Hart, Martin, and the Evolution of Hell

Hart, Martin, and the Evolution of Hell January 12, 2020
Hart on Heall
Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Hart vs Martin: good men grapple over the mystery of God’s salvation and justice.

The brilliant philosopher, theologian, and author David Bentley Hart has stirred the pot yet again concerning our unhealthy predilection for perdition. In a New York Times opinion piece, Hart, author of the controversial “That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation,” delves into the psychological alure so many Christians have concerning Hell.

The hornet’s nest of heresy hunters is buzzing with activity. But beyond the usual suspects of Trad-trolls in cheap grace damning our Christian brother for daring to think differently and challenge our complacent cruelties marring our tradition, some more sensible and kinder thinkers have reacted negatively to Hart’s opinion piece. Among them is Father James Martin who tweeted the following—

Father Martin also offers a review of Hart’s book on the subject, here:

Hell No!

Back in early November, I wrote a piece entitled “Hell is Not in the Bible.” The post, which you can read here, explains that whether we are talking about popular Christian ideas of hell or the official Church doctrine of hell, it all took roughly two thousand years to evolve. That’s a fact. And Catholics need to face the fact that doctrine develops.

Does that mean “hell” is kaput? No. We Catholics can keep “hell” and “heaven” in our Catechisms, but our English Scripture translations are always wrong when they include any reference to “hell.” So, no Father James, hell is not on the lips of Jesus or anywhere in the New Testament. Hell is more than biblical Gehenna or Tartarus.

But that does not mean that we should dismiss what Father James has to say. God is not a rapist—God won’t drag us into his blessedness thereby violating our freedoms (not saying that David Bentley Hart is suggesting this, by the way). And God is just, but we need to be really careful with that, because our ideas of justice are heavily freighted with cultural ideals and frankly, vindictive cruelties and quid-pro-quos.

I wouldn’t get rid of messy “hell” as it does point to some truth about the human condition. And like Father James and Bishop Robert Barron, I think it is good to have a pious Christian hope that “hell”—the mystery under that name, anyway—is “empty.” I do agree with Father James and Bishop Barron that God is not a violator of our fundamental freedom. He does not drag anyone into the final Kingdom. But am I really going to fault Hart, Rob Bell, Father Richard Rohr, or Origen of Alexandria for holding to universal salvation or believing that salvation is not a matter of if, but when?

Cosmic Quid-pro-quo & Reward Schemes

Also the low-level consciousness ideas coloring the beliefs of many, a “tit-for-tat, reward and punishment” cosmic view, needs serious updating. When Catechists are instructed to approach second graders in preparation for First Reconciliation with “Jesus took the penalty for our sins,” something is terribly off, terribly wrong. Look at that language! While we should not be embarrassed of our ancestors in the faith, but we must also accept that we have grown theologically and anthropologically standing on their shoulders.

Yes, Hart is spot on when he criticizes the morbid fascinations of late Augustinianism and what happens to the babies. Amen, Hart is right to criticize Thomas Aquinas when suggests that the delights of heaven include seeing souls eternally suffer. Yes, Hart is correct to slam the cruelty and pastoral disaster of Francis Xavier given to his Japanese converts.

Healthier Views on Hell and Heaven

There are healthier ways to think about things like “heaven,” “hell,” and fingers pointing into Mystery. A happy wanderer and saint, Anthony de Mello, once said, “The finger points at the moon. All the idiot sees is the finger. The world is full of people who use their finger to poke other peoples’ eyes out.” Hell is one of those fingers, brothers and sisters. When God begins to look worse than ISIS, it’s time check our metaphors lest they blind others and ourselves.

Maybe we should look at death differently. Perhaps death is that point in which our time is up, like Brother David Steindl-Rast says? Look how he deals with death here, and the NOW-life we all share…

Maybe what “hell” points to is becoming “NO!” and “Screw off!” to seeing everything in empathy? Does anyone actually refuse the NOW-life like that? Perhaps. Maybe not though. We can hope that no one does. Can we eliminate the possibility?

Maybe heaven isn’t an eternal Disney vacation that keeps getting better. Maybe it is seeing every moment through everyone’s eyes. Perhaps it is experiencing what the mystery of Joseph Merrick experienced as he did, as if we were him, without losing the as if. And Hitler. Mother Teresa. And all the nothing-people who are not really nothing to God.

Maybe “heaven” and “hell” are the same except graced perspective?

Watch out for those useful, deadly fingers.

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  • Ame

    Fyi, so far my review of St. Therese’s writings have led to my strong speculation that this “St. Therese said she thought hell was empty” is a myth. Of course, I admit that I haven’t read everything, because there are unpublished writings and witness testimony from her cause for canonization of the things she said that I just don’t have access to. She did say in letters to her sister how she wished she can offer to Jesus a soul snatched away from hell.

  • Ame

    So, I am confused by you. I thought in “Hell lis not in the Bible blog,” that you understood the distinctions between Gehenna and Sheol. Those places are certainly real (it appears to me that Eastern Orthox Christians still maintain this distinction) though Latin and English speakers historically have used the word hell in reference to both, which causes great confusion. I cringe over the changing of the English translation of the Apostles Creed words “the dead” of Sheol to “hell” in reference to the place where Jesus descended and narrowed in attempt to appease the insatiable Latin literalists. It’s not easy to explain to children this confusing use of the word hell in such a case and perpetuates confusing ideas that can lead to heresies like Jansenism.

    So, to see that you are now speaking of not just the depiction of Hell as possibly erroneous, but also its reference to Gehenna being not only erroneous but possibly empty is very concerning. Your challenge to those who believe in Hell belie more than just expressing your hopes and reasonable theological speculation a la Hans Urs von Balthazar, but that you truly are misusing the Context Group studies to justify heterodox theories.

    If you’re just not articulating your thoughts well enough, then please do correct yourself or at least make a more obvious disclaimer that you’re not a theologian by training.

    For those interested in an orthodox Catholic study of Scripture concerning Gehenna and Sheol, including a consideration that Sheol may be the precursor to purgatory:


  • Eric S Giunta

    “Yes, Hart is spot on when he criticizes the morbid fascinations of late Augustinianism and what happens to the babies. Amen, Hart is right to criticize Thomas Aquinas when suggests that the delights of heaven include seeing souls eternally suffer. Yes, Hart is correct to slam the cruelty and pastoral disaster of Francis Xavier given to his Japanese converts.”

    No, actually, Hart is not correct in any of these things. Like you, he’s simply a leftist liberal who practices a theology of emotivism, dismissing whatever is politically incorrect to modern, left-liberal sensibilities. You both criticize that which you are willfully ignorant of.

  • mechtheist

    Hell, whether it exists, and if so, what it really means, what purpose it has, these are fundamental questions, getting them wrong could lead to extremely dire consequences, infinitely dire to some [many if not the majority] particular interpretations. This is one of the many things that boggle the mind, how anyone could call this god a just god when he didn’t manage to let this be obvious. In 2000 years, theologians still have no clue, they likely all think they do, but if they were on the right track, agreement would be widespread, but it isn’t even close.

    “…popular Christian ideas of hell or the official Church doctrine of hell” This evidences an extreme problem–why should there be the profound difference with such a fraught question? Does the Church think the rabble doesn’t deserve to know the truth? What percentage of Christians believe in the most horrific versions of hell, with the eternal torment, of literally burning in flames for eternity? How many children are tormented with these beliefs?

    If fundamental dogma/doctrine can “evolve” to such profound lengths. how can anyone have any confidence that they got it right now? How can anyone justify calling someone a heretic?

