Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Problem of Hell

One of the most common lines of attack against Christianity is that the Christian God is evil. It's not surprising this is the case, because to conclude someone is evil because they do evil things is a fairly unanswerable argument, and there are so many different ways of reaching this conclusion. You can reach it by thinking about Christian theology, especially the doctrine of hell. You can reach it by reading how the God of the Bible just hates some people before they are born. You can reach it by noticing that God cares primarily about people stroking his ego and comparatively little about people actually doing any of the kinds of things that we call good. You can reach it by reading the Bible, and seeing the genocide that God commanded, and the barbarisms that he takes care of himself. You can reach it by simply looking at how the world works, and at how much pain God could stop and chooses not to stop. And yet, somehow, Christians think they can portray their religion as nice and cuddly and loving, and largely seek to win converts in this way.

This is not merely incorrect. The inanity is so breathtaking that it's difficult to organize a coherent response. When a position has a flaw or two, it's not too hard to point it out. But here, the flaws are so severe, so unanswerable, and so pervasive that it's difficult to even convince myself that I'm not engaging minds irreversibly wrecked by religion. But if I let that stop me, I wouldn't have a blog on why I'm not a Christian. And if Christians were really so lost that reasoning can have no effect, I would not have made it out.

But before I lay bare the utter awfulness of Christianity, I wish to first explain what it is that I'm arguing. God is evil arguments are all but universally met with, “but what is your basis for the morality by which you judge Christianity to be evil?” This response usually has more to do with parroting apologists and just believing by faith that it actually engages the argument, than it does with actually thinking about what was said. With the arguments I make, responding like that will merely proclaim that you haven't taken the effort to understand or even read what I clearly state.

First of all, I am arguing that Christianity is evil as judged by Christians' morality. For instance, Christians say they value human life. The Bible and the Christian God do not. Therefore, Christians do not get their morality from the Bible. Christians say they value religious freedom. The Bible and the Christian God do not. Therefore, Christians do not get their morality from the Bible. Christians' theology completely and utterly fails to account for their ethics, therefore something is seriously wrong with either Christians' ethics or their theology.

The second thing I am arguing when I say Christianity is evil is that some parts of the Bible promote things that are evil as judged by the standards in other parts of the Bible. Therefore, one or both parts of the Bible are false, and not just about matters of history and science, but even about matters of morality. This is what happens when “God is evil here” is met with “but God is good here.” I absolutely agree that doing to your neighbor what you want done to you is good as judged by pretty much any standard of morality. But unless genocide and sadism are things you want done to you, seeking to answer the genocide and sadism in Christianity with nicer parts merely shows that the Bible contradicts itself. Nice and cuddly parts affect the degree to which Christianity is damaging, but it does nothing to answer the argument that Christianity is false.

The third thing I am doing is opposing the deceitful PR campaign more commonly known as “evangelism.” People are told that Jesus loves them. The truth is that Jesus loves people in much the same way that a stalker in a horror movie loves the woman he's harassing. When he's turned down, he'll turn nasty, hunt her down, and begin torturing her. But if only she hadn't rejected his love, she would have seen how loving he is! Nice and cuddly evangelism is claiming that God is good and loving in ways that are consistent with what people mean when they use the words good and loving to describe anything else. God is clearly not loving in the sense that evangelists are communicating. He is also not loving in a “not a tame lion” sense either. I am exposing the lie.

And fourth, when I point out that God is evil as judged by human moral intuitions, I am blocking the moral argument for the existence of God. The argument is premised on taking seriously our moral intuitions as a valid basis for learning about moral truth. One of many ways to parry this argument is to simply point out that our moral intuitions judge God to be evil. Therefore, either our moral intuitions are wrong, or God is evil. Either way, the moral argument fails. If you say that our moral intuitions are evidence for God, despite believing in a God that is the exact opposite of our moral intuitions, you are not merely being illogical. You are being dishonest. If this is your position, then you don't believe because of this moral evidence. You are believing in willful defiance of the very sort of evidence that you claim is the evidence for your beliefs.

God commanded genocide in the Bible. There are three possibilities: God didn't really do this, commanding genocide does not mean you are evil, or God is evil. The options are similar with the other barbarisms of evangelical Christianity. To believe the Bible, it's quite obvious that you must be an apologist for genocide, and trying to parry with “AH, AH, but what's your basis for morality!!” only serves as a proclamation of one's unwillingness to think about the four implications that I have listed.

It is true that Christians who fully bite the bullet and embrace the utter awfulness of their religion are immune to many of these arguments, and all of these arguments if they can explain how the nice parts of the Bible wouldn't really be nice if we understood them correctly and disowned the heretical moral argument for God. Fred Phelps nearly qualifies. Maybe God hates America. To say it would suck if true is not an argument that it is false. I fully recognize that I haven't debunked his religion with this post. But if you say or even think things like “Jesus loves you”, “God is love”, or something else emotionally equivalent, then this post does contradict your version of Christianity.

Another response that says absolutely nothing is that good is simply defined as what God's character is, therefore God being evil is logically impossible. The obvious problem here is that this is not all Christians and the Bible say about goodness. Being good and loving also means having specific loving intentions and performing certain loving actions, as described in the list in I Corinthians 13. Surely Christians would also claim that being a genocidal sadist is not good, and this implies that Christians are claiming that God is not a genocidal sadist. So when I argue that Christian beliefs mean that God is a genocidal sadist, this is a perfectly valid argument that Christian beliefs are false, regardless of how you twist the definition of good. Similarly, if you define “fuzzy” as “what alligators are like”, all that can be said against this position is that it's an abuse of language that facilitates misunderstanding. It's not false yet, because for a claim to be false, it must first be a claim. If you go further and claim that not only is the nature of alligators the definition of fuzziness, but fuzziness also means having lots of hair, this is a position that can easily be disproven by simply looking at an alligator. It's rather disingenuous to counter
this argument by inquiring about the basis for my concept of fuzziness. (The analogy is due to Phil Stilwell.)

