“If you find any inconveniences and deformities in the building, you will always, without entering into any detail, condemn the architect” — David Hume.
“There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom” — C. S. Lewis
Okay. A lot happened since I wrote about this. A lot was said. I am talking about the article that I wrote condemning the Christian Hell. The article is titled The Concept of Hell is Absurd (Luckily).
Firstly thanks for reading that and this. You are AWESOME. I am constantly encouraged by people that read this stuff. Also I genuinely enjoy writing. I get to think publicly, life is pretty great.
Before you check that previous blog out, if you haven’t already, this is once again a lengthy post. I want to do the issue justice, although books can be written about this and they have been written about this. Briefly I have divided these into the subsequent sections so you can look at them separately, in advance, or later if you do not have the time to read/listen to the entire thing:
- Is Religion Mainly Guided by Fear?
- The Christian Concept of Hell
- Theologians on Hell
- The Responses to my Original Blog Post
- My Quick Responses to these
- How Christians Respond to Atheists on Hell
- The Relationship Between Sin and Salvation
- Attempt for a Resolution
- Greatest Christian Apologist Solving the Issue?
- I Prefer to Agree With Premise #2
The Concept of Hell is Absurd (Luckily)
“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear” (Bertrand Russell).
You can give it a listen or read if you haven’t already.
Many wonderful people and friends responded to this blog post. I want to put this out there and make it clear: all of it was positive. I did not get any harsh comments. Mainly because my demographic is people that I know. And I write for the people that I know and I appreciate all of them and would (if I was close to all of them) hang out with them without a doubt in an instance. No grudge held from my side — there is no reason for that. I do not write to persuade, I write to challenge and be challenged. This is the greatest life goal for all of us I hope. Without challenge we will never grow and become better versions of ourselves. I have said it in a previous blog post and I will stress it again: I prefer to propagate ambiguity than certainty. That being said, I still think that Hell is an absurd concept. I think that I am in the right to believe that about what Hell is represented to be, why God created it, and why people go there. It is important to say that I want disagreement and clash, that is where people tend to start agreeing with each other and/or seeing through their bubble.
Is Religion Mainly Guided by Fear?
I started my previous blog with a quote from Bertrand Russell: “Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear” (Bertrand Russell).
I didn’t explain this in its entirety. That is my fault. Being afraid of Hell is only one side of the coin. I only mentioned that fear of Hell must have been a motivation in the past and is for some today, no doubt. Everyone would agree with that statement. If it is not for you — I understand. But you must agree that it was a motivation for millions of people. It was a motivation for millions of people in the past. Even James Joyce writes about it in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Many people were terrified of Hell. Martin Luther was terrified of Hell for a large part of his life.
But that is only one part of the argument. The actual fear everyone has today and in the past is the unpredictable nature of the universe and the fear of what is happening next in their own lives; what some have called — this anxious existence (Sartre, Camus). Let me borrow from David Hume:
“Hume argues that the causes of religious belief are independent of rationality and are instead based on human fear of the unpredictable and uncontrollable influences in our lives — such as the forces of nature — which we try to propitiate through worship” (Fundamental Readings in Philosophy, 45).
For me personally the closest I was to being a Christian in the past 3 years was when I was out of a job, lost friends, moved continents, moved 3 times in the span of 5 months. You must understand why I was tempted to be a Christian. It was obviously because everything in my life was unpredictable and changing constantly.
The Christian Concept of Hell
If you are to understand the Christian concept of Hell in it’s entirety you first need to understand the sinfulness of man and then the holiness of God. That is what it comes down to. You see, I made the mistake to make blatant fun of Christianity in my previous blog post. Let me undo that. I appreciate the thinking Christian as much as I do the thinking Atheist. There is no better person in my eyes. Some people are more right than others, some people are more wrong than others, also depending on the stage of life they are at. We are constantly changing. There is no one right way. There is truth in every way, but exclusive messages don’t allow this. To me atheism is the least exclusive message. It allows discussion if done properly.
In the Christian world sin is cosmic treason, intentional willful defiance of the Creator, it is to create war on God. It is not just that we disobey God, it is that we are in a state of constant disobedience. We worship anything and everything, but the true God. That is why we go to Hell in a nutshell. This is without getting into the question of why we are born into this sinful condition, why I am held accountable for someone else’s sins (Adam & Eve), and why people tend to not want to be Christians. All of these problems have a lot to do with something else: free will. And I do want to get to that later, but not in this blog post.