    And, how can you brush off as if silly what happens to babies? It ain’t silly if hell turns out to be one of the tormenting variety. Most estimates I’ve seen show that more fetuses get aborted than born [spontaneous abortions might be as high as 60% or so], so if life actually began at inception, well, the implications are obvious, and horrific. You don’t seem to hold to that belief, but then, as the guy says in that first video, you don’t really know, and that’s the problem.

  • I have no hope left that hell is empty. I see too many people like Fr. James Martin and Father Richard Rohr and Rob Bell trying too hard to fill it. The psychology of liberalism is such a level of denial of the existence of sin that it actively guarantees a lack of conversion away from sin.

    As to the reason I do not doubt the existence of hell, and reject the concept of universal salvation as anything other than utopian madness, it’s because I’ve seen too much mental illness and addiction dragging people into hell in this life, let alone the next, with no hope of getting out.

  • Even when the church still believed in Limbo as the outer circle of hell, there was no torment there, only the natural joy any human soul could have having been freed of the pain of this life. You have been gravely miseducated.

  • Now that is a very interesting thought indeed that I have never considered before: Sheol, also known as Limbo or the First Circle in Dante, as a precursor to purgatory.

    That means the infamous Zombie Apocalypse of the Gospel of Matthew, would be the Grateful Dead stopping by Jerusalem for a quick visit with the relatives on their way out of purgatory to heaven. (ok, I could not resist the modernist puns and allegories to construct that sentence)

    I *really* like this idea. Extend it a bit further, and you have unbaptised infants and virtuous pagans (not just pre-Christian ones, but all for all of time) getting the lessons that they were denied on Earth in purgatory on their way to the Beatified Vision.

    WOW. Thank you greatly for this. I’m going to discuss this with my priest and with others that I have such discussions with.

  • Jeffrey

    Proving once again that no one has their noses stuck up their rear-ends and is more enamored with their own flatulence than liberal ‘Catholics’. When James Martin sounds entirely reasonable by comparison, you are TRULY off the deep end.
    Perhaps on Judgment Day, the author of this farce will stand together with Hart and Mark Shea (and also Austen Ivereigh and Thomas Reese, so as not to exclude the women) and finally convince that despicable rad-trad, Jesus of Nazareth, to renounce all His vile rantings that have placed so many bad ideas into peoples heads for so long.
    Make no mistake – that’s where their true hatred ultimately rests.

  • mechtheist

    ??? No Limbo, babies and any other unbaptized go to hell. How do babies gnash their teeth when they have none? And “circle of hell”? That’s just Dante. Miseducated? You can apply the same comment I made above, how do you know? If the doctrine you accept is so open to evolving, how can you be sure of anything?

  • Ame

    Sure thing! But don’t credit me: thank Michal Hunt of Agape Catholic Bible Study. Follow the link from my first post here to go to the website.

  • Most stories of Limbo were fictional from the start. Oh, and Dante was Catholic- he was writing from the doctrine I accept, he didn’t invent it, just used it for satire.

    I like that other link provided.

  • mechtheist

    How is any of that relevant? Yes, Dante was fictional, as were the circles. The closest you get is verbiage about some behaviour will get worse punishment, that’s a far cry from there being discreet levels or rings.

    You haven’t even tried to address a single one of the main issues I raised. I wonder why this happens so often? You have no problem with babies going to hell? How do you justify thinking you are correct? What’s your thinking on why god created humans to have so much “pain in this life”? Do you think the afterlife will be eternal happiness? What do you think you might be doing for all that time? For a hundred years? A thousand? A billion years? What do you think you might be wanting to do after a 100 trillion years?

  • If you don’t understand the religious mind, you aren’t smart enough yet to understand the answers I gave.

    I think heaven would be hell for atheists- being constantly confronted with the fact that they were wrong for eternity doesn’t sound very happy to me. But I’m just fine with eternal adoration.

  • Fellow Dying Inmate

    Fundamentalism is a psychological problem.

  • Fellow Dying Inmate

    How loving.

    Fundamentalism is a psychological problem

  • Spreading AIDS and STDs is by far a bigger mental illness. The infidelity that these men approve of is scandalously abusive.

  • mechtheist

    Yeah, right. It takes a special mind to demean someone who objects to torturing babies for eternity. You can’t address any issue I’ve raised, all you can do is spew breathtakinginanities and insult my intelligence. I can’t understand the BS flat-earthers spew, or creationists, or anti-vacsers, or Trump supporters–it sure ain’t a matter of intelligence, it’s usually the, often tacit, assumptions folks start with, and those assumptions typically involve the denial of facts.

    It also takes a really special mind to be “just fine with eternal adoration”. FFS, do you even know what that means? What would that really entail? How would one go about such adoration? That’s truly one of the more horrifying statements I’ve come across. It’s rather like embracing eternal life but you have to get a frontal lobotomy. Why do so many believers hate the human mind? It’s arguably god’s greatest creation but believers have to dismiss, diminish and denigrate the use of one to its full potential. I literally can’t believe, my mind won’t let me. Belief isn’t really a choice, if it is, you’re doing it wrong. And I have to say, my mind is repelled the idea of eternal adoration. Plus, it would absolutely detest a creature that would want such adoration. Why exactly does your god feel the need for infinitely inferior critters such as us humans to adore him? Is he really so insecure as that?

    Since you’re so much more intelligent than poor lil ol me, why can’t you address the issues I’ve raised? If someone were to come up to you, put a gun to your head and say they are going to kill you, how much “natural joy” would you feel in anticipation? Would you thank him profusely for freeing you from the “pain of this life”? If not, why not?

  • What I am objecting to is your characterization of hell as torture. It is not, and whomever told you that misinformed you to the point of brain damage.

  • The really interesting thing is I just had a debate with a different atheist who claims that babies should be burnt with saline before they are born, despite feeling pain, so therefore I guess you people believe in giving human beings hell in this life.

  • Ame

    It never was Catholic belief that babies go to hell. Limbo was just a reasonable theological speculation that unfortunately was taught as though it was dogma, but it is not dogma. Belief in the Baptism of Desire is also a reasonable theological speculation. We do not know who is in Hell but we sometimes are given signs to give us a degree of confidence that certain individuals are in heaven (canonized saints). The official answer of the Catholic Church is that we don’t know what happens to the souls of unbaptized babies. We entrust them to the mercy of God. Certain kinds of traditionalists (I see traditionalism as a spectrum and not a carcature) will likely go hysterical and say otherwise. Too bad for them.

    Dante is not a theologian, but an artist, a writer and poet. “Inferno” is first and foremost art that was shaped by a Catholic imagination. Because we can’t and can never exactly know what goes on in Hell, we are left with a great range of artistic interpretation that is permissible before fear of heresy comes in.. And yes pagan images of what damnation looks like got culturally appropriated along the way. This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.

  • john denis jackson

    A must read on this ‘hot’…topic is the scholarly book by Fr Robert Wild : ‘A Catholic reading guide to Conditional Immortality’ . It’s all about hell!

  • Ame

    There is a difference between the atheist who finds himself unable to believe and the atheist who makes a sport of supposing that if there is a Creator Being, that Being deserves a nuclear device full of blasphemies hurled at It. In some Catholic theological circles, this malthiest is called “the impious.” The self-proclaimed Satanists that think they’re so edgy to turn crucifixes upside down when in reality are just making the Cross of St. Peter image, a religious image, come to mind.

    I think of the ability to believe as a spectrum of development with various milestones to achieve as one goes through various life stages. We all go through different abilities at different rates, some advance more quickly and some may plateau or even retract. Some have learning disabilities that require nontraditional methods of instruction in order to compensate for deficiencies. I have a hard time with math operations beyond Algebra II, unless I stumble upon a different way of learning about things like creating parabolic art (YouTube it, it’s fascinating).

