Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Does God damn you?


Modern defenders of the doctrine of eternal punishment often argue that those who are damned essentially damn themselves.  As I indicated in a recent post on hell, from a Thomistic point of view that is indeed part of the story.  However, that is not the whole story, though these modern defenders of the doctrine sometimes give the opposite impression.  In particular, they sometimes make it sound as if, strictly speaking, God has nothing to do with someone’s being damned.  That is not correct.  From a Thomistic point of view, damnation is the product of a joint effort.  That you are eternally deserving of punishment is your doing.  That you eternally get the punishment you deserve is God’s doing.  You put yourself in hell, and God ensures that it is appropriately hellish.
 
As Aquinas writes in Summa Contra Gentiles III.145:

Those who sin against God are not only to be punished by their exclusion from perpetual happiness, but also by the experience of something painful.  Punishment should proportionally correspond to the fault... In the fault, however, the mind is not only turned away from the ultimate end, but is also improperly turned toward other things as ends.  So, the sinner is not only to be punished by being excluded from his end, but also by feeling injury from other things

[I]f a man makes inordinate use of a means to the end, he may not only be deprived of the end, but may also incur some other injury.  This is exemplified in the inordinate eating of food, which not only fails to maintain strength, but also leads to sickness.  Now, the man who puts his end among created things does not use them as he should, namely, by relating them to his ultimate end.  So, he should not only be punished by losing happiness, but also by experiencing some injury from them.

Moreover, as good things are owed to those who act rightly, so bad things are due to those who act perversely.  But those who act rightly, at the end intended by them, receive perfection and joy.  So, on the contrary, this punishment is due to sinners, that from those things in which they set their end they receive affliction and injury.

Thus, as Aquinas had already stated in chapter 140:

[M]an exceeds the due degree of his measure when he prefers his own will to the divine will by satisfying it contrary to God’s ordering.  Now, this inequity is removed when, against his will, man is forced to suffer something in accord with divine ordering.  Therefore, it is necessary that human sins be given punishment of divine origin

[B]y this we set aside the error of some people who assert that God does not punish.

End quote.  So, for Aquinas, it’s not just that the damned, due to the fixity of their wills after death (as described in my previous post on this subject) perpetually choose something less than God and thus perpetually miss out on what would make them happy.  It’s that they also suffer additional positive harms in addition to this loss, and that God ensures that this will happen.

This may sound hard to reconcile with God’s goodness.  But in fact, on the Thomistic account it follows from God’s goodness.  For inflicting on an unrepentant evildoer a punishment proportionate to his offense is a good thing, and the damned are precisely those who forever keep doing evil and refuse to repent, and thus merit perpetual punishment.  Hence God, in his goodness, inflicts that punishment. 

But if this is true, then why does hell seem to many people to be incompatible with God’s goodness?  There are several reasons.  First – and as no defender of hell can deny – the very idea of hell is, well, as scary as all hell.  So, since it is usually bad to enter into a scary situation or to put others into one, it can seem bad for God to send people to hell.  But of course, it is not in fact always and intrinsically bad to enter such a situation or to put others into one.  For example, it is scary to undergo major surgery, but sometimes it is nevertheless good to do so or good to recommend that others do so.  It is scary to go to war, but if the war is just it can nevertheless be good to go to war and to send others to fight it.  And so forth.  So, the fact that hell is scary does not by itself suffice to show that it is bad to send people to hell.

Second, when people approach this issue they very often miss the forest for the trees.  They get hung up on the question of whether this or that particular offense is really worthy of eternal punishment, or the question of whether this or that particular harm is something a good God would inflict perpetually.  Worse, they get hung up on some oversimplified account of how a certain offense might send you to hell, or on some crude caricature of what eternal punishment would be like.  They ask rhetorically: “How could a single act of stealing (or whatever) send you to hell?” or “How could a good God allow you perpetually to be stabbed with pitchforks as you roast over an open fire?” or the like, and then, confident that no good answer could be forthcoming, they conclude that the idea of hell per se is suspect.

In fact there are two sets of issues here which need to be kept distinct and addressed in the proper order: (1) Could there be an offense which is worthy of eternal punishment?  And (2) Is such-and-such a particular offense an offense of that kind, and if so, what specifically would be the character of the eternal punishment this particular offense merits?  To answer (2) we’d have to go case by case, and our answer would also presuppose an answer to (1).  To answer this more fundamental question (1) – and (1) is the only question I’m addressing in this post – it is best to put questions of sort (2) to the side for the moment.

A third reason many people think hell incompatible with God’s goodness is that they lack (what is from the Thomistic point of view) a sound understanding of the nature and purpose of punishment.  In particular, they fail to see why punishment in general is good, and hence, unsurprisingly, find it difficult to understand how this particular and especially harsh sort of punishment could be good.  Moreover, they also have (what from the Thomistic point of view are) false beliefs in light of which eternal punishment is bound to seem bad.  In the remainder of this post I want to develop these particular points.

Punishment is a good thing

In our forthcoming book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Joseph Bessette and I have a lot to say about the nature and justification of punishment in general.  The reason is that many people go wrong on the question of capital punishment precisely because they focus too much on the “capital” aspect of the issue and not enough on the “punishment” aspect.  When you properly understand the nature and purpose of punishment in general, the appropriateness in some cases of capital punishment falls into place quite naturally and inevitably.  Now, the same thing is true of eternal punishment.  People focus too much on the “eternal” aspect of it and not enough on the “punishment” aspect.  When you understand the latter, the appropriateness in some cases of eternal punishment also falls into place naturally and inevitably.

I’m not going to repeat here everything we say in the book.  Suffice it for present purposes to address how pleasure and pain relate to good and bad behavior and to rewards and punishments for behavior.  Like everything else in Thomistic natural law theory, this can only properly be understood in light of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics – in particular, in light of the notions of a thing’s essence, the proper accidents or properties that flow from that essence, and natural teleology.

Aquinas argues that pleasure is not the same thing as happiness.  Happiness instead involves the realization of the ends toward which our nature or essence directs us.  Pleasure is, however, in his view a proper accident or property of happiness (in the technical Scholastic sense of the word “property”).  That is to say, it naturally flows or follows from happiness insofar as, in the normal case and in the long run, realizing our natural ends will be associated with a feeling of delight or well-being. 

Now, as with other proper accidents or properties, the manifestation of this one can be blocked.  Having four legs is a proper accident or property of dogs, but damage or genetic defect can prevent a dog from having four legs.  Similarly, circumstances or psychological harm can prevent someone from taking pleasure in the realization of the ends toward which he is naturally directed.  Nevertheless, in the normal case such pleasure or well-being will follow, just as in the normal case a dog will have four legs.  (That pleasure has this close relationship to happiness without being identical to it is, I think, why people both often confuse pleasure with happiness, but also -- as in many people’s reaction to Nozick’s “experience machine” example -- tend to reject the idea that pleasure-seeking alone can ever bring genuine happiness.  This reflects their inchoate sense that pleasure is not itself what makes us happy but is rather a byproduct of attaining the things that make us happy.)

Now, pain is, by the same token, a kind of proper accident of unhappiness in the sense of the failure to realize the ends toward which our nature directs us.  Aquinas’s example, in the passage quoted above, of the “sickness” that can follow from disordered eating, illustrates the point.  When we eat too much or eat things that are bad for us, we often feel bad as a result.  That’s a trivial example, but the principle applies in general to disordered desires and behavior, i.e. desires and behavior that are contrary to the realization of the ends toward which our nature directs us.  Such desires and behavior tend, either directly or through their effects, to lead to various painful or unpleasant consequences – a guilty conscience, a sense of dissatisfaction, feelings of frustration, anxiety, shame, humiliation, self-hatred, the contempt of others, and in some cases even illness and bodily suffering. 

Here too, though, this natural tendency can be frustrated.  The pain or unpleasantness that in the normal case and in the long run tend to follow from disordered desire and behavior can be blocked, and rational animals like us are especially good at finding clever ways to block it.  For example, we can hide our bad behavior so that others do not know of it and thus do not criticize or punish us for it.  We can take medical steps to block the bodily suffering that can result from some such behavior.  We can distract ourselves from feeling guilt, shame, or anxiety, by way of indulging in pleasure-seeking of various sorts.  We can construct rationalizations of our behavior, and explain away the shame and guilt we feel by attributing it to others’ unjust criticism of us.  We can, in other aspects of our lives, engage in morally good behavior and pretend that this minimizes or excuses our immoral behavior.  We can encourage others who have the same vices we do to share in these rationalizations, distractions, and subterfuges.  We can tell ourselves that since so many other people behave as we do and share our rationalizations, distractions, and subterfuges, they must not really be mere rationalizations, distractions, and subterfuges at all.  We can even make of the rationalization of immoral behavior itself a kind of quasi-moralistic cause, and generate in ourselves such a pleasant frisson of self-righteousness from this that it can seem that our indulgence in the evil behavior is good and those who criticize that behavior are the ones who are evil.  And so on. 

In all these ways, then, what is in fact unhappiness – the failure to realize the ends toward which our nature directs us – can be made less painful or unpleasant than it would otherwise tend to be, and can even be masked by distracting pleasures and thus falsely seem like happiness.

Now, given what has been said, happiness – which is, again, the realization of the ends set for us by nature – without pleasure or delight in this realization entails a kind of defect or dysfunction.  For pleasure or delight, as a proper accident of happiness, would naturally follow from it if everything were functioning as it should.  Aquinas, following Aristotle, thus holds that pleasure “perfects” the operation of our faculties as those faculties realize their natural ends.  Hence even though happiness is not the same thing as pleasure, perfect happiness necessarily requires pleasure or delight as a concomitant.  The reward of those who do what is right will, accordingly, involve pleasure or delight.  God will ensure that nothing prevents this in the afterlife, as it is sometimes prevented in this life.

By the same token, however, disordered desire and behavior – that which is contrary to the realization of our natural ends, and thus entails unhappiness – without pain or unpleasantness also involves a kind of defect.  A life of evil behavior that is nevertheless more or less pleasant is just as dysfunctional as a life of good behavior that is nevertheless miserable, and both dysfunctions need to be remedied.  Just as good behavior naturally ought to be associated with pleasure, a feeling of well-being, etc., so too bad behavior naturally ought to be associated with pain and an absence of a feeling of well-being.  When the former correlation does not hold, things need to be made right by rewarding those who do what is good.  When the latter correlation does not hold, things need to be made right by punishing those who do what is bad.

