Lewis Trounces Freud

Lewis Trounces Freud January 22, 2012

I’ve already blogged once about reading Freud’s Last Session, a two person play that is an extended argument between C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, but now I’ve gotten the chance to see it performed.  (And it looks like it’s running through May at the New World Stages in NYC, if anyone fancies seeing it.)

When I saw it, I tried to keep score in my head of who was winning or who had the upper hand, since I was particularly interesting in how the changing dynamics of the debate were mirrored in the staging,  However, there are a number of beats where I simply had no sympathy for the argument on either side.  As I wrote last time, I don’t buy Lewis’s argument that every desire we have must be satisfiable, and I think Freud’s problem-of-evil attacks aren’t unanswerable.

But there was one moment in the show where the balance seemed to shift suddenly and dramatically in favor of Lewis.  Lewis is trying to set to catch Freud in his Lunatic, Liar, Lord trilemma, when Freud rejects the premise completely:

FREUD: I don’t claim Christ to be a great teacher. He failed at teaching as totally as he did at divinity, His teachings are naive and destructive… Which of Christ’s “teachings” are even realistic? Love our neighbor as ourselves? It’s a foolish impossibility! Turn the other cheek? Should Poland turn the other cheek to Hitler? Should they love their neighbors as German tanks crush their homes? Or maybe they should follow Christ’s example and martyr themselves, since the meek will inherit the earth. Of course they will, they’ll be buried beneath it! Do you think it coincidence that Jesus demands his followers must be like children to enter Heaven? It’s because man has never matured to face that he is alone in the universe, and religion makes the world his nursery!

Of all criticisms to make of Jesus’s teachings, “They’re too ambitious” seems like a pointless one for an atheist to make.  And it’s particularly baffling paired with “Christianity is a security blanket.”  Freud’s objections fall right into a model Chesterton described — accusing Christianity of contradictory excesses.

How can unachievable goals be the comfortable option?  And what does Freud propose instead — a complacency about our own failure?  If Jesus is teaching the correct things, but they’re untenable in our secular world, then something needs to be radically reconfigured.  Freud (and I) don’t have to bite the bullet and become Christians, but, if the world makes it impossible to be good, our primary goal should be getting the world back on track.

Maybe you do that work through philosophy, so people can understand or amend their intuitions.  Maybe you work in cognitive-behavioral therapy, where the focus is on rewiring your behaviors, not just processing feelings.  Maybe you join up with the people at Less Wrong and try and overclock the human mind.  Any of these options are better than despair or mocking the people who are pointing the world is not what it ought to be.

Asking us to be more than we are is hard a teaching, but, especially in an atheist world view, it seems like a necessary one.  Any moral progress I make will be cut off at some arbitrary point by death.  I can’t expect to progress to some moral apotheosis where all my bad habits are unlearned.  I will assuredly fall short of my telos, so I like to approach the problem in the alcoholics do: one day, one choice at a time, trying to not let this moment be one of my failures.

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  • Touchstone

    How can unachievable goals be the comfortable option?

    Because you avoid the despair that comes from recognizing that they’re unachievable. Play!Freud’s point seems to be that persisting in belief in moral progress that is in fact impossible is like living in the Matrix. “Easier” in the sense of less painful, but still delusional and therefore wrong. You may disagree, but it’s not an incoherent point.

    Also, I think the line you quote seems at least as likely to have been written with the aim of explicating Play!Freud’s character (driven to extreme, near-nihilistic cynicism by the horrors of Nazism — remember that Freud, though an atheist, nonetheless strongly identified as Jewish and narrowly escaped the Nazis) as with the aim of advancing play!Freud’s philosophical position.

    Indeed, it sounds as if one of your problems with the play may have stemmed from its willingness to psychoanalyze (oh, the irony!) its characters’ philosophical positions (“Lewis only believes X because Y”; “Freud only believes P because Q”).

    • leahlibresco

      Man! Why is someone injecting all these personalities and foibles into the dry theological debate I wanted to have.

      I don’t think despair is a necessary consequence of not being able to achieve moral perfection. You and I are math nerds, but we don’t spend all our time weeping that we can’t learn about every branch deeply because we have finite time. I grant that morality is different, because our failures there hurt other people, while it’s mostly just us who suffer from lack of math knowledge.

      But I think the principle is the same. As a scientist, Freud must know he’s gathering pebbles on a vast beach, but if that doesn’t cause him to despair, he shouldn’t require that goodness be aberrationally achievable.