    So like me having a learning disability in math that would keep me from passing a calculus class but have better than average skills in other domains, an atheist that cannot believe may simply be stuck a meager level of theological development but God may gift such a person with other abilities, like moral aptitude. I and some other Catholic theologians may have no reason to believe that God would fault a person with such a disability. It’s okay to have a disability, we are not less than, we just learn differently. There may be a different kind of faith, like the dark night of faith that St. John of the Cross speaks of that requires a detachment from our personal images of God and heaven in order to reach true holiness, that may allow such a differently-abled kind of atheist to be saved by God and the spiritual reach of His Church. If such an atheist does not make a willful, deliberate act of rejecting God, then there is not necessarily a mortal sin in not believing.

  • john denis jackson

    As a mental health chaplain I must assert from years of working with people who suffer from mental illness & distress that many are the ‘aristocrats of heaven’ to use a phrase from Jean Vanier. I cannot see how God would condemn these poor suffering people to an everlasting place of hellish torment . And I’m sure mr Seeber would learn a helluva a lot from Fr Bob Wild’s book on Conditional Immortality and Universalism .

  • I am not interested in moral relativism removing the concept of sin due to excuses of mental illness. I have a diagnosed mental illness myself that I have to deal with every day to stay on the narrow path; I don’t see why anybody else should get a pass just because some SJW says they should.

    And worse yet, some sins due to mental illness- are contagious. Homosexuality for instance- until the APA was bribed to ignore *all* of the research on it that existed before Kinsey, it was very clear that the crime of pederasty creates homosexuality. Abused people abuse others, after all. St. Peter Damian knew it in 1050, which is why he wrote _The Book of Gomorrah_ to ban clerical pederasty.

    All “Conditional Immorality” does is hurt people. It isn’t an abundance of judgement that we suffer from, but an abundance of mercy.

  • john denis jackson

    And don’t forget the study book by Fr Rovert Wild !

  • mechtheist

    This reply is baffling, it makes me wonder about your sanity.

    I guess you’ve never read the bible or heard a fundamentalist or evangelical say a word on the subject? “Brain damaged”, “misinformed”, “not smart enough”, “gravely miseducated”, these must all be projection. Who isn’t extremely familiar with the idea that hell is torture? FFS, you just said to me up there^^ “Dante was Catholic- he was writing from the doctrine I accept”. How can you possibly make such an absurd claim? Also, it would be a believer to think that getting bad information can give someone brain damage.

  • mechtheist

    It is at best disingenuous to portray angry atheist as if their anger isn’t well-justified. FFS, we just had the AG Barr railing against us, there are still laws on the books of various states that disallow atheist holding public office, I could go on for hundreds and hundreds of pages.

    You’re calling being a realist a “learning disability”. There simply is no path that could lead me to deny what is obvious, no amount of “development” that could induce belief. You can’t point to a single thinking error on my part, the “development” you’re positing is clearly the indoctrination religion foists on, insists on, its followers pass on, especially to their children. This is made quite clear in the huge percentage of believers who follow, often quite passionately, the beliefs they grew up with.

  • mechtheist

    “The official answer of the Catholic Church is that we don’t know what happens to the souls of unbaptized babies.”

    And yet, the author of this article belittles those think it’s a rather important question, as would decent human being. My main point is how problematic it is for such fundamental questions to have radically different but equally fervent proponents of diametrically opposed answers, especially when those answers often have extremely dire consequences. It’s a grotesque way to run a religion.

    Then, there’s the related point–since “no one can know the mind of god” and “god works in mysterious ways”, etc, and the fact that doctrine/dogma can “evolve” so extensively, how can anyone be at all certain about any of these things? How to distinguish between heretic and prophet? Isn’t it really, in the end, you accept what you like and condemn or reject what you don’t?

  • We wrote the Bible. The fundamentalists are heretics guilty of cultural misappropriation.

  • Ame

    In the world of the sciences, the same frothing at the mouth can happen. Just ask whether sound is neurologically coded by pitch-matched placing or by temporal firing rates or a mixture of both, and you’ll get grad students’ time wasted as their professors unprofessionally get into a heated argument, not debate, over who is obviously right, and consequently who is more intelligent.

    The reason for people to fight their respective causes passionately is because it’s human nature to either fight out of a sense of defending truth at best or pride at worst.

    To answer your question, though probably still not satisfactorily, Catholic Christianity first of all believes in God who is rational, possessing reason and order. From there, the world of Hellenistic philosophy led to the evolution of the bulwark of Catholic theology that explains Christian doctrine, which came from Scripture and apostolic tradition. More modern forms of philosophy contributed to further precision of theology in Catholicism. At least in a Catholic seminary (can’t speak of other Christians), priests are supposed to get a higher education degree, usually a bachelor’s in philosophy and a master’s in theology here in the U.S.

    Eastern Orthodox Christianity is pretty much content with Hellenistic philosophy, preferring to not explain so many mysterious doctrines, and some Orthodox Christians go as far as declaring certain Catholic beliefs as heretical for just attempting to explain certain beliefs. *shrugs* As for Protestantism, it seems the younger the denomination, the more anti-philosophical, sometimes even anti-intellectual, they become, dismissing philosophy as a manmade tradition and over-complicating “simple” faith.

  • mechtheist

    It’s incredibly disingenuous to use examples of disagreement in science and use that to try to equate it with the extremely vast gulf separating various religious beliefs. Over time, science converges whereas religion diverges. Science can resolve its disagreements, religion simply can’t–matters of faith are not open to evidence, no objective way to distinguish what is or isn’t true.

    The last two paragraphs are great support for my argument, thank you. When one’s dogma is another’s heresy, and this is ubiquitous, the norm for almost any two individuals much less two religions, well, that should tell you something, and it ain’t something good if you’re rational.

  • mechtheist

    That’s wrong, absurd really, and both in so so many ways I don’t have the strength to list even a small portion of them. How old ARE you:?

  • It is a historical fact that the Catholic Church existed before the Bible, and as such, it is better to describe the Bible as a Catholic book than the Catholic Church as a Biblical religion.

    Yes, there have been many myths spread about the last things. Sometimes even by well meaning nuns in grade schools trying to explain difficult concepts in a way that will get kids to behave.

    The mature person takes in ALL the data on a subject to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff.

    Yes, you have been exposed to an irrational version of Christianity, but your experience does not change the fact that a rational and coherent version exists.

    In that rational version, even when the official teaching was that unbaptised people went to Sheol aka Limbo, and baptised people went to Gehenna for punishment, there is no torture in Sheol.

    So no babies were ever tortured in yhe rational version. The problem came in Protestant English translations using the word hell for both. Thus cultural appropriation.

  • Ame

    You do realize that you are expressing an mere opinion?

    And people science are actually diverging quite polemically over the question of when a human being first comes into existence, when that human being deserves legal protection.

  • mechtheist

    Opinion? Where? It seems quite obvious you were being disingenuous, clearly the disagreements in science are minuscule compared to those so rife in religion, and those who disagree will usually come around and agree once the evidence is found that settles the matter. You don’t see that amongst believers.

    And, no, sorry, science facts are facts, they’re objectively verified. As to when a human being first comes into existence, that quite simply has no answer, it most definitely is not a question science can answer–there is no objective criteria. So, it becomes a matter of definition, who’s to say what’s the correct one? Is a virus alive, some think so, others think not. The ‘moment of conception’ thing is somewhat new for the Catholic Church–one of those ‘evolved’ bits that expose the arbitrariness of it all.

  • mechtheist

    Wow, the nuns and priests who taught religion at the Catholic school I went to would not be happy with your claim. Your writing implies you think anyone who disagrees with your interpretation of things is brain damaged, that’s way worse than what most atheist accuse believers of. There are no rational religions, if there were, faith wouldn’t be required. You know the DSM criteria would label believers to be crazy in a number of ways so they have to put in a special exemption for religious type beliefs.

