Posted by: Ken Brown | February 23, 2010

Is Hell Empty?

For those of you who read this blog primarily through RSS (which is most of you), you’ve likely missed the interesting conversation I’ve been enjoying with Edward Babinski in the comments (especially here, here, here and here). We’ve covered a lot of ground but one issue Edward keeps coming back to is universalism and hell. This is not a subject I talk about much (in fact, of the nine posts I’ve tagged “hell” before now, only two discuss hell at all, one of which is fictional, and the other is focused on universalism). This is not an accident. I consider the emphasis on hell seen in certain sectors of Christianity to be badly misplaced, if not downright harmful.

Nevertheless, I am not convinced that the possibility of hell can be safely dismissed, and to explain why, I’d like to repost part of my latest comment from the current conversation (slightly modified):

If there is a judgment (a theme that runs throughout scripture, whether applied to the afterlife or not), I cannot honestly dismiss the possibility that some will fail that judgment–I cannot even dismiss the possibility that I might fail that judgment–and thus I cannot honestly embrace universalism, as much as I would like to. As for what happens after the judgment, I am agnostic. I cannot imagine that God would subject anyone to conscious eternal punishment, but I’m not convinced that even Jesus’ comments suggest that, in any case.

The larger question for me is whether there is just one moment of judgment (on whatever grounds), or whether the door always remains open, so to speak. Edward, like most universalists, seems to prefer the latter option, for obvious reasons, but there’s a catch that seems to be overlooked:

The only way those who cannot or will not accept God the first time can have a second (or third, or infinite) further chance(s) is if they continue to exist in some conscious form. And if they continue to exist, but are separated from God, then they are in hell (assuming the fire and brimstone and whatnot are metaphors, and “hell” really means “separation from God”), or at least, they are in some form of purgatory (note C.S. Lewis’ suggestion in The Great Divorce that hell and purgatory are one and the same, and it is simply a matter of choice and perspective).

In any case, if those who do not accept God (or are not accepted by God) at first are given further chances to repent, then how long shall those who refuse to repent be allowed to go on like that? It seems to me there are only two options: Either we are all given a limited time, after which those who still reject God are destroyed permanently (so we are back to annihilationism, though perhaps with a bit longer of a grace period), or else we never reach the end of our chances, in which case those who do not repent remain separated from God forever (and as I have said, I cannot dismiss the possibility that ongoing separation from God would only further alienate a person). So either there is a time limit, or there is the possibility of eternal conscious separation from God, but either way universalism is hardly a foregone conclusion.

So what is the solution? Will God grant everyone into paradise immediately, regardless of what they have done or even what they would still like to do, or is there a judgment? And if there is a judgment, is it permanent or not? Do we get second chances or not? Do we ever run out of second chances? Honestly, I don’t know, which is why I say that I cannot rule out any possibility.

Regardless, I don’t see much value in emphasizing these kinds of questions, as they are not only speculative, but seem to have little value for influencing behavior. Plenty of people believe in hell as eternal conscious torture, but live no better because of it, while plenty of people don’t believe in the afterlife at all, and seek to live good and moral and generous lives simply because it’s the right thing to do. Between you and me, the latter are in a lot better shape than the former, regardless of their beliefs, and I’d sure as hell rather have them for neighbors! ;)

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Responses

  1. Excellent post, Ken

  2. Another question to add to the list is “What criteria would God use to make God’s judgment?” Neither the church, nor scripture itself seem to answer this question consistently. Furthermore, there are numerous scriptures which warn against judging others.

    And I like the point you make in the last paragraph. Such questions are merely speculative and seemingly have imperceptible effects on how a people live their lives.

    I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible that I’m wrong. God may condemn people to eternal conscious punishment at the instant of their death if they don’t believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead.

    However, for the reasons you outlined above, I think there’s strong evidence that focusing such questions (which have answers which are purely speculative and don’t affect much how people live) entirely misses the point. I think the evangelical church strongly over-emphasizes this issue.

  3. Thanks for that Ken, but if you believe there are “people who don’t believe in an afterlife but seek to live good, moral and generous lives simply because it’s the right thing to do,” then what benefit do you see in being a Christian?

    Is it necessary to believe in an afterlife & in orthodox Christianity? If it is, please explain why.

    I know you love the Bible and God, but people love many things. I want to know why that particular love is necessary in your opinion, or whether it’s not necessary for everybody, as in the case of the neighbor you mentioned above.

    Secondly, which is the greater oddity in your opinion:

    1) A non-Christian who often behaves like a tame gentle animal, a gentleman, even a charitable gentleman.

    or . . .

    2) A prayerful scripture-reading God-fearing Christian, who often behaves like a cad, angered beast, or devil.

    Are either of them a greater oddity in your opinion, and please keep in mind that the first person is a non-Christian having not been granted such advantages as a born again experience, salvation from original sin, nor any inspired book(books) by means of which they claim their lives are directed, and they also lack the promise that the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth. The latter person has all of those advantages over the former.

    Lastly, I don’t deny anyone their options when it comes to beliefs, including the option of imagining in their mind’s eye that each person they meet is somewhere in the process of morphing into either an eternally damned devil or an eternally righteous angel. Maybe they are morphing along some trajectory or other, I dunno, but I think it’s also possible to look at people simply as people, who have suffered like we all have, knowing what it’s like to live out one’s brief candle-lit existence on this perishable planet. When I think of all the disappointments, fears, and pains that each of us experiences, the way swirling eddies of emotion and clouds of ignorance besiege us from birth, then I can’t help but think of how many of us have been driven to distraction, depression, depair or even madness simply by being born into such a cosmos. Suffering does not simply make us stronger nor holier, it also destroys people, cultures, civilizations. So it is the world itself, with its clouds of ignorance from birth onward, and its tides of emotion, and all manner of suffering, that seems the perfect vehicle by which God may ensnare souls for hell.

    So I have difficulty conceiving in a purely rational fashion how “infinite punishment” after merely a fininte life in this world constitutes “justice” in any sense of the word, or even how it might be possible to “reject God” if God be the one and only solid truth, and everything else is but vacuous shadow. Nature abhors a vacuum, it can’t be any different with the human soul, certainly not for “eternity.” (Even in a vacuum there remain quantum fluctuations.)

    It also seems to me that the universalists of all the world’s religions get along better with each other than damnationists do within the same religion. Among damnationists every disputation of doctrinal points, central or not, causes them concern that their certainties of salvation might be slipping away, and their fellow damnationists might be on the “slippery slide” away from “the one saving truth.” I suspect that some of your own Christian friends who are more forthright than you in their preaching of damnationism are concerned for you in the same sense I have just mentioned. (Though I daresay neither you nor I seem separticularly concerned about each other’s damnation, unless you are for me, perhaps in a slightly greater sense than I am for you.)

    • It seems to me that only to be a Christian to get the after life is an impoverished kind of faith. Love and serve God because of who God is. That should be enough!

      • I’ve posted this before, but it’s relevant:

        “O my Lord, if I worship you from fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship you from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates. But if I worship you for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.” The Sufi mystic Rabi’a.

    • Edward asked, “if you believe there are ‘people who don’t believe in an afterlife but seek to live good, moral and generous lives simply because it’s the right thing to do,’ then what benefit do you see in being a Christian?”

      I could ask a similar question: What benefit is there in getting married, when some single people are good and happy, and some married people are wicked and miserable?

      • So if, in your words, being a Christian is like being in a marriage, is divorce an option?

        And, related to the question of “being a Christian” as a sort of marriage, some psychologists point out that cult members and overrighteous religious believers exhibit symptoms known as Stockholm Syndrome, in which a person believes their spouse, or torturer (as the case may be), “loves” them BECAUSE they beat them, lets them down and belittles them.

        Sometimes I think certain doctrines of mainstream Christians resemble Stockholm Syndrome such as inerrancy, the belief that one must embrace every bloodthirsty jealous command to destroy human beings in the Bible, and to threaten eternal punishment incluidng being tossed into a lake of fire, must be defended as having been inspired and commanded by God. Or take Calvinists with their view of total depravity, or Catholics with their view that “missing mass on Sunday due to conscious negligence is a mortal sin that can damn one to hell if you die before confessing it” (not all Catholics believe that today and it does not appear to be taught quite as much as it used to be, but a monk recently assured me that was exactly the threat according to canonical law). Does any of this resemble Stockholm Syndrome to you? I see some of it as resembling SS.

        Also, speaking of hell, the current Pope recently reaffirmed its existence, and what a terrible punishment it entails.

        Lastly, getting back to my original question, I don’t think your reply answers quite was I trying to ask. In my mind’s eye, and based on what we have previously discussed, I was asking what benefit there was in being a Christian, aside from the obvious, “Oh, I’m very happy with it, thank you very much.”

        Of course you’re happy with it.

        People who own pets are happier too, and even live healthier lives, statistically speaking, than people who do not own pets.

        So let me please rephrase my question. What do you think is a substantial universally recognized benefit to being a Christian?

      • Yes, we’ve established that some marriages are terrible, and some forms of Christianity are equally terrible. In such circumstances, divorce may be the best option, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to walk out of our healthy marriages. Unless the relationship is truly abusive, you work to improve your marriage when times get rough, you don’t abandon it, or else you’ll end up alone. That’s why you commit “for better or worse,” because you can’t get the better without (occasionally) fighting through the worse. That sometimes divorce–as tragic and messy as it always is–remains the only viable option, is no argument against the possibility of a good marriage, or a healthy Christianity.

        So what are the “benefits” of a healthy Christianity? I’ll name just one, but it is central enough to entail quite a few others. It is, in fact, the very same benefit as a marriage provides: a family.

        I’ve attended a number of churches in a half dozen different denominations, and the one thing they all have in common is a community of people who care about each other, take care of each other, learn from one another, laugh together, mourn together, and provide for each other when needed. More than that, they work together to reach outward, supporting food kitchens and work-programs, building homes through Habitat for Humanity or a playground for a local park, supporting medical missions to Africa, orphanages in Haiti or schools in Honduras, offering free meals, tutoring local elementary students, offering free childcare and inexpensive pre-school, providing land for a community garden, visiting the sick and those confined to nursing homes, and so on and so forth (all of those examples, by the way, are drawn from the past year at our one local church, and I hardly think our church is alone, or even the most effective, at pursuing such activities.. I say this not to be self-congratulatory, but simply to make clear that I am not making things up out of thin air).

        As with any family, some days–some decades!–are better than others, but at its best, the church offers an open-armed community of love and encouragement and support (both practical and spiritual), which not only benefits its members, but also reaches out to its community and the world at large.

        Of course, this is a rosy picture, and things do not always go anywhere near this well. Plenty of churches are inward-focused and petty, unloving and unhealthy, just as some families are. I’ve been in a few of those myself. Ten years ago (from what I’ve been told) our current church was like that too, and ten years from now it may be again. Certainly there are no guarantees, and the moment we think we’ve got it figured out and can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labor, is the moment we risk losing whatever we’ve gained. But that’s not proof that Christianity is a “delusion”; it’s a reflection of the gospel itself, which is not an offer of a static “salvation,” but a call to “love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself,” or more simply to “take up your cross and follow me.”

        Ultimately, then, in the Church as in a family, what you get out of it is secondary to what you put into it. You don’t (or you shouldn’t) love you spouse, children or parents for what you will get out of it, but because they deserve love, and because you become a better person by loving them. In a healthy relationship, this is mutual, and love, commitment and support grow with time, creating a family that not only benefits itself but also those around it. So also, if you approach Christianity looking for what “benefits” you are going to get out of it, you will be disappointed, not because there are no benefits, but because the way to get them is to forget about them and love those around you for their sake, not for your own.

        Can you find such a community outside of Christianity? Perhaps. What is different about Christianity is that we (believe we) follow a God who does not just command this, but did it himself. “Follow me” is the real heart of Christianity, as it is simultaneously a call to live for others–not just once, but continually–and an assurance that the God we follow did the same for us.

      • Coincidentally, today only you can download Derek Webb’s new album “Stockholm Syndrome” for free here (no joke).

        The last song on the album is highly appropriate, it ends like this:

        I know a way out of hell
        We raise all our enemies’ children
        After they’ve murdered ours
        We affix all their scars to our walls
        So there’s heartbreak for everyone

        In the end it will all be ok
        That’s what the wise men tell us
        So if it’s not ok then it’s not the end, oh my friends
        There’s hope for everyone.

      • Thanks Ken,
        For pointing out the benefts of being a Christian believer as you see them. Though as you probably guessed, I was hoping you might share some evidence that Christianity featured unique, even supernatural, benefits.

        No doubt having friends and being part of a community or organization is a benefit of being a Christian. But it’s also part of being a Jew, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist. Jewish doctors and hospitals benefit many. Moslem charities and the simplicity of faith are what drew singer-songwriter, Cats Stevens, into the Muslim fold, and he continues to work with Muslim charity organizations, especially those that help children. And speaking of Hinduisn, in 1997 the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was awarded to Shastri Athavale, whose spiritual and social activism was inspired by the The Bhagavad Gita. Athavale has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to spend two weeks or more visiting India’s poorest villages where they seek to advance the self-respect and economic condition of those they visit. For more than four decades Athavale has taught that service to God is incomplete without service to humanity. India also has charitable organizations, including orphanages that were already in existence before Mother T. started making the news. (But she rec’d the lion’s share of media attention and the most donations from her fellow wealthy Christians in the west.)

        Also, please correct me, but isn’t it also true that Muslims had built asylums before Christians did, even though Islam began hundreds of years after Christianity? And weren’t there orphanages in China for hundreds of years before Christ, hospitals in India, and hospitals for the sick at Athens?

        As for non-theists and/or atheists, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet donated more money than any previous two individuals in history, tens of billions of dollars of their personal fortunes, to form charitable foundations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While Lance Armstrong, the famed cyclist, is an atheist and cancer survivor who supports that charity. The inspirational blind-deaf woman, Helen Keller, was both a “heretical universalist” Swedenborgian and a member of the first Humanist Society in the U.S. She also was a pro-communist supporter of labor organizations. But her story continues to inspire many.

        Maurice Hilleman is a non-religious person whose work has saved countless lives. At his death in 2005, The New York Times described Hilleman as the man whose vaccines against childhood diseases “probably saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century.” Raised in a small miswestern churchgoing town, he loved to visit the local public library where he found a copy of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” that had avoided the censorship of the town’s fundamentalist church. In eighth grade he was caught reading “The Origin” in church. His curiosity led him to pursue studies in microbiology. As the end of his career his peers said that he had done more for preventive medicine than anyone since Louis Pasteur. Dr. Hilleman developed 8 of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria (which brings on a variety of symptoms, including inflammation of the lining of the brain and deafness). He also developed the first generation of a vaccine against rubella or German measles. The vaccines have virtually vanquished many of the once common childhood diseases in developed countries.

