norm and law and appropriate behavior and so forth, is society to be blamed? Say someone grows up thinking that serial rape is fine and dandy and shouldn’t be prevented at all. So he goes and does this. Eventually, the legal system catches up with him and he gets his punishment. He rebelled against what most people think is wrong, and more than deserved his punishment.
We don’t say that there should be no punishment. We don’t blame society for his suffering in prison. We don’t deny that society has a right to judge such persons. So if mere human beings can judge each other, why cannot God judge His creation, and (particularly) those of His creation that have rebelled against Him at every turn? What is so incomprehensible about that? One may not believe it, but there is no radical incoherence or inconsistency or monstrous injustice or immorality in this Christian (and Jewish) viewpoint (which is what is always claimed by the critics).
The necessity of judgment is apparent from the human analogy of laws and judges. When we do bad things, there are consequences. And often, they are irreversible. If we murder a person, they are gone from the earth forever. The act had a consequence that to us, from the earthly, temporal perspective, is final. If we get drunk and ride a motorcycle and crash and have to lose an arm or leg or suffer brain damage, those things are irreversible. The dumb behavior had definite consequences. A price had to be paid. This is simply reality.
Say that a judge rules that a person can be paroled, given a few (not at all impossible) conditions. This is legal “mercy.” But the prisoner fails to abide by these, and so he doesn’t gain parole. Now, in typical atheist thinking (by analogy), the one to blame for this would be the parole officer or judge, because he (or they) didn’t exercise enough mercy and should have forgiven the prisoner an infinite amount of times for all his violations. In my thinking, the prisoner is at fault and the judge, not in the slightest, because he was exercising clemency and mercy and the prisoner in his stupidity failed to do the few things he had to do in order to receive this gracious gift.
3) Cosmic Justice and the Ultimate Weighing of the Scales Imagine if everyone on earth were like an SS agent (think, Heinrich Himmler). We took out people like that in World War II and everyone thought it was quite moral. But if God does it, suddenly it’s immoral.
Well, with the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, that’s what the Bible says took place: the level of immorality was virtually universal and beyond repair. So God judged. I don’t have the slightest problem with it. I think it’s exactly what we would expect in a God Who is both perfectly loving and a just judge.
In the atheist view, there is no ultimate justice at all. Since I’ve already brought up a Nazi analogy, it would be as if the Nazis had won World War II and were ruling the world right now, doing all the evil they did while they were in power. In a world without God, there would be no ultimate justice. These Nazis would die and cease to exist. They would pay no penalty for their great evils (not even in this life if they aren’t defeated). Their victims would die and cease to exist as well, and never receive any good things. All they had was an earthy life which was a living hell under Nazi rule.
There is no justice or meaning or “happy ending” in that scenario. Many people in the world have a terrible life: and very often because of despotic rulers or bad social or religious systems. In the Christian worldview the unrepentant bad guys are judged for their evil (and will end up in hell). People who accept God’s grace spend eternity with God in heaven, in great bliss and joy, with no more suffering.
That is meaningful and just.