    A couple of things, the ‘bible’ as commonly understood, has 2 parts, the old one is a bit older than the Catholic Church, and Jesus might have quoted it a time or two. Of course, he was a Jew and thought of himself that way, he followed the Torah and whatever else they considered to be scripture back then. There’s that thing about ‘not one tiddle’, but then, he trashed a lot of it too. He did a lot of ‘evolving’, but nevertheless, was still a Jew both by ethnicity and religion. The other thing, most atheist know more about religion than most believers, they’ve done numerous polls and that’s always the case.

  • The Jewish old testament did not have a Canon until *after* the Catholic Church was created- and then suddenly it had two as Greek speaking Jews took one Canon that had been previously translated into Greek, where the rabbis in the diaspora used a different Canon. They are very similar, but they are not the same. Christians at the time took the Septuagint.

    Limbo was never a place of torture, but I am familiar with the way it was misused in Catholic schools in America to preach against extramarital fornication.

  • Ame

    String theory says the universe as we know it can all just be a hologram. And digital media is wholly inadequate to allow any person to really know the person behind the other screen, so your misapplication of the the word disingenuous is ironic. And you’re not truly an atheist. So that’s actually a good thing since you have some kind of faith in science that gives you security and comfort. The sense of superiority is a potential vice for both believer and nonbelievers alike.

    Religion will always be with us as long as humans desire meaning and faith in things unobservable to the naked eye. Even atheist J. Michael Straczynski understood this enough to break away from the unrealism and banality of a godless future that is Star Trek for creating a masterpiece of true humanism that is Babylon 5.

  • Edward De Vita

    Hart may be on the left politically, but he is not a theological liberal unless, of course, you think that Saints like Gregory of Nyssa or Isaac of Nineveh were theological liberals. Hart believes in hell, but like the saints I’ve just mentioned, he does not believe that it is eternal. This view, commonly known as patristic universalism, was quite widespread in the church of the 3rd and 4th centuries. As for Hart being “not correct in any of these things”, do you deny that St.Augustine taught a strict predestinationism that was taken up in spades and perfected by John Calvin? Do you deny that he taught that unbaptized babies go to hell? I’ve read Augustine myself and am fully aware that Hart is correct here. Moreover, Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and a noted patristics scholar who reads both Latin and Greek, so it is very hard to take you seriously when you state that he criticizes what he is willfully ignorant of. None of which is to say that Hart is correct in his view of hell. But only that your criticism is rather emotive and falls short of the mark.

  • Eric S Giunta

    Saints Gregory and Isaac, their manifest learning and sanctity notwithstanding, are not representative exponents of the Church’s tradition in this specific instance, and for Catholics this question was definitively settled, at the very latest, by the Fourth Lateran Council, which dogmatically defined the doctrine of eternal damnation (a doctrine which by then, A.D. 1215, had almost certainly already been definitively established by the Church’s ordinary and universal magisterium). In fairness to Hart, he is Eastern Orthodox, and it’s not my place to say what does or does not constitute authentic “orthodoxy” according to that religion, but this is an ostensibly Catholic blog and so, unless challenged on the matter I am here assuming some basic Catholic theological premises.

    Of course I don’t dispute that Augustine — indeed, the overwhelming number of churchmen and theologians until very, very recently — taught that unbaptized infants (and unbaptized mentally handicapped persons) who died before reaching the age of reason were eternally damned, but this belief was not a product of “morbid fascination,” and remains theologically well-grounded. People who find the notion unthinkable do so from emotion, and from popular misconceptions of what damnation essentially entails, not from sound theological reasoning. I don’t dispute that there are intelligent rejoinders to the traditional teaching (never dogmatically defined by the Church, and today a minority position), but today’s popular teaching of auto-salvation for such individuals (which itself goes well beyond the current Catechism’s own cautious agnosticism) is also theologically and pastorally problematic, and I don’t think the concerns highlighted by the traditional teaching have been adequately addressed. The newer teaching, at least as it is popularly expressed by pastors and popular writers, borders dangerously on neo-Pelagianism.

    Just to sure I’m not historically illiterate or a radical “traditionalist,” let me concede that there are, I believe, some “Augustinian” theological speculations, also dominant until very recently, that I find border on “morbid fascination,” specifically the belief that the vast majority of human beings — including the vast majority of *Catholics* — end up eternally damned. I don’t think such speculations are pastorally healthy either, though I must say the popular teaching on the ground today — which all but assumes the salvation of any and everyone who dies, even manifest grave sinners and suicides — are even less healthy still. “Mercy” has now become a mindless bromide that short-circuits serious theological reflection and keeps Catholics and their pastors from effectively calling out anyone on their sins and warning them of the disastrous consequences which await if they will not repent of their behavior. Hence the modern, pop-Christian reduction of “repentance” to mere regret, or the popular emergence of “Only-God-can-judge-me-ism.”

  • Edward De Vita

    Hello Eric. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. To say, as you do, that it is only emotion that leads people to consider the eternal damnation of unbaptized infants unthinkable overlooks other possibilities, as for instance:
    1. the position was certainly not held universally by the Fathers. Indeed, it comes basically from St. Augustine and those who followed him. In fact, given the whole of the Catholic Church (not just its western part), it is probably a minority position.
    2. It seems to impugn the goodness of God, Who is the Father of all (no human father would cast off his children in this way and, since God is infinitely better than any human father, we can assume that He would not do so).
    3. Sometimes (indeed, often) our emotional response to an idea is a fair indication of the worth of the idea itself. So, for instance, there are certain ideas which ought to provoke in us a severe emotional response. Now, of course, that response is not enough, in itself, to show the idea is wrong, but it is definitely a key indicator. Indeed, the doctrine of the limbus infantium was, in itself, a response to the horror felt by many concerning the damnation of infants. Mind you, the doctrine of limbo has its own problems that I will not go into here.

    Concerning point number 2 above. It is true that when we speak of God’s goodness, we speak analogously. We must remember, however, that analogical predication is not equivocation. This means that it is through our own finite notion of goodness that we come to understand in a very dim way, the unutterable goodness of God. If then we were to attribute to God what could only be considered evil in men, we would have a problem of equivocation. One of Hart’s arguments is that we cannot hold some of the doctrines we have held to for centuries and still say that God is good. Now, he may be wrong on this point, but so far no one has properly responded to his critique. Rather than simply spouting off decrees of Councils etc…, those of us who believe in hell need to respond to Hart’s argument. And one thing we can’t do is simply write him off as a iiberal. He is no such thing. He is a theist in the classical sense (along of the lines of St. Thomas) and he makes his argument on the basis of this tradition of classical theism and the classical understanding of the nature of evil.

    Regarding the fact that patristic universalism was always a minority position in the church, I would make a few comments:

    1. There were more Fathers who held this position (or, at the very least, the hope for the salvation of all) than we might think. Among them ( and in addition to Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac) are St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, St. Ephrem, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, St. Maximus the Confessor and, perhaps, St. Basil.

    2. The very fact that God’s purpose in sending his only beloved Son was precisely to save all mankind should, at the very least, be a source of hope for us that He will indeed achieve His purpose. I personally pray for this everyday. I do not assume it to be so. Nor do I think that the kingdom of heaven is a shoe-in. But I do pray that all those who have died , no matter how evil they were, may somehow (perhaps only in their last moments) respond to God and then make their way to Him through a perhaps long and arduous purgation.

    3. The fact that the universalist position was held by some very prominent saints (after all, Gregory of Nyssa was largely responsible for our Trinitarian belief and for the creed we recite every Sunday) should give us pause. We should realize that, even if we cannot entirely buy into this position, still there is some truth in it which is valuable for the church even if it is only that we should hope and pray for a universal outcome.