And that is the essence of punishment: restoring the teleological relationship, ordained by nature, between evil behavior on the one hand and the unpleasantness or pain that is its proper accident on the other.  Punishing evil is thus like healing a wound, restoring a damaged painting, or fixing a leak.  It is a matter of repairing things, putting things back in order, making them how they are supposed to be.  And given the essentialist and teleological metaphysics that underlies the Thomistic natural law conception of morality, that cannot fail to be a good thing. 

Aquinas describes it as a matter of “restor[ing]… the equality of justice,” by which “he who has been too indulgent to his will, by transgressing God's commandments, suffers, either willingly or unwillingly, something contrary to what he would wish” (Summa Theologiae I-II.87.6).  Willing what is evil naturally tends to misery, but this natural tendency, like other natural tendencies, is sometimes unfulfilled.  When it is, the result is an inequality or imbalance, viz. between the evil act on the one hand and the pain or lack thereof actually suffered by the evildoer on the other.  Punishment is a matter of restoring this balance.

So, suppose someone wills to do some evil thing X, and that doing X or even just wanting to do it naturally tends to make the one who wills it feel guilty and ashamed of himself, tends to make others have contempt for him, and so forth.  But suppose also that this person is able to hide his evildoing, or to convince himself and/or others that doing X is not really evil, or in other ways to block the pain or unpleasantness that naturally tends to follow from willing to do X.  Then it would be the case that to put this situation right, this person should be prevented from blocking this outcome.  He should be made to feel the shame, contempt, etc. that would naturally be the concomitant of willing or doing X.  And he should be made to feel this as long as he refuses to stop doing X or to stop willing to do X.  (Of course, there is also the question of who has the authority to inflict such punishments, how exactly they ought to be carried out, what sorts of circumstances might mitigate the guilt and thus the punishment, etc.  But I’m not trying here to address all the issues that arise in the philosophy of punishment.  The example is simplified and schematic for purposes of illustration.) 

Suppose further, however, that this person perpetually refuses to stop willing to do X.  Then the unpleasantness he ought to be made to feel must also be perpetual.  But that is the situation of the person whose will is, upon death, fixed on evil, as described in my previous post on the subject of hell.  Since such a person perpetually wills evil, God ensures that he perpetually suffers the pain or unpleasantness that ought to be associated with that evil.  If, for example, this person perpetually wills X and willing X ought to be associated with shame and contempt, God ensures that the person perpetually suffers shame and contempt.  The damned person is not permitted to avoid or block this consequence the way he might have avoided it in this life -- by way of self-deceptive rationalization, distracting himself in pleasure-seeking, duping others about his true character, etc.

“Gee, but it seems so mean”

Much more could be said, but that suffices to make the point that the goodness of punishment, including eternal punishment, follows from the general background metaphysical assumptions the Thomist brings to bear on this subject, as on moral questions generally.  Part of the reason some find hell incompatible with God’s goodness, then, is that they don’t share a commitment to those metaphysical assumptions.  But I think there are other factors as well.

Ralph McInerny once wrote that when discussing capital punishment with students who were opposed to it, he came away with the impression that what they really had a problem with is punishment as such.  I think that at least to a considerable extent and with many people, the same thing is true of objections to the idea of hell.  And it seems to me that the source of the hostility to punishment, in both cases, is the deep and pervasive influence liberalism has had on modern sensibilities.

By “liberalism” I don’t just mean modern Democratic Party style liberalism, but the whole liberal tradition, broadly construed, from Hobbes and Locke down to Rawls and Nozick.  There are, of course, many differences, sometimes deep ones, between the various thinkers and political movements that have over the centuries been identified as liberal.  But a core idea that runs through the tradition is the thesis that authority rests on consent.  In its most extreme version, the idea would be that no one can be obliged to submit to any law or authority whatsoever unless he in some way consents to submitting to it.  Not every liberal would go this far.  For example, Locke holds that there is no political authority that is binding on us without our consent, but still allows that there is a deeper objective moral law that we are bound to submit to whether or not we consent to it.  Still, the tendency of liberal thought has been in the direction of an ever greater emphasis on what Kant called our “autonomy” or status as “self-legislators” even in the moral sphere. 

To be sure, Kant’s own application of this idea by no means led to lax moral conclusions.  For example, Kant’s support for capital punishment was if anything even more hardline than that of us old-fashioned Thomist natural law theorists.  But contemporary Kantian liberals have taken “autonomy” in a very different direction than Kant himself did.  In particular, they typically take it to entail all the usual elements of modern lifestyle liberalism (i.e. permissiveness vis-à-vis abortion, sexual morality, and so on).  And it is hard to see the modern autonomous liberal self, as contemporary liberals understand it, consenting to an austere moral order that entails everlasting punishment.

There is also the related liberal tendency to see punishment as in any case essentially a means of preserving social order, and perhaps also as a kind of therapy by which criminals can be made to reform, rather than as a way of making sure people get their just deserts in some metaphysical sense.  Retribution, that is to say, tends to drop out of the liberal account of punishment in favor of a focus on protection, deterrence, and rehabilitation alone.  Unsurprisingly, then, everlasting punishment seems pointless, given what the liberal regards as the point of punishment.  For why punish if there is no hope of rehabilitation nor any need to protect others or deter anyone?

Traditional natural law theory, of course, rejects both of these key liberal assumptions.  It holds that the binding character of the moral law – including the imperative to punish the guilty -- not only in no way rests on our consent to it, but is rooted in the deepest metaphysical facts about the world.  And it holds that securing retributive justice is not only a legitimate purpose of punishment, but is the primary purpose of punishment. 

So, someone whose moral sensibilities have been deeply molded by traditional natural law theory is likely to judge that the idea of hell, however disturbing, makes moral and metaphysical sense.  By contrast, someone whose moral sensibilities have been deeply molded by modern liberalism is more likely to regard the idea of hell as completely senseless. 

A further relevant element in contemporary liberalism is its deep egalitarianism.  The contemporary liberal is always going on about widening the circle of inclusion, leaving no one behind, etc.  The idea of hell, by contrast, is precisely about exclusion and leaving some behind forever – indeed, even taking delight in their perpetual exclusion.  The human race is on this view destined for what C. S. Lewis famously called a Great Divorce, not a Great Group Hug. 

Still, there is a sing along:  OK, Squirrel Nut Zippers, preach it!

157 comments:

TJ said...

Dr. Feser & Others,

A couple of thoughts come to mind from reading this. Granted, they are not all entirely on topic, but they are relevant to an extent.

1) One problem people have with hell that goes beyond what was discussed in this post is the fact that even if someone in theory could deserve hell, it seems that God would have reason to prevent this from ever happening. So even if there are some sins so awful that really do deserve hell (the question this post seems to center on), wouldn't God prevent us from committing these sins? I recognize that many Christians appeal to the free will defense here. But this is weak given God's omnipotence and vast means for ensuring that we do not abuse our free will. Moreover, on the Thomistic understanding, the free will defense is simply a nonstarter. In that case, the problem seems worse: God could prevent everyone from deserving hell. Why doesn't he?

2)Supposing that people do perpetually get locked into sin in the way described in the previous post, why can't God annihilate sinners? Sure, if he were to do so, he would not be punishing them and this would be a violation of justice. Nevertheless, my understanding of your argument, which, correct me if I am wrong, implies that the eternal duration of punishment presupposes that the person continues to sin. However, if God stopped the person from sinning by annihilating her, He would also prevent the person from deserving eternal punishment. Consequently, He would not violate justice in doing so.

Another question to follow...

TJ said...

3) These posts seem to imply an odd suggestion about hell for Christian theology. So, suppose that somebody sins (mortally). However, next, suppose that this person repents and has imperfect contrition. This person then dies. Is her will oriented towards evil perpetually? It is hard to see how this would be the case. But, then it would seem to follow that God would be unjust in punishing her eternally. But this conclusion is problematic on two grounds. First, it is unorthodox to suppose that imperfect contrition alone suffices for salvation. The person described in this hypothetical example, I think, by Catholic theology would go to hell. Second, if it is true that God would be unjust in punishing her despite her imperfect contrition, it would follow that God would be obliged to save this person. In other words, it would not be merciful to forgive her, but merely just.

How would everyone address these issues? I am interested in a discussion

Thanks,
TJ

Shehryar Khanzada said...

Using Plato's tripartite soul model (or we could think of these parts as 3 distinct faculties if one disagrees with Plato and uses what Aristotle says on this), we could say people who habitually commit sin are hurting themselves. In this model, man has 3 parts in their soul: reason, spirited (basically anger or competitiveness), and appetite (basically desire). A just man is one who has reason ordering all the parts doing their job and following reason. The spirited part mainly aids either reason or the appetites. However people who sin continually do not let reason rule over them. Rather their soul is in disarray much like how a company with a bad manager will have their employees screwing up and not doing their job correctly and harming the company. In the same way, the habitual sinner is in a sort of self-pain whether or not the person even feels a pain.

The sinner is unhealthy while the just person is healthy on this model. And the truly unjust person is one who lets their desires rule over them. Their desires pull them in so many directions due to how many desires we have pulling us. They are like drug addicts. So on this model it seems the sinner is in hell in this life to a degree when they reason is not ruling and not in hell insofar as they occasionally let reason rule. Now the afterlife comes and it's decided whether reason or the appetites rule. If it's the appetites, then the desires rule and the people are basically are chained to their desires. It's like self-imprisonment. So truly these people send themselves to Hell and keep themselves in it.

Shane Scott said...

Ed, this statement by Aquinas - "Now, the man who puts his end among created things does not use them as he should, namely, by relating them to his ultimate end. So, he should not only be punished by losing happiness, but also by experiencing some injury from them" - made my mind go immediately to the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. The rich man could have used his wealth to serve others (or, in the language of the previous parable, "make friends" with Lazarus by means of his wealth - Lk. 16:9). Instead, he did nothing to help Lazarus, even though he received "good things" in his lifetime (v. 25). It isn't as if he was unfamiliar with Lazarus - he calls him by name! But even now, he only sees Lazarus as a servant! ("send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger...").