While it's not always easy the cut through the rhetorical wordplay of theologians to see precisely where the flaw is, it should be obvious that the “but what basis do you have morality” response is not even a response. It is a question completely unrelated the argument that God is evil, for in all four of the ways I've listed, I clearly state what standard of goodness I'm talking about and what the implications are if God is not good according to that standard. All I'm really saying is that when someone is called a genocidal sadist, any defense of their complete and perfect goodness will have to involve saying they are not a genocidal sadist. I've belabored this point for so long because Christians consistently try so hard to not understand it. Although, this is to be expected. Once it is granted that “human” reasoning about morality should be allowed to influence beliefs about God, Christianity is doomed.

The clearest way to see that the Christian God is evil is to look at the doctrine of hell. I have one suggestion I'd like to give God: make hell only last 100 years, after which the souls of the damned are snuffed out of existence. Or the time can very from an instant up to 100 years depending on how evil someone was. I'm certainly not saying this plan would make God good either, but I don't need to imagine what moral perfection would look like to see that God is less than perfect. If a single improvement exists, then God is not perfectly good. And if an infinitely massive improvement exists, then God is not even moderately good.

Imagine this: the world ended 100 years ago, and God is trying to decide what to do with all the souls. One of his options is for one billion people to continue enjoying eternal bliss, while 9 billion continue to experience eternal torture. Another option is for only the one billion to continue enjoying eternal bliss and for the others to no longer suffer. Christians believe that God will choose the first, and will continue to make this choice for every moment for all eternity.

Whenever someone makes a choice, it tells you something about what they want and what they value. God's choice tells us he wants some people to suffer. Or more precisely, what evangelicals believe God's choice will be tells us something about what they believe God wants and values. In other circumstances, such as not stopping suffering on earth, or commanding genocide, it could mean that God wants some beneficial result that comes from suffering more than he wants to stop the suffering. Not a great position, but at least there is some minor suffering that can be explained this way. But not with hell. The end is already known. The damned will not eventually become better people who no longer need the punishment, and there is no one watching them to receive moral instruction from seeing the consequences. In fact, many evangelicals believe in the mind-wipe theory of heaven, where God deletes all knowledge of the damned from the minds of people in heaven, so there is not even any room for making up ways that hell produces even marginal benefits for the people in heaven. The damned continue to suffer simply because God wants them to. It makes him happier than he would be if they were not suffering. It is difficult to image how a being could be more perfectly described as an infinitely cruel sadist.

(The mind-wipe theory comes from the verse that says there will be no tears in heaven. For people in heaven to be happy despite knowing about hell would require them to be utterly unfeeling and heartless. Evangelicals usually find it unimaginable that they could be so unfeeling and heartless in heaven, and instead imagine the goodness of a God who is equally unfeeling and heartless.)

This isn't something that should be “balanced out” with the nice things God does. With hell, we're talking about eternity for the majority of people. If one really must bend to the other, it's the nice things God does that should be balanced out with his eternal sadism.

Perhaps the most biblical answer is “Who are you, O man, who answers back at God?” Or to put it more practically, “Thou shalt not think about these things!” It's difficult to overstate the influence of this biblical defense of not allowing thinking to effect beliefs. I suspect this is the biggest reason for merely asking the questioner what their basis for morality is instead of thinking about the question. Rebuttals this poor usually originate not with apologists themselves, but with the Bible. To repeat: God is evil as judged by even what Christians will say they believe is good and evil, therefore Christians don't get their basis for morality from religion. The God of the Bible is evil as judged by other parts of the Bible, therefore one of both contradictory parts of the Bible is false. Evangelists' emotional arguments about how loving the Christian God is are based on lies. And the moral argument for God fails because it's premised on trusting the moral intuition that Christians cannot trust without judging God to be evil.

The standard Calvinistic “you're so evil that you deserve it” is no good here either. Look back at the argument: either God doesn't want people to suffer for eternity, and so they won't, or God wants them to suffer, and is a sadist by definition. Either explain how God isn't a sadist, or admit to worshiping a sadist. Just saying people deserve it is nothing more than an explanation of why sadism follows as a consequence of the Christian definition of goodness. And I certainly agree that it does.

A sickeningly weak way of defending the claim that people deserve hell is to hypothetically exaggerate how evil God is and say that it would still be “justice” if everyone went to hell. What's so amusing about this is that it sounds like a slippery slope argument that skeptics would come up with: “What's next? Soon you be saying that we would still owe worship to the justice of a God who does nothing but torture people.” But, no. This is an actual argument used by actual people who are trying to defend the justice of hell. This isn't one step further down the slippery slope. This is what Christians already believe.

I like to imagine what would happen if God threw everyone in hell, and then after a million years, God let Satan out and gave him the reins to the universe. Satan would be more frustrated than a monkey in a canned banana factory: What!? You're already torturing everyone? That was my idea! This really sucks, because there is no way for me to do anything evil, for the universe is already as bad as it could possibly be. Oh, I know what I can do! I can be rebellious, and defy the will of God! I'm going to just choose some people, not based on anything they have done, and create a heaven for them! That would be completely unjust, and that'll show God! Total depravity is not the inherent nature of man. It's choosing to worship the goodness of an all-sadistic God whose actions make him indistinguishable from Satan, and then pretending that evil means not joining in the worship of Satan.

The response of “I'm sorry it's like this, but it's still true” is worth something, but certainly not what apologists would like it to be worth. How could you be sorry that it's true? It's not an impersonal fact, like an atheist being sorry that a hurricane is about to hit. Hell is the way it is because a good God wants it to be like that. Even if, contra many Calvinists, God wants all people to be saved, hell is still eternal because God wants it to be eternal. If you believe that a good God chooses to make hell eternal, you must logically believe that in the balance of the good and bad results, it is good that hell is eternal. (Unless, of course, I'm building a straw man by using the words “logically” and “believe” in the same sentence.) When Christians are sorry it's true, this tells me that many Christians don't really believe their own theology, and are replacing it at select points with their compassion. So while being sorry hell is true does keep me from calling someone a sadist for believing in hell, it only dodges the criticism by backing down from Christian beliefs. You can only be sorry that hell is true to the extent that you don't really believe that a good God makes it or that you don't believe God has the power to make it work the way he wants.