    Finally, with regard to the modern emphasis on mercy. I partially agree with you. However, I find the classical position which states that “God is loving, but He is also just” falls short of the truth. God is not merely loving. He IS LOVE. This is the great revelation of the New Testament. And if God is love, it follows that everything He does must be motivated by HIs love. And of course, real love can be both gentle and severe. Here is what people need to know. Precisely because He loves them, God will be severe with those who do evil and refuse to repent. But this severity is intended to bring them to repentance. They also need to know that it is possible for them to withhold this repentance forever.

  • a r tompkins

    You therefore believe that:

    1. Before there was creation, there was/were all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly-wise god(s). It follows that there was no suffering of any kind of creature, at least creatures with limited souls like ourselves.
    2. Said gods created, out of nothingness, all of the universe we know, including us, to test our very imperfect selves, such that we could avoid being tortured forever and ever.
    3. This created reality, these gods could only have known, would generate sinners that are certain to end up in this hell, after a very brief, nebulous, fleeting existence with all kinds of distractions, not necessarily distributed fairly

    And I bet you think these gods demonstrate perfect, infinite love.

  • What athiests cannot seem to wrap their heads around is that discipline is love. Love is not “let the other person harm themselves and others” , it is “give the other person guidance in what is best”.

    And sometimes what is best, hurts.

  • a r tompkins

    what any rational person believes is there is no earthly crime worthy of infinite punishment. None. Not even the most sadistic human justice system could implement that. only all-loving gods could come up with that.

  • Because it takes an irrational sociopathic narcissist to ignore the weight of evidence for God.

  • a r tompkins

    boy you’re on a hair-trigger! “irrational sociopathic narcissist”? where do you get that idea?! I see plenty of evidence for gods. Malicious, indifferent, absent, partial, unsympathetic, unfair, snickering, cruel, mysterious gods. Lots of evidence. Lots.

  • Well, for one, you are ignoring the basic evidence of how to raise children. Which indicates a narcissistic personality.

  • a r tompkins

    think about these gods you made up. before they got busy creating things, there were no suffering, tormented souls, we might presume. After they got done creating, there is a place you call “hell”, where souls may be found “gnashing their teeth” for eternity. And you call that infinite love and sagacity.

  • a r tompkins

    I raised – as a single parent – three beautiful, successful loving kids in adulthood now. that’s my evidence.

  • a r tompkins

    and I would not design an environment where they could be tormented forever. how evil these gods of yours!

  • Nobody made anything up, and that answer proves your sociopathic intentions. Strike two. At thos rate, you will next show your ignorance of right and wrong by describing one of those things you think should not be a sin in your arrogance and ignorance.

  • As a single parent- removing from them the love of the other parent.

  • a r tompkins

    she died, a-hole! of cancer. your all-loving gods took her!

  • a r tompkins

    heaven is going to be filled with the worst of human-kind. that is entirely too clear.

  • The lost wife and anger at God. Is that what you think she would have wanted?

  • a r tompkins

    I have the same anger toward your gods that I have for unicorns, dragons, cyclops, and leprechauns. Namely, none. However, arrogant snobs like yourself, wrapping yourselves in sanctimonious piety with your delusional beliefs – condemning all those who don’t see things the way you do, and thinking infinite punishment makes any sense in any universe … that’s another story.

  • a r tompkins

    “And sometimes what is best, hurts.” yeah – hurts for all eternity. finite crime gets infinite punishment. and that makes sense to you. because love of the gods itself is infinite, I suppose.

  • a r tompkins

    You missed the point of what I said. I raised my kids with love, honesty, fairness, compassion, empathy. Not perfectly. But those were my guiding principles. Anyone and everyone who has met my kids tell me they’re wonderful people. No fantasies, No mysteries other than nature and the stars themselves. No gods necessary.

  • Right, keep telling yourself that. You will get your wish that way- all alone in hell.

  • mechtheist

    Pshaw! really, this BS? How am I wrong, anywhere? Ironic? If you weren’t being disingenuous, how does that work seeing as how I made it clear how it definitely looks exactly like you were? And, really, FFS, right after claiming you can’t really know a person through digital media, you then claim to know me better than I know myself? Was that ironic or shear obtuseness? It’s so tiresome and repugnant for believers to keep trying that one, that we’re not really atheists. And what has string theory got to do with anything? It’s far far from accepted science. “…just a hologram”, why the “just”?

    Babylon 5 was fantastic, JMS was an atheist, so recognizing that humans might still need that crutch isn’t exactly a good thing, it’s an indictment of the species. Do you understand that ‘humanism’ is largely atheistic, right? That the generic term usually implies “secular” humanism? In fact, the words are often used as almost synonyms by plenty of folks.

  • mechtheist

    What? Are you being deliberately oblivious? Canon schmanon, the Hebrew scriptures are mostly way older than Christianity, you claimed Christians wrote the “Bible”, but they only wrote less than half of it.

    I wasn’t taught limbo was a place of torture, and it’s utterly irrelevant since it’s no longer accepted, plus, I never mentioned it to begin with other than in reply. This author tried to belittle those who think it’s kinda important whether the unbaptized go to hell. Since it’s quite unresolved whether they do, and also whether hell is torture, it seems like you have to be at least morally bankrupt if not a monster not to think it’s kinda really effing important.

    If you actually know a little history of the New Testament, and the Old for that matter, we just know a lot more about the New, you realize what absurdity it is to claim biblical inerrancy as many do, it’s downright laughable.

    Neither you nor the other replier have even attempted to respond to the main issue I raised in my first post–considering all that ‘evolve’ implies in this context, how no one can know the mind of god/understand god, works in mysterious ways, the vast range of disagreements among even the most respected theologians and etc etc, how can anyone ever be certain about any doctrine/dogma? How can anyone ever claim someone is a heretic, or define heresy? What is it that lets you believe you’ve even chosen the right religion? Free of assumptions[faith], there simply are no objective criteria that could distinguish one form another.

  • Except of course the 2000 years wothbof careful documentation into theological experimentation under the councilar method of that branch of science.

  • Ame

    I appreciate your active imagination, but I am actually being forthright with you. I get the impression that we’re having entirely different kinds of conversations. I am more interested in sharing perspectives.

  • Ame

    This is really poor form. You should apologize for putting your foot in your mouth.

  • Ame

    I am sorry for your loss. I hope someday you may see her again.

  • Ame

    I took time before replying to try to understand what you’re trying to get at with this reply. I see a difference between an atheist angry at God and a malthiest who makes sport out of giving God the middle finger. Believers can be angry at God. The question is what are you doing with your anger? I am not interested in you becoming a believer. Evangelization is for those who are interested. I think theists and atheists can have many intellectual discussions that promote the understanding different perspectives, rather than be suspicious of them, and each can go back home unchanged yet somehow a little more compassionate than before.

    Good luck using the “obvious” argument in a formal debate.

  • No more “poor form” than trying to peddle a mixture of atheism and paganism in a Catholic channel. Besides, in the discussion it has already been mentioned that for the discerning atheist, Heaven is most certainly a low rent district as far as potential afterlifes are concerned.

  • Ame

    This is really not a formal Catholic channel. Patheos is for discussions of a variety of religious nature. That the channels are divided into different religions is just for the sake of orderliness. Apologists may participate, but this blog is not for evangelization. There is no statement testifying to being representative of any given religion. This Catholic channel is meant for discussions about or would interest Catholics. It’s okay to point out errors and debate in defense of doctrine and dogma, but you’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re expecting Crux here. And try to show a little humanity. Not everyone behind the keyboard is out to be your enemy.

  • In that case, I accuse both patheos and the author of this blog of false advertising.