      • Joe

        “Man! Why is someone injecting all these personalities and foibles into the dry theological debate I wanted to have”

        I think it’s because we are all human and not just theological and philosophical robots. Most of us don’t adopt philosophical positions in a psychological vacuum. Anyone serious about the God question wrestles not just with the philosophy and theology but their own psychological reasons for leaning in a certain direction. As a Christian I readily admit that while I believe my faith is reasonable it is also somewhat of a salve for my feelings of guilt for things I have done in the past. Most atheists are quick to say that they are strong and don’t need a religious crutch. Thats fine. What I find most interesting about this blog is that you are a committed atheist but still attends Mass and RCIA classes, meets with Dominicans and feels distance and isolation at Eucharistic Adoration. Theology and philosophy are interesting but thats not the whole of the Christian life spirituality(psychology) come in to play also.

  • deiseach

    It seems to me that what the playwright is having Freud say is that the teachings of Jesus are childlike or for children in that it would be lovely if the world worked that way, but that’s not how it is: in the words of Chico Marx, there ain’t no Sanity Clause.

    No Tooth Fairy, no Easter Bunny – religion wants to keep us in the nursery but we have to grow up and realise that there isn’t a god to make it right and we have to fight tanks with tanks.

    Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of do we need to have tanks at all, or is it inevitable that human nature will always be mired in violence? It does not sound to me quite as contradictory an accusation of religion as it does to you, but on the other hand, it sort of cuts the legs out from under Freud’s work, because if someone is always going to be marching on Poland (as it were), then what is the point of psychiatry and trying to understand the workings of the mind and healing the ill? Why not just hand the mentally ill a pill and say “It’s all pointless, you may as well be dead”?

  • It seems to me that two different critiques are being combined here. Having Freud say that it’s impossible to love your neighbor as yourself – to me, that sounds too much like the kind of straw-man criticism that Christians often put in the mouths of invented enemies: “Christianity’s moral standards are good, but they’re too hard to live by.”

    On the other hand, I think play!Freud’s point about not turning the other cheek is on firmer ground – he’s not saying that it’s too lofty a standard, but that it’s just a plain bad idea. If good people do nothing to resist evil, evil people will always have their own way, and that will make the world a worse place overall.

    • Patrick

      I don’t know, I think there’s a decent critique somewhere in there on the “love thy neighbor” thing. Christianity has long used the idea of unachievable moral standards as justification for hell, and for a belief in the need for salvation through efficacious human sacrifice. These aren’t good things.

      • Well, certainly. But I don’t think the flaw in that scheme is the idealistic but realistically unattainable moral standards; I think it’s the threatening of eternal torture, which can never be a just punishment for any finite misdeed.

        • Rade Hagedorn

          Many Christian traditions do not see Hell as a punishment (and some don’t even see Hell as permanent) but instead see Hell as either certain souls experience of the absence of God (Roman Catholicism) or certain souls experience of the presence of God (Orthodox Christianity).

          • Patrick

            The second half of your sentence does not support the first.

          • Rade Hagedorn


            I have no idea what you mean. I mentioned two different Christian traditions, Roman Catholic and Orthodox.

            Roman Catholic theology, on the whole, talks about Hell as what a soul that has rejected God feels when it separates itself from God. Hell is the absence of God.

            Orthodox Christian theology, on the whole, talks about Hell as what a soul that has rejected God feels in the presence of God. Hell is the presence of God.

    • leahlibresco

      I’m still trying to find someone who knows the play and knows Freud well enough to tell me whether this was a mostly accurate portrait of his views. From my readings, I know play!Lewis was using all real!Lewis arguments.

      Offering resistance to evil can be necessary (and non-believers can’t have the out of believing that prayer does any good), but there’s a lot of different ways to offer resistance, and it is possible to kill out of necessity while still respecting the dignity of the other person’s life.

    • The “impossible to love your neighbor as yourself” is actually straight from the horses mouth, Civilization and Its Discontents, Ch. V. There seems to be no English text file online, but it’s on page 56 of this shoddy pdf scan.

      That being said, it certainly would be unfair to tar atheism in general with this raving pseudo-scientific sex-obsessed quack, so there might be some straw-manning not it representing him but in taking him as representative.

  • Leah, idealism (in the colloquial sense) and comfort or feelings of security definitely aren’t contradictory. I don’t think you’re giving enough credit to epistemology here. The thing about the idealism that play!Freud is talking about in the quote you mention earlier is that he believes the rules that Christianity provides to be (a) simplistic and (b) ahistorical. It’s really easy to posit “turn the other cheek” as a universal moral rule until you have to deal with history, for example Hitler, and try to apply it. It’s the same problem that you run into with the “Do you tell the Nazis that Anne Frank is in the attic?” problem, and it’s part of the reason why I dislike absolute morality. Any set of guidelines that’s little better than a list, or too easy, or doesn’t pay enough attention to caveats, variations, and the real influence of the world isn’t worth using as a moral system IMO, but that might be a discussion for a different day.

    In any case, if you take a look at some of the writings of the Italian Futurists, that provides a good example of the unification of security and impossibility through linear simplicity. For example:

    A loathing of curved lines, spirals, and the tourniquet. Love for the straight line and the tunnel. The habit of visual foreshortening and visual synthesis caused by the speed of trains and cars that look down on cities and countrysides. Dread of slowness, pettiness, analysis, and detailed explanations. Love of speed, abbreviation, and the summary. “Quick, give me the whole thing in two words!”

    Rest can be found here: http://www.unknown.nu/futurism/destruction.html

  • Hibernia86

    Freud’s ideas about human development are so poor and pseudoscientific that I hesitate to try and defend him at all, though I suppose that just because someone is wrong in one area doesn’t mean they are wrong at everything.

    To take that quote from Freud, though, play!Freud is wrong to say that loving your neighbor as yourself is impossible. You can value each person equally. He is more correct in saying that “turn the other cheek” is not workable. We have to resist evil.

  • Kogo

    I’m getting a little sick of the Freud/Lewis pairing. It’s been a book, a PBS special (“A Question of God”) and now it’s a play. There’s probably a video game in the works somewhere.

    And it’s a straw man game. Lewis is like The One Christian Intellectual that has modern-day currency, mostly because he died before ever having to be on the record of the current round of hot-button issues (evolution, abortion, gay rights) came along and thus, become less-respectable.

    And Freud? When did Freud get elected Official Stand-In For All Atheists? Freud is a tremendously unimpressive figure on this side of the 20th century. As Timothy Ferriss said in “The Science of Liberty”, “Freud discovered nothing and cured nobody.”

    But according to every Christian I’ve ever heard, I, as an atheist, apparently worship the guy.

    But no, sorry: You want Freud’s corpse, Christians? You can have it. There’s like 25 thinkers who represent me better.

    • leahlibresco

      The special and the play are all adapted from the one book: A Question of God, so it’s not a combination a lot of people have come to independently. Which pairing would you most like to see?

    • Rade Hagedorn

      I imagine that the pairing was probably based in large part that Lewis and Freud are not only both extremely famous even to non-experts, but as they both lived during the same period they could have actually met and had a conversation.

      It is also my understanding that all of the arguments are based off of what Lewis and Freud actually wrote.

      • Kogo

        Hmm, not exactly:

        Lewis: 1898-1963
        Freud: 1856-1939

        Lewis began teaching in 1924, at which point Freud was 68. He probably would have been even older than that if they’d ever debated. Not exactly in the prime of his own life if the two had ever met.

        • Rade Hagedorn

          I am not clear what you are getting at. Both Lewis and Freud lived during the same period and COULD have met just as I wrote. The play is supposed to be set shortly before Freud’s death in 1939 — which is why the play is called Freud’s Last Session.

          I believe that the play is based off of a book which was based off of a Harvard course. I haven’t read the book nor taken the course so I can’t speak to any similarities or differences. The conceit of the play however is that since both men could have met, what might have such a meeting looked like.

          Since both Freud and Lewis wrote extensively and each addressed theological questions their written positions were taken and reformed as if they had met and had a dialogue. It all seems rather clever to me.

          • Kogo

            I guess. Frankly it just seems like an unfair matchup: Lewis is mostly smarter, there’s just no way around that. I’m a diamond-hard, want-to-name-my-next-child “Dawkins Hitchens Kogo Jr.” atheist and even *I* admit that.

            Freud’s ideas were very complex, controversial when they were first written and have mostly not aged well since then. Lewis, on the other hand, seems to have held up pretty well. They *certainly* win the readability contest.

            Thus my contention that the choice of Freud seems weird. As I say, the book seemed more-balanced, but the film (which I saw) and the play (which I did not see but which is described here) seem to have someone’s hand on the scale to tip it even more to Lewis.

        • Rade Hagedorn


          I have probably read about as much of one as the other and agree that Lewis is the better writer of the two. As to which was smarter, I feel unqualified to say.

          I would be interested as to why Dr. Nicholi decided to play the two off of one another, and since it sounds as if you may have read the book I’d be interested if anything in the book discusses this. As to the play, I’d suggest that if the playwright were using the book as his primary source material then the decision was probably not particularly arbitrary other than thinking that the arguments in the book could be fashioned into an interesting play.

          This does seem the sort of thing that if you are sufficiently well read on a particular atheist scientist and a particular Christian apologist that you could write your own book or play. In a sense I believe that Cormac McCarthy did something similar in his play The Sunset Express.

          • leahlibresco

            I believe the reasoning was that they were contemporaries. They are not known ever to have met, but Freud met with an unnamed Don at the approximate time of the book/play and Nicholi’s imagination was seized by the idea it has been Lewis.

        • I am one of the producers of the show. Just a note of clarification here. Freud’s own diary entry for Sept. 3, 1939 states that an “Oxford theologian” had come to call upon him – nothing else. This visitor could plausibly have been Lewis. This visit was the launch point for Dr. Nicoli’s original book, from which the play is very loosely drawn. Lewis at that point has yet to write the works that would later make him famous, but he was a rising figure at Oxford. Everything from that point onward is fictional creation of the playwright Mark St. Germain, based on his extensive research into both men’s writings.

          • leahlibresco

            What a pleasure to have you comment and clarify. I really enjoyed the show.

    • Actually, Lewis did address some of those topics. Of evolution, he wrote, “If by saying that man rose from brutality you mean simply that man is physically descended from animals, I have no objection”. He called homosexuality “the perverted desire of a man for a man” (lesbians always seem to escape notice!) and “quite unnatural”. Those quotes are from The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity, respectively.

      That said, I agree completely that Freud makes little sense as a standin for all modern atheists.

      • Scott Hebert

        Year late, but yeah.. Lewis actually does sound off on almost all of these issues. Birth control he kind of ducks by just stating the Anglican line (as it was at the time), but other than that…

  • Joe


    Have you written a post answering Lewis’s Trilemma? It would be cool to know who you say Christ is.

  • Kogo

    Hmm, now I think about it, maybe that isn’t the best match-up. Kircher actually has proto-evolutionary leanings, even if he did also propound some biologically very silly things (i.e. that Noah’s Ark could’ve been pretty small because you’d only need some ‘Primary Types’ to make all the species on Earth (i.e. no need to save giraffes because you can just cross-breed cheetahs and horses to make more)).

    I’m most familiar with the PBS show which I found very irksome. It’s intercut with these real-life pundits talking about it but their dialog is very stilted and is constantly being cut away from back to the “actual” documentary (Lewis and Freud) just when a really provocative question is asked. (I think there’s one point where one person asks another, “Those people who do evil: Don’t you think they know in their hearts that they’re doing wrong?” But we never learn the answer because it cuts right there.)

    I sort of wonder if the film and then this play were “captured” by someone with an agenda because both seem *very* slanted to Lewis, whereas the book seemed much “fairer” if you will.

    Like, Freud could’ve blown up the lunatic/liar/lord problem in the very simple and straightforward way others since then have: “Why not lunatic/liar/lord/sincere but honestly mistaken person? Why is that fourth option not in there?”

    Again, I still think Freud is a weird, arbitrary choice to be “the other side”. To be as charitable to him as I can, Freud seemed interested in like 10 other things more than he was interested in god-or-not-god. To zero in on his atheism seems weird. Plus, it’s not as though Christians don’t have other axes to grind with him, like his notion that sex is mentally important and that in the case of people who don’t have sex, that energy doesn’t just vanish, it gets expressed in other–potentially unhealthy–ways. All of which runs rather counter to the traditional Christian impetus to “make no provision for the flesh” (viz. care less about earthly/worldly/bodily things).

    I suppose that’s something Freud *does* deserve credit for intuiting: That there’s no getting away from the body, counter to the dualist notion that the mind and body are firmly separate.

    • Kogo

      Meant to add: It’s like people who think the only thing to know about Marx is that he was an atheist, not that he was an atheist AND that he propounded this *other* huge, complicated mental/economic/political system, as vast and otherworldly in some respects as any religion.

  • Patrick

    Rade Hagedorn- That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a punishment. The nature of the torture that souls experience after death for not believing in a particular God does not change whether that torture is a punishment.

    I suppose I could have elaborated a little more. The Orthodox Christian version is arguably not a punishment, even though its vile and dehumanizing.

    The Catholic version remains a punishment unless you can argue that God is not only not morally culpable for the fate of nonbelievers, but also that God did not arrange the universe in such a way for reasons of right and wrong. The latter would require arguing either that separation from God after death is logically necessary for nonbelievers (which is absurd on its face, logical necessity cannot bear such weight), or else that pre existing laws of the cosmos, unalterable by God, require such an outcome (which is a theology of paganism, and not accepted by any major Christian denomination of which I am aware, although many slide into it accidentally from time to time).

    • Rade Hagedorn


      Let’s set aside everything other than the concept of punishment for a moment which is what my comment directly referenced.

      For Roman Catholics, God is not abandoning the person–the person is abandoning God. The suffering that they feel is of their own choice.

      For Orthodox Christians, God is not punishing the person–the person hates being in the presence of God. The suffering that they feel is of their own choice.

      As an example, I recall reading an article or comment by Christopher Hitchens once where he wrote that he’d find the Christian heaven to be hell and compared the idea of a heaven and God to North Korea and Kim il Jong.

      • Patrick

        For Catholics, that doesn’t support your argument.

        In secular society, an attorney might choose to commit fraud. The state bar didn’t make the attorney do that. But the state bar is still the one that disbars the attorney as an unpleasant consequence for the decision to commit fraud.

        In Catholicism, someone might “choose” to “abandon” God. God didn’t make the person do that. But God might still be the one who imposes complete separation from God upon the person as an unpleasant consequence for their decision.

        There is nothing in this that is incompatible with characterizing Hell as a punishment.

        To get to where you want to go, you’ll need something more than this. You could argue that Hell isn’t a separation from God as a consequence of not believing, but rather the actual state of not believing, but that would be inconsistent with other Catholic beliefs (for example, it would entail that I am presently in Hell). You could argue that there’s nothing morally better or worse about believing or not believing, or about being in heaven versus being in hell, but that’s not consistent with Catholic theology. You could argue that the Catholic concept of Hell is logically necessary and therefore completely out of God’s hands, but that’s probably wrong as a factual matter, and in any case only works if you believe that the volitional acts of God can’t be logically necessary, which in turn creates its own problems (logical necessity is very much in vogue for theologians these days, but its a mare’s nest). You could even resort to some form of paganism, and claim that the structure of the universe, per-existant to God, is such that Hell must exist and certain types of souls must go there (a theologically shaky claim for the monotheistic religions).

        But what you can’t do is just claim that people choose to go to hell because they choose to reject God. That’s not a factual claim, its a claim about what the word “punishment” means, and its incompatible with how we use the word “punishment” in every other real world context where we regularly say that we “punish” people by inflicting penalties on them for acts they chose to commit.

        I do agree that in the Orthodox tradition, its fair to say that Hell isn’t a punishment. My criticisms of the Orthodox tradition are less about internal consistency, and more about the wisdom of theologically incorporating a massively hateful and dehumanizing take on non believers.

        • I think you’re missing the invincible ignorance exception.

        • Rade Hagedorn


          I should lead with, I am not a Roman Catholic and only play one on the Internet.

          Be that as it may, my point is that the Roman Catholic view is that God is not separating himself from the theoretical afterlife person, rather the theoretical afterlife person is separating himself or herself from God. That is not a punishment.

          Your analogy of disbarment does not really hold in ths instance. Roman Catholics are not saying God is disbaring anyone. A better analogy is that there is a raging ice storm (or fire storm if you prefer) outside and God is saying come inside out of the storm. The person in question though is saying, “I would prefer not to.”

          What you seem to be saying though is that the person’s choice should have no consequence.

          As to Orthodox Christianity, I am curious as to what you mean by “theologically incorporating a massively dehumanizing take on non believers.”

          • Patrick

            “Your analogy of disbarment does not really hold in ths instance. Roman Catholics are not saying God is disbaring anyone. A better analogy is that there is a raging ice storm (or fire storm if you prefer) outside and God is saying come inside out of the storm. The person in question though is saying, “I would prefer not to.””

            Right. I’m addressing the questions of why they’re in the firestorm in the first place, and the nature of the decision to stay.

            As for the Orthodox- their vision of hell requires that some people be so twisted that the presence of the ultimate force of goodness and love is, to them, a painful and horrible thing. I don’t think its a stretch to call that dehumanizing.

        • Rade Hagedorn


          They are in the firestorm because they don’t want to be in the house. It is a firestorm in the analogy because it is unpleasant. It is unpleasant because it is sealing yourself off from the presence of God. I don’t know if Roman Catholics have a dogmatic position on the permanence of this condition.

          As to your thoughts on Orthodox Christianity I am still not following you. First I guess I’d really need to understand what you mean by “human”, “twisted”, and “good” and if you understand those as relative terms.

          That aside, Orthodox Christians posit that the more like God you become the more human you become. The less like God you become the less human you become. For example, let us say that you enjoy having sex with prostitutes, getting drunk and high, engaging in bar fights, and stealing from people so that you don’t have to work. Remembering this is simply an analogy, now imagine you find yourself stranded alone on an island with no access to drugs or alcohol and you have to work 8-12 hours a day to survive. You might very well hate where you are and find it to be hellish because what you like, the person you are, is not compatible with the circumstance you find yourself in.

          All of the time I hear people say, “If there is a God I’ll spit in his face and burn in Hell before I bow to him.” What if that isn’t bluff and bluster? You, for example, seem to think that the God posited by Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity might very well be monstrous. Why should that change in an afterlife?

          As for an eternal state, Orthodox Christianity has no dogmatic belief in someone being permanently in hell. Some believe that those in hell are there permanently (including some Church officials and some saints) while others believe in a more universalist approach (including some Church officials and some saints).

          • Patrick

            But why is there a firestorm? Why is there a house? Why isn’t there a bus station and a garden and a mountain and a bunch of other places to be?

            A theology can’t beg off of these questions if it wants to believe that its God created the cosmos. Either these things exist because God chose to make them, because some other entity than God chose to make them, or they exist necessarily. The answer to that question is informative for whether or not its coherent to claim that the “firestorm” isn’t a punishment.

            As for the Orthodox position, it comes from positing that the God in question is ultimately good. If you accept that claim, then you need some explanation for why some people are (allegedly) in agony at God’s presence. In fact, if you believe that specific types of people are in agony at his presence, you need an explanation that’s specific to them.

            And that explanation is typically given in terms of their character. Ie, they have a character such that the presence of ultimate goodness causes them to suffer.

            I guess I’m not sure what your question is here. Are you asking why its bad to believe that someone hates the very concepts of love and goodness? Its the same reason its bad to believe your neighbor is a pedophile when he’s not, and when you have no good reason to believe that he even might be. Its indicative of a spiteful, vicious nature.

        • Rade Hagedorn


          I’ve tried a couple of analogies to make the concepts clearer, but from your responses I don’t believe that you are finding them helpful.

          Roman Catholic perspective: if God is good then absence of God is not neutral, but bad.  Therefore if being in the presence of God is the ultimate possible good place that that a person could find themselves in, then completely isolating oneself from God would be the ultimate possible bad place that a person could find themselves in.

          God did not make himself.  God did not make the absence of himself.  Humans can choose to embrace God (I don’t know enough RC theology to speak to what that means) or reject God.  God has provided people this choice.  It really is fairly simple and none of it by necessity implies punishment.  It implies choice — and choice without a difference is really not choice.

          You also seem to be unaware of the theological concept of purgatory advanced by the Roman Catholic Church — the declaration of which would seem to imply that there are other “places to be” if we were to extend the house metaphor.

          Breaking from RC theology at this point and moving to Orthodox Christianity.

          “A theology can’t beg off of these questions if it wants to believe that its God created the cosmos.”

          Actually a theology could and can.  You seem to be under the impression that all Christian traditions view an afterlife in heaven or hell as the main point of Christianity.  The theology of Christianity is about what you are supposed to do in this life not what awaits you in the next just as eating dinner is not supposed to be about your fantasies of dessert.  You are not supposed to become more like God because you can’t wait to get your “reward” or you fear a “punishment”.  In fact I would argue that such motives mean you are becoming less like God.

          “As for the Orthodox position, it comes from positing that the God in question is ultimately good. If you accept that claim, then you need some explanation for why some people are (allegedly) in agony at God’s presence. 
          In fact, if you believe that specific types of people are in agony at his presence, you need an explanation that’s specific to them.”

          You don’t actually “need” any such explanation, you want such an explanation.  That said, I thought that I had stated that the Orthodox Christian position is that the more that you are like God then the more you enjoy his presence and the less like God you are, the less you enjoy his presence.  Are these feelings specific to individuals?  I imagine they are, just as your experience hitting your thumb with a hammer or watching THE GODFATHER is different from mine.

          I’m not certain if you are a Christian, a member of some other faith, an agnostic, or an atheist but for some reason you think that the Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity (which by far are the oldest expressions of Christianity and when combined account for a large majority of all Christians) are guides to the afterlife.  They are not.  They are guides to living in this world (in the Orthodox Christian view the purpose of which is theosis) and provide “peeks” into a promised afterlife.  For example, dogma in Orthodox Christianity simply says that there is a heaven and a hell.  The specifics of heaven, hell, and universalism are all individual theological speculation.

          “Are you asking why its bad to believe that someone hates the very concepts of love and goodness?”

          No, and I’m somewhat surprised that you think this might be a question I have.  What I am saying is that some people may not agree what constitutes love and goodness.  I am somewhat shocked to find this to be a controversial statement.  Also, Christians don’t believe that God is a concept.  They believe that he is a person.

           “Its the same reason its bad to believe your neighbor is a pedophile when he’s not, and when you have no good reason to believe that he even might be. Its indicative of a spiteful, vicious nature.”

          I have no idea what point you are making.  I don’t recall writing any such thing.  That does bring up a point though.  If a pedophile believes that having sex with a child is loving and good, does that make it so?  If you disagree and don’t allow the pedophile to have sex with a child are you punishing or torturing him or her?

  • Patrick

    How does one isolate oneself from God? I mean that in the literal sense- How does one go about doing such a thing? Lets say I wanted to do it right now. Could I? SHAZAM! Did it happen? Do I have this power? Do I do so by an exertion of will? Do I rotate myself 90 degrees left, and then 90 degrees tau, and then suddenly I’m completely out of connection with God? I understand how to completely separate myself from the State of Kentucky. Is it similar?

    I’m being flippant, but this is the point. You need an answer for that.

    And in fact, many theologies have one!

    For some, they believe that the universe has a special location in it where God is not present. They believe that either God crafted this location, or the nature of the universe is such that it crafted itself. For certain reasons, God places certain people’s souls in this location. Its called Hell.

    That’s just an example. I bring it up because its an example of how actual theologians take seriously the questions that I’m asking, and have actual answers for them that bear on whether or not Hell is considered a punishment.

    It isn’t enough to posit a volitional actor other than God. You need a coherent explanation of how the volitional actor found itself in this situation, and why its decisions have the consequences that they do. Coming up with an explanation of that sort is made difficult by the fact that the Christian God is viewed as a creator, and there is no pre existing cosmos that binds him to its laws.

    As for the Orthodox thing- It would be no defense for an Orthodox Christian to claim that different people disagree about what is or is not Good unless that Orthodox Christian believes that such disagreements are legitimate even when they’re disagreements between a human and God. If you posit that there is an actual “Good,” and some people find it agonizing to experience, you’re rather directly implying a horrible thing about those people.

    • Rade Hagedorn

      “How does one isolate oneself from God?”

      I don’t know — as I mentioned earlier I am not a Roman Catholic and I have not studied their theology enough to answer whether or not they have an answer for your question.  Knowing the Roman Catholic mindset, I rather suspect that their is an explanation out there with some sort of reference to Augustine and Aquinas.  

      What I am seemingly not explicating clearly to you though is that this is a theological opinion (theologoumenon) held by many Roman Catholics and not a dogmatic statement.  Be that as it may, let us say civilization collapses and we enter a “dark age”.  If someone were to find a book that mentions the phenomenon of Wave Function Collapse would it mean that Wave Function Collapse is not real because the reader can’t understand or explain this phenomenon?  I notice you have a habit of avoiding my questions, but they are not intended as being rhetorical or, as I assume yours must, scornful.

      “You need an answer for that.”

      You keep saying that, but you’ve yet to offer any reason for it to be true.  

      “And in fact, many theologies have one!”