Despite the way hell is clearly not consistent with the kinds of things Christians usually call good, still, Christians believe that “somehow” hell will still be good once we understand it better. It's a mystery, which is a euphemism for a belief that has been shown to be false. This reasoning about hell is why I can't believe Christians when they claim to be trusting that God has a plan with smaller things, like financial needs, or that Jesus really is coming quickly. You aren't trusting that God has a plan and will make things work out in the end. The reason I know this is that even when you know what the end is, you still try to apply the same reasoning and have faith that God will work things out, even when you already have an inflexible belief in precisely how it is that things will not be worked out. So I must conclude that you aren't really trusting God. You are living in rebellion against reality, and willfully refusing to allow facts, reason, or even a basic sense of decency to influence your beliefs.

31 comments:

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  2. I'd be more persuaded if you talked less about how much evidence there is for it, and more about the evidence itself. Or at the very least, I wish you would say what "it" is. Ambiguity is the last refuge of ideas that are clearly false when clearly stated.

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  3. Come on Jeffrey, I think there is plenty of room for him to add a few more paragraphs of fluff in there. You act like an argument should have content... :-D

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  4. Jeffrey: the energon guy likes spamming religious blogs, but I doubt you'll get a reply. I think he's write-only.

    On the topic of the article, I'm having an interesting discussion with a Christian about your post on my post where I linked to it. Feel free to join in :-)

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  5. I remember the view of "no hell as a logical impossibility" from the Lewis's "The Problem of Pain", which I first read in 2006, and again as I completed my discovery that Christianity is false.

    The Problem of Pain is a horribly difficult problem. To answer hell alone, Lewis has to deny Calvinism, deny that Jesus is the only way, deny that hell is literal torment, deny that God can annihilate souls, and deny that hell is meant as a punishment for sin.

    Lewis is a great stepping stone out of faith. The Bible wants to be read devotionally, but Lewis's books want you to think too. I suppose that's why he's so popular. He stimulates thinking in people who are craving solid reasoning due to reading too much of the Bible and hearing too many sermons.

    But in The Problem of Pain, Lewis is trying to answer serious problems in Christianity, his answers don't work very well, and most significantly, his answers often depend on significant conservative doctrines and the Bible verses they come from being false. And it did no good to deny his answers and just pretend I didn't read them, for that left the problems unanswered.

    Moderate and liberal Christians often make the best skeptics of evangelical Christianity.

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  6. Several Thoughts:

    1) You discount any ability for a difference of type between man and God. Just because for man to do something means that man is evil, does it necessarily translate that because God does something that God is evil? Only if man and God are of the same type, that the same quote-unquote rules apply. But that denies the concept of God. God obviously is of another type, otherwise he wouldn't be God. Therefore the whole genocide argument doesn't hold up

    2) Derived from the type argument, perhaps it is good for God to desire people to boost his 'egotistical' nature. Just because for a man to be egotistical is evil does not imply that for God to be egotistical is evil. In fact, the opposite is true, man should not be egotistical because God is egotistical and has a right to be. Man being egotistical denies God His right to being egotistical and thus the evil of man's pride is the denial of the glory that ought to go to God.

    3) Derived from the egotistical argument, God's 'egotisticalness' is derived from His jealousness for His holy name. And part of His holy name, His holy character is that of a righteous judge. Therefore, to glorify His righteous judgment, it is right, it is even glorious to punish those who do not glorify them. And the most glorious punishment is a punishment in proportion to the one they offended. God is infinite and infinitely offended when someone does not glorify Him. Thus it is glorious that the punishment that He would meet out would also be infinite. Therefore, the unending nature of hell does not stand up.

    4) Derived from the argument of hell and your statements, it is hard for some to understand how we will view God as glorious for His judgment of people in hell. Just because we find it hard to believe, though, doesn't make it false. This has spurred all sorts of speculation (such as Lewis, or the mind-wipe theory, etc.), but these are unnecessary. God will be glorified by His judgment. He desires for His judgment to be seen so that the whole world can say: The judge of the earth will do justly. Thus, the mind-wipe criticism is warranted, but does not constitute a critcism of christianity, but rather a misinterpretation of christianity.

    5) So, the last thing left is an innate idea of what is good. As you stated yourself, just because you don't like it doesn't necessarily make it not true. God is judgemental, egotistical, sometimes genocidal, all to further His own glory. And since He is different from us, not only in degree, but also in type, these things are good for Him to do (even when they would be evil for us to do). So, yes, this just may be how things are regardless of whether someone likes it (or feels an inate knowledge otherwise) or not.

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  7. I listed four implications that come from God being evil, as judged by four specific standards. It sounds like you are disagreeing with the first two, and are explaining how God is not evil as judged by Christians' ideas of morality or by the Bible's.

    >Just because for man to do something means that man is evil, does it necessarily translate that because God does something that God is evil?

    If you are communicating clearly, then yes. If God performs the sort of actions that we call evil when performed by a person, has the sort of attitudes and motives that we call evil when held by a person, and has character traits that we would call evil if held by a person, then the clearest way to describe the morality of such a God is that he is evil.

    To call him good despite this is to knowingly and repeatedly invite misunderstanding at best, and to lie at worst. If what it means for God to be good is something nearly opposite from what it means for a person to be good, then you need to find a new word for either God's goodness or a new word for people's goodness. (And the Bible needs to find new words too, but it's too late for that.)

    Furthermore, the problem is not merely rhetorical.