JUSTICE demands that since he gave no aid to the one in need, that in his need, no one aids him. And since he persists in seeing Lazarus as beneath him, that is, persists in his sins of greed and stinginess, his punishment persists as well.

Jayman said...

Why would the damned perpetually choose something less than God if that results in their perpetual punishment? If willing X always results in punishment you would will something other than X. This would leave open the possibility of postmortem salvation.

Anonymous said...

I applaud the complete avoidance of predestination:

"So, since we have shown that some men are directed by divine working to their ultimate end as aided by grace, while others who are deprived of the same help of grace fall short of their ultimate end, and since all things that are done by God are foreseen and ordered from eternity by His wisdom, as we showed above, the aforementioned differentiation of men must be ordered by God from eternity. According, then, as He has preordained some men from eternity, so that they are directed to their ultimate end, He is said to have predestined them."

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3b.htm#163

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1023.htm

How is this any different than what Calvinists believe? Better PR?

Vand83 said...

Lol, come on man. It's ridiculous to take a roughly 100 word quote and pretend it encapsulates this particular genius's (Aquinas) understanding on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Vand83 -

That's why I posted two links. I'm hoping to inspire/provoke Dr. Feser to address this horrifying doctrine.

Arthur A. J. said...

Am I the only one around here who thinks heaven and hell seem incredibly man-made ?

The goodies obtain eternal bliss while the baddies get eternal damnation for what they've done... Isn't it what each one of us would dream of ?
Plus the fact that inventing these concepts could be an effective way to make people do good and avoid evil down here ?
Plus the fact that so many religions we would now consider to be man-made include similar beliefs ?

Honestly, this seems man-made, isn't it ?

The God of the three monotheisms is very different from those of ancient religions. Granted.
But heaven and hell ? Everywhere, and for thousands of years, the very same story, over and over again.

What do you think ?

Arthur A. J. said...

And I do realize this is half off-topic, sorry about that ^^

Steven Dillon said...

One problem I've seen raised for a traditional understanding of hell has to do with actual infinities: how could justice ever actually be served if there were always more to dish out?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

The modern idea, or one version of it, seems to go back to Orientals.

Someone there (the Studite? Palamas ... no, rather the Studite) seems to have said that Hell fire is the fire of God's love, as felt by those who have not prepared on earth to enjoy it.

This seems to me less dignified than the idea of St Thomas. Since it makes God a kind of automaton, useful (ok, not really, they do admit God is to be enjoyed, not used for other enjoyment) if approached in one way, lethal if approached in another way and uncapable for doin anything about it by His will.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

And please don't quote me as authority it was the Studite, could be my bad memory.

Georgios Scholarios said...

Arthur A.J.,

"The God of the three monotheisms is very different from those of ancient religions. Granted.
But heaven and hell ? Everywhere, and for thousands of years, the very same story, over and over again."

Hell is actually relatively new. Only among the Egyptians a just afterlife goes back thousands of years. But among the Jews, for example, only until the 300s BC or so do we see anything like what we find in Jesus's sayings about the topic.

Hans Georg Lundahl,
If I recall correctly, a similar explanation is also given by St. John Damascene, although he says God is punishing sinners by shining his light on them, so I don't think that view makes God a complete automaton.

Anonymous said...

That's not necessarily true since hell played a considerable part in Zoroastrian theology, specifically in the Gathas texts.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

You wrote: "If, for example, this person perpetually wills X and willing X ought to be associated with shame and contempt, God ensures that the person perpetually suffers shame and contempt." That I can understand. It seems that you're alluding to Daniel 12:2 here: "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." But Hell isn't merely about shame and contempt. I give you Matthew 25:41: "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" The real question is: does God mete out the pain, or is it self-inflicted? And on this point you seem to part company with C.S. Lewis, who wrote in The Great Divorce:

"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it."

I'd also be interested to know you would respond to Charles Darwin's famous objection to Hell, in his Autobiography:

"I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine."

Some theologians believe that God enlightens the soul at the moment of death, so as to give it one last chance to choose God. What are your thoughts on the subject?

TJ,

I'm no theologian, but in answer to your question (3), you might find the following article helpful:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02065a.htm

Anonymous and Vand83,

It's what Aquinas say next in the quote from Summa Contra Gentiles (http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3b.htm#163) that's most alarming:

"According, then, as He has preordained some men from eternity, so that they are directed to their ultimate end, He is said to have predestined them. Hence, the Apostle says, in Ephesians (1:5): 'Who predestinated us unto the adoption of children... according to the purpose of His will.' On the other hand, those to whom He has decided from eternity not to give His grace He is said to have reprobated or to have hated, in accord with what we find in Malachi (1:2-3): 'I have loved Jacob, but have hated Esau.' By reason of this distinction, according to which He has reprobated some and predestined others, we take note of divine election, which is mentioned in Ephesians (1:4): 'He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world.'"

Aquinas sounds like an out-and-out predestinationist here.

Anonymous said...

Arthur AJ,

Create or discover? No one has said that heaven and hell are beyond the ken of natural theology.

Ilíon said...

"You put yourself in hell, and God ensures that it is appropriately hellish."

Of course, all God that has to do to "ensure[] that it is appropriately hellish" is to withdraw from the damned. As another "of course", were he to fully withdraw from the damned, they would not exist.

So, if the damned continue to exist "in Hell", this seems to more than imply that God himself experiences Hell. For, even "in Hell" they "live and move and have [their] being" only by virtue of God's participation in their being/existence.

TheOFloinn said...

It was my impression that eternity is not time-without-end, nor is time a short segment of eternity, but rather that they are distinct kinds of duration. Hence, the notion of an incarceration for infinite years is not the same as an incarceration for eternity. How this can be so is unclear, but I understand there are certain models of quantum relativity that require two distinct time dimensions, so who knows. Linear time may not be the only kind, even if we lack the language to talk of "tau-time."

If there is no time as such, then there can be no repentence; one is frozen in an eternal "now." So if one dies with his face to the wall, he remains that way, much as a photograph differs from a motion picture.

OTOH, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle had an interesting take on things in their SF classic Inferno.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous re: predestination

I don't exactly know what Calvinists believe. But Thomists will need a general response to the question of how genuine future contingency is compatible with divine foreknowledge.

A typical strategy is to hold that God's eternal now is simultaneous with every time. He knows eternally everything that will happen. So of course, if any person will be damned, then he knows eternally that he will be damned. But that doesn't mean that it was not open to that person to cooperate with God's grace, or that he did not freely turn away from God's grace, or that he just happened not to be of the elect and there was nothing he could do about it.

DNW said...

"Jayman said...

Why would the damned perpetually choose something less than God if that results in their perpetual punishment? "



Hi.

As with most of these Catholic-dogma-meets-philosophy questions, I have nothing specifically philosophical or of approved doctrine to add; but instead, just a few salvation themed literary anecdotes which seem relevant to your question in a psychological sense.

As with my citing of Bede's story of Dryhthelm, or the Fatima visionaries, my intention is not to do philosophy or even criticism per se, but to consider what kind of setting, and in what psychological framework, these principles seem to make experiential sense to a person who's recounting the "story" (used in the most neutral sense possible here).

That is to say: in the stories we see recounted by the less obviously crack-potted types, say with Bede, or Lucia, or Mary Neal, or Fr. Steven Scheier, there seems to be in the case of the "experiencer" the perception of, and acceptance of, an absolute framework of value, which, once encountered outside of time, either irresistibly attracts, or to some degree or another repels, the "soul".

In Bede's recounting, souls are dragged to hell wailing and screaming. In Neal's case, and fated for better, she was enraptured, child-like, and willing to give up without a second thought not only her successful medical career, but all her natural relations as a mother and wife ... just from the having experienced a "distant" glimpse of what she took to be "heaven".

I came across another couple of odd and related stories awhile ago having to do with nuns, while surfing trad Catholic web sites. Obviously, some of these sites tend to be filled with pious fables and uncritical stances toward the marvelous. However, two apparently well-known tales have interesting aspects when viewed psychologically.

One is purportedly a true story of a nun's encounter with a former sister undergoing purgation. The other tale was presented as nothing more than a possible vision recorded by a deceased nun and found among her papers. (Which sounds a good deal like a short story premise)

In some ways, this more literary letter from hell tale is the more strikingly profound; as it explores the stance of the God-hating resident of Hell from his own perspective. In some ways the material parallels C.S. Lewis' imaginative characterization of the damned soul's attitude, but with a level of psychological detail not quite seen in Lewis. Those wishing to read the text online should search "Letter from Beyond". At the least it is a provocative short story.

"It is only with deep repugnance and unspeakable disgust that I write words such as pray, Mass, holy water, and church. I profoundly detest those who go to church, as well as everyone and everything in general.

For us, everything is a torment. Everything we come to understand at death, every recollection of life and of what we know, becomes a burning flame.

And all of these memories serve to show us the horrible aspect of the graces we rejected. How this torments us! We do not eat, we do not sleep, nor do we walk with our legs. Being spiritually enchained, we reprobates gaze in terror at our misspent lives, howling and gnashing our teeth, tormented and filled with hatred.

Are you listening? Here we drink hatred as if it were water. We all hate one another.

More than anything else, we hate God. "



And ... https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6253

Obviously I cannot vouch for any of these materials. What I did try to do was to find sources which cited provenance, which was enough for my limited purposes.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I agree with the main argument of the OP, namely that good deeds freely chosen order the soul of creatures according to the natural end of creation and thus move it towards a state of happiness, whereas evil deeds disorder the soul and thus move it towards a state of unhappiness. Such a metaphysics sits naturally with theism. Beyond that though I find the argumentation in the OP lacking:

“So, for Aquinas, it’s not just that the damned, due to the fixity of their wills after death (as described in my previous post on this subject) perpetually choose something less than God and thus perpetually miss out on what would make them happy.”

In that previous post it was explained how the angels, being disembodied spirits, in the very first instant of their creation have their will turn towards or against God without any possibility of later change – their will is fixed in the moment of their birth. And how in the afterlife human souls, even though they won't be disembodied but will be reunited with their bodies, will do it in such a way that their will towards or against God will also be fixated in the state it was at the moment of death. Well, how convenient. An ad-hoc metaphysics designed to make sense of hellism.