        Norman Borlaug’s religious views remain a bit of a mystery since I could not find any mention of them on the internet, though he did allow two atheists to interview him, Penn and Teller, for their TV show, B*llshit. Borlaug was a pragmatic fellow who concentrated on finding crops to cross breed so as to feed the burgeoning world population via agricultural science. He’s credited with saving a billion lives from starvation. Whatever Borlaug’s religious views are, he’s alway been primarily interested in works and results.

        As for saving the most lives, the grand prize probably goes to the plumbers of the world, as well as water and waste engineers. Without the development of plumbing the spread of diseases from unsafe water supplies and the mosquitoes and flies that carry disease back and forth from them, would have been epidemic. I’ve read other essayists who agree, voting for the plumbers and the engineers who developed plumbing.

        So, some of the hardest work with the most widespread benefits has been accomplished by people we soon forget about or whose work we take for granted. I only found out about Hilleman and Bourlaugh around the time the first episode of B*llshit aired on TV. Such people were either not very religious or chose not to mention religion, nor connect their work with it. That goes double for the plethora of non-sectarian/secular charitable organizations out there today from the American Heart Association to the American Cancer Society, to the Will Rogers Foundation, and just about any group affiliated with your local United Way organization.

        The Red Cross is not a “Christian” organization, since people of all beliefs or none work for it, in fact it is joined today with its Muslim counterpart, the Red Crescent, and known as “The Red Cross and Crescent.” http://www.ifrc.org/

        It was during the Victorian era when people realized that the churches could not be society’s safety net. More had to be done, much more. non-sectarian charities, universalistic charities, and government charity assitance programs arose. Florence Nightingale made nursing a legitimate modern profession, and revolutionized hospital care. She was a universalist Christian who taught that the sectarian Chrisitian hospitals of the time must serve sick people no matter what their religion or sect, and allow people to see whatever clergy they wished. Florence insisted that patients must be allowed to see whomever they wished when it came to their soul’s needs. The founder of the Red Cross, Andre Dunant, was gay it turns out. His family burned his love letters after he died. And Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross was another universalist Christian. Since then, charity for its own sake has been increasingly recognized. Ever heard of Jane Addams and “Hull House” in Chicago? Some claim that the work of the Hull House marked the beginning of what we know today as “Social Welfare.” Interestingly, Nightingale, Dunant, and Addams, all appear to have helped revolutionize charity, and all three held an open view of religion. The founders of such organizations were open in other ways as well. Dunant as I said, was gay, Addams lived with a woman, mentioned how much she loved her, and is suspected of being gay, and Nightingale also mentioned her love of another woman in some strongly worded prose. Perhaps openness in religious love also opens the doors physically as well? Who knows? But these people lead the way toward charity for its own sake.

        On the issue of belonging to a community, I cannot disagree with anyone who is a Christian and finds a church they love to attend, God knows the U.S. has its share of churches to choose from. And I am not disagreeing that they set up food kitchens as well. But what is the overall cost benefit? The lion’s share of charity monies of churches are spent on the church itself, building costs, salaries, and one can add in the costs of a multi-media sound stage and computers if it’s a mega church. What percentage of people in each church man the local town soup kitchen? As for bringing in cans of food, eveyone’s doing it today. Even the library where I work is allowing student to pay off book fines with cans of food that are later given away to a charity). The U.S. Postal Service in town also collects cans of food on at least one day per year.

        My mom belongs to a church, and it’s very sad some of the stories she brings home. There’s a lot of suffering people out there, and the churches don’t have all the money necessary to help and feed all the poor and hungry, nor pay for everyone’smedical bills. Instead the church keeps begging for money for itself week after week. And let’s not talk about the billions the Catholic church has spent, first as hush money for many years, and later in payments prescribed by law to molested children. And the Catholic churches round the country, especially in the southeast and southwest continue growing primarily due to immigration of Catholics into the U.S., and they keep asking for more money from their parishioners to keep building or widening existing churches so everyone can fit into them on Sunday mornings.

        The largest Baptist church in the U.S. used to be the one in Dallas, a huge Southern Baptist church inside one of the tallest buildings in Dallas, with a health club, swimming pool, etc. They ran two sandwich kitchen in Dallas in the 1970s. They admitted that was the extent of their charity in a taped TV interivew, “They Kingdom Come,” “Thy Will Be Done.” The producer visited the soup kitchens and saw that the homeless people were being preached to before being allowed to eat, an hour of hellfire preaching. And then one dried out white bread sandwich. They interviewed homeless in the area who also told them they didn’t visit the church’s soup kitchens because of all the preaching.

        Also ministers are stressed out, a lot of them leave the ministry, something like half after a certain number of years. And conservative Protestant churches continue to remain prone to schisms of all sorts, half the congregation splitting up over differences in theology, or not agreeing with the pastor.

        I don’t feel comfortable in a church because I no longer honestly can repeat a creed and convince myself that I mean what I’m saying. While other types of churches don’t appeal. Unitarian? Tried that for a little while. The one in town seemed like a Baptist service, and being an agnostic, I can’t exactly sing, Oh Great Who Knows What. I prefer instrumental music these days when it comes to spirituality. It moves me. Mega-churches seem like a joke to me, so much media saavy, so little intelligence, and so many repetitions of “choruses” with the arms raised. I’m also at the age and level of intelligence that sitting still hearing people preach is pretty boring. I know the commandments, and I don’t like pep talks or even pep rallies in high school. They are full of fluff and rhetoric (“point weak here, shout louder”). I’d sooner read biblioblog entries on topics that can fill in some blanks in my knowledge of history and/or biblical studies, or read about biblioblogger’s interesting questions to which we don’t know the answers. There’s also far more fruitful and interesting lecturers online these days at the T.E.D. website. Amazing folks with amazing artistic and intellectual gifts. People of all beliefs or none.

        As for charity, today I support them indirectly, via my mother, giving her money that she uses to support whichever charities she chooses. And there’s a community of “nontheists” in Greenville and a community of comedians and also of singer-songwriters, that I consider myself at least a partial member of. I have friends amongst them all. And online communities also keep me in touch with friends I’ve made ever since composing my first self-published newsletter, Theistic Evoltionists’ Forum back in the early 1980s. So I have physical friends and e-friends. As for what will happen later in life, I don’t know. One day at a time I guess. Even church gets lonely as one grows older and sees one’s spouse pass away and one’s friends in church grow older and their health slowly degenerates. Both my parents have already experienced their spouses’ deaths, and lived to see some of their friends grow ill and die. It’s sad and sorrowful, the experiences on earth. Sad that our eyes wear out, and our brains and joints. As I said, eternal punishment makes no sense to me after seeing what most people pass through in this finite little life on this teensy planet with its clouds and tempests of ignorance, pains, and sadness.

  4. IS HELL EMPTY?

    That very question was asked by Julian of Norwich a saint whom C. S. Lewis cited in THE GREAT DIVORCE and who said that Jesus assured her “All will be well.” Sadly, Lewis did not explain to his readers the story behind the citation.

    It is believed that Julian of Norwich was born in or around Norwich, England, and in her youth would have seen half of the city’s population die of the plague, and rot in the streets before being dumped into pits. She lived a very hidden sort of life. But she could have been married and had children, and possibly some of them died during the “Black Death,” and probably her husband did. She was about thirty-years-old when she had the visions. It was also the time of the Hundred Years War between France and England, when violence and death were part of everyday life. Julian decided to become an anchoress at St. Julian’s church and that is why she adopted the name of “St. Julian” as her own. Julian’s perceptions of theology are still studied today. She accepts there is a “hell” but no one could be there because no one willingly consents to sin. There’s a part of the soul, she says, that never consents to sin. So she also has the idea that God, having sent his only son down to be crucified, pays for all sins past, present and future, and a God who would do that, couldn’t possibly condemn anybody to hell. Furthermore, she was certain enough and brave enough to write down such unorthodox theological ideas at a time when heretics were being burned at the stake, sometimes just across the river and within sight of where she lived as an anchoress.

    [SOURCE: DVD, “Julian of Norwich” from the series, “Mystic Women of the Middle Ages.” Producer: David Wesley. Writers: Dr. Anne Savage, Dr. Kathy Garay, and, David Wesley. Redcanoe Productions (2000), Films for the Humanities and Sciences, #11058 http://www.films.com%5D

    ___________________________

    A REVELATION RECORDED BY “JULIAN OF NORWICH” (A 13TH CENTURY CHRISTIAN MYSTIC)

    Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that I needed to know, answered with this assurance: “Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

    It appears to me that there is a deed that the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done.–This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.

    And I wondered greatly at this revelation, and considered our faith, wondering as follows: our faith is grounded in God’s word, and it is part of our faith that we should believe that God’s word will be kept in all things; and one point of our faith is that many shall be damned,–And given all this, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time. And I received no other answer in showing from our Lord God but this: “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well.”

    [SOURCE: Both quotations are from the so-called “Long Text,” and they occur in Julian’s account of her 13th revelation. The first quotation is from Chapter 27 of the Long Text, and the second is from Chapter 32. The modern English is from Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text and Long Text), trans. Elizabeth Spearing (Penguin, 1998). The first quotation is from page 79, and the second quotation is from pages 85-86. The original Middle English versions of these passages can be found in A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, Part Two, ed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978). That edition is the one usually cited in scholarly works on Julian. The first quotation is from page 405, and the second is from pages 423-26.]

    C. S. Lewis, the beloved 20th-century Christian author, cited the words that Jesus allegedly told Julian “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” in his novel about heaven and hell, THE GREAT DIVORCE.

  5. Ken,

    (Great topic cloud, by the way. {g})

    From the standpoint of technical metaphysics, I agree that the success of universalism cannot be principly guaranteed. (Not without simply rewiring people like robot puppets, without their consent; which, although some universalists go that route, I do not. I may quote Norwich in my own novel, too, but that doesn’t mean I agree with her specifics, exactly–no more than Lewis did.)

    I do think that (again from a standpoint of technical metaphysics) there are some things that can be guaranteed, though: one of which is that God is essentially love (which as Lewis pointed out a couple of times, is just a simple way of saying orthodox trinitarianism is true); another of which is God’s omnicharacteristics–including omnipresence.

    I am in the habit of noting occasionally (including at the Evangelical Universalist forum, where I’m one of the guest authors along with Thomas Talbott and Robin Parry, aka “Gregory Macdonald”) that it was a strong increase in my understanding and acceptance of ‘orthodox’ theology (western orthodoxy I guess, since I accept the filioque {g}) that first led me to do more than vaguely hope for universalism to be true; and to this day I can’t help but notice whenever a counter-universalistic position implicitly or explicitly denies a more fundamentally basic orthodox doctrine. In this case, I notice what amounts to a denial of omnipresence. But if God’s omnipresence is true, including if the creature must still be actively kept in existence by God (not having attained to its own self-existence!–which cannot be possible anyway if ortho-trin is true or even supernaturalistic theism more broadly speaking), then the upshot would be this: that God will never stop acting toward saving sinners from sin. It wouldn’t be the case, that an “ongoing separation from God would only further alienate a person”.

    The sinner, admittedly, might keep on trying to alienate him-or-herself from God. But who am I going to bet on, if I have to put my trust somewhere?–in God, or on the sinner!?

    This is aside from the question of whether the Judeo-Christian canon contains revelations from God that, sooner or later, (to put it a little colloquially), “Holy Christ! God REALLY wins!!” {g} Without going into a huge exegetical discussion, though, I will point out that even non-universalist scholars are usually aware that at least some places in the Bible seem to indicate a universalistic victory in saving all sinners from sin.

    (Which places have to be explained as meaning something else, of course, if some kind of universalism isn’t true. Much as the occasional passages seeming to indicate annihilism, if some kind of annihilationism isn’t true; or much as the occasional passages seeming to indicate God will persist in saving who He intends to save must be explained another way if some kind of Arminianism is true; or much as the occasional passages seeming to indicate God intends and acts to save all sinners must be explained another way if some kind of Calvinism is true. My point being that everyone has tough data to work with. {g} It isn’t only the universalists who do.)

    Anyway, hope that was helpful; or, if not, at least interesting. {s!}

    JRP

  6. Well, crap, I forgot to close my link code… sorry. (Any way to edit that? At least it wasn’t formatting code!)

  7. Fixed. I’m surprised the comment would go through at all with broken html.

    In any case, that was both helpful and interesting! So would you say that alienation/separation from God is simply a matter of perspective? We’re looking the wrong direction, so to speak?

  8. Thanks, Ken; yeah, I’m surprised it went through, too!

    Yes, I think the alienation/separation concept is mostly a matter of perspective: fleeing from God (with God chasing us down like a king running down a fleeing rebel army to overthrow it, like the Hebrew verb typically translated merely as “follow” at the end of Psalm 23–which Lewis was well aware of, too, btw.)

    Still, the concept of alienation/separation on God’s side of the account is hardly being pulled entirely out of thin air either; there’s quite a bit of OT language like that, plus Jesus’ departure language where not only does He require “rebels who work injustice”, as in the Greek, to depart from Him, but also Himself departs from the Temple.

    That major ‘departure sign’, of leaving the Temple, is also what most of the OT departure language is about however: the Presence of God leaves the Temple (or the Tabernacle before it) as punishment for Israel’s rebellion and injustice. (I don’t mean this in a “supercessionist” fashion, btw.) But that departure is only temporary. Like the Terminator (more-or-less, depending on which soteriology is true {g}), He’ll be back! And in fact much (most??) of the OT “return” language is meant to be consolation: “I was only angry a little while, for only a little time I turned My face from you, but then…” Similarly, many of the related prayers in the OT are penitential requests for, and hope for, the return of God’s ‘real presence’ (as we might say). But this is considered and presented in a fashion that doesn’t deny God’s omnipresence by the lack of God’s real presence for purposes of religious devotion. And I think, exegetically, this ought to be kept in mind.

    So I don’t want to just outright deny the concept of separation/alienation by God, as a response to separation/alienation by sinners. But it’s a lot more complex and nuanced, even Biblically, than some theologians seem to be aware of. And just as importantly, if we affirm omnipresence is true, then whatever we decide the separation involves, we shouldn’t be turning around and denying omnipresence is true.

    (One good point by annihilationists, including Lewis, is that this position neatly and simply solves the omnipresence/separation issue: separation from omnipresence == annihilation. I don’t find or believe the case is that neat and simple, but I respect the attraction of it for this and some other purposes. {s!} Lewis, not incidentally, had a rather more complex notion of annihilation, that had the value of pulling together and respecting a lot of disparate data and Christian interpretive traditions; including an impressive way for ECT and annihilation to both be true from different perspectives.)

    JRP

  9. That’s a very thoughtful post.

    I agree that there will be a day of judgment, but nothing at all like the one we hear so much about from Pseudo Evangelicals.

    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at http://www.thereisnohell.com, but here’s an excerpt from the last chapter in which I explain what the Day of Judgment will really be like, based on what we can deduce from Jesus’ teachings about it and God’s character:

    “Let’s begin by saying, up front, that the God of Jesus is never, ever going to hurt anyone! Therefore, the Day of Judgment cannot be about putting anyone in Hell. Secondly, let’s not get bogged down by other issues that are often part of any discussion of the Day of Judgment. It really doesn’t matter, for example, if only our souls all that survive in the afterlife, as the Sadducess and the ancient Greeks believed (and somehow, our self-consciousness and memories are ‘copied and pasted’ from our physical brains into some sort of non-material essence) or whether we go into a soul-sleep until the day of resurrection as the Pharisees believed, or whether it’s a combination of the two, as the Pseudo-Evangelicals today believe. The result would be the same! The real question is whether we get to continue to exist with the same self-consciousness and memories in the next life, whenever that is or wherever that is. As I discussed earlier, I reject reincarnation, as well as the silly notion that it would count for anything if either our souls or resurrected selves didn’t have a continuum of self awareness and all the memories we had of our lives here on earth. To arrive on the other side, without both, would mean there would be some clones of us, but not really us!

    So, if we do awaken after death in the afterlife, just as we do each morning from our sleep, with the same self awareness and the same memories, then, in order for the place where we awaken to be Heaven, i.e., a place of happiness, it would be impossible if our loved ones were not there. Even if they were not suffering in Hell, just the mere absence of any of our loved ones would remove the possibility of any joy, meaning, “Heaven” would not be Heaven. So, if anyone is to have eternal life, and if that eternal life is going to be a happy one, then everyone would have to have it!

    Now, with all the talk about so-called “justice,” and if we all were to arrive in Heaven, yes, there would be a Day of Judgment to start things off, but not the kind we have been brainwashed to think of. Judgment Day (and again, I could not care less whether it’s after a millennial reign or after the earth is destroyed and a new Jerusalem is made, or any of that. I’m just talking about how it all washes out at the very end, whenever or wherever that is) would be a day of great humility!

    In other words, we’re not going to be standing around, looking at the people who killed others, for example, and pointing a finger at them, thinking, “Oh, you murderers! You’re going to get it now! Get ready to fry!” No, that’s our extremely narrow, earthly way of seeing things. We’re not going to be looking down at the adulterers, saying, “Oh you cheaters!” Or thieves, “This is what you get for taking my stuff!” No, and there won’t be any martyrs under an altar crying to Jesus to be avenged either, as the John who wrote Revelations so ignorantly imagined.
    No, in keeping with the words of Jesus, on the Judgment Day, we will only see how, in our hearts and in our minds, we were all sinners! We will only recollect how we all murdered in our hearts, how we all coveted our neighbors’ goods and spouses, how we all fell short, and how we all hurt one another or really wanted to!

    And just how will our “righteous deeds” wash out? Well, with our hearts laid out naked and bare before God, with our deepest motives fully revealed, and even if our “righteous deeds” are on display, if we will see “clearly,” then so many of those deeds aren’t going to seem so gleaming, once the pollution of our selfish desires for earthly glory are shown along side them! To put it another way, the Day of Judgment is not going to be so much about God sitting on some throne to condemn us of all our sins, but a day of the most intimate realization of our own shortfalls. For a day, we will all be way too preoccupied with the shortcomings of our own selves, there will be no finger-pointing!

    And what you believed during earthly life isn’t going to make any difference either! If you thought you were going to be looking down on other people who did this or failed to believe that, guess again! If you thought you would be walking through the Pearly Gates while Jews and Atheists or Catholics would be getting tossed into the Lake of Fire, what you’re actually going to see is how whatever you ended up believing had to do with the accidents of when you were born, where, who raised you, whom you bumped into…in other words, circumstances that were beyond your control. With all being revealed, you would be preoccupied, not with “those who rejected Jesus” but with how you did! Because, guess what, every time we saw someone suffering in some way, and we failed to do whatever we could to help, what did Jesus say? “To the degree you failed to help someone suffering, no matter who it was, even the Least, you failed to help me!”

    Now, will Jesus condemn us in that moment, once it becomes crystal clear how much we all fell short? No, but what will happen is that we will all gain a very different perspective! We will all realize how we all screwed up, but then, we will all hear Jesus say, “Listen up everybody, do you remember the prayer I taught you? How about trying that again, only this time, mean it! I forgive you!” And for every evil ever done, we’re gonna all forgive everyone else of their trespasses. If there is any proper metaphor for the Lake of Fire, it’s not that people will be thrown in to suffer, no, that’s absurd! But what will be utterly destroyed on the Day of Judgment will be our hurts and our harboring of them! We will be so overwhelmed with the forgiveness of God, that we will not be able to hang on to our unforgiveness of others. We will become so acutely aware of all the terrible things that happened to others, things that twisted their minds and made them sick in their souls, that we will have only perfect empathy for their sorrows, and we will see that whatever evils they may have committed during earthly life, were symptoms of their misfortunes, and we won’t be able to measure our fortunes against them, but will only see how we, as sinners, could have and would have, just as easily done the same had it not been for pure luck! In other words, take the worst person you can think of (most think of Hitler, but there are others, Gacy, Manson, “W” 😉 and you’ll feel like you were just as “guilty,” but then, you will become acutely aware of how great is the forgiveness of God, that in spite of that same level of guilt, God forgives you anyway. So, it won’t take any effort to see everyone else in a very different way, and as Jesus is declaring how we are forgiven of our deep debts, so shall we forgive everyone else!

    Sure, there will also be an awareness of the times when we did respond to Jesus’ message, when we did do good, and when we did help the suffering and resisted temptations, and we had the correct attitude behind those good deeds. So, for a day, we will get a feeling of reward for those thoughts, words and deeds, and in a sense, we’ll be “crowned” accordingly, there will rest upon us, in another words, an awareness of where we did well. But as with our sinfulness, at the end of that day, we will understand that we truly don’t own those “crowns” either! When we see Jesus face to face, and we see the scars in his hands and feet, and we realize that only he took the worst of human evil, and only he truly forgave us all, and gave his unconditional love to all, we will take our crowns off and cast them at his feet!

    That day will, no doubt, be one of many tears, but then, we are told, God is going to wipe away our tears! The realization of the full forgiveness of God is going to allow us to forgive everyone else, and by the way, everyone else whom we hurt will be forgiving us! The release of the burden of all that we have done or left undone will be so enormous, that it will be then that Heaven, in the true sense of the word, can begin.

    Or course, you might say I’m wrong. And for all I know, death is the end for us all and the scene I just described is a pure fantasy. However, if what Jesus actually said in his words and deeds is true, then this is how it’s going down, and I am inclined to think he was right.”

    • Rick,

      I think your image of the final judgment is truly beautiful, and if there is one, I find it difficult to imagine a more just and also more compassionate vision than yours.

      That being said, it saddens me greatly that God could not inspire such a vision and put it in the Bible, but had to employ whatever images of “god(s)” were at hand during the composition of each book of the Bible, from the O.T. jealous god, and wrathful god, of vengeance, and of happiness at the thought of dashing out babies heads in revenge, whose followers “hate with pefect hatred” in adoration of such a god, who tell each other they are cursed if any of them “keeps their swords from bloodhshed” and do not slaughter men women and children as commanded, and who stone women who do not leave blood on the sheet on their wedding night, or women who fail to cry out after being raped within earhshot of the city, or stone to death friends or family who attempt to lead people toward any vision other than the vision of a most jealous god. Over at the blog “Ancient Hebrew Poetry” the professor mentions that in the ancient world the gods indeed were not tame by any means and demanded worship, and hence Yahweh’s rash wrathful demands and behavior resembles that of other ancient deities in many ways, as imagined by ancient man. But at least in the OT nearly everyone simply became a shadow in Sheol after death. Long life and everlasthing kingdoms on earth were the god(s) primary blessings. Death was everyone’s end except a select few taken up to heaven, like Elijah in the OT, and say, Hercules in the Greek world. Utnapushtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh, was a Noah-like figure whose story preceded the biblical tale of Noah and the flood. Utnapushtim also lives incredibly long, in a land near the edge of the world. But there is also an entrance near the edge of the world to the land of the dead beneath the eart, where all dead go.

      The NT is different, there is eternal life for all, but filled with apocalyptic terrors, lakes of fire one is cast into, or in Jesus’ pararbles, parties out of which one is locked for being “late,” and one must “fear Him who can cast both body and soul into eternal punishment,” and how much better it is to pluck out one’s eye or other offending part of one’s body and enter heaven minus it, rather than enter hell whole. The hell of the NT was plaigarized from various intertestamental works including among them, the book of Enoch the book of Daniel, the latter being a late work that many scholars agree today was edited into its final form about 200 years before the time of Christ. Multiple copies of Daniel were found among the dead sea scrolls, as well as evidence that the Dead Sea writers copied and revered the book of Enoch.

      I also want to add that the passage in Matthew that you cited about “whatsoever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you had done unto me,” might not be about literally doing good things to “everybody.” It specifies, “the least of these brothers of mine.” Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus speaks about his “brothers” as a name for his followers. And he sends them forth to announce the soon coming of the Son of Man. Therefore “brother” is mentioned throughout the Gospel of Matthew and even as late as Matthew chapter 28 ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee…’ (Matt. 28:10; cf. 12:46). So the command appears to be about WHAT THE WORLD OWES THE CHURCH, how they ought to support the followers of Christ. ‘Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward’.

  10. Ed invited me to chime into this discussion with some thoughts about eternal hell. I do find it interesting that in the parable of the sheep and the goats that the word for eternal in “eternal damnation” is “aionos” (a period of time aka aeon) rather than “aeternos” (eternal). When I perused through the NT some time ago and only found this verse and a passage in the Book of Revelation about the Devil and the Antichrist being sealed (away from the Earth) “forever and ever”. Other passages did not seem to have a clear statement of hell being eternal as opposed to a long duration. The word hell is usually “Gehenna” which refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where garbage was burned and had maggots (the worms sometimes mentioned in the passages). Given that there is parable of sheep and goats, and the word used is not “eternal”, and given that the other forever passage refers only to the Devil and the Antichrist (which I take to be symbolic, since St. John uses the word antichrist in the plural when referring to a spirit inconsistent with the love of Jesus), and does not refer to everyone going through judgment there is not much basis for an eternal hell. I gather from studying the passages that how long hell lasts was not fully defined in early times and was not a dogma. There were universalists like Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Origen who believed in reincarnation. Sheol in the OT seems to be a generalized place that everyone, good or bad, went to after they died. I gather it was because what happened after death was less of a concern for Moses, who could have been reacting to the Egyptian preoccupation with preparing for death and the “halls of Amenti”. He wanted his followers to follow the spiritual path in the here and now instead. The other thing is that the word for hell (Gehenna) is itself a metaphor, which seems to be related to not living a creative life on Earth (the salt not being salty and the grass no longer being green and therefore burned). The Parable of the Sheep and Goats seems to be about learning to see Christ in everyone, clothing the naked, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry, and not about accepting JC as PLS. In another passage, a rich person (sometimes a scholar) asks Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life, and again Jesus talks about loving God with a whole heart and loving the people we meet (neighbors) as we would ourselves, and again he does not say “accept me as PLS”. I do feel that heaven is where love is and hell is where hate is, whether on Earth and afterdeath, and that learning to love is how to get to heaven. In my own life, there were about three deep experiences where my heart opened up in deep love for everyone everywhere, radiated out to the neighbors and then to everywhere else, and I did feel that I was in heaven, that love itself is blissful, even when it is enduring some pain at the hands of someone who is negative. In this state, a lot of what Jesus said and did made sense, like a higher logic based on unconditional love, that we are meant to bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us, love our enemies, judge not, turn the other cheek, forgive others because they do not know what they are doing (that they are unconscious, rather than evil), resist not evil, and be merciful as Abwoon (usually translated as Father, but is Aramaic for both Father and Mother conjoined in creative activity) is and therefore be like the sun that shines on everyone and the rain that pours on everyone whether sinner or saint, jew or gentile, believer or nonbeliever, etc. When those experiences happened, what I felt was that Jesus only taught love and nothing else, and died/resurrected to prove that this love is greater than death itself. I do think that hell exists and that hell is not empty, but hopefully will be, that hell is on Earth in everyone who suffers, starves, and is tortured. In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva vow is to save all sentient beings from any hell, whether in this life or the next, and the vow does have the assumption within it that all hells can and should end ASAP, and that no god is keeping people in a state of eternal judgment with no hope for the torture ever ending. I do not feel that in hell anyone is really being tortured by an outside force, but the fire of hatred itself causes the hateful one to suffer every moment that they choose to be angry and not forgive. There is a certain kind of insanity to unforgiveness in that by not forgiving we get to keep the pain of hating someone alive indefinitely until we are really really tired of such a way of life, and finally forgive. Eventually people who hate fight each other and torment each other (that is more the Buddhist conception of hell, or at least one version of it) until they learn to forgive and drop the battle. Hell in Buddhism can also last a very long time, but there is an escape hatch that can always be taken. Blessings.

    • Thanks Will,

      I think your reply was strong and heartfelt and truthful in ways that the N.T. is not.

      My understanding from what I’ve read about the questionable history of the Exodus and questionable history of a person named Moses, and the development of eternal punishment in intertestamental literature, Dead Sea literature and the NT, would lead me to think a bit differently than you about some matters and meanings in the N.T.

      But as I said, your overall points appear to me to be strong, heartfelt, and truthful in ways that the N.T. is not.

      Thanks!

  11. I’m pleased to see how many people have joined in to offer their perspectives, and the last thing I want to do is set myself up as the final arbiter in this debate, so I’ll keep this brief:

    Edward: I respect what you are saying and certainly do not deny that many very great things have been done by the non-religious. As I have tried to make clear all along, I consider the call of faith (and specifically, self-sacrificial love) the most important thing, so why should I be any less glad to see non-Christians pursuing the same course?

    I do have to quibble though: You asked for “a substantial universally recognized benefit,” so I gave one. I could hardly have appealed to spiritual benefits (grace, forgiveness, salvation, “a personal relationship with God,” God’s will about what I should have for breakfast… joking!), as these are hardly “universally recognized.” If they were, everyone would be a Christian! 😉

    Rick: Thanks for your comment. Obviously these things are speculative, but I absolutely think you are right that the point of the judgment will not be to allow “the righteous” to look down their noses at everyone else, but must be when all of us, no matter how good we’ve managed to look to ourselves and others, see for ourselves how much of our behavior has been driven by self-interest, pride, vanity and worse. Thankfully–hopefully!–it will also be the day we put all that behind us, by God’s grace, and begin living and loving one another truly, perhaps for the first time.

    Will: Thanks for taking the time to stop by as well. Buddhism is a subject in which I know far too little, so it is good to hear something of the Buddhist perspective on the afterlife.

    • Hi Ken,

      I’m unsure that “the call of faith” is universally recognized either.

      I do not begrudge you or anyone else their faith or the benefits of practicing charity.

      However, strictly rationally speaking, it appears like the only universally recognized benefits we both perceive are those of having friends and if possible being part of a wider community of acquaintances with shared interest(s) with whom we can share our lives and knowledge. Sometimes a person joins a community of people with shared beliefs and/or interests and discovers within that community particular individuals with whom they share long lasting and personal friendships. That is a benefit indeed.

      Also striclty rationally speaking, I’d simply like to point out that Mormons have a community in which they have faith and practice charity, even though they are not what theologians might consider “orthodox” Christians, and interestingly, they give more to their churches, far more, than any Christian group does, as noted by three eminent sociologists of religion in a book from 2008, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Moneyand published by Oxford University Press.

      Mormons give seven times more as a percentage of their income than Catholics. The authors of the book admitted they did not include Mormons in their overall calculations of giving because “they are so sociologically distinctive in terms of giving” that they deserve a separate mention. “Mormons have a much higher expectation. They teach tithing much more conscientiously. Every year you meet with a local bishop who asks you if you tithed, and if you haven’t there are consequences,” Smith said.
      http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSTRE4A22FS20081103

      American Christian groups typically give away only 1.5% to 2% percent of their income. Considering that this figure is based on self-reporting, the reality is probably even less. Catholics are the worst, with many Protestant groups in the middle and Mormons (whom this study regards as “non-Christian religious believers”) at the top.
      http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6594800.html?nid=2287#review3

      In PASSING THE PLATE, Chapter Two, the authors list the most crucial facts derived findings from the data, and add on pg. 53, “Thus, nearly all the money the religious givers–which in the United States comprises mostly Christians–give to their congregations appears to end up getting spent directly or indirectly on themselves.”

      Fact #1 At least one out of five American Christians–20 percent of all U.S. Christians–gives literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.

      Fact #2 The vast majority of American Christians give very little to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.

      Fact #3 American Christians do not give their dollars evenly among themselves, but, rather, a small minority of generous givers among them contributes most of the total Christian dollars given.

      Fact #4 Higher income earning American Christians–like Americans generally–give little to no money as a percentage of household income than lower income earning Christians.

      Fact #5 Despite a massive growth of real per capita income over the twentieth century, the average percentage of income given by American Christians not only did not grow in proportion but actually declined slightly during this time period.

      Fact #6 The vast majority of the money that American Christians do give to religion is spent in and for their own local communities of faith–little is spent on missions, development, and poverty relief outside of local congregations, particularly outside the United States, in way that benefit people other than the givers themselves.

  12. If anyone would like a free book on universal reconciliation, just email me and I’ll send you “Hope Beyond Hell, The righteous purpose of God’s Judgment”. The book is also available to be downloaded for free here: http://www.hopebeyondhell.org/

    CharlesRutsch@gmail.com

  13. On your blog Ed mentioned Salman Rushdie’s definition of The True Believer which also is like the person holding onto the rock in the river that Alan Watts spoke of. He is perhaps like a sky diver afraid to leap from the plane for fear his shoot may not open. Faiths like Christianity and Islam have their roots not only in kindness but in fear. Their scriptures demand to be taken seriously and there is always the threat of hell. Once you have been indoctrinated into one of those faiths, there is always the eternal bogey man to worry about. To re-phrase Josh McDowell, It’s a faith that demands a verdict, and those who make the wrong choice are subject to horrific agony beyond imagination. Under the influence of that brand of faith we are children who obey because we fear the Father who will give us the beating of our lives. That faith asks us to let go of the rock of doubt and allow the life giving water/ word of God to carry us safely to our destination. But there are rocks in that river also and whirlpools that can take you straight to hell. We are like playthings in the rapids of life and Christianity tells us contradictorily, that God with provide all our needs (provisionally of course) and on the other hand like the early Christians under persecution to hang on and if worse comes to worse we will be rewarded for it. You can be a good man like Job and take a beating but you will be rewarded as long as you pass the test and are not driven to the breaking point of rejecting God. If this world is a testing ground and Christianity is the selective force that will decide the winners in the survival of the fittest for everlasting life, then the losers have no hope of mercy. At least in the natural world if things don’t work out, you are allowed to go extinct. But the Christian God seems to need to an eternal monument of agonized souls in his scheme of things. I know you question the nature of hell and I know the arguments for the concept of hell’s development, but I think by the time of the NT it does in fact seem to have become more than a metaphor. If Jesus did say things like it’s better to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye, rather than wind up in hell; that sounds pretty scary to me. If there is a hell prepared and waiting to punish the unrepentent/ unbelievers, Rick’s version of it is certainly more in line with a loving God. However, when you consider NT verses that speak of repenting while there is still time, that Jesus will return unexpectedly like a thief, that Jesus is not so much being slow in his return but wants to give every possible chance to everyone before the great and terrible day of the Lord, well then, that dosen’t exactly conjure up notions of a second chance. Annihilationism is by comparison nothing to worry about, for today we eat drink, sin, and be merry, and then the all loving one burns us up in the lake of fire. I can’t remember the exact place in the NT but someone says that even the heavens and earth are reserved to be burned with fire and that even the elements will melt. If annihilationism is true there is no real threat of being tortured, but if that is true, why all the fuss, all the urgency, the dire warnings, and is not the situation characterized as so serious, that God himself yet a real man had to suffer the agony of a crucifixtion to pay a price. Hey if that’s the price Jesus paid, I shutter to think of the price that will be administered to unbelievers.

  14. It looks to me as if you could believe in hell as the ultimate trajectory of separation from God, without any commitment to the final outcome for each particular individual.

    • Victor, the NT warns that the non-repentent/evil doers/ unbelievers will definitely go to hell and it seems to indicate that for such it will be quite terrible.
      It is appointed once (underline once) to man to die then the judgement, repent while there is still time, Jesus will return unexpectedly like a thief in the night, there will be weeping and knashing of teeth, the devil/satan (a spirit being mind you) will be cast in the lake of fire to be tormented forever,
      Revelation 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
      Also,
      Revelation 20:14-15 “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

      this could easily be interpreted to mean that death & hell are eliminated but since everyone has been resurrected, they will either be with God, or consciously alive in the lake of fire of forever. Do you see a good reason Biblically, to support a view that this is not what the Bible teaches, not to mention fundamentalists.

  15. Vic,

    If you admit eternal punishment is a “belief” rather than an acknowledged universal “fact,” then why would you “want” to believe in such a thing? Why should belief in hell play a part in any religion at all? Or is it a belief you have stuffed way in the back or your closet of beliefs because you know how controversial it is and how people of other religions and denominations can use it against you and your relatively moderate Christianity?

    Belief in hell has served first and foremost to divide denominations and religions, to separate “heretics” from the “orthodox,” and catalyze other such schisms and separations, even within families. It has not led any country or people or members of any particular religion to “act like angels.”

    A further word on C. S. Lewis, one of the most well known Christian apologists.

    In the Great Divorce he seems to picture people as off their rockers, clinging to insubstantial things rather than embracing heaven. Neither does God provide any self-reflective mirror to show such people how idiotic their actions truly appear.

    It’s extremely sad, the mental and emotional illnesses that people suffering from, including obsessive compulsive disorder to autism to emotional and psychological traumas that leave deep scars. If we know anything today it is that bodies and minds are connected and relatively weak instruments once you note the long lasting effects of nutritional illnesses, food deprivation, and emotional deprivation. If the next world is simply a carry over of all the material effects of this one, was Hitler’s concentration camp just the beginning of many people’s sufferings? Do you believe that, Vic?

    Yesterday my dad suffered a temporary brain fog, but it appears to have gone away after an hour or two. But it was very frightening and disconcerting to him. He’s 83. He seems fine now. But what lies ahead? Who knows, for any of us? If mercy is not the rule, then what is?

    I’m not saying any of this in anger, but in recognition that none of the universal sufferings of humanity make sense if they are carried through eternally after a mere finite time spent alive. Lewis Carroll, the Anglican minister, and author of Alice in Wonderland (whose film version just reached the big sceen once again), argued the same point:

    “When all has been considered, it seems to me to be the irresistible intuition that infinite punishment for finite sin would be unjust, and therefore wrong. We feel that even weak and erring Man would shrink from such an act. And we cannot conceive of God as acting on a lower standard of right and wrong.” [Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland), “Eternal Punishment,” Diversions and Digressions of Lewis Carroll]

    Therefore, I am relatively shocked at C. S. Lewis for using the hang ups of people whose lives he might know nothing about, and parading them forth as evidence of eternal damnation.

    I am equally shocked by C. S. Lewis’ suggestion in The Problem of Pain, that maybe there’s an eternal heaven for mosquitoes that exists in combination with an eternal hell for human beings.

    I am also shocked by Lewis’ depiction of non-Christians throughout his first semi-autobiographical novel that told the story of his conversion,The Pilgrim’s Regress, in which the Christian hero is the only person with a genuine soul while all the characters that the Christian meets along his way through life are mere caricatures of human beings, mere straw figures. Their struggles through life and their troubles and how they wound up where they were meant nothing to Lewis, all that mattered was the Christian’s struggle to remain a Christian.

    It proves to me that in the end, Lewis’ ego that threw out such ideas was as big as that of any other cigar smoking, beer drinking, Oxford don, and he appears just as self-centered as many of his characters.

    Like I said, if mercy is not universal, there’s little point positing a personal compassionate God.

    I also recall something you wrote to me years ago, “I read in the Gospels that Jesus forgave the men who nailed him to the cross. He even promised, ‘This day you shall be with me in paradise,’ to a thief crucified next to him–a thief who addressed Jesus simply as a ‘man’ rather than as ‘the son of God.’ Yet, today, this same Jesus cannot forgive my kindly old aunt and allow her to dwell in paradise, simply because her ‘beliefs’ do not match Reverend So-and-So’s?”

  16. Ed,

    Lewis’ mosquito comment was an overtly facetious rejoinder to people who would mock his hope for non-human animal restitution: “Nor am I greatly moved by jocular enquiries such as ‘Where will you put all the mosquitos?’–a question to be answered on its own level by pointing out that, if the worst came to the worst, a heaven for mosquitoes and a hell for men could very conveniently be combined.”

    And being “shocked” that the characters of a formal allegory are mere caricatures of human beings (is there any formal allegory ever written anywhere, where any character besides the main one, if him, are much more than typological at best??), says more about your competence at reading for understanding (and perhaps your insistence at finding something to be shocked about) than about Lewis’ lack of sympathy for non-Christians (among whom he himself had only recently been counted–and among whom the two main characters are counted for most of the allegory. If you want rounded-character sympathy from Lewis for non-Christians in The Pilgrim’s Regress, you are looking in the wrong place to begin with, and at the wrong characters, too.)

    Almost the same observation could be made for The Great Divorce as well: it isn’t a formal allegory like TPR, but it’s still a dream-vision apocalypse (in the old sense of that term), where part of the point is to illustrate how sin corrupts and destroys a person’s character. Why should it be surprising if the characters there seem broken, then? (And typically, the characters with speaking roles are given “mirrors” by which they have an opportunity to see how ridiculously they’re behaving.)

    You would have done better to blame Lewis for making his non-Christian antagonists caricatures in his Space Trilogy novels (which, unlike those other two works, really are novels by genre).

    JRP

    • Jason,

      Lewis could have replied (but did not), by saying, “I do not quite think mosquitos will be granted eternal life, nor do I see how or why they in particular might be.” Instead, Lewis replied by suggesting a “convenient combination” of “mosquito heaven” with “human hell.” That kind of remark by Lewis moves the question of “eternal mosquitos” into a darker place.

      But if Lewis is willing to admit even facetiously, “eternal mosquitoes,” then why stop there, why not continue with eternal parasites of all sorts? Animals suffer from tapeworms, ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, and a host of other parasites, many such parasites being species specific. “Mr. Lewis, par your suggestion, do you also imagine there could be enough animals in hell to feed the myriads of species- specific parasites and keep them eternally happy, i.e., not just the more generalized parasites like mosquitoes? And what about carnivores in hell enjoying a good leg of human for eternity? Why stop there? There are plenty of animals, both micro and macro-scopic that might feast on humans for eternity. Hell just keeps growing grislier and grislier if we abide by your ‘convenient conbination’ response. Oh wait, you were joking! You don’t believe a word of what you said about animals living eternally, do you? Oh, you got me there, Mr. Lewis.”

      As Lewis himself admitted concerning Oxford professors:

      “The real Oxford is a close corporation of jolly, untidy, lazy, good-for-nothing humorous old men, who have been electing their own successors ever since the world began and who intend to go on with it. They’ll squeeze under the Revolution or leap over it when the time comes, don’t you worry.”

      Lewis being among them.

      Jason, neither did you appear to note the self-centeredness and laci of compassion in Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress and The Great Divorce. They are tales not only of invincible blindness but also eternal damnation of all but the true “Christian” (certainly not those damned liberals if you read the Pirlgrim’s Regress, but what about the moderate Evangelical I wonder, the one in the middle who also has lots of questions with beliefs somewhat up in the air?).

      In THE PILGRIM’S REGRESS & THE GREAT DIVORCE the trials of the Christian character who saves his soul from eternal damnation by believing and loving a most orthodox Christ are the focus. But everyone has trials in life, no one likes suffering and death. People struggle in this life with a host of pains and fears, including intellectual doubts. Are only the struggles of people on the road toward Christ to be idolized, and everyone else not only ignorant, but damned eternally?

      That’s more than a mere allegory, it’s preaching damnation. It’s a kind of Chick Tract written by an Oxford English professor. But Lewis’ message is the same as the Chick Tract’s messages to save yourself! Everyone around you is a mere two-dimensional figure in God’s Divine Comedy, they are sooooo doomed, eternally! Turn to Christ!