Maybe you ask, if you are not a Christian. What’s the big deal? Why is God so serious? Well I am glad you ask. God is so righteous and just — more holy than you can ever imagine. Man is idolatrous and sinful. The difference is excruciatingly vast. So vast to be exact that he had to send his only Son to die for this sin (or sinful condition) that we have. But not everyone is going to heaven, so he basically didn’t actually die for our sins. Only if you accept the gospel are you saved (or if you never heard it — somehow you are spared by that — some believe). Wouldn’t it be better then to never preach the gospel since ignorance spares you from hell? That’s beside the matter. That’s also slightly misunderstanding the issue. The belief is that if you don’t preach the gospel people will not get to experience “the fullness of life” that Jesus was talking about and the “joy” that Paul was talking about in Philippians.
Theologians on Hell
Now let me continue with what more well known theologians have said about Hell and how they find it justifiable. I want to clarify here, I don’t think any of the reasons for going to Hell indicated below are reasons enough. But that doesn’t matter, my sin and God’s holiness separate us so much that I would never actually be able to fully comprehend why he sends people to Hell, anyways.
Kruger on Hell
Michael Kruger says that God sends people to hell because of his goodness, not despite his goodness.
Because he is so very good, more than we can possibly imagine (sermon included at the bottom).
Mark Clark on Hell
In one sense, hell can be understood as the outworking of our choice to experience total autonomy from God. We are allowed to be our won god and are allowed to sustain and provide for ourselves. The problem is that this is impossible, and we are thus left with nothing, because everything came from his hand.
Philosopher J. P. Moreland contends that hell is a place for people who, given what is needed to belong in heaven (submission to Jesus), do not want to go the heaven. — Problem of God, pp. 143–4
This submission to Jesus thing is so un-democratic. It’s the definition of a tyrant. If you do not submit to me, you will burn in Hell forever. How is this a calling that is worthy of praise? If we try to think about it objectively for a second, we would have to conclude that this place has absolutely no reasons to exist. Clark tries to point to free-will. He’s not alone, G.K. Chesterton does the same: “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.” But this is a complete misunderstanding of free will. Such as not even science would admit us. As I have said before, I will write about this and try to discuss that part of argument as well in due time.
Piper on Hell
John Piper says that there will be no doubting of God’s punishment of Hell when the final judgement comes.
No one will be in Hell who is not in a state of rebellion against God. The only people that will suffer are people that have been and are opposing God (if they are already dead).
Warren on Hell
Rick Warren agrees. Hell is eternal separation from God.
It is unloving to not tell people the truth, when you know it’s there. I fear God’s disapproval more than I fear [human]. Everybody is betting their life on something. I am betting my life on the fact that Jesus Christ is not a liar. I am putting my trust in Jesus. In the next 365 days, 70 million people will die, most of them going to hell. I can’t live with that. Love compels us.
God compares me to a piece of clay. It is like I am a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay things about the potter. I’ve been concerned about some of the discussion about Hell. We got to be careful here. We have to guard ourselves against heartlessness. We are talking about real people here. Do you understand what we are dealing with here? I just want to present all of the facts. Not to sway you, but to make a decision with you about this. The thing I’m most concerned about is this arrogance. In Isaiah 55, God says that your thoughts are not like his thoughts, my way not like his ways. You are putting God’s actions under your submission if you think he would not act like you. There are things that God does that I wouldn’t do.
So Adam and Eve sin and you (speaking to God) are going to put a curse on the earth. See I wouldn’t do that. Like Exodus 32 where the people sin and God tells the priest to start running back and forth and to just start killing people. 3,000 people die, wow did God just do that? Or to think about Job. God you’re going to have his family die? And let him suffer? Then I get to the cross. And I go, really God? These people have acted so wickedly, and your response is for your son to humble himself and for him to die on the cross for the sins of the world?
I do not want to respond to all of these here. I just want to make my case clear. I agree with all that these people have said. Their understanding of Hell is my understanding of Hell as I see it from the Bible. The thing I did not get across in my previous post is that this is what I find perplexing and dangerously exclusive. Even as a Christian, you must see where I am coming from. It is reasonable to find all this rather hard to swallow. Even Jesus says to expect opposition. Why is this surprising?
The issue above was mentioned in my article. The responses to it pretty much sum up what I didn’t explain in full length and what I forgot to include:
The Responses to the Original Blog Post:
- You mock Christianity.
- Your understanding of Hell is very limited.
- You should be reminded of the gospel.
- God gives everyone the chance to accept the gospel.
- Masturbating and drinking does not send you to hell.
- Why did you not criticize Islam as well as Hinduism while you’re at it?
- Christianity does not disqualify happiness.
- I will pray for you.