Actually I happen to agree with the gist of this metaphysics. Based not so much on A-T philosophy but on my own condition I project that through repentance the human soul reaches a state in which, even though still possessing free will, it will never turn against God. In short in that state, God's vision will be so bright and clear and the soul so virtuous and strong that it will never in fact choose to turn away from God [1]. This soul has in a sense passed a point of no return and has entered heaven. Conversely the soul that chooses the path of perdition at some point reaches a state where it has moved so far away from the likeness of Christ and thus has so much lost its vision of God, its will has separated so much from its natural end and has thus moved so far beyond the soul's control, that again a point of no return is passed. That soul has entered the state of hell where no repentance is possible. Except of course through a supernatural action by the grace of God [2].

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

“For inflicting on an unrepentant evildoer a punishment proportionate to his offense is a good thing, and the damned are precisely those who forever keep doing evil and refuse to repent, and thus merit perpetual punishment. Hence God, in his goodness, inflicts that punishment.”

Well, that's the bit that makes the least sense to me. I leave aside the problem of how “perpetual punishment” can ever be “proportionate to the offense”. The suggested solution here is that the offense is perpetual too – never mind the fact that in its state in hell the soul can't possibly escape offending in the first place. The obvious question which previous commentators above have already asked is why doesn't God after a short time of punishment which would even the scales of justice for those sinners who happened to have a pleasant life before dying (an occurrence which may be rarer than many think) – why doesn't God remove the grace of their continuous existence? Thus no more sinful offense, no more natural wages of sin and justice being made, no more ethical problems to trouble Christianity.

That's the first problem with Feser's suggestion. The second is this: Why wouldn't God, the greatest conceivable being, choose to *save* those damned souls? Surely there is nothing metaphysically impossible in that. It's not like the grace of God has not the power of sovereign fiat to move the state of the soul in hell into a state, say, of purgatory. By “purgatory” I mean a state of the soul where disorder and unhappiness may still reign but in which perdition is not such that all hope is lost. In such a state the soul may still see God and its will can still turn towards God. And it surely will at some point in time.

If then God can fulfill the divine wish and purpose and complete Christ's atonement – why should one has any doubts that God will choose to do so? Especially on Christianity isn't this last suggestion the far more natural one? I mean what happened with the beautiful parable of the good shepherd who looks through the night even for the one lost sheep?

[1] For those who have trouble with the idea that somebody will be free but will never in fact make a particular choice, I invite them to consider that this is a quite common experience even in our current condition: When we are eating out with friends having a good conversation we are quite free but will never actually choose to fling the content to our plate to the friend sitting in front of us. As far as some particularly stupid sins goes, we are already acquainted with a kind of sainthood. Real saints are those who pass into a state of freedom in which they will never choose any sin. Which is rightly considered by our tradition to be a far greater state of freedom than the one we now possess.

[2] Or perhaps by other charitable spirits - for it seems plausible to me that on theism souls are not independent things but are all interconnected by the power of love and, no matter their particular state between deepest hell or highest heaven, they are all metaphysically similar by common descent as it were :-)

Don said...

Hello -

I'd like your input on a question I have.

I have heard it said by Catholic priests and theologians that - that God excludes no one from heaven but only affirms their own free choice of hell. In other words, those who are condemned to hell will WANT to be in hell and hell will be their own free choice (even after they die). Indeed, even when they have spent a million years in hell, they will still WANT to be there.

This seems absurd to me. It seems to me that the Scriptures clearly indicate that many people will be caught off guard by the fact that they are excluded from heaven. They will be shocked to find themselves shut out, and will plead to be let in, but Jesus say "I never knew you." Once they realize the horrifying fact of their exclusion, they will desperately want in, but will be excluded. In other words, they had their chance, and they either chose poorly or were negligent / reckless, but after death it is too late to convert.

Am I off base with this?

Ilíon said...

Don: "... Am I off base with this?"

I think that what you're missing about those people "caught off guard" to find that they are not among the redeemed is that they:
1) do want to "be in Heaven"
2) do *not* want to dwell in the presence of God

But, to dwell in the presence of God. to see God face to face, *just is* to "be in Heaven".

Arthur A. J. said...

Georgios Scholarios,


I'm pretty sure Buddhists have been believing in hellish realms for quite a long time, now.
As for the Ancient Greek, couldn't it be said that Hades is essentially another word for Hell ?

JoeD said...

There is a view of Hell out there that rejects the idea that the punishment of Hell is infinite because of an endless ongoing offense.

It's the view of Hell that says that Heaven and Hell are basically the same place.

God's presence is everywhere in existence, and when the soul leaves the body, it confronts the omnipresence of God.

If the soul hated God and did such offenses as to be excluded from Heaven, God's eternal omnipresence would be Hell.

Those in Hell would feel shame because they would realise what they did.Their shame would be proportionate to the amount of what they did and would continue forever without the need of an eternal ongoing period of the souls always sinning somehow.

As for the saved, God's presence will be Heaven to them.

Now the same would be fair because it is proportional.

Someone like Hitler (if he is indeed in Hell, not to presume against God's grace) would have much more to be ashamed of than anyone other than him, and so on and so forth.

In my opinion, that view of Hell is the most likely to be true.

It doesn't make Hell torture or painfully unpleasant.But it still does make it a bad state to be in and the shame they get from their very actions upon realising what they actually were would be the only punishment God would need to inflict on them.

MichaelM said...

Concderning the Notion of Eternity

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/public/articles/Concerning_the_Notion_of_Eternity-by_Frithjof_Schuon.aspx

Anonymous said...

A chief problem -- perhaps the chief problem -- is straightforward to pose:

If God was perfectly content in Himself as Trinity prior to creation (creation doesn't add anything to God) and was not forced to create anything -- if creation is a wholly gratuitous gift from God wholly for the benefit of the created -- then Why would God allow a person to come into existence if He knows beforehand that that person will end up in Hell? Granted, our free choices lead us there, but God is the one who places us on the stage of existence to begin with, knowing full well what the outcome will be.

Re: "A typical strategy is to hold that God's eternal now is simultaneous with every time."

This used to be my response to the problem, until I felt it was essentially saying that God is off the hook because He is blind to time. Whatever God's experience of time is, it cannot be "less" than our experience of it. If we are not blind to time, then God shouldn't be, either.

And this train of thought is why it seems that, in terms of the choices we're left with regarding a coherent worldview, it's either some sort of universalism or bust.

MichaelM said...

The solution to these kinds of problems is not possible without a complete metaphysics, hence something theology as such necessarily does not and cannot offer, given its intentions, which are perfectly legitimate, it goes without saying. A complete doctrine implies the Eckhartian distinction between Gottheit and Gott, namely God as absolute and infinite Essence, synonymous with Total or All-Possibility, and God as the "relative Absolute"--absolute in relation to His creation but relative in relation to His Absolute Essence, of which God as Creator or ontological Principle is the first self-determination. Only the Divine Essence is absolutely Real; all otherness pertains to the principle of universal relativity. This implies that the Real is One, but that it affirms Itself by degrees, without Its immutablility and essential unity being affected. That which pertains to God as absolute Essence cannot be ascribed to God as ontological principle, and vice versa. Then there is God as Universal Intellect--the Spirit, both "created" and "uncreated." There is the Word that "was God" and the Word which was "with God," this latter being the "Spirit of God" which moved over the Waters in order to actualize the potentialities of creation in the universal substance (Natura Naturans). As for the Intellect which discerns these distinctions, it is the immanent "true Light" which, as Eckhart affirms is "uncreated and uncreatable": "aliquid est in intellectus quod est increatum et increabile." These are all truths which theology by its very nature has to place in brackets or veil, as it were, to one extent or another.

Anonymous said...

Arthur AJ,

Buddhists believe in several hells and all of them are impermanent. This manual outlines the cosmology of the Theravadan canonical tipitaka literature:

http://www.buddhistelibrary.org/en/albums/asst/ebook/allexistence.pdf

Beginning at page 29 are the descriptions of the four hells (kamaduggati bhumi).

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

This used to be my response to the problem, until I felt it was essentially saying that God is off the hook because He is blind to time. Whatever God's experience of time is, it cannot be "less" than our experience of it. If we are not blind to time, then God shouldn't be, either.

The advantage of invoking God's eternity is that it is a response that is a solution with an entirely independent motivation. Aquinas's account of God's eternity isn't a device invoked to get God off of the hook for predestining but kind of not predestining. It's just the way you must conceive God if you think he's pure act. And the reconciling of salvific grace with creaturely freedom will be the same as the problem of the reconciling of divine foreknowledge with creaturely contingency, which problem had to be solved anyway, so it kills two birds with one stone.

Regarding your concern, it does not move me. God's existence in an eternal now does not imply that he is blind to time if that's to mean that all moments are the same to him, or that from God's perspective there is no time.

And it's true that God's 'temporality' (or lack thereof) is not "less than" ours, in the sense that, per divine simplicity eternity involves absolute perfection and temporality does not.

But it is false that nothing can be predicated of our temporality that cannot be predicated of God's eternity, just as it is false that nothing can be predicated of us that cannot be predicated of God (i.e. materiality). God's eternity lacks succession, for instance. If your beef is with God's eternity, then your beef is with classical theism, not with hell.

And this train of thought is why it seems that, in terms of the choices we're left with regarding a coherent worldview, it's either some sort of universalism or bust.

If that's the dilemma you want to defend, you have some work to do.

Anonymous said...

"And it's true that God's 'temporality' (or lack thereof) is not "less than" ours, in the sense that, per divine simplicity eternity involves absolute perfection and temporality does not."

Would it not be better to state that God perceives the essences of things in a way superior to how humans and other temporal creatures perceive them? This seems better than constantly speaking about time as if it were an object alongside the various beings.

Mark said...

There is one major problem that I see, and that is that punishment is based upon a "locked state". I agree with Kant that "ought implies can". In a locked state the being is no longer free, and thus is not a moral agent, and punishment is unjust for the continuing "sin" in this locked state. This seems to me the same as Calvinism, since unfree beings are punished based upon a state of virtue and vice that they have no control over. I think it is irrelevant to say that they were free in their temporal existence when they freely chose to sin, this would be a finite crime which merits a finite punishment, but when they are in their eternal state and "locked" they are no longer moral agents.

Gyan said...