      Lewis’s allegorical point made in THE GREAT DIVORCE is that hell is something small, fitting inside a mere grain of heaven’s sand, and filled with creatures on their way toward non-being. Lewis is in effect saying, hell is crammed into a shoebox in God’s back closet, don’t delve too closely into the matter, just believe as I do and become a Christian, and you won’t even have to worry about “hell.” Or as Packer put it in Christianity Today, “Thought of hell’s occupants won’t even enter the hearts of the saved Christians in heaven.”

      In other words, just accept the dogma, believe in the doctrine and creeds, those are INFINITELY BIG, but every problem and question that the unconverted or apostate has is of no consideration, it’s SMALL. To hell with such people and their questions. Lewis managed to sell that kind of “non-thinking,” that kind of minimizing everything but his own conversion experience and his own beliefs, making everything else damnable, eternally so.

      My own point of view is that universalism makees the most sense if you’re going to believe in a personal and loving God. So, Jason, you and I agree in that respect, but I have faith that people may will find out what’s what in the end, whether it be Christ, or some other spiritual realm, or perhaps none. I honestly don’t know, and do not find arguments for revealled religions and their holy books (especially ones whose views of the end appear based on intertestamental literature) to be very convincing. See also my reply to Kent since I quote Lewis directly there.

      • Sorry for the delay; it took me a while to realize that some comments were nested.

        Ed (and afterward): {{Lewis could have replied (but did not), by saying, “I do not quite think mosquitos will be granted eternal life, nor do I see how or why they in particular might be.”}}

        You mean, the way he did essentially do, elsewhere in that chapter? {wry g} (I suppose the fact that he didn’t actually use the word ‘mosquito’ again must seem significant to you somehow.)

        For humor’s sake he answered what he considered a spurious question, with an equally spurious answer–being facetious at the level of the question. Considering that even in TPoP Lewis promotes a version of annihilationism, and considering how carefully he watches for self-contradiction in his writings, he wouldn’t likely have been serious about the mosquito comment; but the people trying to shoot down his hope for the salvation of other sentient animals (or one class of such people anyway) would have been much in favor of eternal conscious torment, so yet again his quip answers them on their own ground.

        {{But if Lewis is willing to admit even facetiously, “eternal mosquitoes,” then why stop there, why not continue with eternal parasites of all sorts?}}

        Because the joke is already made without having to bring them in. Why would someone consciously making a facetious answer for sake of a witty retort bother to go any farther??

        Supposing a humourless opponent mistook him for being serious, though, and actually tried to push the issue by saying, for example, “Well {huff!}{splutter!} why stop there?–why not continue with eternal parasites of all sorts? Huh?! Why not!?” The joke could be succinctly extended by calmly quoting, “Where their maggot dies not.”

        After that, if the inept fundy critic still wanted to push the issue, the proper answer would be something like, ‘If you had bothered to read more closely, I was never talking about restitution for non-sentient entities, and I don’t consider most animals to be even unconsciously sentient. That includes mosquitos and parasites, and things that aren’t parasites like maggots. So your mosquito example was outside the bounds of my limited application; which you should have realized from the beginning, thus I chose to retort with an ironic joke at your expense.’

        You may not think the joke is very funny; but trying to push a position on him that he didn’t really accept, by means of appeal to a joke he made, is to be of the mental calibre of the person who made the sad appeal to mosquitos in the first place, thinking this was some kind of real criticism to Lewis’ position.

        Nor is it at all logically proper to hurl off the horse on the other side, and exclaim in a fit of pique (at being the butt of a joke), “Oh wait, you were joking! You don’t believe a word of what you said about animals living eternally, do you?” On the contrary, Lewis believes what he said he believes, or at least he hopes for what he said he is willing to hope for. Mosquitos, and things of that sort, don’t fit into what he was hoping about, for the reasons he stated.

        If you’re going to critique his position, critique his actual position, not a straw-man copy of it (which is also the point to his joke about mosquitos).

        That position includes details such as lions, as nominally sentient entities, no longer having to live by the grisly consumption of other life (such as lambs); thus, as it happens, not being in a hell (for humans) of the sort you keep thinking his actual position (which even in that book was annihilation) must somehow amount to in the aggregate.

      • Ed (and afterward): {{Jason, neither did you appear to note the self-centeredness and lack of compassion in Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress and The Great Divorce.}}

        Self-centered plotting in allegorical and apocalyptic stories (by genre) where the other characters are only supposed to be typological examples at best??? GaspOMG!!1!

        Um, yes, as a matter of fact I did notice those, and so took those details as generically intended.

        But for what it’s worth: I am in fact also bothered by the lack of compassion explicitly appealed to by Lewis at the end of TGD, since that’s an explicit theme and one of his principle justifications for his doctrine of annihilation. The real GMacD would have never have stood for that, or agreed to the annihilation of souls on those grounds. (In fact the real MacD argued against the hopelessness of annihilation, on the ground of compassion.) That’s a rather different thing than having 1-D typological characters in formal allegories and dream-apocalypses.

        But to be fair to Lewis, his point of non-compassion is reached when the soul destroys itself to an effectively non-sentient existence (something the real MacD denied was possible, by the grace of God) so that, strictly speaking, there is no person left to be compassionate with or even for. (Only a “grumble” as Lewis put it.) The troubling issue he had to get around (which I don’t believe he succeeded at, but by the terms of his position he had to try), was whether the surviving person would eternally grieve over this final and absolute tragedy or not–and it has to be ‘not’ for heaven to be heaven for the survivors. The real MacD, on the other hand, understood that true love for the person would result in permanent and inconsolable grief for such a finally hopeless tragedy (whether or not the finally lost person was around to make what selfish use of that grief he or she could); which is another reason why the real MacD trusted in God against such a tragedy.

        That critique against Lewis aside, I’m rather pleased that those two works feature as much sympathy and concern for characters other than the protagonists as they do! (Considering that by genre it wasn’t really necessary.) I could go into detail about this, but the most pertinently obvious example is Lewis’ formulation of hell (and limbo) in his (pre-annihilationistic) TPR: even hell (much moreso limbo) is presented as being itself a compassion by God on the sinners, a ‘worst thing’ imposed on a state that of itself would always be getting worse and worse.

        That isn’t as much compassion as I would think proper–it denies (in good Arminianistic fashion) that God continues to act toward saving sinners from sin; but I think it can be argued clearly enough that Lewis was also bothered enough by such a lesser compassion on God’s part that he had to come up with some reason for why God would give up on the sinner: a reason that had nothing to do with a lack of compassion on God’s part. The natural solution was to take the typical Arminianistic idea of sinners condemning themselves (an obvious theme in Lewis’ work) to the logical conclusion and have the sinners, in effect, defeat God by sooner or later reducing themselves to a hopeless situation where either they outright cease to exist as persons (basically annihilating themselves) or else where God annihilates them out of mercy, so that they will not continue to suffer hopelessly. (Lewis tended to hop back and forth between those two sub-positions, being not entirely theological satisfied with either of them, for reasons I won’t go into here.)

        {{They are tales not only of invincible blindness but also eternal damnation of all but the true “Christian”}}

        Not, in either case however (though this is more obvious in TGD since the characters there are less formally allegorical), due to the damned lacking opportunities to see and to reject enough truth that could have led them onward to accepting salvation from their sins. The damned liberals are not damned for being liberals, but for being willful shirkers against as much of the light as they can see–just like the conservative “Christian” “Pharisees” occasionally mentioned in the Screwtape stories. The light they can see in either case is different according to their abilities and opportunities, but the principle of rejection on their part is treated as being the same.

        Which, really, ought to easily answer your (facile?) wondering about whether Lewis thought moderate Evangelicals with lots of questions and beliefs somewhat up in the air are thus also eternally damned for being that way. That sort of person was never who Lewis considered eternally damned at all, whether liberal or moderate, Christian or non-Christian; and if you thought Lewis taught damnation according to a lack of doctrinal belief then you’ve drastically misread him across the board. (Not that your perennial habit of drastically misreading texts is a news flash or anything… {wry g})

        Lewis considered shirking damned, in the sense of refusing to walk according to what light we can see and looking for more light thereby. (This was his explicit point in the famous “Man or Rabbit?” evangelical essay, on the question of “can’t I be good without being a Christian”?) The man who taught the salvation of Emeth, the good enemy of Christ (in the formal sense of being an enemy), can hardly be considering “liberals” damned simply for being liberals in their beliefs; and it would be difficult to find a more religiously “liberal” teacher than his beloved Professor Kirkpatrick who was an outright apostate (former Presbyterian) atheist–of whom Lewis never seems to have had any concern about him being a sheep and not a goat.

        I will point out here, as I’ve done before in more detail in years past (though only God knows why it might make any more difference this time than before), that Lewis couldn’t possibly have been as ignorant of sceptical “biblical scholarship” as you seem insistent on believing he must have been–those “damned liberals” and “broad thinkers” in TGD and TPR are based on such people (both in a popular sense and a more scholarly sense), who are naturally the sort of people Lewis would have felt comfortable reading for, arguably, most of his adult life (adolescence through his mid-30s–he died in his early 60s). Did you think he was only kidding when he described the favorite reading material of his beloved atheistic tutor??

        Also, it might be true to say that Chesterton “flirted with atheism” in his agnosticism (he always described himself an agnostic, even afterward when recounting his beliefs and attitudes–but clearly a highly anti-Christianity agnostic! Chesterton would doubtless insert a clever remark here about how how solidly dogmatic his agnosticism was, when it came to that topic. {wry g}) But it is simply ignorant, at best, to claim that Lewis only flirted with atheism. The man outright admired atheists for being atheists, rebelliously declared himself an atheist throughout young adulthood (a running theme in TPR for example), and treated himself as having been a dedicated atheist (though ‘naturalist’ was the preferred term back then) when recounting his position in years afterward. It would be more metaphorically accurate to say he divorced from atheism after a torrid marriage to it in his youth (and then flirted with a number of other suitors before dolefully ending up back at Christianity).

      • Ed (and afterward): {{Lewis is in effect saying [in TGD], hell is crammed into a shoebox in God’s back closet}}

        More like hell has crammed itself, near heaven’s front gate. And certainly not out of the notice of either God or even the saints.

        {{don’t delve too closely into the matter}}

        Unlike Christ, Who descends eternally there to witness to the people. (And Who, in TGD, is the only person who can and does continually do so, aside from some specially authorized angels on a temporary basis who are empowered to do so for sake of narrative convenience. {wry g}) And unlike the saints who go through a lot of effort to come down from heaven to witness to those whom Christ has led up this far.

        (Notably, Lewis misses that he, here accurately, represents his Teacher GMacD as teaching Christ’s eternal descent into hell to witness to the lost for salvation; although that cannot fit into Lewis’ doctrine of eventual annihilation. Lewis would have probably changed that had someone pointed it out, correcting MacD along the line of what Lewis–but not the real MacD!–thought Jesus was teaching.)

        {{[Supposedly Lewis was teaching, in TGD,] just believe as I do and become a Christian, and you won’t even have to worry about “hell.”}}

        Unlike, say, for example, Lewis, the orthodox Christian narrator: who starts off being punished in hell, spends the whole story as “a damned ghost”, and ends the story in pure panic about being destroyed (or worse) by the rising sun of Christ.

        Yeah, wow, lots of non worry about hell in TGD, if only someone will believe like Lewis does! (And like the one certainly saved and one possibly saved ghosts do… right? All they have to do is believe doctrinally like Lewis does to be saved?–that’s what happens? And the witnessing to the ghosts by the saints is all about doctrinal orthodoxy, too, right? That must be what happens, for your criticism here to make a single solitary lick of sense! So, don’t bother delving too closely into that matter, I guess. {g})

      • {{In THE PILGRIM’S REGRESS & THE GREAT DIVORCE the trials of the Christian character who saves his soul from eternal damnation by believing and loving a most orthodox Christ are the focus.}}

        Not to put too fine a point on repeating it, but the main character in TGD is himself an orthodox Christian (Lewis himself)–who starts out in hell, rather surprisingly to himself, and ends still under threat of damnation–so in any sense the book cannot be focusing on Lewis saving his soul by coming to (merely) believing in (or even “loving”, in some senses of that word) “a most orthodox Christ”.

        And while it’s true Jack / Vertue (two sides of the protagonist’s allegorically autobiographical personality) in TPR are saved from eternal damnation by trusting (not just believing, or even loving in some sense of that word) “a most orthodox Christ”, neither character is looking for salvation so as to avoid damning his soul to an eternal hell. (Neither is doctrinal belief focused on in any formal way; it happens almost incidentally as a side effect of reconversion.) On the contrary, it is the fear of “the black hole” which largely leads Jack away from being Christian (Vertue couldn’t give less of a rip about that topic one way or another), and which constantly stands in his way from going back to Christianity. (And which he sullenly resents having to acknowledge the existence of, once he reconverts.)

        Ironically, the closest Jack comes to being scared back to Christianty by “the black hole”, is a fear of death as mere annihilation–which he didn’t believe doctrinally until later. This is not Vertue’s concern at all, though; and Jack’s encounter with death, per se, on the cliff-face path, is presented in counter-Christian terms (“even he who feared nothing [i.e. Christ] feared me”) and as the non-religious reality behind the idea of the black hole of hell.

        {{Are only the struggles of people on the road toward Christ to be idolized, and everyone else not only ignorant, but damned eternally?}}

        Since you mention it, I will point out that across Lewis’ fictional work, from TPR through to Till We Have Faces (which features no formal Christianity at all but only a sort of quasi-Greco-Roman paganism), the relevant characters “on the road to Christ” often don’t realize they are “on the road to Christ”; and those characters frequently become annoyed when it occurs to them that they might be!

        It’s true that some characters in Lewis’ fiction, on the road to Christ, have a very accepting and (relatively) easy time getting there: characters like Peter, Susan, Lucy, Caspian (in his introductory book), Ransom, Hwin, Jill (to some extent), the “Lewis” of TGD, and the younger sister Psyche in TWHF (to some extent). But they are not the only examples of characters on the road to Christ. (And Susan goes apostate later!–though for superficially selfish reasons, not for solidly serious reasons such as Emeth, the explicitly avowed enemy of Aslan and loyal worshiper of Tash.)