My (Quick) Responses to these:
- It was not to be taken personally. I pointed out that I am laughing at the belief rather than the person that has it. Although I would like to think that no one did take any of this personally, am I naive? I did not take any of the comments personally, although I think some were meant in a mockery tone. We are regular humans with jobs, hobbies, and passions. I do not find a reason to get mad at each other over a blog post or a book that I do not agree with, I prefer to think that it adds to life rather than takes away from it. I am capable of reading both points of view on a regular basis and hence I expect everyone to do so. I read things that are anti-transgenderism and I read things that are for. I am subscribed to channels on YouTube that are highly conservative and also very liberal, Marxist even. We should spice up our lives with difference in opinion. The most emotional people tend to be the ones that never read the opposition. The response from some seemed as if they have never encountered disagreement.
- My understanding is as limited as yours.
- The gospel is a beautiful picture of love. No reason to hate the gospel.
- God does not give everyone the chance to accept the gospel. Clear from history.
- Masturbating and drinking — I agree — does not send you to Hell alone. Although there is a discussion to be had on unrepentant sin. People who dismissed this part of the article too quickly were the people who did not spend a lot of thought on the matter. I will touch on this point briefly in a second.
- The article was only supposed to criticize the Christian’s concept of Hell.
- Basic differentiation in the Christian world between happiness and joy. Christianity has little to do with happiness a lot to do with what it calls ‘joy’. Paul’s life was a life of suffering, because he took his calling seriously. If you take it seriously, you will not like living, you will want to go to heaven as soon as possible, since your treasure is not found on earth but in heaven.
- Honestly, I love that. Prayer is thinking positive thoughts about someone. It benefits the person praying more than the person receiving the prayers, whenever someone says that they are praying for me I just think that is fantastic. I also think nicely of you from time to time.
How Christians Respond to Atheists on Hell
Usually when someone like me brings up the claim that Hell is absurd or asks why evil and suffering exist Christians tend to respond in any one of these ways:
- Big-Plan: It’s all part of a big plan.
- Punishment: Innocent people (or sinners) who suffer have sinned.
- Character-Building: The suffering of saints helps them to become tougher.
- Limits-of-Human-Knowledge: We are too unintelligent to understand.
- Contrast: We need evil to understand goodness.
- Devil: The devil is allowed to do evil things on Earth.
- Test: Earthly life is just a test.
- Free Will: God can’t eliminate suffering without eliminating free will.
It’s all been done before. Everything has been argued. There will not be an original argument. So before someone starts thinking that he will be the one to find a great cause for God’s creation of Hell, you need to realize that we — or at least I — have considered the options above whole-heartedly, especially the one on free will.
The Relationship Between Sin and Salvation — Preaching Sanctification
Some of the responses were that masturbating, or committing any sin for that matter, does not send you to Hell. My response was that I would not be so quick to say that sin does not send you to Hell, since the Bible seems to hint at it quite a lot. It was said that I take verses out of context. Isn’t Paul also guilty of this? It does not seem to matter in that case.
The false assumption is that the only thing to preach is that you are loved and accepted. Promises of future grace, threatenings, warnings are all included in the Bible as Kevin DeYoung (pastor and theologian) points out. The problem is that Christians don’t want to undermine the assurance of the Christian. John Piper says that these warnings “[are] all over the Bible”.
“There is a holiness without which we will not see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
“Do these things and you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Galatians 5:21)
or look at 1. Corinthians 6:9–11.
I don’t understand how someone can say that sinning will not send you to Hell. From the Bible it seems obvious. It will send you to Hell. This is why I quoted Mark 9:43 (verse on Jesus cutting off your hand). He says that it is better for you to commit an action then to go to Hell. These are his words not mine. Or what do you suggest that he means instead of that? How do you interpret the act of going to hell differently? Just that it’s harmful? But that is not what he says in the passage.
John Piper says that the pincer of warning is all over the New Testament, not just the Old Testament. Before someone says that I have taken verses out of context, they need to understand that I have thought about this quite a lot and do not say these things off the top of my head. If you feel like listening to this being unpacked further, here’s a link: (before you comment prematurely, I have literally, actually, honestly listened to this video below here at least 7 times now — no joke — trying to understand this over the years)
Progressive Sanctification does not threaten the Reformation’s doctrine of justification. And before you make a decision on the issue read some John C. Ryle or Martin Lloyd Jones. Both of these gents have studied the issue to great length. If you want someone more contemporary, Kevin DeYoung wrote an entire book on holiness. John Piper has probably written a couple on the topic. It’s such a central issue that you wouldn’t have to look far on the internet to discover the debate on the relationship between sin and salvation.
Attempt for a Resolution
“I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother and almost all my friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine” — Charles Darwin
What do we then come to. Let me provide a compromise between ideologies and philosophies.