DNW,
Frankly, the hellbound in The Great Divorce who can only utter gibberish and profanity do appear far more psychologically real than the writer of 'A Letter from Beyond' who is able to skilfully and lucidly write Catholic doctrine. s

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

@TheOFloinn :

"It was my impression that eternity is not time-without-end, nor is time a short segment of eternity, but rather that they are distinct kinds of duration."

The life of souls after death and judgement is not in the eternity of God's own being, is not in a totum simul (except that everything that exists is somehow within it, since His act of creation is), it is in sempiternum.

God's eternum has neither beginning nor end. Their sempiternum (ours too a few decades from now*) has beginning but no end.

God's eternum is without succession and is per se infinite. Their sempiternum is with succession and each moment of it is a finite time from its start, only no more in the change of seasons** and no more looking forward to an end.

* At the latest. Harmageddon and Doomsday could come earlier, though most likely we have at least seven more years. ** Or of day and night.

Anonymous said...

And this train of thought is why it seems that, in terms of the choices we're left with regarding a coherent worldview, it's either some sort of universalism or bust.

Never more beautifully and persuasively expressed than here:

http://journal.radicalorthodoxy.org/index.php/ROTPP/article/view/135/75

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dOsKzh7Kyw

Scott W. said...

If I was in charge, no one would go to Hell. There would be punishment, but not for eternity.

However, as someone put it: "Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God? No, I feel that way because I lack His justice, His understanding of the severity of sin. My inclination for an empty hell is a defect of my imagination, not something to be proud of. Certainly not something to boast of before the Almighty."

Brian said...

Fantastic post, as was the "How to go to Hell" article that Dr. Feser linked to. I'm stuck a bit though. The account given in these two posts make much sense, and I accept them as truth. However, I'm having trouble reconciling this idea of "momentum", if I can describe it that way, with the idea of a loss of sanctifying grace through mortal sin.

An example:
If a man has been strongly on the right trajectory all his life, but then one day missteps, commits a mortal sin, and dies unexpectedly later that day, what principle would determine his fate. A. His trajectory, or B. the fact that he has severed his relationship with God through mortal sin, and lost the sanctifying grace that is necessary for heaven.

Anonymous said...

Great question Brian: suppose a man has been a real saint his whole life but then for some strange inexplicable reason commits some mortal sin and dies unexpectedly. Is he then saved or damned? Doesn't all that good count for something? Wouldn't it be the height of injustice if it didn't?

As God is perfect justice itself we can only hope that He will do what is truly perfectly just.

Anon2 said...

I do suspect the greater part of the punishment is (continuously)self caused and ontological. I suspect there are people who want what ISN'T the good, and will continue to want that after death i.e. to be in God's presence.

Anon2 said...

By permitting the fallen God also preserves the existence of the future just. A good example of this is Jesus' genealogy. I don't think it is sufficient to posit why God created those who would be damned because of this consideration.

I'm not sure Edward's solutions here or on capital punishment are 100% sound, even if I do usually agree with him.

Blake Denenny said...

I usually agree with you Dr. Feser, but I think your dismissal of the objectors to hell is much too glib. To not be disturbed by the idea of someone suffering eternal hell is, I think, a sign of callousness, unless that person has an adequate theological understanding of why this must be the case. Moreover, it seems to me that libertarian free will is indefensible from a Thomistic standpoint, which makes the doctrine of hell all the more problematic.

Edward Feser said...

Blake,

First, I did not "glibly dismiss" the views of people on the other side. Rather, I gave arguments.

Second, I explicitly said in the post that the idea of hell is "disturbing" and "scary as all hell." So, no callousness.

Unless you think that defending the idea of hell is per se a mark of callousness. Which I'm sure is what many people think. But that is just silly. If someone says to you: "Don't smoke so much, or you'll get cancer, and here's why," it is silly to respond : "How callous of you to tell me I'm in danger of getting cancer!' Either the arguments for the claim that smoking a lot will lead to cancer are good arguments or they are not. If they are not good, then the problem is that they are not good. The problem is not that the person giving them is "callous." And if they are good arguments, then in that case too, it is no good to complain of "callousness." What is the person supposed to do, refrain from warning you about cancer, out of fear of hurting your feelings? On the contrary, not to warn you would be callousness. Warning you would be merciful.

Same thing with hell. If the arguments I've been spelling out are not good, then the problem with them is that they are not good, not that they are "callous." And if the arguments are good, then to put them forward constitutes a merciful warning, which is the reverse of "callousness."

Ilíon said...

Anonymous: "Great question Brian: suppose a man has been a real saint his whole life but then for some strange inexplicable reason commits some mortal sin and dies unexpectedly. Is he then saved or damned? Doesn't all that good count for something? Wouldn't it be the height of injustice if it didn't?

As God is perfect justice itself we can only hope that He will do what is truly perfectly just.
"

Heavens, no! No human being, no matter how saintly he has lived, *deserves* Heaven, but rather Hell -- all our righteousness is as filthy rags.

It is not God's justice that enables any of us to "go to Heaven", but rather his love and mercy. Don't pray to get what you deserve, but what you don't.

Ilíon said...

Edward Feser: "First, I did not "glibly dismiss" the views of people on the other side. Rather, I gave arguments."

Careful! ;) You don't want to be called "arrogant", which is commonly the next step.

Jack I. Collinson said...

@TJ, the reason why God allows some men to fall into hell is so that He can manifest His justice. Also, because out of the evil of some He can bring a greater good for others, e.g. the men that stoned St. Stephen to death gave St. Stephen the opportunity to merit the glory of being a martyr. The suffering that the elect souls suffer at the hands of damned souls adds to their glory.

@Anonymous, the difference between Aquinas and Calvin is that Aquinas teaches God's predestination of the elect to eternal glory, and God's permitting the damned to fall into sin through their own free will, to which He then applies the corresponding punishment (negative reprobation); whereas Calvin teaches God's predestination of the elect to eternal glory, and God's predestination of the damned to eternal punishment (positive reprobation). So Aquinas teaches only a single predestination (to glory), whereas Calvin teaches a double predestination (to glory, and to damnation). Another difference is that Aquinas affirms the existence of the free will; whereas Calvin denies that we have free will, and teaches that God alone causes both the good in us and the evil in us. Aquinas states that God works through us, with the consent of our free will, moving us towards good; and God also allows or permits us to fall into evil through our own free will; and God definitely does NOT will the evil in us, He does NOT cause us to sin (the Catholic Church has condemned this idea).

Either way, the sacred scriptures teach that God has, before the foundation of the world, elected a predetermined number of souls to eternal glory, and the rest God has predetermined to permit their sin and then punish with damnation. Also, Aquinas teaches that God predestines us not according to our merits, but according to His gratuitous grace / mercy. So God didn't choose St. Stephen because he foresaw that St. Stephen would be a good man; rather, God chose St. Stephen to eternal glory purely out of His own divine will, and then God caused St. Stephen to be a good man through His grace. This agrees with the scriptures.

@Arthur A. J., heaven & hell only seem man-made because they perfectly fulfill our moral desires, to see good rewarded and evil punished. But our moral desires do not originate in ourselves, but in God who has written them upon our hearts. So God has taught us implicitly about heaven and hell by causing us to wish for the rewarding of good and the punishing of evil; and He has taught us explicitly about heaven and hell through revelation.
It's not a surprise if man-made religions teach about heaven and hell. Not everything false religions teach is false - they all usually contain some truth.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott W.

“Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God? No, I feel that way because I lack His justice, His understanding of the severity of sin.”

This could be true. In our sinful state perhaps we don't see the beauty of it all.

The problem from a universalist point of view is this: We are made in God's image – this is our metaphysical connection to God. The same cognitive faculties that lead us to realize the presence of God also lead us to see the nature of love, the nature of forgiveness, the nature of justice. And according to what we see any dogma of hell that entails endless suffering makes no sense whatsoever. Now it is just conceivable that God, because of love and because of justice, respects creaturely freedom above all else, and would therefore do nothing to directly move the souls in hell into a state where repentance is possible (“possible” in the existential sense). But even then the greatest conceivable being would simply remove the grace of existence from those creatures that have moved themselves in such a literally hopeless and irredeemably ugly and pointless condition. Speaking of ugliness, the official idea of hell is so ugly that I personally find it impossible to really consider it in my mind, and what makes it so ugly is precisely the idea of being in a state of suffering that is *endless*. “Eternal” in the sense of “definitive” would make hell at least worth some consideration.

As far as I can see what keeps the dogma of hell alive is scripture. And indeed one finds there, mostly in the OT but to some degree also in the NT, a spirit of revengefulness which some consider just – as in “punishment serves justice”. But in scripture we also find the spirit of forgiveness and charity. Sometimes I think that for the same reason that God made the world religiously ambiguous God left scripture eschatologically ambiguous too. In a sense God gives us the freedom to construct the reality in which we shall live. For the reality in which we live is the reality of our condition, and our condition is to a large degree defined by the state of our soul.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Brian,

“If a man has been strongly on the right trajectory all his life, but then one day missteps, commits a mortal sin, and dies unexpectedly later that day, what principle would determine his fate.”

What counts is the state of soul – how well the soul is ordered according the God's purpose in creation. As we know from everyday experience, good and bad deeds are significant in the sense that they affect the state of our soul. “Mortal sins” are called “mortal” because they are so grave that they single-handedly move the soul into hell. Now from everyday experience we know that normally the state of the soul moves slowly, but perhaps there are conditions where the soul undergoes sudden movement. The story of the good thief is presumably a case in which the state of a soul in a span of hours or perhaps of minutes moved into a state of heaven. Conversely it is at least conceivable that a single sin would be so great as to move the state of a soul into hell.

Having said that, it is unnatural that a person would be “on a right trajectory all his life” and then commit a mortal sin. Being on the right trajectory all one's life means to follow Christ in which case one's soul becomes more similar to Christ. In such a state the vision of God is strong, the mind is clear, and one has mastery of the will. In such a state then it is next to impossible to suddenly choose to commit mortal sin – which by its nature is unimaginably evil. Still, what if.

