Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why should Christians believe in Hell? (Part II of III)

This time around we're going to be discussing the second in my series of posts about everyone's favorite subject: Hell! Today we're taking on damnation from a slightly different angle. To give you a taste of what I mean, C.S. Lewis describes this next conception of hell as being "locked from the inside."

ooh, what could he mean by that? I can't wait!

Part II of III - The Progressive Doctrine of Hell

Due to the many logical problems with the classical doctrine of hell (described in the previous post) the vast majority of "serious" theologians reject it outright, in favor of an approach which is more consistent with God's supposed nature. This leads to, in a broad sense, is the progressive doctrine of Hell.

Do you remember the problem which I brought up in the last post, about the billions of the damned whose only crime was that they had never heard of this Jesus guy? This problem is done away with in the progressive doctrine. In fact, in this case the only souls damned are the ones who have freely chosen to exist in Hell, separated from God, for all eternity. But again, what does it mean to freely choose Hell over heaven, and is such a choice even possible? According to most accounts of this doctrine, everyone, at some point in their life (it can either be during life, or at the moment of death, depending on who you ask) is confronted with the choice between heaven and hell. This may take the form of a sudden religious experience, such as immediately receiving the beatific vision, having all of the knowledge of good and evil spread out before you for a brief, shining instant in which you make your choice, or instead, some claim that this decision is made piecemeal throughout the course of your life (given that exposure to the full beatific vision is said to be too brain-meltingly powerful for a living human to experience). Regardless, the stipulation is that every human, no matter how evil, is given a chance at a free choice. This choice must be free of doubt, clouded emotions, and ignorance, because anything else could not be said to be truly free.

This alternative continues to appease the stipulations put forth by our definition of God; he's still infinitely good (he'd really love to save everybody), but this time he's bound by the necessity of human free will. But who, given the choice between heaven and hell, with all of the knowledge of both alternatives at their disposal, would actually choose to spend an eternity in hell? Really, nobody. There will be a point when you're presented with the choice, between an infinite amount of good and an infinite amount of evil and suffering, and no one will choose the latter. But, there are those that claim that there is a catch here, and that the one way to get around this is to posit people who are deceiving themselves about the choice, in the way that someone may freely choose to become hopelessly addicted to heroin. Just like the addict who is basically choosing to lend their free will to the whims of the drug, the damned soul is choosing to deceive themselves about the heaven/hell choice. In this case, God's hands would be tied by the necessity of free will.

Ah, but therein lies the problem. It's in the initial choice, which isn't actually free. As I mentioned above, the ultimate choice between heaven and hell which needs to be made without any kind of interference, ignorance, or doubt. The choice of self-deception, if the individual truly knew where the choice would lead (hell), would never be chosen. Therefore, even the small number of self-deceivers will not and cannot be damned under the rule of a just and omni-benevolent God. Any free decision will inevitably lead the individual to heaven, even if, under some cases, the soul must be dumped into hell for a finite amount of time. In those cases, the amount of time is just long enough to look around, see how infinitely crappy hell actually is, and decide to jump ship for clearer waters.

But even in those cases, any finite amount of suffering, when compared to an infinite good, approaches zero, and all conditions for the omni-God are still met.

But wait, who's getting damned? Apparently nobody, which brings me to the third and final post, concerning the Doctrine of Universalism.

Stay tuned.

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