  • Ame

    For Catholicism, it’s a both/and paradigm. Yes, God is unknowable, the Knowable Unknowable. But He is a God interested in revealing Himself. How the bishops of various Councils came about discerning and defining the beliefs of the early Christians and how they developed theology to explain those beliefs and deciphered what would be orthodox and what would be heretical is beyond what I have had time and access to learn about. I just know there are Catholics who have studied to an expert level and can better answer your questions. I do have an idea, that with Hellenistic philosophy, especially using Socratic methods, much early Christian beliefs were hammered out through thinking through various logic proofs. As better knowledge of the natural world accummulated, better understanding of human psychology helped challenge us to better discern mortal versus venial sin came about, more sophisticated logic systems were introduced, then the more refined the theology became.

  • Ame

    Fair enough.

  • mechtheist

    Thanks again, you make my point with a lot more detail–it’s a bunch of human minds trying to understand what they ultimately can’t ever know if they got it right, or are even close, and whatever they decide is open to “evolving” so their efforts prove futile, worth little to nothing, swept under the rug and not mentioned by the polite, and god works so mysteriously that using human logic and reasoning is foolhardy, naive, useless. If your god is interested in revealing himself, he’s doing it wrong and has been forever.

    You should read a few Bart Ehrman books, you can get a good idea of how messy tall the early BS was, how it’s laughable to think they somehow zeroed in on the “truth”.

    In conclusion, theology is nothing but navel-gazing, tongue-wagging, gas-passing, and there isn’t any way whatsoever to prove otherwise.

  • Ame

    And if Christians beliefs never evolved, you would then argue, “how primitive! Science evolves!”

    What do you want here, sir? A chance to let your inner high school bully go unleashed?

  • a r tompkins

    Thank you, Anne, but I have no expectation of anything like that. I fully expect to join her in eternal rest and peace in the not so distant future, but that’s it. Appreciate your thoughts though.

  • a r tompkins

    and you’ll no doubt be up there with your heavenly pals, all that gloating amongst yourselves and mocking those who couldn’t believe in gods of infinite cruelty, forever and ever and ever. Amen!

    people like you only bolster my contention that christianity is largely a selfish, unsympathetic community.

  • The job of a person in heaven is erternal adoration, not gloating. In fact, most atheists would find it torture, so heaven may be hell itself.

  • mechtheist

    The problem isn’t in the ‘evolving’, it’s in the certainty, the ‘dogmatic’, claims, demands, etc, of dogmas doctrines and creeds. Add to that the reason for the ‘evolution’, never new evidence, just changing attitudes require religions to change or die. There’s a ‘tail wags the dog’ thing here of huge import and implication.

    Bully? Where? How is anything I’ve said at all bullying? Blunt and emphatic is not bullying, especially with such non-responsive replies, and then the contemptuous insult, I’ve been extremely restrained. Think of the constant vitriol atheist have put up with for a very very long time. We get attacked with the most horrific BS, and so often, it’s projection. When we but state our positions, we’re the devil, we’re corrupting the youth, we’re [insert the tried crap heard over and over again]. Atheist don’t firebomb churches, murder heretics, we don’t try to keep believers from holding office by law, blame hurricanes earthquakes and just about any disaster on believers. I could go on and on for 100s of pages. How many children have we abused to death trying to make them not believe?

    As to what I want? I want our species to grow the ef up. If we don’t learn to be more critical thinkers, we’re doomed. When you look at the cult of Trump, I have serious doubts humans will be around all that much longer, turning your brain off, thinking that facts are something you can pick and choose, well, denial of reality is not a good long-term strategy.

  • mechtheist

    “Theological experimentation” is an oxymoron. Anyone thinking they’re doing experimental theology is a reduced oxymoron.

    After hours and hours of googling, OK, maybe 5 minutes or so, I found virtually nothing on experimental theology, and only spelling error crap on ‘councilar’. By it’s nature, theology cannot experiment. Sure, you can do psychological experiments that bear on theological ideas, but that’s psychology, not theology. I don’t have a clue what you are thinking here. I will mention that it’s now well known that you can duplicate the religious experience so many report, the awe, the ecstatic, whatever, by direct brain stimulation, does that mean the experimenters are gods?

  • Only if you are ignorant of hiw theology works as a science, but that is something you cannot learn by googling. Read the Summa.

  • a r tompkins

    Ah – so every soul gets into heaven! You just argued against yourself, and won! Congratulations! I think…

  • No, because God is merciful, and thus he does not force atheists to become, as one person I had such a discussion with, an eternal praisebot. If the soul chooses to flee from the pain of being in heaven, there are two other choices.

  • a r tompkins

    a being that exacts an infinite punishment on any creature of its own making is the opposite of merciful – it is the epitome of cosmic sadism. have fun!

  • a r tompkins

    no – you argued against yourself and won the argument. are you always so oblivious?

  • Ame

    Theology cannot be experimented empirically, but it can be experimented with logic proofs, much like in philosophy and mathematics.

  • Ame

    He may be classifying theology as a humanity rather one of the three classic sciences that form the foundation of all modern sciences (with philosophy and mathematics). There are journals dedicated to exploring the relationships between these three.

  • Ame

    Dogmatism and fundamentalism is a plague on earth for believer and nonbelievers. Whichever group gets in power, be it theist and atheist alike, they will make the Other suffer by any means necessary to preserve their power. We could waste time going over who has one-uped the other over time, how governments formed on alleged secular humanist principles ended up persecuting believers of any faith. But such only further divides humanity into tribes. We need to dialogue for peace. And yes, the people of my Church have had a lot of blood on their hands. My Church is slowly trying to repent and make reparation. Unfortunately, this generation of bishops may have to die out before the Church can be purged of predators.

  • The being does not exact infinite punishmen, you do. It is a choice you make voluntarily.

  • a r tompkins

    I’ve made no choice. I’ve never heard of your gods, nor do I care to. And I certainly have no intention of selecting infinite punishment just for the fact that I was born. How foolish and illogical are you. let alone pathologically indifferent. You invent gods, then claim I am to be tormented forever and ever because I don’t believe you. It’s hard to believe there really are people as arrogant as you.

  • You have not made the choice YET. You will. Everybody does. That is just how it works. There is evidence of this in more religions that you know, in thousands of different cultures, under the 20,000 names for the same process. If you were not to arrogant to learn wisdom, there might be some hope, but that too, is the choice you are making right now.

  • mechtheist

    It’s good you recognize the danger of fundies. I think you’re very wrong about atheists abusing believers if they got into a position of power. Sure, there are examples of this in Russia/USSR and China, but those are not governments based on equal rights. Atheists are usually the strongest supporters of equal rights for believers in the US and Europe. Taking away the special positions religions enjoy is not persecution, e.g. tax breaks and exemption form anti-discrimination laws. It’s also good you admit to the blood-soaked history of the Church, but then, you should admit that most of it was done with theological justification, I’m sure they’ve evolved beyond that. But that only highlights what I’ve been talking about.

  • There are no governments based on equal rights left. Once the right to life was abolished, all other guarantees became worthless.

  • mechtheist

    Logic proofs are not experiments, if you’re doing experiments, you’re doing science. Can you give me examples of what you would consider an experiment in theology?

  • mechtheist

    Theology doesn’t work as a science, it’s simply not a science, it’s philosophy. You didn’t clarify ‘councilar’. And now you say read “Summa” without a reference, well, “summa” ain’t exactly a narrow search term, so I have no idea what you are talking about. I make the same challenge, give me an example of a theological experiment.

  • And yet it is the King of Sciences and the foundation for the scientific method. Read the Summa, there is no other summation of science that can compare to the observations, objections, and theories within.