According to how I understand it, the official/traditional position of the church is kind of complicated: Even if one commits a mortal sin salvation is still possible in this life through the action of the grace of God. But salvation isn't possible anymore after death, because after death the soul even if incarnated again is somehow fixed in a way that puts it beyond the power of the grace of God. Or, perhaps, after death divine justice does not allow for the salvation of a soul in mortal condition, but before death divine justice allows it. According to that position then the answer to your question is that no matter previous worth, if one commits a mortal sin and then dies one is damned for ever. What seems clear is that according to the official position the moment of death is of momentous importance – which certainly makes the business of living a much more stressful affair. Many think that in this way peoples' minds are concentrated. Perhaps in the background there is the following thought at play: “If people believe that at the point of death the destiny of the soul is fixed then they will take Christ's commands more seriously every day of their lives, for everyday they may die (not to mention they will depend more on the church). And should it be the case that salvation is possible after death too, then nothing is lost.”

If that's the thought then I disagree. I happen to think that the value of truth is in itself, and how we figure it may affect people is irrelevant [1]. Or perhaps I should say that God has ordered creation in such a way that truth will always affect us to the better, whether we see how that works or not. The official position has produced much misery among Christians, so for example it is known that wives and children have greatly suffered with the thought that their husband or father who was killed in battle without having received absolution is therefore destined to suffer greatly after death (whether in purgatory or hell). Such misery does not move people to love God more, quite the contrary. Again, what produces bad fruit comes not from God.

What I am saying is that universalism makes more sense any way you look at it.

[1] Love is always primary though. To tell the naked truth to a weak person is sometimes uncharitable and as such can produce grave injury. I am thinking of Ibsen's play “The Wild Duck”.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Mark

“There is one major problem that I see, and that is that punishment is based upon a "locked state". I agree with Kant that "ought implies can".”

I think that Kant is obviously right in this, but as we know from our current condition there are circumstances when we *can* make a particular choice but where as a matter of existential fact it is impossible that we *will* make that choice. (I described an example above – it's where I write about “eating out”.) Similarly it makes sense to hold that the saints in heaven can turn away from God but in fact never will. The case of hell is kind of more difficult: As we know from our current condition when we suffer from a vice it is as if to a significant degree we lose control of our will. Still even in hell I don't think it makes sense to think that the will is cut completely loose from the mind, as it makes little sense to talk of a person completely devoid of will. So even in hell the damned can repent but won't.

“In a locked state the being is no longer free, and thus is not a moral agent, and punishment is unjust for the continuing "sin" in this locked state.”

In our current condition, in all those common cases where we can but won't commit some particularly stupid sin, it's not like we are locked in a particular state; rather it's like we have locked out that particular sin. Similarly the saints in heaven are not locked in a state of sainthood from which they can't escape, rather they have locked out any possibility of choosing the slightest sin. Conversely the damned in hell have locked out any possibility of choosing repentance. I don't see any problems here.

A final point. To say that the saints in heaven will never in fact choose to commit the slightest sin does not entail that they have reached a state of perfection. There is much more to perfection than the avoidance of sin. Which presents an additional problem to the idea that at the point of death all salvific movement is fixed – or to put it in more dramatic terms – that at the point of death our spiritual life doesn't stop but our salvific life does. The problem is that if this idea is true then there won't be any spiritual advancement and further atonement after death. Even those who go to heaven will be locked in a state of relative imperfection for ever.

Incidentally, since the words we choose influence the way we think, I suggest it is better to speak of the “just wages of sin” or the “just implications of sin” rather than of “just punishment for sin”. In God's creation it is the sinful deed that injures the soul, disorders it against the end of creation, and that unnatural state of an illness of the soul gives rise to unhappiness – and we all plainly see the justice in this. So it's not really a punishment from the outside. This is the subject matter of the OP, and I tend to agree that through God's general providence and from the point of the view of the sinner, sin is punished by God. But in theology we should try to see things as it were from the point of view of God. The sinful person errs when she thinks that God is punishing her, rather in God's creation she is earning the just wages of her choices, she lives in the house she has constructed for herself.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Blake Denenny

“libertarian free will is indefensible from a Thomistic standpoint”

Is this a fact? Wouldn't that be very un-Catholic?

I understand A-T metaphysics only in very general terms, but I don't see why free will is denied by it.

(As an aside: I hate to use the expression “libertarian free will” for I find it as ridiculous as speaking of “free free will”. I laughed the other day when I heard David Chalmers suggest that some philosophers who believe that X doesn't exist but feel uncomfortable saying “X doesn't exist” choose to deflate the meaning of X to such an extent that they can continue speaking about X in the same way that is entailed by its non-existence. He was speaking of Daniel Dennett's use of “consciousness”, but it seems to me the same holds for those who speak of “compatibilist free will” as contrasted with “libertarian free will”.)

Ilíon said...

Dianelos Georgoudis "What I am saying is that universalism makes more sense any way you look at it."

No, it doesn't.

Universalism is neither just nor merciful. Universalism is obviously not just, so I'm going to say any more on that. But -- contrary to shallow thinking about mercy -- universalism is not merciful, either. Consider: the damned are damned precisely because they hate God; they hate his laws and precepts and they hate him. So, were God to "bring the damned to Heaven", he would be forcing them to experience/endure what they do not wish to experience, namely to exist/live in his direct presence (*) -- as hateful as "being in Hell" is to the damned, :being in Heaven" is even more hateful.

Annihilationism make more sense than universalism does, for universalism makes no sense at all.


(*) And this doesn't even address the question of whether an unrepentant sinner even can exist in the direct presence of the Sinless One.

Glenn said...

>> And this train of thought is why it seems that, in terms of the choices we're left with regarding a coherent worldview, it's either some sort of universalism or bust.

> Never more beautifully and persuasively expressed than here: http://journal.radicalorthodoxy.org/index.php/ROTPP/article/view/135/75

…in which we find the following:

"Nor am I speaking of a few marginal, eccentric sects within Christian history; I mean the broad mainstream: particularly, I suppose it pleases me to say, but not exclusively in the West."

IOW, Western Christianity has had it wrong all along, and its pernicious influence did seep in and somewhat corrupt Eastern Christianity.

For those whose perspicacity is on the fritz, and thus do not immediately grasp the indubitability and ineluctability of this obviously uncontentious, irreproachable and unimpeachable fact, support is hereby given by way of some examples drawn from the Philokalia -- a collection of texts written between the 4th and 15th centuries by spiritual masters, and which, in toto, is a "principal spiritual text" for all the Eastern Orthodox Churches:

o [T]he virtues of the soul lead to eternal blessings, while our self-willed vices result in eternal punishments. -- St Antony the Great

o To some, divine justice gives eternal life; to others, eternal chastisement. Each will be requited according to his actions -- according to whether he has passed through this present life in a virtuous or in a sinful manner. The degree or quality of the requital will accord with the state induced in each by either the passions or the virtues, and the differing effects these have had. -- St Gregory of Sinai

o Fear of punishment hereafter and the suffering it engenders are beneficial to all who are starting out on the spiritual way. Whoever imagines that he can make a start without such suffering and fear, and without someone to inflict them, is not merely basing his actions on sand but thinks that he can build in the air without any foundations at all; and this of course is utterly impossible, indeed, the suffering is the source of nearly all our joy, while the fear breaks the grip of all our sins and passions, and the one who inflicts these things brings us not death but eternal life. -- St Symeon the New Theologian

o He who does not attempt to evade the suffering engendered by the fear of eternal punishment, but accepts it wholeheartedly, and even adds to it as he can, will rapidly advance into the presence of the King of kings. And as soon as he has beheld the glory of God, however obscurely, his bonds will be loosed: fear, his tormenter, will leave him, and his heart's suffering will be turned to joy. -- St Symeon the New Theologian

o Where did true death -- the death that produces and induces in soul and body both temporal and eternal death -- have its origin? Was it not in the realm of life? Thus was man, alas, at once banished from God's paradise, for he had imbued his life with death and made it unfit for paradise. Consequently true life -- the life that confers immortality and true life on both soul and body -- will have its origin here, in this place of death. If you do not strive here to gain this life in your soul, do not deceive yourself with vain hopes about receiving it hereafter, or about God then being compassionate towards you. For then is the time of requital and retribution, not of sympathy and compassion[.] -- St Gregory Palamas

DNW said...

"Blogger Gyan said...

DNW,
Frankly, the hellbound in The Great Divorce who can only utter gibberish and profanity do appear far more psychologically real than the writer of 'A Letter from Beyond' who is able to skilfully and lucidly write Catholic doctrine. s

November 23, 2016 at 10:58 PM"




You might be right. It's been a long while since I read The Great Divorce, and my impressions of the character of the residents of the twilight streets, may have faded somewhat.

But as I recall they were, as you mention, souls on their way to hell, not souls in hell yet. In Lewis' version the ultimate darkness is yet to be encountered, and the punishment implied is the concertizing once and for all of their self-inflicted reduction to residual vices; born of their unrepentant self-absorption and egotism.

In that version of Hell, there is not really any self-knowledge in the damned, or rage against the Ultimate; just a residuum of impotent appetite and disordered drives freely chosen during a time when the will was still somewhat flexible.

In Lewis' damned, a type of dis-integration of the personality has been allowed to take place in the name of justice, as the damned have freely chosen this over wholeness.

However, in the "Letter from Beyond", the damned, retaining their personalities, are inescapably caught in the result of choices of their own making, but they are not reduced to a closed loop playing of some particular vice: i.e. a "Grumble".

The raging will then, and the frustrated hate which is disturbingly part even of the malevolent nihilist or the Promethean will-to-power value system choice in life, is missing from the Lewis after-life version, but not from the "Letter" version.

If I recall properly, even Napoleon's raving in "Divorce" is more of a relentlessly bitter self-absorbed obsession, than a demoniacal pride.

The Lewis version of these characters is highly entertaining and well-drawn; but misses I think the darker aspects or real human moral potential.

You obviously have another take.

Perhaps there are passages in Lewis' "Divorce" which have escaped my attention at the moment.

DNW said...



"... darker aspects of real ..."

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't the prospect of eternal torment entail anti-natalism?

A believer in the doctrine of eternal torment might have second thoughts about reproducing given the possibility that their child might end up in a state of eternal torment.

I'm sure this has occurred to more than a few parents of large Catholic families. If you have 12 kids, what are the chances that all of them will make it to heaven?

I think most people in practical terms don't take the doctrine seriously, or have a strong sense of being destined for heaven.

Scott W. said...

Shouldn't the prospect of eternal torment entail anti-natalism?

No. This is a species of gnosticism in addition to consequentialist. Procreation is inherently good and divinly ordered.

Anonymous said...