    God's goodness is assumed to be the same as human goodness in the Bible. I Peter 2:21 tells people to follow in Jesus' steps. Ephesians 5:1 says to be imitators of God. Consequently, most Christians define goodness as conforming to the character of God/nature of God, or something extremely similar. If goodness means something very different applied to God and applied to people, then telling a person to imitate the character of God is telling them to be God-good/ordinary-evil much of the time.

    God's actions would be evil if a person did them, and we are to be imitators of God. So what gives? As far as I can tell, this is doublethink that can only be maintained through allowing the word good to sometimes mean ordinary-good, and to sometimes mean God-good/ordinary-evil, and to then equivocate between the two at will. But you can't have it both ways. Either what it means for God to be good is at least similar to what it means for a person to be good, or it is not similar.

    I am insisting on a consistent use of the word good, because a major problem with Christianity is hidden through its double meaning. If good means the same thing in both places, then God is evil. If the meaning is not the same, then many claims the Bible makes about goodness needs to be discarded, and foundational Christian beliefs about goodness need to be rejected, for they implicitly assume that goodness does not have a double meaning.

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  8. You said a lot about evil in this post, but it was all intangible. I would like to know. What do you think should be done about evil? Should evil be punished?

    If your answer is “yes” then there has to be some room in your perspective for doing “bad” things to someone, and yet this would still be a righteous thing. In this instance it is perfectly appropriate for God to do the same, especially if he is holy as described in Scripture.

    If your answer is “no” then you can still take issue with God’s actions against sinners, but your meaning of “good” and “evil” has become an intangible, intellectual comparison that is of little, if any practical use. From this perspective, your claim that God is evil is not really refutable (or at least not easy to refute), but it is not really relevant either, since being evil apparently does not matter all that much.

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  9. My four conclusions are far more specific than “God is evil.”

    1. The Christian God is evil as judged by Christians' morality.
    2. Some parts of the Bible promote things that are evil as judged by the standards in other parts of the Bible.
    3. Evangelism communicates false ideas about what it is that Christians really believe. “God is evil according to your understanding of the word”, or more succinctly, “God is evil”, would communicate what is believed much more clearly.
    4. The fact that God is evil as judged by human moral intuitions blocks the moral argument for existence of God.

    Are you disagreeing with one of these, or are you saying that these conclusions are true, but insignificant? I'm making claims about things that exists. Morality doesn't get much more tangible than that.

    >Should evil be punished?

    Yes – the disadvantage of the suffering evil person is generally offset by the deterrent to evil. Of course, this is not the case with excessively harsh punishments, with punishments that no one sees or has good reason to anticipate, or with punishments for things that people are unable to change. Hell is all three.

    Suppose the afterlife were eye-for-an-eye and perfectly incentivized the golden rule: God causes you to experience both the pain and happiness you've caused everyone else. If you cause someone to suffer for a year on earth, you suffer for a year in the afterlife. If your share of the suffering of the Cross is .000002 seconds, then you must experience the Cross for .000002 seconds. (Or, if you prefer, this God cares not what we do and cannot suffer or benefit from our choices – he simply responds without feeling.) And suppose God appeared to everyone in a vision and told them that these were the rules ahead of time in way that made it clear that it actually was him who was speaking. (Or, if you prefer, he tweaks peoples' brains so that they know it's true, but leaves them the ability to choose their actions.) Suppose the Bible consistently tells this story, and rather like in our world, the golden rule seems reasonable to most people. Suppose that like in our world, people's behavior can be influenced by incentives.

    What you should notice about this alternative religion is that none of my four arguments work against it, despite the fact that this God always causes people to feel pain in response to their causing of pain in others. This means my four points are consistent with the claim that people should be punished for causing pain. So if you want to refute my points, you need to try something else.

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  10. 1
    You obviously have a very human-centric view of the universe. But superimposing your human-centric view on Christianity does not negate the internal consistency of God-centric Christianity. Christians believe that human life has value only insofar as God defines that it will be so. We are all lumps of clay (Rom 9). That said, it is not for us to determine who the vessels of honor are or who the vessels of wrath are. That is God’s call. So Christians believe in not taking a human life except where God has decreed so. This is very different from an all-encompassing valuing of human life, which is what your quick example rests on.

    >Christians' theology completely and utterly fails to account for their ethics, therefore something is seriously wrong with either Christians' ethics or their theology.

    Insofar as Christians are inconsistent, then there indeed must be a problem with either their ethics or their theology or both. But this is a far cry from showing that God is evil. You have only identified the problem of an inconsistency. If I really wanted to prove that atheism is evil, I would have to do it by something more than saying “look at all the inconsistencies atheists live by!” For you to say that God is evil because Christians are inconsistent is a huge conclusion jump.


    2
    Way too generic a statement. You would have to be specific. But as long as you are being generic, I will be, too. The God of Scripture is a holy judge. If He was not, there would be nothing all that interesting about His loving salvation of even some by taking the judgment that others deserve on Himself. In other words, His love is defined in relationship to His judiciousness. If you are going to bring up some ideas in the epistles of how redeemed Christians are exhorted behave towards each other, and then contrast that to God’s judgment on the unregenerate somewhere else, then this would be comparing apples to oranges.

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  11. 3
    Unfortunately there are all too many Christians out there who prefer to think and teach of God’s love to the exclusion of His other attributes. The result is a God that sounds all-benevolent and nothing else. But the Bible does not teach all-benevolence. It teaches His abundant love towards the regenerate, but not towards the unregenerate. Towards the unregenerate He is loving only in the limited extent that He extends common grace to them by not wiping them out the first moment they sin. Insofar as Christians preach an all-benevolent God, I agree with you. All-benevolence and punishment do not mix, regardless of whether we are talking about a Christian doctrine or an atheist doctrine of all-benevolence. But a belief in punishment equally does not mean that an idea of love that is balanced with other beliefs is impossible, again for either the Christian or the atheist.

    In regard to evangelism, it is interesting to note that the word “love” never appears in the book of Acts where Christians have example sermons of how to preach and evangelize. There is plenty said about love in the epistles where an apostle is teaching a group of believers about how to behave towards each other, but that is different than evangelism. That many present-day Christians have not figured this out does not make Christianity inconsistent, it makes the Christians inconsistent.