I will borrow from the philosopher William Rowe (from his paper published in the 1970s) on the philosophy of evil. In it he suggested this argument:
- Premise #1: There are unjustified evils in the world (insert: Hell).
- Premise #2: If God Exists, there should be no unjustified evils in the world (or Hell).
- Conclusion #1: Unjustified evils (or Hell) exist(s). Therefore, God does not exist.
Response: People are held responsible because of free will. We’ll get to this.
It’s a valid (does not mean true) deductive argument. A deductive argument is an argument that is not based on probability — an argument supported with an evidential case. Remember this is just an attempt to provide a valid case for evil to exist, not to disprove God’s existence.
Consider this problem further with a statement that includes an animal that should not be held responsible for man’s free will:
- Premise #1: A deer dies in a fire.
- Premise #2: Human free will does not explain why the deer died.
- Conclusion #2: Regular cause and effect world also does not apply, since God could have prevented it. Same case with tsunamis, etc.
Observations to Conclusion #2:
- Premise #1: There doesn’t seem like there’s a justified reason for the deer to die apart from sin existing.
- Premise #2: Hence there is probably no justifying reason for God to allow the deer dying, apart from sin existing.
- Conclusion #3: There is probably no God, if God is all powerful, knowing, and just, he would probably prevent this, despite sin existing. Since the deer should not be held responsible for something he had no control over — the free will of human beings.
It doesn’t seem like = probably is not.
There is however a serious problem with this issue: this does not apply universally. Consider this statement:
- It seems like there are no elephants in the room so there are probably no elephants.
We could agree. But then if you insert something unobservable with the common eye, you end up with the following:
- There seems like there are no carbon 14 atoms in the room so there are probably none.
Sometimes these inferences are strong, sometimes they are weak. They, once again, do not apply universally.
If there was a justifying reason would we probably know why evil and Hell exist? We could argue that God has secret hidden reasons behind his actions (or we could suggest any of the theodicies that were mentioned in the paragraph titled How Christians Respond to Atheists on Hell).
So it is clear. The conclusion from the Christian perspective is that:
- If God exists, then we should expect for him to do things that we can’t expect.
On the other hand, the conclusion from the atheist’s perspective is that:
- If God exists, then we should expect him (as all-knowing, powerful, just) to create a different world. A world less evil, painful, Hell-bound.
William Rowe’s Conclusion
- Every philosopher recognizes we will not be able to understand God’s reasons for evil and Hell to exist.
As you have probably figured out, both sides merely vary in the way they observe the data. Both can agree to disagree rationally. And both are in a way right to do that. That is where the intellectual dilemma ends. Both have the same data. One side just chooses to look at the data differently.
To summarize for clarity:
- Either we accept the evil in the world as (insert any one of the theodicies mentioned above)
- Or we conclude that this evil and Hell is unjustifiable.
- Based on our nature and our nurture we accept one of the two categories mentioned here.
It’s as simple as that. I choose to accept Premise #2.
Greatest Christian Apologist Solving the Issue?
Ravi Zacharias is among the best of the Christian Apologists in the world. Here is what he has to offer to us, trying to solve this problem:
If there’s evil, then there’s good.
If there’s good, then there’s a moral law.
If there’s a moral law, then there must be a moral law giver.
If there’s no moral law giver, then there there’s no moral law
If there’s no moral law, then there’s no good.
If there’s no good, then there’s no evil
If there’s no evil. What was your question?
Why do I have to assume a moral law giver? Everytime that question is raised it is either raised by a person or about a person. Therefore, it’s premise is that there is value to the person. But naturalism does not provide value to person-hood. — Ravi Zacharias
There is a lot I disagree with here. And Ravi probably expects me to disagree. Naturalism does not lead to moral chaos and it also does not lead to nihilism. How would I be able to argue this? If this was the case you’d be able to clearly observe that Christians have better reasons to be moral. But that is not the case. Why do Atheists find reasons to be moral then? Why are Atheists outraged with selfish behavior? Altruism has evolved in humans very early on, we are not designed to be mean to each other. I have talked more about this in a number of articles on my blog, I would merely like to point you to my more recent one:
If There is no God, Why be Good?
“People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police” (H. L. Mencken).
I Prefer to Agree With Premise #2
According to a statistic only 37% of Evangelicals in the United Kingdom still believe in Hell (taken from sermon God in the Hands of Angry Sinners — link below). It seems to be a dying cause to argue for it’s case. And for it’s case I do mean Christianity’s case.