Scott W.,

That's not an argument.

Some forms of gnosticism are anti-natalist b/c of a negative view of matter and existence in general, not because of the potential eternal state of a soul. So your response to my question is inadequate.

The doctrine of hell necessarily leads, on pain of irrationality, to anti-natalism.

1. Hell is infinite loss
2. Heaven is infinite gain
3. Every person will experience either infinite loss or infinite gain
4. Subjecting a person to risk of infinite loss sans consent is immoral
5. Procreation subjects a person to a risk of infinite loss sans consent
6. Therefore, procreation is immoral

To obviate objections against premise 4 I would add that the lack of opportunity for infinite gain is not a loss for an unborn/potential person.








DNW said...

"4. Subjecting a person to risk of infinite loss sans consent is immoral "


Well, and this is an observation and not a syllogism, but the NDE anecdotes of the apparently less-crazy types who claim to have encountered the prospect, seems to be that they do consent to their own damnation ... the only proviso being that their consent is based on an acknowledgement of undeniable facts; i.e., recognition of their responsible behavioral choices [where applicable], and preferences, and not just "consent" defined as a capricious exercise of the will in defiance of them.

Imagine being in a situation wherein you not only could not lie or make excuses or evasions, but wherein it would do absolutely no good whatsoever to even try. Reality or not, this I think - the meeting of "He who can neither deceive nor be deceived" - is part of what a traditionally viewed encounter with the Deity, or His judgement, meant to Christians of the past.

It looks to be somewhat beyond the imaginative powers of many persons nowadays.

Jo F said...

Hey Dr. Feser, sorry if this is obtrusively irrelevant and please don't feel obliged to answer, but please feel free to:

It seems to me that you take the cosmological argument to be one of the only working arguments for God's existence. Is this true? Recent work in natural theology has brought about some new, creative ideas, and revived some of the classical arguments. I've been considering majoring in philosophy in college, partly because the debate sounds interesting to me. I also would like to help the efforts of some philosophers to popularize successful and promising natural theology.

That's why I came here to ask: do you think natural theology is a promising field? What should I study to develop my philosophical abilities without setting myself up for redundancy when I get to college? Where, exactly, do I begin in my study of philosophy if I want to be contributive to this field? What might help to specialize in? What indicates that I could be a contributive philosopher? All I know is, (as arrogant as this may sound) I've had a knack for considering many variables, thinking quickly, comprehending more than many of my classmates, succeeding generally in school, debating and speaking, writing, assimilating to patterns--but I'm not sure what specifically means philosophical talent. I suppose I could determine this for myself if I knew some way to exercise my abilities relevant to philosophy, but other than reading randomly (and I'm not sure what to read in the first place, really) and debating/discussing these issues in a philosophy club I started I'm not sure.

Jo F said...

Dr. Alexander Pruss said he thought all of these arguments at least raise the probability of God's existence or whatever conclusion they claim to establish, especially in tandem (though I'm not sure whether he read my entire list or not). Without further adieu, here's the list of the supposed theological indications/arguments that I have only partially studied so far:

1. Intentional states of consciousness
2. The applicability of mathematics to the physical world
3. The "fine tuning" of initial cosmological conditions for the development of intelligent life
4. Inference from certain instantiations of biological complexity to an Intelligent Source
5. The argument from consciousness
6. Reason (Victor Reppert's version, and Plantinga's evolutionary argument--which are very distinct from each other)
7. The universality of religious experience (Kai Man Kwan's version, or Richard Swinburne's)
8. Appeals to our moral experience
9. The arbitrariness of beauty/love/meaning/etc. on atheism given all the ways the world presumably could have gone
10. the argument that the concept of God should not make sense or be coherent unless He actually does exist (I'm kidding of course, I know you don't take Plantiga's advanced formulations of the ontological argument as effective, but have you considered Robert Maydole's version in the Blackwell Companion? I've learned most of these from studying it, so please consider the defense put forth by the relevant essay authors in this reference volume.)
11. The argument from natural numbers (as it appears in Plantinga's lecture notes--and while I'm at it, what do you think of the rest of the arguments he gives in his famous paper?)
12. The Kalam (I know you responded to this some, though I'm wondering whether you've read his co-authored essay in the reference volume I've mentioned)
13. The Leibnizian cosmological argument
14. Robin Collin's soon-to-come book will concern the argument from the orderliness of the universe in addition to his usual teleological argument.
15. The argument from miracles (specifically the historically and historiographically corroborated resurrection of Christ)
16. An essay called "The Lord of Noncontradiction" attempts to deduce a theological explanation for the "laws of logic"
17. Our preference of inductive logic: we believe the future will resemble the past, though this tendency of nature supposedly cannot be explained on naturalism...given that we desire to take the future as confirmations of this assumption, perhaps we should believe this indicates God's sustaining the universe in existence?
18. Lewis's trilemma and fulfilled prophecy (only after establishing credibility for the NT, of course)

Also, am I missing any important subjects to study as I learn to defend the faith? Thanks so, so much, and happy thanksgiving!

Atento said...

The comments here show what a mess Christian thought is today, what a tower of individualist and garrulous Babel. Every "damn fool" believes wholeheartedly in his right to an opinion. The Enlightenment, and before it, nominalism, ruined Western intellectuality. Thomism respresents a kind of defense of the faith, unfortunately based far too much on Aristotle--the wisest during the Medieval period considered Plato superior to Aristotle, as wisdom is superior to science. Thomism could not stem the centrifugal force of the West: a scant two centuries later there was nothing left of true Christendom in the West. The Renaissance, the partial exhumation of naturalistic classical Greece, soon led to the so-called Enlightenment, which rather consisted in a definitive darkening of the "true Light" of the spiritual intellect--already far too veiled by Thomism, which unfortunately assumed a monopoly of intellectuality in the Catholic Church, whereas the Church had existed a millenium without it; and the Orthodox Church continues to exist without it.

Atento said...

What one wishes had prevailed is the current of contemplative intellectuality represented by such figures as Clement of Alexandria, Dionysius the Areopagite, Eriugena, and others, and above all Eckhart. In short a Christian neo-Platonism, which would have manifested the contemplative and metaphysical depth of Christianity, and based particularly on the Gospel of St. John. This was only partially, sporadically, and unevenly realized in the West. The Latin-Roman mind was too rationalistic and too legalistic, and this narrowness was partially responsible for the reaction of the Reformation among the Germanic peoples.

Atento said...

It was the Laatin church that was responsible for the betrayal that was the Renaissance, and later came the artistic horrors of the Baroque. St. Peter's cathedral is the monument-sign of the Church become "civilized" and worldly, and at any rate an island in a world no longer characterizable as Christendom. One can imagine Christ is the priestly garb of the Orthodox Church, but certainly not in the garb of the Catholic priests.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Ilíon

It seems to me you don't understand what universalism says. Universalism is basically the idea that:

1) Salvific life does not stop at death. Like it is the case in this life so also in the afterlife, through God's grace even the worse of people will be given the real opportunity to repent.

2) Given the power and beauty of Christ's sacrificial atonement in the end even the worse of people will choose to repent. And so God's wish will be satisfied, Christ's victory over evil will be complete, and not a drop of His blood will be wasted.

Now you write:

”Universalism is obviously not just, so I'm going to say any more on that.”

As we know from our current condition repentance is painful since you must face and deal with your own ugliness - albeit it is a naturally fruitful pain. Universalism does not in any way protect you from the wages of your sin, and the more you have allowed your soul to slip to perdition the more painful will be the process of turning around and walking on Christ's path. As I understand it on universalism all will pay in full the wages of their sins. So for example it is not the case that one may sin all one's life here but if one receives absolution from the priest a moment before dying one won't have to pay the full wages – and perhaps will not to pay anything at all. Nor does the thought “salvation is a free gift you only have to accept by believing that Christ is your personal savior” make any sense on universalism. Nor does universalism have any trouble with questions such as the destiny of babies who died unbaptized, and so on. So, if anything it seems to me it is rather non-univerasalism that has problems with justice. If the point of death is of radical significance as non-universalists believe then many special problems arise, and it seems many special deals (of multiple realms of afterlife) must hold for some semblance of justice to obtain.

“So, were God to "bring the damned to Heaven", he would be forcing them to experience/endure what they do not wish to experience”

This is not at all what universalism says. On the contrary, on universalism all people will walk all the way the path of repentance. My own understanding is that since in the afterlife we shall necessarily have more knowledge there will be more reason to repent. On the other hand because of this knowledge the path of repentance in the afterlife may be more painful still: the evil of one's past choices, or even just the waste of one's time, will be much clearer and thus more painful. And for us Christians who perhaps now fancy to be the fortunate ones, the realization of how much we have failed Christ's commands and how much contempt we have showed to His love and sacrifice for us - will make repentance in the afterlife much more painful still. As always I may be wrong, but that's what I see.

What's certain is that universalism far more than hellism respects peoples' freedom of choice, for on universalism substantial freedom of choice is not lost at death.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”Consider: the damned are damned precisely because they hate God; they hate his laws and precepts and they hate him.”

Many people are atheists – how can you hate something you believe is not there in the first place? And among many sinful Christians (the great majority of us) there is clearly no “hate” for God - I wonder sometimes where people get such ideas. What does exist and is quite common in our everyday life is rebellion against God, which I suppose is a facet of the cardinal sin of pride.

“universalism is not merciful”

Universalism says that atonement will be complete, that all will repent, that all will be forgiven. By the power of grace and for the glory of God even the unimaginably evil people will come to love Christ in the end. So universalism is by definition brightly and perfectly merciful.

In contrast, hellism is probably the ugliest idea ever thought of. So ugly that when taken literally is below our cognitive capacity to actually consider. I am saying that we are made in such a way that to really consider hellism is in fact impossible. From what I know about the human condition I conclude that those who think they are thinking about hell are using the words “endless suffering” without really facing what they mean.

As far as I can see people fear hell so much that they try to believe in it, thinking this puts them on safety's side. Well, it doesn't – nothing that obscures God can be helpful. It is only by love and desire and not by fear that one may follow Christ. Reading in the gospels Christ's prayer in His last night before dying makes it quite clear: He was troubled but desiring to do God's will.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

What's certain is that universalism far more than hellism respects peoples' freedom of choice, for on universalism substantial freedom of choice is not lost at death.