    Ultimately your third argument does not show Christianity to be false. Insofar as you think it does, I can only say…Puhleeease! Your argument actually shows all-benevolence evangelicalism to be false. Insofar as it does that, I can only say…Hoozah!

    4
    >The argument is premised on taking seriously our moral intuitions as a valid basis for learning about moral truth. One of many ways to parry this argument is to simply point out that our moral intuitions judge God to be evil.

    The “parry” only shows God to be evil if the possibility is not permitted in the argument that God can be a judge. (Your offensive description of Jesus as a stalker in (3) also uses this tactic.) If He can be a judge, then He can evaluate the actions of people and act accordingly. If the moral argument leads to a valid basis for believing in God, then it naturally follows that God is also a judge of the morality that He created. Hence, the “parry” fails unless you can show that God judged incorrectly. To do that you would have to have (a) some kind of information on what the judged people had or had not done, and (b) based on what they had done, an evaluation of whether or not God’s judgment was appropriate. One problem you have is that you want to jump straight to (b) without knowing (a). Another problem is that you seem to think that numbers matter in regard to God’s judgment. They don’t. A just judgment is still just regardless of how many are judged at the same time.


    Generically speaking, your four angles depend on two things. The first is attacking Christians instead of Christianity – which is nothing but taking a cheap shot. The second is viewing Christianity through a tunnel-vision lens, focusing on one aspect of Christian teaching without considering all the balances of the whole – which is creating a straw man.

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  14. As I have already mentioned, God, as described by Scripture, is holy. He is absolutely and infinitely perfect, and therefore separate from every creature. God’s holiness is what the doctrine of hell is fundamentally based on. Your comment that the Calvinistic answer is “you're so evil that you deserve it” is not entirely wrong, but incomplete. The Bible describes any sin, no matter how small, to be such an irreconcilable breach with holiness that God must separate Himself from the sinner unless the sinner can be redeemed to holiness. Since God’s holiness is infinite and absolute, the separation must also be infinite and absolute. The absoluteness and infiniteness of hell is not the result of God’s desires so much as it is the result of His nature. This is a completely inadequate example, but it is kind of like an immune response to a disease. The sinner is the malicious, would-be attacker, not God.

    Your attack in this post is evaluating a God that is pretty much only defined as “loving”. You have left the idea of God’s holiness completely out of the picture. I really can’t take much you have said in this post very seriously, since that is not who I believe God is. So if you want to refute my belief in hell, you will need to try something else.

    >Christians believe that God will choose the first, and will continue to make this choice for every moment for all eternity.

    Actually there is a small, but growing portion of Evangelicalism that believes in ‘annihilation’. Besides the fact that these Christians are undermining the doctrine of God’s holiness, they also have another big problem. If it took less than eternity to pay for sin, then why did an infinite God have to pay the price for sin by descending into hell himself? Why couldn’t all the sins of the world have been dumped on someone who was only human (some really righteous person or the worst of all persons – take your pick), and had that person suffer for a few billion times longer. Or why wouldn’t God just wait the punishment of hell out for certain amount of time and then give the people a second chance (some kind of karma) instead of annihilating them. Long story short, if hell was less than infinite, an infinite redemption from an infinite God would not have been needed. This is the second big reason why Christians believe in an eternal hell. There would be no point in Christ’s coming if hell was less than eternal.

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  16. >Christians believe that God will choose the first, and will continue to make this choice for every moment for all eternity.

    Actually there is a small, but growing portion of Evangelicalism that believes in ‘annihilation’. Besides the fact that these Christians are undermining the doctrine of God’s holiness, they also have another big problem. If it took less than eternity to pay for sin, then why did an infinite God have to pay the price for sin by descending into hell himself? Why couldn’t all the sins of the world have been dumped on someone who was only human (some really righteous person or the worst of all persons – take your pick), and had that person suffer for a few billion times longer. Or why wouldn’t God just wait the punishment of hell out for certain amount of time and then give the people a second chance (some kind of karma) instead of annihilating them. Long story short, if hell was less than infinite, an infinite redemption from an infinite God would not have been needed. This is the second big reason why Christians believe in an eternal hell. There would be no point in Christ’s coming if hell was less than eternal.

    >I like to imagine what would happen if God threw everyone in hell, and then after a million years, God let Satan out and gave him the reins to the universe.

    You claim to be evaluating the evil of God through the moral lens of Christians, but here you are obviously not. Per Christianity, Satan is not evil because of how he wants to treat people. He is evil because he wants God’s throne. That is the definition of evil from the Christian perspective. Superimposing atheistic, human-centric morality on Biblical beings creates a pointless imaginary example. All you have shown is that atheism and Christianity are incompatible, which goes without saying.

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  17. >Yes – the disadvantage of the suffering evil person is generally offset by the deterrent to evil. Of course, this is not the case with excessively harsh punishments, with punishments that no one sees or has good reason to anticipate, or with punishments for things that people are unable to change. Hell is all three.

    Again, you have claimed to be evaluating the evil of God through the moral lens of Christianity, but here again you are obviously not. You are using your man-centric morality to evaluate Christianity. Nowhere does the Bible teach that hell is a deterrent to evil. It teaches that hell is the result of God’s holy judgment. Also, although hell is harsh, it is not excessively harsh. Scripture teaches that God will judge and punish in degrees according to what each person has done (Romans 2:6, Jeremiah 17:10, Revelation 20:12). If anyone thinks that hell is excessive just because it is eternal, then the problem is with that person’s all too flattering view of himself and with that person’s complete lack of understanding of God’s holiness.

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  18. I apologize for the redudant comments. My browser was being weird, and I did not think the comments were accepted.

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  19. The repeated comments are now deleted as much as I could.

    Re: My alternative religion example

    >So Christians believe in not taking a human life except where God has decreed so. This is very different from an all-encompassing valuing of human life, which is what your quick example rests on.