There are anywhere between 150,000 to 300,000 people that die every day. It took me three weeks to write this article. I was writing it on and off because of work and school and my social life. That means that in three weeks 3 were just under 3 million people that died. Think about that. A lot of them are in hell. That is reality. I attempt to be as unemotional about this as possible. This to me is a sufficient argument against God’s existence, since I find this reality to be unjustifiable. Someone like Francis Chan would say that it is hard to question God’s ways, since they are so distant from mine. All I can say in response to that is: this argument could alone give enough grounds for the Spanish Inquisition. Not understanding God’s will is not an option. To question his will is to provide freedom from human tyranny. This argument can be misused so easily. It is very important to question God’s will. If only the Christian medieval era understood this truth. But they couldn’t, because if they would, they’d be damned to Hell. Atheists were being burnt alive up until the 17th century. Despite the reformation.
Some of my friends tend to point out that Christianity nowadays is loving, but that is not historical Christianity. Christendom was a brutal force in the world. It was not the main force for democracy. Secularism was the force that started questioning and seeking skepticism. Even Descartes (who was a Catholic believer) said that we should question everything, even whether we exist. David Hume took it even further to question God’s existence, which was the reason he was refused entry into university jobs. Atheists were not accepted in culture.
For some people this is not a sufficient argument against God’s existence. I understand. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that in the Christian perspective this world is a horrible place to be in. This is where I argued (in the article on Hell) that you should not watch Netflix, masturbate, play video games, enjoy your spare time doing anything apart from being with God, praying for people, and preaching the gospel. Not that being with God is not enjoyable. I don’t have a bias against prayer. I have adapted meditation after cold showers, I think there is a lot of beauty in being alone, being thankful, and contemplating.
I don’t think that that is only given by Jesus Christ. I think that secularism will get you to the same place of deep contentment if done correctly. I have a friend who is a serious guru and he would say the same about Hinduism. I have meditated with him more than a dozen times by now, he mainly speaks to Shiva and Vishnu. Do I question him on this? No. Why? Because he does not preach exclusivity. I do not find exclusive messages of any kind to be productive. And Christianity has a lot of those.
Some say that the Christian’s life is remarkable. As was pointed out in my previous post on Hell, I find a statement like that to be the most puzzling thing. What it comes down to is a difference of opinion. One opinion is favored in the world, the other is not. My argument in the article is that if you honestly believe in Hell, you will not be able to live a fulfilling life. I stand by that argument.
That leads me to consider the problem of free will. And I will publish a blog post about it briefly. I will address two points. Number #1: People don’t think that the Bible provides enough reasons to believe in Reformed Theology and number #2: they don’t think that science has enough evidence for determinism. I would like to disprove both of those claims.
Further Listening/ Reading
Here’s a list of recommendation if you are having trouble understanding. As I always say I do not include things that I do not listen to in advance — in it’s entirety.
God in the Hands of Angry Sinners
"In our minds, we equate anger with the idea that God is flying into some irrational, overly emotional rage-that God…
BONUS — More Verses on Hell
The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil. — Prov 16:4
And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.– Mt 24:31
For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.– Romans 9:15–16 (the whole chapter)
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,… also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. – Ephesians 1:5,11
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. – 2 Thes 2:13
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.– 1 Peter 1:2
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.– Rev 13:8
Please think about the implications of these verses. Think about them. Think about the vast grass that we are and the nothingness that these verses suggest us to be. Wouldn’t this be the absurd that Camus and Sartre speak about. Wouldn’t this be what completely repels you away from Christian doctrine? You are nothing but a shadow in the Christian worldview, no matter how many times Jesus or Paul say that you are loved by God, in the end it is only him that matters.
[E]veryone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made.” — Isaiah 43:1–7 (full chapter)
Things I Did not Explain
- I did not look at the following passages: John 5:28–29, Matthew 25:32–36, or Revelation 20:12. Each of which explain the degrees to which people experience Hell.
- I did not look at the use of imagery in the Bible regarding fire, utter darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth that was typically used as apocalyptic language and imagery to comment on theology. Mark Clark says that this “symbolic language . . . teaches us something about the nature of hell while not necessarily reflecting the actual, literal experience of it” (The Problem of God, 142). No matter whether it’s figurative or literal — it is vivid — and meant to create angst and fear. It does not matter whether it is physical or spiritual. It is deeply unsettling imagery, no matter the cultural background. Weeping and gnashing of teeth could not be symbolism for something that is less painful than weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus had to go to the utmost of extremes — to fire — to explain this spiritual place.
- I did not talk about whether God is happy about punishing people in Hell. From Scripture it seems as if he is not.
I hope this explains my views sufficiently. I believe I speak for most Atheists as I write this.
Before you go…
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