  • mechtheist

    Theology is not science, it’s philosophy, and philosophy branched off and is now considered separate and quite different from science, as is math, it’s not considered a science. Mathematics uses proofs, science is deeply averse to proofs, it’s whole focus is really about disproofs.

  • mechtheist

    Boring and lame opinion, plus, the idea that life begins at inception is also just an opinion and one that really makes no sense without some religious BS like a soul getting shoved into the discussion and science has shown the idea of a soul is pretty conclusively unsupported by any evidence and is contradicted very strongly by the evidence and by the known laws of physics.

  • If it is such an “opinion” why is it the central scientific fact used in cloning by the unethical Chinese and North Korean reaearchers? Why is it the basis of all the unethical fetal stem cell research being done by sex trafficking across the Mexican border?

    However, it is not abortion alone that I refer to, for in Oregon abortion is not enough for the genocide of the unwanted. “Health Insurance” companies now openly force doctors to suggest euthanasia in expensive cancer cases, and in the case of senile dementia, it is now legal to involuntarily starve a patient to death. In addition to that, there is the crime of “failure to follow police orders” that is basically the death penalty without benefit of arrest or trial. In this way, the four most unwanted minorities are being killed wholsale because they are no longer seen to be human.

  • mechtheist

    Word salad for the most part. What is the “central scientific fact used by cloning …”? What does stem cell research have to do with sex trafficking? What’s wrong with suggesting euthanasia? “Right to life” in no way implies no right to commit suicide, no rational person would want to be forced to live a life they no longer wanted. Personally, I really really hope to die by my own hand, I think it’s crazy to not want to, the possibility of a really ugly death is all to real and way too likely. I don’t know about your senile dementia claim, at what point? Senile dementia is an awfully broad term. If someone is brain dead, they’re dead, period, no one has ever cme back from that. The police thing is about racism and while I wholeheartedly agree with you on how depraved the legal system is in this regard, it isn’t relevant to this discussion,

  • mechtheist

    Oh please, you’re claiming that something based on faith is somehow relevant to Science, based on observation? I already told you I searched for “summa”, it got all kinds of hits, which particular work are you referencing? Plus, why should I bother when you refuse to cite one example of what could be considered a theological experiment? You have yet to address my main question with any kind of specific claim. I’ll state it a little simpler, how can you objectively determine one claim about doctrine, creed, or dogma is true while another is false?

  • Are you really that ignorant of the science you porport to be better than religion? If so, I would say your faith in science and the observed facts surrounding the current science is woefully superstitous.

    No wonder you do not understand wisdom, you do not even understamd truth, and it is not my place to teach you basic 3rd grade biology.

    And if the police thing is merely racism, why are 63% of the victims of failure to follow police orders white?

    Your willingness to take away human rights based on developmental state is sadly normal for bigots of all stripes.

  • I am shocked at your ignorance and woefull education. The Summa Theologicae, the Sum of Theology, on which ALL other science is based. For it was Francis Bacon following Thomas Aquinas’s example that created the entire modern age.

  • mechtheist

    Now I’m a bigot? Funny from someone who calls anyone who disagrees with his dogma brain damaged. You can’t support your claims so you insult and spew more BS. You don’t comprehend what “human” rights are, you think they’re something granted by god. Show me where I suggest taking away someone’s rights? Either address the issues I’ve raised or go away.

  • A bigot is just somebody who is so prejudiced, that they ignore facts in favor of their perceived worldview. Most human beings are bigots.

    I gave you the pointers. And you instead choose to argue with basic scientific observed facts. We have observed the beginning of life, there is NO reason left to doubt it. We’ve even used it to create clones and chimeras in animals. Dolly the Sheep blows the standard lies of pro-choicers out of the water. There are people alive today because of genetically manipulated pigs producing insulin.

    I’m done with you genocidal maniac atheists. You aren’t intelligent enough to argue with.

  • mechtheist

    Yep, you be throwed off. Being intimately familiar with Aquinas work is particularly valuable. You’re clearly extremely biased, such works are interesting from an historical viewpoint but Aquinas was working from a circumstance of extreme ignorance, his arguments for existence of god don’t hold up, NO argument for the existence of god hold up, they’re all flawed, usually by the assumption that god exists buried more or less deeply. Aquinas was as full of shit as Aristotle, sure, great thinkers, but they were limited by the age they lived in.

    Let’s look at one quote, “Theology is the most certain of all sciences because its source is divine knowledge (which cannot be deceived) and because of the greater worth of its subject matter, the sublimity of which transcends human reason”. QED

    No doubt you can’t comprehend why that proves my point, but it does. It clearly demonstrates an a priori belief with a ton of baggage attached. It also demonstrates the problem I’ve raised that you refuse to address, i.e., that bit about being beyond human reasoning, yet, he’s doing nothing but human reasoning and then expects to be taken seriously. Why? Why take any theology seriously if the mind of god is unknowable? What criteria can you use to judge the validity?

    Again, I have addressed specific claims you’ve made and why they’re wrong, you haven’t addressed anything I’ve said and shown me wrong.

  • mechtheist

    Pathetic, you can’t respond so you insult, typical. Genocidal maniac atheist? Wow, I’m quite a piece of work.

    I’ve ignored no facts, you can’t point to one, you can only make baseless claims without support and then ignore me exposing your errors. You seem incapable of recognizing what is fact and what is opinion. The beginning of life, as I’ve said, is a matter of opinion, you can’t justify your claim beyond religious rantings and of course, you couldn’t even try so you just repeat the nonsense. ANYONE who conflates faith with Science isn’t worth arguing with. This is so typical of believers and how they try to argue, they can’t justify their claims, they can’t counter the claims of the person they’re arguing with, so they just keep making more BS claims and insult the other person, all of it is basically extremely dishonest. Faith seems particularly good at making even good people thoroughly dishonest, not surprising since it requires belief even in the face of contradictory evidence.

    It doesn’t matter if a fetus is ‘alive’, the only fact that matters is that it is a parasite and no one should be forced to suffer bearing a parasite that they don’t want. If you got pregnant and didn’t want the child, you would very quickly change your mind.

  • Ame


    Science has a long etymological history. Look it up, it’s fascinating. While always having something to do with the accumulation of knowledge, the use of the word has changed over the centuries. Mathematics, philosophy, and theology were the key three of forming the modern world and modern science because they provide the intellectual framework for talking about the nature of things, an explanation for phenomenon, and at least conceptually testing those ideas. What we call the “soft sciences” included these three but others like grammatics, rhetoric, civics, composition, and the beginnings of psychology did not have correlates to the natural world. However, psychology, sociology, and anthropology did end up adopting hypthoses testing and employing more of the “hard sciences” like biology to explain phenomenon in their respective fields.

    Empirical science, or the science of observation of the natural world and hypothesis testing, didn’t get invented nor did it fall from sky to become our modern textbooks. It evolved from the soft sciences. The hard sciences like astronomy, botany, engineering, physics (which is really using math to describe and quantify the natural world), genetics, chemistry, etc. are all empirical sciences.

  • Ame

    You really need a history of science college course. There’s gotta be something available through Great Courses if you have missed out in undergrad. And if you can’t fork out the money, then perhaps just searching YouTube for James Burke’s Connections episodes will be good enough.

    As for an “experiment,” in the broad sense of the word, read Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (unfortunately, it’s an unfinished work)and Summa Contra Gentiles.

  • Ame

    You do realize that Google searches run analytics on your past search habits to generate the highest hit results that it “thinks” you’re more interested in. The more often you search for similar topics, the more it goes deeper in digital space to find results that would interest you. My Google search on experimental theology, for instance, brought me this as result #4:


  • Ame

    Take a look at the history of the Mexican, Spanish, and French Constitution. No matter how progressive and based on secular humanism, there historically has never been any kind of government whatsoever that did not institutionalize some kind of discrimination of some group of people, that some people did not get to share in the equal rights those governments profess. Governments are only as good as the people running them, and unfortunately that sort of power attracts a**holes from theist and atheist alike.

