In question #86 of his Reasonable Faith column, William Lane Craig addresses a question from a Christian who’s troubled by one of the most wicked doctrines of that theology, the dogma of Hell. Craig’s correspondent wonders whether the saved will feel compassion for the damned, but also worries that it would be a violation of free will for God to erase their memories of their lost loved ones.
I would never forget that I had a child and wish to be with them in the afterlife unless God specifically altered my mind… I am just having trouble imagining myself so happy that I just don’t think about my child who is burning in eternal damnation.
Craig’s response begins:
You object… that God would violate the free will of redeemed persons were He to take such action. I don’t see that this implication follows. God’s respecting human free will has to do with moral decision-making. God will not cause you to take one morally significant choice rather than another. He leaves it up to you. But obviously God limits our freedom in many morally neutral ways… if God removes from the redeemed knowledge of the damned, including knowledge of loved ones that are damned, He does not violate the moral integrity or free will of the persons involved, any more than if He had removed their knowledge of calculus.
This is just obviously wrong. Stealing people’s memories of the suffering of others is a morally neutral limitation on their freedom? By what bizarre reasoning could anyone possibly arrive at that conclusion? Taking away that knowledge stops us from acting in ways that we would otherwise want to, which is the essence of making a moral choice.
It would be as if I had a relative who was dying from cancer, and I went to see a therapist who could hypnotize me into forgetting their existence, so I wouldn’t have any desire to visit them in the hospital and comfort them. By Craig’s reckoning, this is a “morally neutral” choice. By any rational system of morality, however, this would be an act of supreme callousness and depraved indifference to the suffering of others.
But not to worry, Craig has a fallback answer:
This alternative suggests that the experience of being in Christ’s immediate presence will be so overwhelming for the redeemed that they will not think of the damned in hell.
Craig compares this to a wounded soldier having a limb amputated without anesthetic, suffering from pain so intense it drives all other thoughts out of his mind – except, he says, we should substitute happiness for pain to get some idea of what it feels like to be in Heaven. (Great analogy!)
What this comes down to is saying that the saved will be like drug addicts on a permanent high, so wrapped up in their own euphoria that they care nothing for the world outside their own head. Heaven will be like the Land of the Lotus-Eaters from Greek mythology, its inhabitants forever smothered in a blissful haze that leaves them unable to think of or contemplate anything else, for all eternity. Am I the only one who finds this image disturbing rather than appealing?
Craig isn’t the first one to suggest this; other Christians have said very similar things. But whenever they try to describe in any detail what people in this state would look or act like, they always wind up painting a picture of Kafkaesque automatons that I call bright machines. Far from being the fullest and most perfect realization of human potential, the imaginary inhabitants of Heaven are less than human. They’re lacking in all the emotional depth, all the richness and color that makes our lives real and meaningful.
We do have a glimpse of this vision here on Earth. Certain kinds of brain damage can rob a person of all emotional affect, so that all they ever feel is a constant, all-enveloping bliss – very like Craig’s vision of Christians overwhelmed by the beatific vision. But the result isn’t an appealing picture:
“He looks like our son and has the same voice as our son, but he is not the same person we knew and loved…. He’s not the same person he was before he had this stroke. Our son was a warm, caring, and sensitive person. All that is gone. He now sounds like a robot.”
This, then, is the Christian conception of the afterlife – blissed-out robots in Heaven, billions of the damned eternally suffering in Hell. If that’s what William Lane Craig and others want to believe, that’s their right. But I would hardly call this reassuring or comforting to the worried questioner – much less a “reasonable faith”.
Other posts in this series: