Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Hellish God?

Below is a comment I posted to someone else's blog this morning following a recent discussion of Christianity that, I suppose you could say, went nowhere.

Coonhound, yesterday you said that no one you know had ever criticized your Christian faith the way I have here. I don't doubt this. I don't take this subject lightly. I've given it a lot of thought, and I think my questions and criticisms are worth considering. I also think that this is not a church or private establishment where I should be expected to show deference to anyone's religion, but a public internet forum where people should be able to discuss subjects like Christianity in a straightforward manner so long as they don't personally attack or insult the people with whom they're discussing them.

I believe that I have lived up to this standard rather well over the past several days in my discussion of Christianity. I have not attacked you personally for your beliefs. I haven't called you stupid or crazy or gullible or anything of the kind, unlike your calling me evil in various ways, but I HAVE strongly questioned and criticized Christian teachings. Chiefly and most strongly, I've criticized the idea that the supremely loving, just, and merciful nature that the Christian God is alleged to have is compatible with hell. I have said that I find the idea of hell to be obscene; therefore, I find the idea of a supremely loving, just, and merciful God creating hell and then consigning souls to it obscene.

I know this is something that you haven't been able to wrap your mind around. You think that only someone under Satan's evil influence could make such an argument. But I ask you to keep something in mind.

You and I come at this discussion from two radically different perspectives. From your believer's perspective, it is a given that God exists, that scripture reveals his nature, and that this nature is one of supreme goodness unadulterated by evil; therefore, everything God does is necessarily good, whether we fully understand how it is or not.

But from my perspective, as a non-believer because i have yet to be convinced of God's existence, of scriptural truth, and of God's supreme, unadulterated goodness, I have to look at what God has allegedly done and discern whether his reported actions substantiate his alleged perfect goodness.

And one of the things I see when I do this is a God who created a horrible, horrible place where the souls of people who didn't love and obey him in this life are forced in the next to spend all eternity suffering unimaginably terrible torment. I look at this idea, and I just can't wrap my mind around the notion that this could EVER be justified. I just can't understand how a truly loving God could do such a seemingly hateful thing, how a truly just God could inflict a punishment that seems infinitely worse than anyone's sin could possibly be, and how a truly merciful God could do something that seems utterly and completely devoid of mercy.

And because I don't come at this from the perspective of a believer, I can't simply tell myself, "Even though this makes no sense to me, I must accept it because I know that God is good." As a non-believer looking to determine whether I have grounds to believe in God and his goodness, I must examine the claims made about his nature and conduct and come to the best conclusions I can about whether they are consistent with one another or inconsistent.

And when I look at the claims of God's supreme goodness and then I look at the teaching concerning hell, I see a terrible, terrible inconsistency. And so I tentatively conclude one of two things: Either God is supremely loving, just, and merciful, and hell doesn't exist, or God is not supremely loving, just and merciful, and hell does or at least could exist. But, wait, I need to take this further.

From my non-believer's perspective, there cannot possibly be anything more obscenely evil than forcing someone to suffer unimaginably horrendous agony forever and ever. There is simply nothing they could ever do during this ephemeral lifetime here on earth to justify this consequence. Therefore, any being who would subject anyone to this must also be obscenely evil, just as, in your mind, any human being who would do what Phillip Garrido has done must be obscenely evil. By Phillip Garrido's "fruits" YOU shall know him, and by God's fruits *I* shall know HIM. And hell seems to this non-believer to be the most despicably vile fruit of which I can conceive.

Could I be mistaken in this? Of course. But I do the best I know how to know truth and to distinguish it from falsehood. There are many false religious and other kinds of beliefs in this world. We all must use the tools God or nature gave us to evaluate them rather than either reject them out of hand or embrace them without question. That is what I'm doing here. No more, no less.

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