      “I bring it up because its an example of how actual theologians take seriously the questions that I’m asking, and have actual answers for them that bear on whether or not Hell is considered a punishment.”

      What exactly are “actual theologians?”

      Also, I’m almost positive I’ve provided you “actual answers”.  It should take you maybe 5 minutes in an online search to find that actual Roman Catholics (including RC apologists) hold precisely the afterlife speculation that I’ve outlined.  This isn’t a speculation I’ve come up with on my own–probably having something to do with my not being a Roman Catholic.

      “It isn’t enough to posit a volitional actor other than God. You need a coherent explanation of how the volitional actor found itself in this situation, and why its decisions have the consequences that they do.”

      I assume you’ve made some telling point that I have missed.  If I understand you correctly, you are unhappy that Roman Catholics believe in a God that arbitrarily punishes people indefinitely.  When it is pointed out that there is no RC dogma that asserts this you are then unhappy that Roman Catholics have no dogma that asserts this or, perhaps, that Roman Catholics have no dogma detailing in a manner than a human could understand how an afterlife “system” that they would have no control over works.

      “As for the Orthodox thing”

      It might actually be a better idea to answer my questions than to make shaky guesses as to why I ask them.  So I’ll ask again, if a pedophile were prevented from having sex with a child (let us say one that is 7 years old) would that be punishment or torture?  If the pedophile said that he or she thought that such a sex act was good and that he or she loved the child, would you hold the usage of “good” and “love” were being used appropriately?  If you were forced to spend eternity in the presence of Pol Pot or Stalin or some other person that you despise the morals and actions of would you be happy?

      • Patrick

        “”“You need an answer for that.”

        You keep saying that, but you’ve yet to offer any reason for it to be true.””

        If you want to say that something “isn’t a punishment” you need to be able to give some account of why not. Its not enough to just assert that Hell is a separation from God. That’s like saying, “Pizza isn’t a food! Its round!” The second statement does not support the first. That’s why I’ve been bringing up things like other theologies where separation from God is explicitly understood as a punishment. Because I’ve been staying on topic the whole way through the discussion of Catholicism. Where have you been?

        So, in any case, what we’ve seen so far:

        Hell is a separation from God: doesn’t make Hell not a punishment.

        Hell is something you choose: arguably could make Hell not a punishment, but it depends what you mean by that.

        Hell is where you end up if you don’t accept God’s invitation: arguably could make Hell not a punishment, but it depends what you mean by that.

        As for your questions regarding the Orthodox issue, I’m genuinely bemused that you are going this route in the argument. None of your questions are remotely relevant unless you’re positing that Orthodox Christians are so dedicated to moral relativism that they even accept differences in moral opinion between humans and God as legitimate.

        You seem to be interpreting me as claiming that the Orthodox position is, I dunno, logically unworkable or something. I’m not saying that. If God were Hitler, then yes, being in God’s presence would be unpleasant. If Hitler were forced to be nice to Jews in an afterlife, that would probably be unpleasant for him.

        But my complaint isn’t that this is irrational. My complaint is that if you can look at your next door neighbor and say, “There is an objective standard of moral goodness. My neighbor has a moral character such that being near objective goodness would burn him like the fires of the sun.” then unless you’re genuinely right and your neighbor really is a horrible human being, you’re probably a dick. That’s just not a very nice thing to think about someone. Its not kind, its not charitable, its not neighborly. Its dickish and smug.

        • Rade Hagedorn


          I am really at a loss on how to effectively communicate with you. I don’t have to disprove an assertion. If you assert separation from God is a punishment it is you who have to prove your assertion. Just as if I assert that God is real you are perfectly within your right to tell me that I have to prove it if before you accept my assertion (technically I am actually talking about presenting evidence and not ‘proving’).

          You never understand what route my argument is going because you have in advisedly and incorrectly assumed that you know what my argument is based off of your dogged determination not to answer simple questions and instead engage in speculation.

          I have never at any point said that “My neighbor has a moral character such that being near objective goodness would burn him like the fires of the sun”. This is some argument that you are having with yourself. So I admit, you are being a bit dickish and smug.

          What I have said repeatedly is that the standard Orthodox Christian understanding of heaven and hell are not that they are physical locations but states of being. These states of being are individual reactions to being in the presence of God. Those who have become like God find his presence enjoyable or heavenly. Those who have not become like God find his presence unenjoyable or hellish.

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