    My example rests on the claim that people value other people. As I already said, “What you should notice about this alternative religion is that none of my four arguments work against it, despite the fact that this God always causes people to feel pain in response to their causing of pain in others.” It accomplished its purpose perfectly. If you disagree, at least say which of my four arguments could work against my example.

    Re: 1. The Christian God is evil as judged by Christians' morality.

    >Insofar as Christians are inconsistent, then there indeed must be a problem with either their ethics or their theology or both. But this is a far cry from showing that God is evil.

    The first argument goes no further than “Christians are inconsistent.”

    As I have already made abundantly clear, I'm arguing that “God is evil as judged by X”, filling in X with four different things, and observing what can be concluded from this. I can certainly see why you'd prefer to engage a “God is evil” argument, because it allows you to change the definitions of good and evil to mean whatever you want it to mean.

    >You claim to be evaluating the evil of God through the moral lens of Christians, but here you are obviously not. Per Christianity, Satan is not evil because of how he wants to treat people. He is evil because he wants God’s throne.

    You wrote this is 3, although I think it fits far better as an argument that God is good as judged by Christians' morality.

    Your professed beliefs imply that you would believe in the goodness of a hypothetical God who does nothing but torture all of his creations for the fun of it. You were offended that I called God a stalker – if you really believed that what you say about goodness, this would not be offensive. Rather, if true, it would merely mean that the fact that God is stalker makes being a stalker good and righteous. But you clearly don't think like this.

    You look at Hitler's actions and conclude that he's evil. You don't say, “but maybe God told him to do this and it was therefore right.” You don't think, “well, all he did is start the Jews' torture ahead of time. The actions of Hitler are precisely the sort of thing God does in his limited love to the unregenerate. Torturing and killing people is precisely the sort of thing that God does an awful lot of, so Hitler's actions do not give us any indication of whether or not God wanted him to do it.” But you don't see Hitler as morally ambiguous. Therefore, you can't really believe that Satan and others are evil merely for wanting God's throne. There's clearly something going on in your morality that has something to do with valuing people.

    You don't admire the ethics of William Wilberforce because his actions are consistent with God's nature. If God's love to the unregenerate is limited to letting them live for a few moments, then it's not clear that God wanted the slave trade abolished. The slaves were evil people getting their just reward for being corrupt human beings, and Wilberforce got in the way of this. If anything, William Wilberforce was a villain for endorsing the unbiblical idea that God cares about people and that God's love is expressed through caring about people.

    From the way Christians think about Hitler and Wilberforce or pretty much anyone else in day-to-day life, it's clear that you have a standard of evil other than merely wanting God's throne.

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  20. Re: 2. Some parts of the Bible promote things that are evil as judged by the standards in other parts of the Bible.

    >Way too generic a statement.

    This is self-evident to Christians who think that the Bible promotes valuing human life, but in your case, it's true that I should be more specific.

    Deuteronomy 10:17-19: “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

    Choosing some people for heaven and effectively choosing others for hell is the most extreme form of partiality imaginable. The God of Calvinism is evil as judged by Deuteronomy 10. Or more to the point, the God of Calvinism does things that Deuteronomy 10 says he doesn't do.

    >If you are going to bring up some ideas in the epistles of how redeemed Christians are exhorted behave towards each other, and then contrast that to God’s judgment on the unregenerate somewhere else, then this would be comparing apples to oranges.

    “Towards each other.” Interesting qualification, and I do realize that the Bible often includes this caveat to doing the things that people tend to call good. When the Bible says “love your neighbor as yourself”, do you think the unregenerate qualify as your neighbor? If the goal is to understand what Luke 10 communicates, then clearly yes. If your example of what love is comes from the cosmic sadist of Calvinism, then the answer is clearly no. The cosmic sadist of Calvinism is evil, as judged by the ethics of Luke 10.

    Where I to judge you by your behavior, I'd take it for granted that you think you should be neighborly to the unregenerate. But then again, you believe that morality can only come from the character of a cosmic sadist, so there's really no telling what conclusions that will lead you to.

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  21. Re: 3. Evangelism communicates false ideas about what it is that Christians really believe. “God is evil according to your understanding of the word”, or more succinctly, “God is evil”, would communicate what is believed much more clearly.

    >It teaches His abundant love towards the regenerate, but not towards the unregenerate. Towards the unregenerate He is loving only in the limited extent that He extends common grace to them by not wiping them out the first moment they sin.

    When you say that God has any love at all for the unregenerate, you are lying. You know what the word “love” means in ordinary language and from I Corinthians 13, you know how God behaves toward the unregenerate, and you know how these are diametrically opposite. Stop lying about what you believe God is like. Unless you believe that Hitler showed love to the Jews by allowing them to live for so long in the ghettos, you do not believe that God loves the unregenerate.

    If you don't stop lying, it will effect the way any rational person interprets what you say you believe. (Value-statements about the ethics of lying are not needed to see this.) Not only should a rational person not take your word for it that you beliefs are true, they shouldn't take your word for it that your beliefs are your beliefs.

    Here's what honest Calvinism looks like: “God hates you” “God is your enemy” “Fags die. God laughs.” I think you should hold up signs that say this. When asked if you're a new convert to the Westboro Baptist Church, you should explain that although you don't agree with Fred Phelps' ideas about the living elect being limited to Phelp's family, you think that many of his signs are unarguably true. Explain how the message of “God hates you!” needs to stop being seen as that of fringe extremists, but rather the message of any Christian who truly believes the Bible. It would help you accomplish your goal of communicating the real Gospel, and help me accomplish my goal of diminishing the influence of the Bible.

    >Ultimately your third argument does not show Christianity to be false.

    My third argument shows that you are lying about what you believe, which is precisely what I claimed it shows.

    Re: 4. The fact that God is evil as judged by human moral intuitions blocks the moral argument for existence of God.

    >If the moral argument leads to a valid basis for believing in God, then it naturally follows that God is also a judge of the morality that He created.

    I'm not sure if you meant “valid” in a colloquial sense or in the philosophy-jargon sense. If you meant valid in a logical sense, that's irrelevant even if true, because the validity of the moral argument proves its unsoundness. If you meant “valid” in a colloquial sense, then the moral argument is not “valid”. Either way you meant it, the following argument is my proof.

    In symbolic terms:
    A: moral intuitions are a reliable guide
    B: a god exists
    C: the Christian God exists

    The moral argument is A implies B implies C. Suppose the moral argument is valid and this is a 100% logical certainty. However, the doctrine of hell shows that C implies ~A, and equivalently, A implies ~C. If A implies both C and ~C, we can conclude ~A. And so the moral argument is unsound, even if we assume that it's valid. If the moral argument is invalid, then it's also unsound. Therefore the moral argument is unsound.

    The only step here that isn't a logical certainty is when I say that C implies ~A. But you agree with this step, and you agree that moral intuitions are like a broken compass! Trying to show me the validity of the moral argument despite this is like trying to draw a picture to disprove an already proven theorem in geometry. The fact that I know the proof means I already know that the picture will be a flawed example without even looking at it. The only variable is how much interest I will have in finding and pointing out the flaw.

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  22. Re: General Comments

    >You obviously have a very human-centric view of the universe.

    I was responding to: “What do you think should be done about evil? Should evil be punished?” So of course I'm going to give an answer that downplays the importance of imaginary entities.

    >Generically speaking, your four angles depend on two things. The first is attacking Christians instead of Christianity – which is nothing but taking a cheap shot.

    You would attack evolution by attacking what evolutionists believe about evolution, and you would attack atheism by attacking what atheists believe about atheism. At worst, I'm making arguments that apply to lots of Christians' beliefs, but not to yours. I'm attacking what Christians believe Christianity is, or in a word, Christianity.

    >The second is viewing Christianity through a tunnel-vision lens, focusing on one aspect of Christian teaching without considering all the balances of the whole – which is creating a straw man.

    If premise A leads to a conclusion, then premise A & B do too.

    >You have left the idea of God’s holiness completely out of the picture.

    If he's omni-sensitive, this means that he created people knowing that they would irritate him infinitely, and that he would be “forced” to torture them. Now that I'm factoring in his omni-sensitivity, I'm starting to feel bad for God. He's just as much a victim here as anyone else with this whole hell thing. If only his omnipotence gave him better options, and if only he was more able to express his loving kindness in ways that make sense to us!

    A God like this is evil as judged by each of the four standards I've repeated over and over, and so all four arguments still go through.

    >The absoluteness and infiniteness of hell is not the result of God’s desires so much as it is the result of His nature.

    That would mean that it's God's nature that's evil as judged by all of the above, instead of God's desires. Potato, Potahto.

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  23. >Your professed beliefs imply that you would believe in the goodness of a hypothetical God who does nothing but torture all of his creations for the fun of it.

    On an overly simplistic level – yes. But this is what I consider to be a heretical hypothetical, and therefore pointless. God does not actually torture all of his creation. We know a lot more about God than just that good is defined by His character, so I don’t see any point in even considering such an overly, short and simplistic line of logic. We have a lot more information than that. This would be like me arguing that you would still consider a hypothetical evolution good where everything evolved to experience pain constantly.

    >Therefore, you can't really believe that Satan and others are evil merely for wanting God's throne. There's clearly something going on in your morality that has something to do with valuing people.

    Sure my morality involves valuing people! But, these two are not mutually exclusive. Determining the fate of people is God’s prerogative. All then are to behave toward each other as He decrees, and then let Him….be God. For anyone (such as Hitler or slave traders) to break any of the decrees of how we are to behave toward each other is trying to do God’s job of administering final justice for Him, which is the same as wanting His throne. In some ways morality based on this may look similar to morality that starts with valuing of people. But I am not starting with valuing people.

    >Choosing some people for heaven and effectively choosing others for hell is the most extreme form of partiality imaginable.

    As a judge, God the Father is not partial. All sin is punished equally. The only question is who the punishment falls on – the sinner or God the Son. For God, choosing some people for heaven is the same thing as choosing His Son to go to hell. That is not partiality. That is substitutionary atonement.

    >Where I to judge you by your behavior, I'd take it for granted that you think you should be neighborly to the unregenerate.

    Yep. In the context of what I wrote above, I was not painting a complete picture of all Christian behavior towards the unregenerate. I was just getting ahead of any arguments that would take something out of context. The ethics of Luke 10 are fully consistent with my above statement about the source of morality.

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  24. >When you say that God has any love at all for the unregenerate, you are lying. You know what the word “love” means in ordinary language and from I Corinthians 13, you know how God behaves toward the unregenerate, and you know how these are diametrically opposite.

    1) This is the exact out of context issue I was pro-actively targeting. The context of I Cor. 13 is exhortation to believers primarily of how to behave towards each other and in their gatherings with each other. It is not a full view of God’s love towards all people, nor is it presented in balance with God’s other attributes.

    2) God does not trot out the angelic torturers for the punishment of people in hell. He simply lets everyone in hell torture themselves. Hell is a scrupulously accounted for paycheck that the sinner has earned and built for himself. By his actions, a sinner shows that he desires his paycheck, too. Heaven, by contrast, is a gift built by God. Saying that God is unloving for stepping back and allowing the receipt of an earned, desired paycheck is nonsense. God is not actively doing things opposite of I Cor. 13 in allowing judgment to happen. Jesus Christ perfectly fulfills I Cor. 13, especially in going to the cross.


    >If he's omni-sensitive, this means that he created people knowing that they would irritate him infinitely, and that he would be “forced” to torture them.

    Again, God does not torture anyone in hell. Nowhere does Scripture say that He does. Hell is the place where He removes His hand of protection that limits how much damage unregenerate creatures do to themselves.