        Your question, consequently, could be easily answered by paying better attention to the material you’re supposed to be criticising. Jack and Vertue have trials in life, don’t like suffering and death, struggle in this life with a host of pains and fears, including intellectual doubts (though in rather different ways)–and are surprised (as well as usually annoyed) to find that they were on the road to Christ all along. (Very much unlike the central pilgrim of Bunyan’s Progress, and not by accident either.) Ditto the quasi-autobiographical hero of The Screwtape Letters (though the story starts off with him near the end of that road already, insofar as formal conversion and acceptance go; Screwtape suggests Wormword keep playing on his various annoyances afterward, and only the arrival in the protagonist’s life of a good Christian fiance seriously knocks them for a loop–arguably moreso than the conversion itself!) Super-ditto Edward and Eustace. Ditto Shasta and Aravis. Ultra-super-ditto Emeth. Ditto the two converts briefly seen in TGD (though it isn’t their intellectual doubts that they struggle with so much as other things.) Definitely ditto the husband and wife protagonists of That Hideous Strength. (Also ditto, though more as an affectionately humorous cariacuture, the honest atheist in Ransom’s house.) Hyper-super-ditto the narrating protagonist Orual of Till We Have Faces (Lewis’ final fictional work, published the same year as TLB, though also in a way his first: he started trying to draft the story 35 years previously in his days as an atheistic poet, though it went through a lot of changes afterward).

        It’s true that those on the road to Christ are saved, and those who insist on getting (or rather staying) off that road are damned, and in that sense ‘everyone’ can in principle be broken down into two disparate groups (those who are eventually saved and those who are eventually lost); but again, if you think they’re being damned anywhere in Lewis’ work due to struggling with a host of pains and fears and intellectual (including doctrinal) doubts, then you’ve rather badly misread him.

        {{It [TGD] is a kind of Chick Tract written by an Oxford English professor.}}

        Your attempt at trying to principly equate the two, says a lot more about your competence at reading for undestanding than about Lewis’ theological and ethical faults (whatever they are). You really think Jack Chick would seriously write a tract where he himself, the orthodox believer and evangelist, starts off (as that same believer) being punished in hell and ends still under threat?! Or where an honest (if comically humorous and nonthreatening) atheist lives in a home of super-Christians who don’t seem at all concerned about his eventual salvation?!–or where a professed enemy of Christ and worshiper of a devil discovers after death that he was actually serving Christ the whole time and in fact has been gladly welcomed by Christ and saved??! (Among several other things of that sort.) Do you think Jack Chick even knows what an allegory and its limitations are?? (Or that he thinks he’s writing in formal allegory?)

        I can’t decide if this is worse than an obscure biblical scholar in an obscure biblical commentary (quoting another obscure biblical scholar in yet another obscure technical work on form criticism) trying to claim GosJohn is, by genre, more like Pilgrim’s Progress than anything else; but in either case (hyperbolically speaking, as Lewis put it after quoting by memory from those particular obscure biblical scholars) “After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world?”

        JRP

      • Hi Jason,

        On Lewis’s mosquito remark, you’re saying Lewis was responding to fundamentalist/damnationists who were in FAVOR of eternal suffering. Since I am not a fundamentalist/damnationist I found Lewis’s response appalling.

        Apparently when making that particular remark Lewis did not take into account how grotesque such a remark might seem to anyone BUT a fundamentalist/damnationist reader.

        Or perhaps you are wrong, and the quip WAS meant for a general audience, and you are incorrect in attempting to apologize for it on the basis that in this particular instance Lewis must have been addressing fundamentalist/damnationists.

        As for Lewis’s other belief that you mention, namely that obligate carnivores like lions might become relatively tame vegetarians and eat straw like an ox, what does that even mean? And why does Lewis buy into such a belief? Just because it’s “in the Bible?”

        Is:65:25: The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.(KJV)

        Contra the Bible, lions are obligate carnivores. Their entire nervous systems are carnivarian, their reactions are to chase and pounce, their claws and fangs are for rending and tearing, their muscular allows them to crouch down low and move stealthily. And their digestive system allows them to glut and then digest their kill for days. Members of the cat family will even go blind without a particular amino acid in their diet that can only be obtained via eating meat or at least eggs. A cat’s teeth are not smooth and flat and so they can not grind straw or grass for digestive purposes, nor would their stomachs survive on a diet solely of straw, contra biblical promises.

        Yes, I know of Lewis’s annihilationist-leaning viewpoint. And how he even put it into the mouth of George MacDonald who would have been appalled at being thus misportrayed.

      • JASON WROTE: “Which, really, ought to easily answer your (facile?) wondering about whether Lewis thought moderate Evangelicals with lots of questions and beliefs somewhat up in the air are thus also eternally damned for being that way.”

        MY REPLY: Facile? Lewis’ Oxfordian interpretation of “Christianity” is as slippery as three day old fish. If a Christian starts to acknowledge they have more questions and begins to move away from “mere Christianity,” or disagrees with Lewis’ opinion as to what “mere Christianity” constitutes, then Lewis’ might either suspect such a person was on the road toward damnation/annihilation, or alternately, Lewis could entertain the option of believing such a person remained a “Christian” albeit “anonymously,” even if such a person eventually became an agnostic or atheist like Kirkpatrick.

        On the other hand, Lewis was appalled at the thought that anyone might dare to consider Jesus as simply “a great moral teacher.”

        I consider Jesus a semi-great moral teacher. I think he was an apocalyptic preacher, a man of his day and age in that respect. And that a lot of his preaching was indeed self-based. Save your own self, earthly families be damned (much as cult leaders preach today). “Fear him who can kill both body and soul.” Leave everything behind, including money (“give to all who asking nothing in return”), aggression (“love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”), in order to be prepared for the day of the coming of the Son of Man (when God kicks final *ss).

        I also consider Jesus’ apocalyptic message to be as wrong on its end as the laws of Moses’ were on the other end, since Moses’ laws were set up for a nation, how an entire nation might please God and ensure blessings for that nation. While Jesus’ message was about preparing in an individualistic fashion for the soon coming of the Son of Man.

        But neither Moses nor Jesus’ message appears realistic for either a nation or an individual respectively. I think the First Amendment trumps the First Commandment. “Freedom of religion and speech,” trumps “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me” (and the penalty being death if you even open your mouth to tempt anyone to worship “other gods”).

        Pardon me for viewing Lewis’ “mere Christianity” and other works as Oxfordian “Chick Tracts,” but that’s exactly how they appear to me. And if Lewis HAD read theology, and understood it better, he might have not simply assumed that every word in the Gospels were necessarily the words spoken by the historical Jesus, including many in the Gospel of John throughout which Jesus is depicted as speaking incessantly about himself in the first person, nearly every chance he gets, without speaking a single parable.

        Lastly, moderate Evangelicals are challenging each other openly today with a broader range of questions than ever before. Read the titles and range of positions covered in books of the “viewpoints” series published by Zondervan and Intervarsity.

        See also the 2009 book, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology by Paul Eddy & Gregory Boyd, and note the wide variety of disagreements among Evangelical theologians on a host of issues. See also comments made by Evangelical readers who found such wide ranging disagreements more than a little threatening and explained why Boyd even seemed to be violating the beliefs of his own denomination.

        And what about the new book published in 2010 by Emergent Church leader, Brian McLaren? Lewis would have a fit over his version of “mere Chrisitanity,” compared with Lewis’s own.

        Below are some of McLaren’s more controversial statements, especially in regards to Christianity, the Bible, ethics, atheists, and atheism.

        “I was watching a TV documentary the other night that featured several highly religious parents dealing with their highly addictive adult childrens’ drug and sexuality issues. ‘Their faith seems to make them worse parents and worse people,’ I said to my wife after the last commercial. I feel the same way when political leaders bring in religion to justify the unjustifiable, as they too often do. That’s why I am so grateful for the edited collection of essays, God Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself: Theological Engagements with the New Atheism (pub. 2005). Atheism isn’t just something to oppose or refute—it also can be a mirror, with much to teach us believers about ourselves and our distorted and unworthy ideas about God and religion. The atheist too is our neighbor, and God may want to speak to us all through the incisive insight of an honest atheist. Highly, highly recommended.”
        —BRIAN MCLAREN, 2005

        In February 2010 Brian McLaren wrote A New Kind of Christianity, and he began discussing it on video and in conference calls with fellow Christians at The Ooze [the website for Emergent Christians].

        EXCERPTS FROM A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY

        The Bible, as well as each individual’s spiritual development, evolves
        Page 273, Endnote 5 for Chapt. 10:

        If we believe that the same God who created an evolving universe is revealed in an evolving Bible, we can derive some fascinating insights from contemporary studies of genetics. Today’s chickens, it turns out, still have the genetic information in their DNA that was used to produce long tails, scales, and teeth in their ancestors. During embryonic development, some of these primitive characteristics still manifest themselves in chickens. . . . We might say the Bible similarly retains a record of its own evolution, and in our individual spiritual development we may personally recapitulate earlier stages. This is a theme to which we will return in our last few chapters.

        The Bible is not inerrant, it is beautiful
        Page 272, Endnote 6:

        Perhaps when our conservative friends ask those of us on this quest if we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, our reply should be: “No, I believe the Scripture is better than inerrant, I believe it is beautiful.” If they ask us what we mean by beautiful, we can explain: “It’s beautiful for creating a community that extends across generations and cultures to engage with God so they can experience, in that engagement, the gift of revelation.” They probably won’t be satisfied, but it might help them think a bit.

        Christianities are created, constructed
        Page 27:

        We acknowledge that we have created many Christianities up to this point, and they call for reassessment, and, in many cases, repentance. We are not reassessing for the purpose of vilifying our ancestors in the faith or in order to contrast a dark, backward “them” with an enlightened, progressive “us,” snarkily implying that they got it wrong all along and (insert trumpet fanfare here) we have finally got it right after all these years. Such a damnably arrogant or pathetically naive thesis doesn’t deserve our attention, much less commitment. No, we are reassessing as a humble act of ethical responsibility, so that we can avoid merely carrying on the “traditions of humans” as Jesus said the Pharisees once did. We are in fact following the example of our ancestors, who again and again from the margins did this very kind of collective self-examination and repenting.

        We are not reassessing and repenting of “Christianity” as a sacred abstraction representing the highest and best ideals of Christians everywhere. Instead, we are beginning to reassess and repent of the actual versions and formulations of the faith we have created. We are acknowledging that the Christianities we have created–or constructed–deserve to be reexamined and deconstructed, not so that we may slide into agnosticism, atheism or secular patriotic consumerism, but so that our religious traditions can be seen for what they are. They are not simply a pure, abstracted “essence of Christianity,” but rather they are evolving, embodied, situated versions of the faith–each of which is unfinished, imperfect, and sometimes pretentious, and each of which is often beautiful and wonderful, renewable and serviceable too.

        Atheism sometimes seems a more ethical alternative to a genocidal God
        Page 19-20:

        Nearly all religions–and certainly all monotheistic religions–seem at time hell-bent on inspiring people to kill each other, making atheism sometimes seem a more ethical alternative to conventional violence-prone belief. So we ask: Why does God seem so violent and genocidal in many Bible passages? Does God play favorites? Does God choose some and reject others? Does God [p. 20] sanction elitism, prejudice, violence, or even genocide? Is God incurably violent and is faith capable of becoming a stronger force for peace and reconciliation than it has been for violence in the past?

        Atheism is preferable to a deity who tortures the greater part of humanity forever in infinite eternal conscious torment
        Page 98-99, Chapter 10, and Endnote 1, Page 272:

        Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do I find anything as horrible as. . . . a deity who tortures the greater part of humanity forever in infinite eternal conscious torment. . . . For this reason, I would grimly prefer atheism to be true than for the Greco-Roman Theos narrative to be true. . . . On the subject of hell, see my The Last Word and the Word After That, and an extremely helpful and concise article by Nik Ansell, “Hell: The Nemesis of Hope” [available free online]. There he quotes Evangelical patriarch John Stott as saying, of the conventional view of hell, “Emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain.”

        _________________________

        MY REPLY TO JASON CONTINUED: Lewis’s main character in The Pilgrim’s Regress struggles with the modern phoniness, hypocrisy and intellectual vacancy of the Christian church, communism, fascism, and various philosophical and artistic movements. Fine. I’ve personally struggled with the intellectual vacancy and vacuity of many of Lewis’s attempts to nail down “mere Christianity,” as if there ever existed such a beast in the first place.

        How exactly does one “inherit eternal life?” Compare the answers Jesus gave in the Synoptic Gospels with the secret revealed to Nicodemus at night in the fourth Gospel, and with Paul’s view in the letter to Romans. Obey the commandments, Love God and your neighbor, God will forgive us as we forgive others, and do what it says in the sermon on the Mount in order to build your home on solid rock, because simply calling on the name of the Lord and even doing miracles in his name is of no avail. Or must one be born again by believing Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (he who does not believe Jesus is the lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world is condemned already, John 3). Or, admit one is a sinner beyond recall, and all our righteousness is as filthy rags, and call upon the name of the Lord for God’s grace/divine favor?

        Neither Lewis nor anyone else can invent a “mere Christianity” that some other Bible reader won’t have difficulty with. Systematic Theology appears to have died the death of a thousand qualifications. Again, see the viewpoints series.

        ___________________________

        JASON WROTE: “Lewis considered shirking damned, in the sense of refusing to walk according to what light we can see and looking for more light thereby.”

        MY REPLY: Can Lewis speak any more general than that about damnation? “Shirking” will “damn” you. Everyone gets some “light” and “shirking” what “light” you in particular get will “damn” you. Leaves quite a leeway of interpretation.
        ____________________________

        JASON WROTE: Lewis couldn’t possibly have been as ignorant of sceptical “biblical scholarship” as you seem insistent on believing he must have been–those “damned liberals” and “broad thinkers” in TGD and TPR are based on such people (both in a popular sense and a more scholarly sense), who are naturally the sort of people Lewis would have felt comfortable reading for, arguably, most of his adult life (adolescence through his mid-30s–he died in his early 60s). Did you think he was only kidding when he described the favorite reading material of his beloved atheistic tutor?

        MY REPLY: Please supply a list of what skeptical writings Lewis was most familiar with during his atheistic period, and especially what scholarly works of theology he read. He does not mention such authors by name nor cite from them much if at all throughout all of his writings. He sums them up as “modern theologians” and decries the fact that they doubted the authorship of various books of the Bible and miraculous stories in the Bible. He reveals nothing in his own writings as to whether or not he understood a whit about why modern theologians had such questions nor did he discuss why or how such hypotheses came to be, nor does he appear aware that such authors began as orthodox Christians in their youth. Lewis simply decries the conclusions themselves, which perturbed him, and tried in a few essays to make psychological and sociological excuses as to why modern theologians differing with him and his view of the truth of the Gospel stories.