  • mechtheist

    Wow, considering the college courses I’ve taken and the hundreds of books on science and its history, and you think I’m near totally ignorant of the subject. I’ve also taken a couple of college courses and read hundreds of books on religion and its history. Aquinas just doesn’t interest me, too polluted by religion and god BS, especially Catholic BS and it’s ugly politics. Why can’t either you tell me about a simple example of a theological experiment? I doubt you can find one that isn’t obviously flawed, isn’t an experiment, or is really just a scientific question. When the Templeton folks had that experiment done about intercessory prayer and found, if anything, those prayed for did worse than the controls, was that a theological experiment? I don’t see it that way but maybe you do?

  • mechtheist

    The abstract mentions not a single experiment. Sure, it uses the term, but it’s in a psychology journal. And, along the lines I claimed earlier, It also mentions how there are huge problems in the field with disagreements with psychologists: “…constrained by a series ofseemingly intractable difficulties, ranging from competing methodological commitments to assumptions about theological projects not being vulnerable to empirical verification or falsifiability”. You’ll notice I had “seemingly” struck through, they’ll never get past that, believers don’t allow falsifiability when it comes to doctrines/dogmas and creeds–they don’t allow for empirical data to override any of it. And if it ain’t falsifiable, it generally ain’t science.

    When I say there are no experiments in theology, I’m using the term to mean its subject is god, what kind of thing it might be, what is its [his–why a god should possess gender is beyond me] position with respect to humans, what are the correct doctrines and creeds [if any]? Experiments trying to discern the mind of god in other words, by their nature, they can never be tested unless god decides to come out of its closet and tell us what’s what.

  • mechtheist

    I don’t disagree with any of that, but how is it relevant? All this country needs to do is take the 1st Amendment seriously. Historically, that has yet to happen, christians have enjoyed all kinds of special privileges. None of that has any bearing on my claim that atheists are the strongest supporters of equal rights for all religions and those with no religion. Who would you rather have making the rules, a christian from a sect very different than yours or an atheist? Who’s more likely to leave you and your particular form of chrtistianity alone? American have a lot of fake history in their foundling myths. One of the worst is that the pilgrims came over here to escape religious persecution, they didn’t, that’s actually a laughable claim, they came over here because they wanted to be the ones doing the persecuting.

  • mechtheist

    *face palm*

    Yes, the word has changed its meaning over the centuries. It now is synonymous with “empirical science”, math and philosophy are not considered science these days. Science is a “methodological epistemology”, the best sum up for the term I’ve come across. It’s all about how you can decide what is true, what we can say we know. Math is very different and involves proofs, philosophy is another thing too, in some ways, it’s about figuring out what questions science should or can ask, and how to ask them, it’s not about finding the answers, science does that. science grew out of the idiocy of thinking you can figure things out purely by thought. [There’s a group of philosophers sitting around a room, arguing about how many teeth a horse has, they argue for hours until a stable boys rolls his eyes and goes outside and then comes back in and tells them the answer, he just went and looked./joke, but very telling, Aristotle really was full of shit and hampered scientific advancement in a lot of ways due to folks being too afraid to doubt his claims]. Theology can’t be a science, its most fundamental core isn’t accessible to test and most wouldn’t accept evidence that contradicted their beliefs anyway.

  • Ame

    Theology is not an empirical science. But it is a science.

  • Ame

    And in Saudia Arabia, Muslims have special privileges. In the USSR, Bolsheviks had special privileges. In India, Hindus have special privileges. In China, atheistic communists have special privileges. When Spain was a superpower, it’s anti-Italian brand of Catholicism had special privileges. In pre-colonial Central America, the Mayans had special privileges. In America, it’s not simply Christianity that has special privileges, it’s Protestant Christianity. Plenty of anti-Catholicism, along with anti-Hasidism, is part of this nation’s history. And while I would say that Judeo-Christian morality had an influence on the development of American law, this nation certainly IS NOT a Christian nation. You’re veering back to one-upping the persecution card. That’s a contest no one will win.

  • Ame

    Goodness gracious, you’re dense.

  • Ame

    Give me an example of a theological experiment, but without theology!

    Theological experiments are not going to be empirical experiments. It feels really silly to have to say that to you.

  • mechtheist

    You feel silly when I repeatedly made it clear why I thought theology didn’t seem open to experiments, which was all about empirical data, and all along you’ve had some non-standard definition of experiment but didn’t think it worth informing me? From Wikipedia “In the scientific method, an experiment is an empirical procedure that arbitrates competing models or hypotheses”. That’s the general consensus, so what is an experiment that isn’t empirical?

  • mechtheist

    No, I’m dealing with dishonest folks who won’t be straight with me. You’re incapable of responding to simple questions and keep resorting to slights and outright insults–typical of believers who generally resort to dishonesty because they know their arguments aren’t worth a damn and they have NO facts to back up their asinine claims. If you had an example of a theological experiment that wasn’t laughably inane you would have given it by now. So either cough up an example or STFU and go away. I’ve been studying religion and arguing with believers since I was 13, almost half a century now, and I can confidently say that it’s extremely rare to find a believer that can manage to argue without constantly resorting to dishonest tactics or just keep changing the subject when they’re shown how wrong they are.

  • mechtheist

    Call it what you want, it doesn’t matter, it’s still nothing but BS, it’s very foundation the empty set {}.

  • Ame

    Wikipedia doesn’t know everything. How we Western English speakers define experiment today is very narrow in comparison in how the rest of the world defines and uses it. But there is the experiment that is more broad, referring to the Latin root word, experiri, meaning “to try” or “to test,” which can be a conceptual endeavor as well as an empirical one.

  • Ame

    Disagreeing with people doesn’t make them dishonest. Being dissatisfied with answers doesn’t mean we didn’t try to answer or can’t. It may be more a refusal to understand different perspectives, or having a bias that their perspectives are inferior to yours. Sorry you learned how to deal with people poorly from dogmaticists anfundamentalists. But don’t take your ire out on me, who have been trying to meet you where you are at. I am sorry for losing my patience and calling you dense.

    It’s time to move on.

  • mechtheist

    FFS, this is exactly the kind of dishonest crap I’m talking about–you won’t or can’t give me an example, that ain’t a disagreement, it’s a glaringly obvious fact. You mentioned a huge very old irrelevant book and then gave me a URL that pointed to an abstract WITHOUT an example, which I politely pointed out to you, but to no avail. Asking for an example implies asking for a basic typical item that would show me what one of these things looks like, this hasn’t even been attempted. You haven’t been trying to meet me, You ignore my questions and spout more irrelevant crap, not once have you even attempted to answer the main topic in my initial reply. I’ve argued with all kinds of religious folks, not all fundies and the like. No worries about the ‘dense’ comment, that’s one of the nicest things anyone’s called meh during one of these things. To me, the more tacit suggestions of ignorance and stupidity are far more insulting.

  • mechtheist

    Considering we’re arguing about this, if you’re using the word in a way atypical of most usage, don’t you think it would be wise to say this upfront? Also, “which can be a conceptual endeavor as well as an empirical one” isn’t an example, I’m still clueless about what one of your theological experiments would look like. Are you talking about something like a thought experiment? Those don’t really decide anything, they’re like a tool to help conceptualize what’s going on.

  • Ame

    I have been consistent in distinguishing theology as a science in the historically broad sense from the empirical sciences. Reading yours and Theodore Seebers exchange, however, does give a more confusing dialogue about who means what when talking about science.

  • Ame

    This is starting to feel like gaslighting…