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Apologetics Interview Questions Part 2: On Hell

3. A lot of disbelievers have a problem with a loving God sending people to an eternity of torture by way of fire. What is your take on hell?

I also had a problem with that. C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” provided the imaginative framework I needed to get over the ‘hump’ on this issue. We talk as though ‘hell’ is a place of eternal torture, and it is certainly something very much like that, but the torture is self-torture. The phrase in “The Great Divorce” that stuck was, “In the end, there will be those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’ In order for ‘free will’ to be a genuine, truly existing thing, there must be at least the possibility of rejecting God. Now, the mistake is to think that it is possible to reject God and still have a pleasant existence. In the first place, we know that the nature of ‘hell’ is marked fundamentally by the fact that it entails a full separation from God. See 2 Thess. 1:9. The fallacy is thinking that you can experience ‘goodness’ apart from God. James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” So, now imagine someone who says that they would like to have good and perfect gifts, but without God. It can’t be done. The thing is not possible. If people demand an existence apart from God, God will grant their wish; but there is no way for him to give them both the things that they want, simultaneously–existence apart from Him AND good gifts.

I have met too many people who seem to comprehend this, who have said that even if the Christian account correct, they would never submit to God, to view ‘hell’ as unnecessary. I’ve even interacted once who conceded that Jesus rose from the dead and was likely God, but he wasn’t going to submit to him–this gent will submit to NO ONE.

Do they know what they’re asking?

I wrote a short story about this called “Richard Dawkins goes to Heaven.” You can pick it up on Amazon. In it, I explain the above in story form. The New Atheist PZ Myers discovered it and plagiarized it, posting much of it to his website. There were some, like Myers himself, who thought I was relishing the ‘torture porn’ of seeing Dawkins get his ‘heaven.’ But other atheists said that I actually did a good job showing Dawkins as a stout fellow who wouldn’t bend his knee before an evil, tyrannical God.

Now, most of them didn’t read the story before piling onto it, one way or the other. But if they did, then they would understand the implications of the two verses above on the question of what ‘hell’ is and its absolute necessity if they were ever to get their wish for an existence apart from God. Many of them were quite clear in saying that, even if there was a God, they would wish to exist apart from Him. That means that they should welcome a place and manner for them to be apart from him.

And there is such a place; we call it Hell.

As is so often the case with atheists, we give them what they want, and they still aren’t happy. Many of them claim to hate God specifically because of ‘hell.’ They might say, “But why should God honor such a request? Shouldn’t he just compel people to do what is in their best interests?”

In this scenario, between two choices, existence apart from God and spiritual rape, they would choose the latter. But ask them if they think God should just dictate their every move, practically rendering them for all intents and purposes, a robot (but without talking about ‘hell’ as the alternative), they will balk and get all up in arms.

Like was said in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”, “There’s no pleasing some people.”

For the people who can’t be pleased, there is a place; we call it Hell.

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3 Responses to Apologetics Interview Questions Part 2: On Hell

  1. And yet, some might say conveniently, those who choose to live without God in their mortal life appear to experience little or nothing in the way of verifiable consequences. The best interpretation that one could put on this from your point of view, I suppose, is that God somehow infuses and permeates in this world, and therefore whether people believe in him or not they can still receive the good things that you claim can only exist in His presence. God’s presence clearly does not negate the possibility of horrible things also taking place if that is so.

    You might like to ponder the justice of imposing irrevocable consequences for free-willed decisions made with such poor signposting. God doing so little to provide tangible evidence of the correct path in this lifetime can hardly be surprised when so many people are unimpressed by threats of an eternal damnation which turn out – according to you – to be just the kind of “switching off” of conscious experience that we materialists were expecting all along.

  2. “and therefore whether people believe in him or not they can still receive the good things that you claim can only exist in His presence.”

    You are close, but not close enough.

    1., It is not a matter of my ‘best’ interpretation that I might conclude what you say, here, as though somehow this counters what I’m saying. It is the interpretation, and precisely what I’m saying. See: Matthew 5:45 for example… “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

    2., Your comment smacks of an understanding of God as a local being, of some sort, as though you can go in and out of his presence. You cannot.

    3. What you suggest, in your generous attempt to rescue me from the implications of my interpretation, that God ‘somehow infuses and permeates’ the world is actually a doctrine of the Christian church: immanence.

    See: Ephesians 4:6 where we learn that there “is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

    Let that sink in and then consider in what manner you could possibly be outside of his presence.

    There are previous few options, but only one which retains a ‘person.’ It cannot be that God is no longer present, but that the person has chosen to block him out. In Lewis’s lingo: a man may shut his eyes, but that does not stop the sun from beating down on him. Except it is more profound then this, since even eyes are a good creation of God.

    Have you read the short story I allude to?

    “You might like to ponder the justice of imposing irrevocable consequences for free-willed decisions made with such poor signposting.”

    Totally different topic than what is being discussed here, although I allude to something like it, which should demonstrate that indeed, I have pondered it. What I am discussing is the person who rejects the existence of God precisely because of the putative existence of hell. I was not discussing people who reject God for various other cited reasons, but those who cite ‘hell’ itself.

    “God doing so little to provide tangible evidence of the correct path in this lifetime”

    Not everyone agrees at all that he is dong ‘so little.’ ‘Tangible evidence’ often is in the eye of the beholder.

    I believe that I preempted this remark with this statement of mine:

    Many of them claim to hate God specifically because of ‘hell.’ They might say, “But why should God honor such a request? Shouldn’t he just compel people to do what is in their best interests?”

    In this scenario, between two choices, existence apart from God and spiritual rape, they would choose the latter. But ask them if they think God should just dictate their every move, practically rendering them for all intents and purposes, a robot (but without talking about ‘hell’ as the alternative), they will balk and get all up in arms.

    So, tell me, Dannyboy, do you want God to dictate your every move? Is that what you prefer? To be an automaton?

    “according to you – to be just the kind of “switching off” of conscious experience that we materialists were expecting all along.”

    Ah, yes. I made a similar point when all the PZ-bots came with their pitchforks. How they have the audacity to get all up in arms by my stating a perspective that closely resembles their very own position is ironic, to say the least.

    “I hate God! He’s just going to switch me off!”
    “Oh yea, what do you believe happens when you die?”
    “I’m just going to switch off!”
    “You don’t see the irony, and even childishness of that line of reasoning, encompassing just two short sentences?”
    “I hate God and I have perfectly good reasons for doing so!”
    “lol if you say so, pal. I do hope you don’t operate heavy machinery for a living.”

    The only caveat is that I doubt the ‘switching off’ is as complete as you suggest. What I would say, rather, is that people finally get what they want, perfect and complete self-awareness, devoid of any other claims on that self. Only, it will turn out that far from being liberating, it is confining. If you’ve ever met a fully self-absorbed person, you might have some sense of what I’m referring to. I’ve met a small handful, and if they had anything in common, it was that they were miserable.

  3. This is an excerpt from the foreword to my short story, included in the Dawkins’ stories, titled “Anthony Horvath Goes to Heaven.”

    Some would observe that my description of Dawkins’ fate amounts to annihilation, which many atheists—indeed, many Christians, too—take to be a much more merciful and generous description of what rejection of God would amount to. There again is irony: I am accused of ‘torture porn’ whilst actually portraying an end that many would find to be gentle, especially in comparison to other endings I could have chosen to depict.

    I am reminded of Chesterton’s comments in his book, Orthodoxy, where he observes that it appeared that for the skeptic, “any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with.” That seems an apt description of the response to my stories, too. My reaction is much like Chesterton’s: it probably means that I had the balance about right, and it was the critics who were skewed.

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