        Lewis mentions reading Fraser’s Golden Bough and Gibbon and a few other works by atheists. But he shows no sign of having dipped very deeply into the field of theology at all. He was a neo-platonist professor of English literature whose favorite theologian remained for his whole life, G. K. Chesterton (the Everlasting Man), that is if you can call G.K. a theologian. His works display just as great an immaturity when it comes to knowledge of modern theology, as Lewis’s subsequent apologetics did. Lewis practically cribbed his “Liar, Lunatic or ‘Lord” argument from a casual remark G.K. made at the end of one chapter in The Everlasting Man.

        Lewis himself and his writings went relatively unnoticed until AFTER he converted to Christianity. He wrote some poems that were published, but he never wrote a book arguing in favor of atheism. I suspect most of his undergrad and graduate time was spent studying English and Medieval literature (two of Chesterton’s favorite things as well).

        _________________________

        JASON WROTE: Treated himself as having been a dedicated atheist (though ‘naturalist’ was the preferred term back then) when recounting his position in years afterward.

        MY REPLY: See what I wrote above. I agree atheists can become Christians. And Christians can become atheists. However, I see Lewis’ conversion as a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, made one day during a trip to the zoo with his brother who had also rejoined the Church of England before he did, and after reading Chesterton, an author with whom he had a lot in common, including ignorance of modern theology.

        _________________________

        JASON also wrote some balderdash that attempted to make sense of Lewis’s allegories and/or apologize for them as “not being extended Chick Tracts” nor tales of selfish pride in his newly converted heart, on the basis that they were merely allegories, or that Lewis made himself the damned character in the Great Divorce, and made himself the saved character in The Pilgrim’s Regress, or that Lewis never specified exactly how one becomes a Christian, whether via belief or devotion or prayer or actions, or a combination of all of those things so long as one ends up believing Jesus is God and savior and not a “great moral teacher.” To which I reply, huh?

        My point was simply that Lewis was an Oxford don and self-centeredly believed he had found “it,” and everyone else was in the dark, only eternally so. I found his views and presentations self-centered and naive, along with Lewis’s lack of and disdain for the modern theological knowledge and questions of his day. Lewis was human was all I was saying. So does it appear are most religious sentiments. And he dressed up first century religious prejudices and expectations as best he could, apologizing for them as best he could. Blessedly, the modern world impacted him enough such that he never became an inerrantist, and his views were inclusive enough and flexible enough to count even some atheists as anonymous Christians. Two cheers there.

        Lewis never really dealt with first century beliefs in general, and he lived before the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed more about the apocalyptic expectations and beliefs of first century Jewish groups. It would be interesting to see Lewis tearing his hair out today over the “viewpoints” series, as well as Emergent Christianity, and the many thick books on the historical Jesus question that continue to arise. Just reading J.D.G. Dunn and Dale Allison, two major historical Jesus scholars would probably have made Lewis’ head explode. Both deny that very many if any of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the fourth Gospel are historical. I suspect however that Lewis would definitely be a member of the BIOLOGOS foundation, promoting theistic evolution, which is good.

      • Pardon my last remark, Lewis’s head wouldn’t explode. Neither Dunn, nor Allison, nor Boyd and Maclaren, nor the viewpoints series would perturb Lewis, nor even the phenomenon of bestselling books advocating atheism. But the fact remains much more is being debated openly from all angles than ever before in human history concerning religious beliefs. Lewis did not put a cap on such questions, though he attempted to prove at least to himself that he had.

  17. Edward,
    As Jason noted, The Great Divorce is clearly a parable (not quite an allegory, but certainly more symbolic than literal), and as Lewis himself remarks in the Preface, this is not about describing the afterlife, but about how we should live in this life:

    “I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course—or I intended it to have—a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish to arouse is factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.” (pg. x)

    In other words, this is not about speculating that our physical and mental infirmities might after all be eternal, it is about revealing to the reader how absurd our preoccupations tend to be, and how easily they lead us away from God. Of course the minor characters are stereotypical: they represent ways of being, not specific individuals. The point isn’t to show them how foolish they are, but to help the reader recognize and avoid the same foolishness.

    Also, going back to one of the earlier points you raised (which I kept meaning to respond to): I need to repeat that my goal has never been to offer proof that Christians are “on average” better or happier people than others. It is not about what is “average”; it is about what we are called to be, regardless of whether anyone else is.

    Is the “average” married person better or happier than the “average” single person? If so, probably only marginally, but you don’t get a good marriage by settling for average; you work at it and devote yourself to it and pursue it together. Because in the end a good marriage is not something you have but something you pursue, every new day. It is the same with faith. It is not about something you have, but something you pursue.

    The problem with averages is that most people don’t do this. They take their marriages, their faith, their lives for granted, and only put in the minimum. And when I say that, I include myself within those “most people.” True Christianity is the call to live differently, not just a little here and a little there to soothe our consciences or earn us praise, but wholeheartedly. It is a call to leave everything behind and pour ourselves completely into God and others, and it is a simple fact that few of us do this, and none of us do it completely.

    BTW, that is why fringe religious groups (including Mormonism, though it is becoming more mainstream by the year) tend to show better “average” results than those in the mainstream: there is a cultural bias against them which encourages those with doubts and concerns to leave, and keeps all but the genuinely interested from joining. On the other hand, there is a cultural pressure to stay within the mainstream religions which has the opposite results. This means that (for the most part) only the committed join and remain within a fringe religious group, while the majority group includes all sorts, committed and otherwise (Of course, many fringe groups over-correct for this, adding their own strong disincentives to leaving, at which point they become steadily more cultish, but that only makes the average member that much more committed).

    Christianity has been the cultural default in the West for a long time (though less and less these days), so the majority of people who self-identify as Christian, who may even express token acceptance of core Christian doctrines when asked by a pollster, do not have much concern at all to actually organize their lives, priorities or resources according to the teachings of Jesus. Thus, any average taken of Christian behavior is bound to show little difference with the surrounding culture, because the average “Christian” has little concern to be different from the surrounding culture. This is not proof that Christianity is a failure; it is simply a reflection of human nature.

    The question is: can Christianity make a difference? And to that question the real results I have seen in my own and many other people’s lives, across several churches in several denominations shows (me) that it can. After all, following Jesus is not some drug trial that either causes a physiological reaction or it doesn’t; it is a choice, one that people in this country are prone to claim they have made whether they actually have or not, and as such it can only be measured by results on an individual level. Just like a marriage (which also has a fair bit of cultural inertia, though again less and less by the year), you don’t judge its success by the average, but by the actual results in each particular case.

    UPDATED to fix hyperlink.

  18. […] been rather busy lately, and not able to interact always. Last week, Ken posted on hell and it has been a great conversation to follow (Oh, and don’t forget my Friday Question). […]

  19. Ken,

    I agree THE GREAT DIVORCE can be interpreted solely as advice for “this life,” such as not to be “a grumbler” (as one damned character was portrayed). But neither is THE GREAT DIVORCE, nor Lewis’s other works, solely about how to live in “this life.” His works featured allegories as well as argumentative defences of eternal damnation.

    C. S. Lewis was an eternal damnationist and even went so far as to proclaim in a sermon he delivered at Oxford that it was “tomfoolery” to doubt the biblical truth of eternal damnation.

    Though in The Great Divorce his view of “damnation” sounds like annihilationism. He gives an example of a person who grumbles and says if they continue they will become nothing more than “a grumble,” the person having vanished, become ash, and swept up. (Lewis put such words in the mouth of the “George MacDonald” character, someone who did NOT believe in people becoming dust and being swept up in the end. MacDonald was a universalist.) The damned were pictured as drawing nearer and nearer to non-being, and finally not-being at all. That is the “Lewisian” interpretation of damnation in THE GREAT DIVORCE. He attempted to provide a clearer or at least cleverer answer than the Bible. But that’s to be expected when an Oxford don dons the mantle of Christianity. Lewis’ version is a kinder gentler “eternal destruction/damnation,” not the hell of a God who detests sin so much he has to crucify his own son and send him to hell bearing the weight of all the sins of humanity past, present and future. Not a God who demands that blood be shed literally before God can forgive anyone anything. The Bible sounds almost uncivilized in that respect. Lewis himself preferred a different view of atonement that he wrote of elsewhere. Perhaps that’s why Lewis never became a Catholic. The bloodiness of some forms of Catholic imagery probably turned his stomach, as well as some classic Catholic imagery concerning hell’s torments.

    I wonder if any of the other bloggers involved in this discussion have read the popular writings of early Christians on hell, including the apostle Peter’s alleged vision of hell that was quite popular in its day — or the vision of hell in the pre-Christian Book(s) of Enoch which were even cited by the author of the Epistle of Jude, and the author of the Book of Revelation, as well as by early church fathers.

    Robin Lane Fox mentions the visions of hell that early Christians entertained and their probably effect:

    “Post-Constantine Christians classified all rival religions as demonic systems. . . . If Satan was the source of error and evil, then false teaching and wrongdoing were not merely mistaken: they were diabolic. . . . Like Satan, the Last Judgment was a force that Christians . . . claimed to be able to defeat. . . . This teaching was reinforced by an equally powerful ally, the Christian idea of sin. Sin was not just the sin of an action, or even an intention, but also the sin of a thought, even a passing interest in an appealing man or woman. This combination of rarefied sin and eternal punishment was supported, as we shall see, by books of vision and revelation that were probably more widely read than modern contempt for ‘pseudepigraphic’ forgeries allows: acquaintance with the Apocalypse of ‘Peter’ would make anyone think twice before leaving the Church (we happen to know that ‘Peter’s vision of hell’ was still read as a holy text in the churches in Palestine on Good Friday during the fifth century). If fears for Eternity brought converts to the faith, one suspects that they did even more to keep existing converts in it.” [SOURCE: Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p.326-327, 330-331, 412]

    Below Lewis’ statements that I was alluding to above:

    Lewis preaching in Oxford in 1939, about five years before writing THE GREAT DIVORCE :
    “. . . nearly all the references to this subject [hell] in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is Our Lord Himself. People will tell you it is St. Paul, but that is untrue. These overwhelming doctrines are dominical. They are not really removable from the teaching of Christ or of His Church. If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tomfoolery. If we do, we must sometime overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them.” SOURCE: “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, ed. Walter Hooper (rev. ed., Macmillan, 1980), pp. 20-21.

    The Rev. Alan Fairhurst, knowing of C. S. Lewis’ respect for George MacDonald, asked him why he did not agree with MacDonald’s universalism. “I parted company from MacDonald on that point because a higher authority — the Dominical utterances themselves — seemed to me irreconcilable with universalism. . . . The finality of the Either-Or, the Sheep and Goats, the Wise and Foolish Virgins — is so emphatic and reiterated in our Lord’s teaching that, in my opinion, it simply cannot be evaded. If we do not know that he said that, then we do not know what he said about anything. And this is my sole reason. . . . Need I add that I shd. v. much prefer to follow G.M. on this point if I could?” [C. S. Lewis to Rev. Alan Fairhust, person letter, September 6, 1959]

    Lewis argued both that “destruction” [in the NT] is an image for damnation and “that the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt.” The Problem of Pain p. 112,115.

    ALL OF THE ABOVE. . .

    . . . makes me wish Lewis had read books in his day along the lines of one I read in mine, titled, SALVATION AND DAMNATION by Dalton (that sums up many questions of historical interest in less than 100 pages), which might have taught Lewis about the development of Satan and hell in the intertestamental period and how Jesus and the NT authors came to speak as they did about “Satan” and “hell.” But Lewis himself admitted he was no biblical scholar, and was simply presenting ideas as he saw them, the same type of overall admission made by many Christians today who are not biblical scholars, many of whom are yet ready and willing to inform the entire non-Christian world, “I’m not saying, you in particular are going to hell, I’m just saying, why take the chance when MY religion can assure you that you never will?” Sweet deal that offer. *sarcasm intended*

    Lewis’s speciality was medieval literature, not the Bible.

    Lewis’s apologist hero, G. K. Chesterton, was likewise extremely fond of the medieval ages, writing about St. Thomas, St. Francis, and Catholicism during that period, calling it a “shining bridge connecting two shining civilizations,” and superior to classical antiquity, claiming, “there was more cosmic contentment in the narrow and bloody streets of Florence than in the theatre of Athens or the open garden of Epicurus. Giotto lived in a gloomier town than Euripides, but he lived in a gayer universe.”

    So it’s little wonder that G. K. struck a chord with Lewis the medievalist, and that Lewis said in SURPRISED BY JOY that prior to his conversion G. K.’s book THE EVERLASTING MAN had the most effect on him. Lewis continued to suggest that book to others who asked him for a meaty apologetic work to read. Not that anything G. K. says is meaty compared with biblical scholarship. G. K.’s writings feature little evidence that he was even barely acquainted with such scholarship. And Lewis’s apologetic writings followed suit.

    Speaking of G. K.’s rosy picture of the medieval world, compare this other picture: “This world was held to be a vale of blood and tears preparatory to the next, which was, for the majority, to be one of eternal torture and damnation. It was, indeed, a culpable heresy to hold that more than a tiny minority were likely ever to escape hell fires. ‘How shall I laugh, how shall I rejoice?’ asked Tertullian, and orthodoxy agreed that such behavior was inviting the fires of Eternity. . . . The body was an ass, and too conscious care of it was another short cut to hell. Roman hygiene gave way to pious dirt, and it was with a strong sense of the miraculous that Christians learnt that St Bridget had been vouchsafed a vision that they might without offence wash twice a month. . . . The followers of St. Thomas a’ Becket–even the less initiated–were able to extol his grime and the number of lice to which he was host. Fasting, flagellation, and maceration of every kind were sought willingly. The end of the world might come at any moment, and preparation for it was the only useful occupation of a mankind driven desperate in search of salvation.”

    So, why should anyone suppose that Lewis’s conversion to Christianity was remarkable? He was raised Church of Ireland, flirted with atheism in his early teens and throughout his undergrad and early teaching years, but later, living and teaching in England, he joined the Church of England. Nothing remarkable there.