    After reading your comments on the moral argument for God, I went back to look at our old discussion to refer to something I wrote and realized that after writing another response, I never posted it. I must have gotten distracted. I found it buried in my hard drive and am going to post it in the moral argument section. After that I am done both there and here.

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  25. >That is not partiality. That is substitutionary atonement.

    Hell for some people and substitutionary atonement for others is partiality. Unless, of course, you define “partiality” in a way that is utterly at odds with what people usually mean when they use the word, as you've done with “love”.

    >God does not trot out the angelic torturers for the punishment of people in hell. He simply lets everyone in hell torture themselves.

    First off, a God that watches people torture themselves when he has the ability to stop the suffering is evil as judged by the four standards that I've mentioned.

    Second, it is meaningless to try to make a distinction between a Sovereign God actively causing a result, and passively allowing the result. Ultimately, the reason people are the way they are is that God wants them to be that way.

    Third, it's not even biblical:

    >Again, God does not torture anyone in hell. Nowhere does Scripture say that He does. Hell is the place where He removes His hand of protection that limits how much damage unregenerate creatures do to themselves.

    I ask you the same: where in the Bible is hell described as a place where God removes His hand of protection and allows creatures to torture themselves?

    Here's what the Bible says:

    Matthew 5:29: “... your whole body to be thrown into hell”. Matthew 18:9: “... and be cast into the fiery hell.” Matthew 10:28 is perhaps the most direct of all: “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 11:23: “Capernaum ... shalt be brought down to hell.” Note the verbs: “cast”, “is able to destroy”, “shalt be brought down.” These are things that God is actively doing. Luke 16's parable of the rich man hardly fits the “torture themselves” model either. The problem is the heat, not the rich man hurting himself. This could be relieved not through the presence of God, but with *water*.

    It's not clear which parts are supposed to be literal. But with most of them, even if symbolic, they seem to be symbolic of things God actively does to people.

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  26. "The Problem of Hell" is solved by the alternative Christian view of "Annihilationism" -- the Bible-based view that humans have mortal souls which are subject to eternal death, anbd not eternal life in torment.

    More information on contemporary views of annihilationism as a legitimate alternative can be found on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilationism

    I prepared a longer discourse on this, but it's too long for a single post here, being about 14,000+ characters and would need to be broken up into at least 4 separate posts in order to fit the limit of about 4000 characters per post in the comment sections here.

    Bottom line: Although the idea of eternal suffering may be motivational for some, it's obviously de-motivational for others.

    In any case, we should be seeking and embracing the truth, and not holding to traditional views for the sake of tradition.

    -- Stokt

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  27. Yes, that does at least mostly solve this problem. Most individual problems with traditional Christianity can be solved by not believing in that particular piece. I'm glad to see you've let go of what is, in my opinion, by far the most destructive piece of doctrine.

    Although, it is still only a 90% solution, if you still wish to maintain the label "Christian." What do you do with the fact that the overwhelming majority of Christians in history disagreed with you? Do you believe that your religious history goes almost exclusively through people who worshiped a sadist?

    I realize that to some degree I'm making categories out of a continuum, but here are three categories of Christians:

    1. Hell is eternal conscience torment.
    2. Mortal souls die, although if God had chosen to create a traditional hell, that would still have been good and just.
    3. Mortal souls die, and a traditional hell would make God a sadist.

    If you're in category 2, then you have the same challenge in defending hell as category 1.

    If you're in category 3, then you need to recognize that you and category 1 have different religions, and not merely different doctrines. If you think they worship a sadist, then you call the Traditional God's Nature evil, while they call it the definition of good. Are you willing to bite that bullet?

    Furthermore, this would mean that the Bible failed epically at communicating. By this, I'm not commenting on the biblical case for annihilationism, but rather on the simple fact that the overwhelming majority of people who care what the Bible says think it says the opposite.

    In one or two sentences, you can make crystal clear that fact that you don't believe in eternal conscious torment. I would find it bizarre if a book written with the inspiring God lacked this ability.

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  28. I'll comment regarding the Bible's obvious lack of clarity.

    Bottom line is that while God certainly COULD have made things clearer, He chose not to do so, instead providing piecemeal information:

    Isaiah 28:9-11 (NKJ): "Whom will he teach knowledge? And who will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little." For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people,

    Consistent with the above, note that Jesus spoke in parables because those who were listening didn't really want to learn anyway:

    Matt. 13:14-15 (NKJ): And in them the prophesy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.

    The reason they weren't interested in learning is provided in Paul's writings:

    1 Cor 2:14 (NJK): But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    Insight into WHY God chooses to purposely obscure things is provided in the following:

    1 Cor 1:17-21 (NKJ): For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. ... For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Where is the ... disputer of this age? Has God not made foolishness the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

    For those who WANT to be saved, the pieces of the puzzle can be put together with time and effort:

    Proverbs 25:2 (NKJ): It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

    I Cor 13:9 (NKJ): For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

    Although some would hold that the lack of Biblical clarity is evidence that God does not exist, or that the Bible cannot authoritatively represent an undoubtedly smarter and more talented God, the above scriptures adequately explain the matter – whether we agree with His approach, or not.

    -- Stokt

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  29. "Communicating badly and then acting smug when you're misunderstood is not cleverness." - xkcd

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  30. "The clearest way to see that the Christian God is evil is to look at the doctrine of hell. "
    I was pleased to see that others have put something in the comments to address this issue. I wanted to give a couple of links on this topic.Solving the Problem of Hell and Rethinking Hell. I just think most Christians have not really thought through the doctrine. Since God alone is immortal, it would require he would need to deliberately keep them alive in order to torment them. The idea is repugant and is at complete odds with the idea that God is love. I do not think the Bible teaches a hell like this.

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  31. "Communicating badly and then acting smug when you're misunderstood is not cleverness." - xkcd

    No indeed. Nor does the Bible claim it as cleverness. Quite the opposite, the Bible proclaims the foolishness of the gospel message.

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