So here is my take on a classic apologetic. I’m answering the emotional question, “Are christians horrible for thinking I will go to hell?”
So there is a fantastic film called the Devil’s Advocate. In this film Keanu Reeves is courted by a succesful Law firm owner played by Al Pacino. Now if you haven’t watched this film I suggest you skip to the next paragraph because I will spoil the film a little here (the rest is safe). However it turns out that Al Pacino is the devil and has been using Keanu Reeves to create the antichrist and finally defeat God. In one of the final scenes, Keanu Reeves challenges the devil with “You know that you are going to lose right?” to which Al blows it off as “Enemy propaganda! Have you considered the source?”
This is my issue with the question of heaven and hell. Everyone seems to think that Heaven is a place filled with “Good” stuff and that Hell is a place filled with “Bad” stuff. Now good things should happen to good people and bad things to bad people so therefore heaven should happen to “Good” people, I’m a generally good person so I should go to heaven. But this is the thing that confuses me, people very rarely consider the source of this information. Why does everyone think that the Christian heaven is a good place? The Christian God thinks that his heaven is good? But what if you reject the Christian God? Surely you’d reject his heaven too?
Philosophically this can seem like a difficult thing to picture. Heaven is understood as a good place because its kind of philosophically defined as just a “place of eternal goodness”. However, one example I quite enjoy is regarding sex. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus essentially says that there will be no sex in heaven. Now many people struggle with the idea that Christianity says you should wait until marriage until sex and that you should have sex with only this one person. I’ve heard people tell me that Christianity should modernise. Now if you can’t handle sex with only one person (where there is evidence and reasons that suggest that could actually give you better earthly sex anyway so you aren’t missing out on much). How on earth would you be able to cope with a sexless eternity in heaven?!?
Now I can tell you why I do it. Whilst I think there are good reasons to suggest that Sex with one person who you love for ever on earth that gets better and better as you understand each other better, are powerful. They are by no means conclusive. The reality is that I believe that the God who created sex will be able to give me good advice on how to deal with it. In essence, I trust him. Some people big this up as “faith” which they see as some crazy metaphysical religious thing which I have or don’t. It’s just a case where it makes sense, given what I know of God, to trust him. Then at the same time my experiences tend to confirm that actually his advice was good advice anyway. Similarly when I think about heaven and its lack of sex. I might think about all the awesomeness of sex on earth (its possible to appreciate to some degree the awesomeness of sex without experiencing it directly, women are awesome). This fills me with more hope, the God who made THAT has said there is something coming without it that is going to be BETTER! See for a Christian, the reality is that we don’t have concrete things in heaven to enjoy. We’re not going there for sex or riches. We only have one promise, that it will be with Jesus. A fantastic quote by Dinesh D’Souza; “People get confused that they think that the Gift from God is salvation but actually Christians believe that the Gift of God is salvation”. The thing christians “get” in heaven is God. Its Jesus himself that we long for.
But what if you don’t trust God? What if you don’t think Jesus is worthy. Well then all my “evidence” that God’s way of doing sex is best could probably be explained in other ways. Or maybe they are pipe dreams (you might say “Jamie, its unreasonable to expect the first will be ‘the one'”). The reality is if you don’t trust God you probably won’t trust what he says and won’t want to do what he says. (This is the converse of Jesus saying that those who love God will do what he says). The reality is that you’ll only think Hell is bad if you trust him in the first place. So we have a wierd situation here.
If you are angry that God is sending you to hell. Then you think Hell is a bad place. You can only think Hell is a bad place if you trust God. If you trust God you won’t go to hell (pretty much*) so you won’t have a reason to be angry. So you are no longer angry that God is sending you to hell. (Cause he isn’t).
You are angry that God is sending you to hell. He’s sending you to hell because you don’t trust him. Because you don’t trust him, you don’t trust that Hell is a bad place. So he isn’t sending you to a bad place. So there is no reason to be angry with him.
In my understanding the issue has been answered. However there are a couple of niggling questions.
Do you as a Christian really think Hell is Good?
Well obviously not. I think that Hell is a very bad place indeed and Heaven will be awesome. I think everyone really wants to be in heaven. But the reason why I think this is because everyone else is actually wrong. God exists, his name is Jesus and Jesus is worthy. Because God is actually good and what everyone needs him, heaven is actually good because its with him. Conversely Hell is a place of extreme suffering by virtue of God not really being there. So I think Heaven is good, I think Hell is bad and I think you’re heading there. The point I’m making is that there is no good reason to be angry at me. Either I’m wrong, in which case I’m wrong anyway and maybe you should feel sorry for me, or I’m right in which case it appears you agree with me so you’re not heading to Hell after all.
But you just said?
Right. This is confusing. Why would anyone in their right mind go for something that is bad? Well the way I like to think of it, is a kind of extreme anorexia. You imagine a person who is very skinny, they are starving to the point that their hair is falling out. You go up to them and present them good food. In this thought-experiment the food is exactly the right kind of food. Its not going to make them throw up even though they are hungry, its going to nourish them and it looks awesome. Most people who are sane would eat it. However, it is possible to imagine someone who will still not eat this food. They are anorexic. They are refusing food even though rationally they ought to eat it, they want to eat it and it would end their suffering. Now to a normal person anorexic people seem totally crazy, there seems to be literally no reason why they wouldn’t eat. In reality there are doctors and counsellors who can usually get to the bottom of the problem. These people will find reasons that have brought the anorexia on (they hate themselves, they think they look fat, etc). However, in this picture we have someone where all the best doctors have tried to find the reasons and they can’t. Literally everything has been done but they still won’t eat.
Now, the debate in the philosophy of religion and to a lesser extent in theology is whether this person could exist. I think it is possible for most people to imagine because most people aren’t doctors and can imagine someone who is this crazy. BUT there might be some niggling faith that eventually with enough doctors and time this person will come to eat. This is what philosophers argue. There are some who think that people will eventually know God is good and still for some reason reject him (more traditional christianity) and there are some people who believe that eventually all humans beings will eventually realise that God is good and then they will be in heaven (universalist christians).
So what does Jamie think?
Well, I tend towards the traditional Christian. The issue I have with the universalist approach is twofold. Firstly it is incredibly arrogant. When Christopher Hitchens writes a book entitled “God is not Great” and emphasises again and again that not only does he not believe God exists but believes it would be bad if he did. This universalist Christians has to say that not only is Hitchenswrong about facts (He does exist) but you’re making no sense about your feelings towards him, that Hitchens actually does want to grovel before a higher being, he’s just lying to himself. Now I have no problem with this arrogance, except that in my experience the kind of person who is a universalist tends to be the kind of person who scorns arrogance in favour of being “accepting”. Their apparantly accepting view is actually much more strongly arrogant. However the issue I have is that it seems like blind faith to believe that eventually everyone will be solved even in my anorexic example. I don’t think it’s impossible to think of a person where no one can find the reason to the point where there isn’t any. I think in order for me to have the faith that everyone will eventually think like that, the philosophical arguments aren’t convincing, I think there would have to be an external source of certainty such as a pretty good biblical argument that I have yet to have seen.
What about all the pitch forks, fire and brimstone
I suppose I should mention that I’m putting forward a particular view on the theology of hell. I don’t think its a place of literal fire, I don’t think there will be demons with pitch forks. I don’t think Dante’s Inferno is an accurate picture of the afterlife. I think these are medieval stories to scare people into conformity. Probably this view needs to be justified (there were loads of good talks about it at New Wine!). However I’m not going to do that here.
*Pretty Much? and I’m still angry
Yeah, it doesn’t seem that just trusting God’s attitude towards heaven and hell is correct is another to warrant salvation. So there is a little more to it, however if you trust God’s attitude towards these things but there is some other issue in the way. Well the purpose of apologetics is really to go from questions to more questions! So feel free to comment!