    Neither is it remarkable that five months prior to Lewis’ conversion his brother, with whom he was extremely close, had rejoined the Church of England. And Lewis was conversing with Tolkein at Oxford who shared a love of English literature. Lewis was also reading English fantasy literature by the Christian George MacDonald that was influencing him, and had just read Chesterton’s EVERLASTING MAN, finding his love of the medieval period mirrored his own. (By the way, Tolkein remained a bit miffed that Lewis did not convert to Catholicism, and was displeased with Lewis’s mashup of mythological beings in his children’s fantasies, ah well, you can’t win them all):

    http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/C.-S.-Lewis

    If anyone wishes to study the effect of in-depth study of biblical scholarship on people raised Christians in their youth, you can not use Lewis as an example since he was never much of a student of biblical scholarship. But there are plenty of theologians whose lives proceeded from a youthful naivety and love of the Scriptures to a more questioning point of view as they continued their studies. In fact entire institutions of Christian higher learning went down that same road. Consider the world’s oldest, most prestigious institutions of higher learning, all founded on the notion of “Biblical infallibility,” yet after continually drawing the brightest scholars and students for two centuries they eventually rejected infallibility and inerrancy and the fundamentalist apologetic, in favor of an historical-critical approach.

  20. […] by the comments on this recent post, the afterlife has been a hot topic lately (no pun intended). I’ve been busy on […]

  21. New Book Excerpt:

    The Possibility of Christian Universalism

    http://thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com/2010/03/new-book-excerpt-possibility-of.html

    BY Eric Reitan, an award-winning scholar and writer, teaches philosophy at Oklahoma State University. His book, IS GOD A DELUSION? A REPLY TO RELIGION’S CULTURED DESPISERS, was named one of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles of 2009.

  22. I need to repeat that my goal has never been to offer proof that Christians are “on average” better or happier people than others. It is not about what is “average”; it is about what we are called to be, regardless of whether anyone else is.

    Christians frequently do not live up to what we assert to be the truth about the nature of reality. On the other hand, self-identifying atheists almost never live down to what they assert to be the truth about the nature of reality … for which, let us thank God.

  23. Ilion, Why such a low view of “what atheists assert to be the truth of the nature of reality.” What is so low about being a mortal human being? And why do you suppose that holding such a view will so horribly affect a person’s morality? Europe has never experienced such a period of relative peace, 70 years of relative continual peace, such as she has not experienced during all the centuries when enthusiasm for Christianity was far higher.

    Subject: Charity and the nonreligious Part 1

    Wealthy non-theists like Bill Gates founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation by donating tens of billions of his own wealth along with tens of billions of additional dollars added by agnostic billionaire, Warren Buffet. Gates and Buffet were ranked as the top two wealthiest men on earth (at least that was their ranking before the recent stock market meltdown). Andrew Carnegie of a previous generation was another noted atheist philanthropist.

    I work at a university and know several students who became Peace Core volunteers, and who told me all about their experiences. The ones I knew were some of the most secular students on campus. One even got a master’s in world health and is in Africa right now in a U.S. government capacity, helping people. I suppose there are many secularists and/or not very religious people working for the Red Cross and Red Crescent (the Muslim arm of that organization). I recall meeting a woman once who worked for charities in Greenville and was miffed when a lady told her what a nice Christian thing it was she was doing. The woman was not a Christian who was being told this, she replied something to the effect that “religion had nothing to do with it.” The United Way also funds many non-sectarian non-religious charities under a huge umbrella of gathering funds for them. The Will Rogers Foundation, The Heart Association, the Cancer Society, walk a thons galore. Lance Armstrong is an atheist and cancer survivor who has done a lot of work supporting that charity. The inspirational, Helen Keller, was both a “heretical universalist” Swedenborgian and a member of the first Humanist Society in the U.S. I believe she also was a member of various pro-communist labor groups. But her story continues to inspire many.

    It was during the Victorian era when non-sectarian charities, universalistic charities, and government charity assitance programs arose. It was a time when people realized that the churches could not be society’s safety net. More had to be done, much more. And at that same time universalist Christianity also grew. Florence Nightingale made nursing a legitimate modern profession, and revolutionized hospital care. She was a universalist Christian who taught that hospitals must serve sick people no matter what their religion or sect, and allow people to see whatever clergy they wished. Hospitals up to her day had been sectarian in nature, built mainly to aid those of the same religious sect, and/or evangelize those in their care. Florence put care above evangelization, and taught that hospitals must allow people to see whomever they wished when it came to their soul’s needs. The founder of the Red Cross, Andre Dunant, was gay it turns out. His family burned his love letters after he died. And Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross was another universalist Christian. Since then, charity for its own sake has been increasingly recognized. Ever heard of Jane Addams and “Hull House” in Chicago? Some claim that the work of the Hull House marked the beginning of what we know today as “Social Welfare.” Interestingly, Nightingale, Dunant, and Addams, all appear to have helped revolutionize charity, and all three held an open view of religion, were not into the Jonathan Edwards’ hell-fire stuff at all, but into universalistic acceptance of others. And Dunant, being gay, with Addams living with a woman and mentioning how much she loved her is certainly suspected of being gay, and Nightingale also mentioned her love of another woman in some strongly worded prose, and is at least suspected of having homosexual urges. Today people of all religions or none work in hospitals, and work for the betterment of mankind via agricultural science and medical science.

    Some of the hardest work that has been done (which has saved the most lives) has often been done by people who either aren’t very religious or who choose not to mention religion, nor connect their work with it. Take Maurice Hilleman and Norman Bourlag, two guys so into their work they never seem to have taken time to be widely recognized for it, except by fellow specialists in their fields. Have you ever heard either of their names?

    In an April 2005 obituary, the New York Times described Maurice Ralph Hilleman (who died at age 85) as the man who “probably saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century.” His vaccines probably saved more lives than any scientist in the past century, and his research helps the medical establishment predict and prepare for upcoming flu seasons. As a young man in a small midwestern town Maurice felt that life must have more to offer than selling goods to cowboys and their girlfriends. He built his own radio which could just pick up talk and music programes from distant Chicago. He also loved to visit the local public library where he found a copy of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” that had avoided the censorship of the town’s fundamentalist church. In eighth grade he was caught reading “The Origin of the Species” in church. His curiosity led him to pursue education at a local branch of the state university and then to the University of Chicago, where he studied microbiology. In 1988 President Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, America’s highest scientific honour. His peers said that he had done more for preventive medicine than anyone since Louis Pasteur. Dr. Hilleman developed 8 of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria (which brings on a variety of symptoms, including inflammation of the lining of the brain and deafness). He also developed the first generation of a vaccine against rubella or German measles. The vaccines have virtually vanquished many of the once common childhood diseases in developed countries.

    Norman Borlaug’s religious views remain a bit of a mystery since he’s very practial simply about feeding the world via agricultural science that raises more productive and hardy crops that he has done on nearly all the world’s continents. He’s credited with saving a billion lives from starvation. I couldn’t find what Borlaug’s religious views were on the internet, and he never seems to mention them in connection with his work, since he’s as I said, more interested in works, not faith.

    As for saving the most lives, the grand prize probably goes to the plumbers of the world, and water and waste engineers. Without the development of plumbing the spread of diseases from unsafe water supplies and the mosquitoes and flies that carry disease back and forth from them, would have been epidemic. I’ve read other essays that agree, voting for the plumbers and the engineers who developed plumbing, makes the most sense.

    Charity and the nonreligious Part 2

    Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money
    by eminent sociologists of religion Michael Emerson, Christian Smith, and Patricia Snell, and published by Oxford University Press,

    USA; illustrated edition edition (September 29, 2008)
    http://www.amazon.com/Passing-Plate-American-Christians-Money/dp/0195337115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251754978&sr=1-1
    http://books.google.com/books?id=9p22LDBupXAC&dq=%22passing+the+plate%22+%22fact+%231%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s
    Chapter Two, “Failed Generosity” lists in bold print the most crucial Facts derived findings from the data. And adds on pg. 53, “Thus, nearly all the money the religious givers–which in the United States comprises mostly Christians–give to their congregations appears to end up getting spent directly or indirectly on themselves.”
    Fact #1 At least one out of five American Christians–20 percent of all U.S. Christians–gives literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.
    Fact #2 The vast majority of American Christians give very little to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.
    Fact #3 American Christians do not give their dollars evenly among themselves, but, rather, a small minority of generous givers among them contributes most of the total Christian dollars given.
    Fact #4 Higher income earning American Christians–like Americans generally–give little to no money as a percentage of household income than lower income earning Christians.
    Fact #5 Despite a massive growth of real per capita income over the twentieth century, the average percentage of income given by American Christians not only did not grow in proportion but actually declined slightly during this time period.
    Fact #6 The vast majority of the money that American Christians do give to religion is spent in and for their own local communities of faith–little is spent on missions, development, and poverty relief outside of local congregations, particularly outside the United States, in way that benefit people other than the givers themselves.

    Reviews of the above work:

    A Lot of Lattés:Stingy Christians in an age of opulence.

    by Ron Sider posted 10/30/2008 Christianity Today

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2008/novdec/5.11.html

    American Christian groups typically give away only 1.5% to 2% percent of their income. Considering that this figure is based on self-reporting, the reality is probably even less. Catholics are the worst, with many Protestant groups in the middle and Mormons (whom this study regards as “non-Christian religious believers”) at the top.
    http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6594800.html?nid=2287#review3

    Mormons, who appear to give seven times more as a percentage of their income than Catholics, are the exception. Smith said the book does not include them in its overall calculations of giving because “they are so sociologically distinctive in terms of giving” that they deserve a separate mention. “Mormons have a much higher expectation. They teach tithing much more conscientiously. Every year you meet with a local bishop who asks you if you tithed, and if you haven’t there are consequences,” Smith said.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSTRE4A22FS20081103

    Subject: Charity and the nonreligious Part 3

    Further Considerations

    1) Is there nothing to be learned from the way less religious modern industrialized countries have lower crime rates than the U.S., higher general education levels than the U.S., lower teen pregnancy rates than the U.S., lower child mortality rates than the U.S., higher life expectancies than the U.S., and devote a higher percentage of their taxes to foreign aid than the U.S.?

    2) When attempting to measure the “charitableness of Christianity” one must SUBTRACT the costliness of churches in general, including preacher(entertainer’s) incomes. I certainly don’t begrudge people spending money on whatever religion they wish, but calling all the money they spend on their pastor’s and churches “charity,” is about as close to the truth as me calling the money I spent last year attending various events that either entertained or were social functions of one sort another, “charity.”

    3) One could even SUBTRACT the way that “religious affinity fraud” robs devout churchgoers of billions each year, who are dragged into money losing operations VIA conservative religious faith, either of the Prosperity Gospel kind, or, of wild eyed claims of “blessed” money-making investments that are heralded as the Gospels truth by pastors or by fellow devout church going friends that you can’t help but trust, i.e., schemes that spread like wildfire among conservative congregants.

    4) Lastly what about the cost and function served by most “mission trips?” Seems like another cost one could SUBTRACT.

    http://exchristian.net/exchristian/2009/06/its-mission-trip-time-again.html
    It’s that time of year again! Pack your bags, round up your dusty ole passport, dig up that Hawaiian shirt you love so much (you know, the one that makes you look like Rick Warren), and get your flippy-floppies out—it’s mission trip time again! Time to go tell some third-world peasants about Jesus, hammer a few nails in a decrepit schoolhouse, and catch some rays!

    http://atheism.about.com/b/2009/06/27/dirty-secrets-of-christian-evangelism.htm
    Dirty Secrets of Christian Evangelism–Saturday June 27, 2009

    Both Catholics and Protestants spend a lot of money on missionary programs in the “Unreached Bloc,” a largely non-Christian region stretching from Africa to East Asia, with India being a primary target. The tactics can be very unethical and the results very poor. So why do people go through with it? For Christ, they say. I suppose anything can be justified in the name of Jesus, no matter how unethical and harmful. S. R. Welch writes for the Secular Web:

    Missionaries exploit the sick:

    Catholic priests had been instructed to learn something of medicine in order to gain access to the bedsides of sick Hindu (and Muslim) children. There, on the pretext of administering medicine, the priests secretly baptized the children before they died. What is troubling are the reports that this practice continues today, with formulas of baptism whispered and holy water sprinkled surreptitiously over non-Christian patients even in the hospices of such well-known orders as the Missionaries of Charity.

    Both Westerners and Indians are exploited via fake “orphans”:

    Exploiting customs that make female children economic burdens on their families, missionaries reportedly induce tribal mothers to relinquish baby girls shortly after birth. Often the mothers are promised that rich Westerners will adopt their daughters and they will live a “much better life.” The mother is typically paid about $70 for her child, which is then adopted by Western parents for a “donation” of $2,500.

    There is an irony to the notion of tribal “orphans,” according to Arvind Neelakandan, a volunteer with the Vivekananda Kendra (VK), a Hindu nonprofit that works among the tribals. In most tribal communities, Neelakandan explains, “Orphans as we know them are nonexistent”; parentless children are typically cared for by their extended family. But, he explains, missionaries will “fleece money from their foreign donors by projecting these very same children as ‘orphans'” in fundraising campaigns.

    Is it immoral to solicit “conversions” by offering food or medicine? Missionaries don’t think so:

    Whatever one calls the offer of material allurements in exchange for religious conversion, it does not deserve the appellation of “charity.” But this is lost on missionaries like Paul, who offers no apologies when confronted with Hindu objections. “If Hindus believe that certain tactics like offering money, food or clothes to their naked children in return for embracing Christ is immoral, then what can I say?” he protests. “All congregations and missionaries have been advised to follow these techniques, as others will only fail. Sounds immoral but that is the only way.”

    And just how successful is this, anyway? Not very:

    According to the World Evangelization Research Center (WERC), there are more than four thousand mission agencies. Collectively they operate a huge apparatus, manned by some 434,000 foreign missionaries wielding an annual global income of eighteen billion dollars. And yet, for all the money that is spent–an astonishing average of $359,000 for every person baptized–the benefits of evangelism are meager. … Meanwhile, the quality of life for India’s Christian population remains dismal. Despite “crocodile-tears for the oppressed,” says Edamaruku, and contrary to apologists’ frequent boast that Christianization brings justice and equality to the “untouchables,” dalits who convert find that as Christians, they remain “as ‘untouchable’ as they had been as Hindus.” While more than 75 percent of the Catholics in India are dalits, dalits make up less than 5 percent of Indian priests. Most priests come from upper castes.

    This is supposed to be the “charitable” face of Christianity. As Welch explains, the helps to breed ethnic and religious strife as new converts are often induced to adopt fanatical attitudes towards their former faith. Missionaries feed and clothe people, but at what price? They are paying a serious ethical price themselves and extracting a large price from local society through increased tensions — not to mention the funds and time that could be better spent on more productive programs.

  24. […] partial to universalism myself, but am not sure I can quite accept it, for reasons detailed further here. I’ve also long been a fan of Rob Bell’s, and used his Nooma videos in our home group […]


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