Refusing to accept the choice a person freely makes constitutes showing respect for that person's freedom of choice?

Perhaps the reason why you laughed when Chalmer talked about people who deflate the meaning of X is that you saw yourself in disguise, i.e., perhaps you realized he was talking about people like you.

Scott W. said...

That's not an argument

Well no because I thought you were asking a regular question as opposed to already having all the answers loaded for bear. So I was merely pointing out that the Church teaches the reality of Hell and doesn't teach anti-natalism. I haven't really put much thought into a syllogism for it, but on first look it seems that x -risks-y-consequence and is hence immoral would exclude all manner of normally good acts to the point of absurdity.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn

”support is hereby given by way of some examples drawn from the Philokalia”

Interesting. The official position of the Eastern Orthodox Church is rather clearly in favor of hellism – I think I said as much some discussions back.

Perhaps you'll be interested in https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2015/06/24/the-rejection-of-universalism-in-the-triodion/ from Eastern Orthodox liturgy which too sound hellish enough. The discussion that follows below has some bearing. The priest's argument is quite clear: Origen's ideas about universal reconciliation have been officially condemned, and the reality of hell with damned souls suffering there for ever is clearly stated in the whole of tradition - therefore one should not entertain any doubts about this matter. Still, as the discussion there and as the discussion here proves it's not as straightforward.

I mean the existential problem here is quite clear: Does one trust more in one's sense of the divine or in Christian tradition? Could it really be that what one so clearly sees is so wrong? On the other hand could it really be that thousands of years of the finer minds in Christian theology got it so wrong?

Sounds like an ominous question, but let's do some reality check here: Christ does not ask us to avoid holding false beliefs. What He asks is to follow *Him*: In loving God, in loving each other, in obeying His commands, in having faith in God, in repenting and thus becoming like Him. If we do that – I think we all agree – we are quite safe one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

Scott W.,

That's my point. The doctrine of eternal torment corrodes the whole edifice.

If it's true, thoughtful people wouldn't reproduce, for both prudential and moral reasons.

No thoughtful person would bring something into being that faces a strong probability of ending up in a state of ETERNAL torment.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

4. Subjecting a person to risk of infinite loss sans consent is immoral

This premise is silly. Do I subject my friend to the risk of infinite loss when I go to the restroom, because in my absence he'll have the opportunity to steal something from me and thereby sin mortally?

Of course, if he is in a state of grace, then he must steal voluntarily in order to suffer infinite loss. If that would be sufficient for him to be consenting to infinite loss, then so would be my children's opting to sin mortally after they have been baptized. So on any plausible reading of (4), (5) is false.

That's not an argument.

It is simply ridiculous for you to make this accusation of Scott W. Your original post on this topic made anything but an argument. You mused that maybe there is some connection between eternal torment and anti-natalism (Shouldn't the prospect of eternal torment entail anti-natalism?). Then you suggested that the possible connection "might" give the believer in the former "second thoughts", and you guess that the connection has occurred to some Catholic parents.

That is no argument. Scott is right to point out that it seems tacitly consequentialist; at the very least, it is relying on material ethical assumptions that have to be stated for the argument to be cogent.

When you finally do lay out an argument, there is much huffing and puffing about how ineluctable it is supposed to be:

The doctrine of hell necessarily leads, on pain of irrationality, to anti-natalism.

I could understand the insistence that anti-natalism "necessarily" follows, for all rational persons, from the doctrine of hell if we'd been given a detailed argument with a full consideration of possible objections, as well as a recognition of the fact that (4) is prima facie suspicious and is the argument's weak point. But that isn't what we were given.

Can someone, consistently, hold to the doctrine of hell without holding to anti-natalism? Well, obviously yes. There is just way too much logical distance between those two theses for a "necessary" unavoidable connection. To get from hell to anti-natalism, it is going to be required to invoke a handful of auxiliary assumptions. To think that all of those will be obviously true to any thinking person is just bluster taking the place of argument.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

What He asks is to follow *Him*: In loving God, in loving each other, in obeying His commands, in having faith in God, in repenting and thus becoming like Him. If we do that – I think we all agree – we are quite safe one way or the other.

As a Christian, I say, "Yes, I agree with that."

But if things are going to be simplified to the point that, "Yes, I agree with that," is a likely response from the Christian, why not simplify things so that, "Yes, I agree with that," is a likely response from even the non-Christian:

We are to do good, and to avoid evil.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

Please keep it civil. Your reply is a string of emotional mischaracterizations of my clearly stated premise-by-premise argument. Your reply has done nothing to advance the discussion.

Re: premise #4 - you've obviously misunderstood it.

A gamble with the possibility of an infinite loss is never a good bet, even if there's the possibility of infinite gain. By reproducing we impose that gamble on a being who had no choice in whether they are willing to take on that gamble.

If one believes in the doctrine of eternal torment, they must acknowledge that by having a child they are bringing a being into the world that will potentially suffer ETERNAL torment. And given Jesus' remarks about the "narrow way" and "few" finding it, we are left with the likelihood that one is bringing a being into that world that WILL end up in a state of ETERNAL torment.

It's not hard to see how that would entail prudential and moral reasons for avoiding reproduction.

The notion of eternal torment has very unwelcome consequences for our most cherished beliefs and values.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

A gamble with the possibility of an infinite loss is never a good bet, even if there's the possibility of infinite gain. By reproducing we impose that gamble on a being who had no choice in whether they are willing to take on that gamble.

Just as when I go to the restroom, I impose a gamble on my friend, who had no choice in whether he was willing to take on that gamble?

You may think that my reply "has done nothing to advance the discussion," but it may only seem that way to you because you have not attempted to respond to my argument that (4) contains ambiguities and that, on the reading that renders (4) plausible, (5) is false. If your claim is that I've misunderstood (4), then you can at least attempt to clarify by saying how you take it to apply to my example.

It's odd to accuse me of misunderstanding since, on the one hand, I was asking a clarifying question and, on the other hand, in doing so I was implicitly offering a dilemma, the horns of which involve alternative readings of what it means to 'consent' to the possibility of eternal punishment. My argument's point of departure was what I saw as an ambiguity in (4), and your response reproduces the same ambiguity. It neither grasps a horn nor attempts to reject the dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

Your bathroom analogy is not apt.

You are not imposing anything, let alone a gamble, on your friend who is going to the washroom the way a person who reproduces imposes the gamble of infinite gain or loss on a new being.

Please clearly state the ambiguities in premise 4.




Brandon said...

Please keep it civil. Your reply is a string of emotional mischaracterizations of my clearly stated premise-by-premise argument. Your reply has done nothing to advance the discussion.

Given that (1) Greg did in fact give an argument about why your premise was silly; and (2) you immediately go on to explain a premise that was misunderstood (and therefore not so clearly stated) in the attempt to show that it is not, in fact, absurd if understood correctly; your very comment shows that this claim is entirely false: your argument was not clearly stated, he addressed your specific premises with specific arguments, and his reply did indeed advance the discussion by giving you an opportunity to provide a clarification for how a premise should be interpreted. Criticize all you please, but do not lie about your interlocutor.

You are not imposing anything, let alone a gamble, on your friend who is going to the washroom the way a person who reproduces imposes the gamble of infinite gain or loss on a new being.

One certainly is imposing one one's friend in the case in question, since one is introducing opportunities for temptation that would not have otherwise occurred, in exactly the way Greg had noted, and opening an opportunity for temptation to mortal sin involves the same infinite gain and loss (by the definition of mortal sin). So please state, precisely, where and why the parallel breaks down.

Greg said...

To make explicit the dilemma: I asked:

Do I subject my friend to the risk of infinite loss [sans his consent] when I go to the restroom, because in my absence he'll have the opportunity to steal something from me and thereby sin mortally?

The answer to this question is yes or no. I can imagine either sort of answer, depending on how the consent clause is read.

Yes: If one answers affirmatively (I have subjected my friend to the risk of infinite loss without consent), then there is still a question of whether I acted rightly or wrongly. It is not plausible to say that I acted wrongly, here, so if (4) is to imply that I did, then (4) is false.

No: If one answers negatively (I have not subjected my friend to the risk of infinite loss without consent), then this is either because my friend did consent or because I have not subjected him to the risk of infinite loss. If my friend did consent, then presumably that is because in freely stealing, he is thought to be consenting to the consequences of stealing (implausible as that thesis is, generally speaking). Then, as I said originally:

If that would be sufficient for him to be consenting to infinite loss, then so would be my children's opting to sin mortally after they have been baptized. So on any plausible reading of (4), (5) is false.

You apparently want to take the other horn. In going to the restroom and providing my friend with an opportunity to act in such a way that he goes to hell, I have, in fact, not imposed the risk of infinite loss on him.

This judgment is meant to be held consistently with the following: If I have children and baptize them, then I am imposing on them a risk of infinite loss.

The two cases, though, are not relevantly different, and these two judgments cannot be held consistently. After a child is baptized, original sin is removed, and the child receives sanctifying grace. The child can lose it the same way my friend can; I do not recognize the purported distinction between the ways I impose and do not impose the risk of losing that grace on my child and on my friend.

It was because this position is so obscure that I did not address this reading beforehand.

There is one other point. Sanctifying grace can only be lost through a free action. The language of "risks" and "gambles" is consequently inappropriate for describing the possibility of a person's losing sanctifying grace, to the extent that it connotes that there is something random or stochastic involved in a person's losing sanctifying grace. While I wouldn't say anything so bold as that universalism "necessarily leads, on pain of irrationality," to the denial of genuine human agency, it certainly has that tendency.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Greg

“Do I subject my friend to the risk of infinite loss when I go to the restroom, because in my absence he'll have the opportunity to steal something from me and thereby sin mortally?”

I don't think that stealing a purse is a mortal sin. But suppose it were. Then to do something that tempts somebody else to act in a way that will probably result in endless suffering is indeed immoral, isn't it?

But the main reason I find your counterargument doesn't work is this: Once we have entered life we are responsible for our own choices – even when tempted by others. But the original argument was about forcing a person to be born, an event which may well result in endless suffering.

Incidentally there are more absurdities that appear to follow from hellism:

Suppose a charitable person were to murder hundreds of babies immediately after they are baptized explaining that in this way she will certainly go to hell, but thanks to the sacrifice of her own soul hundreds of other souls will safely go to heaven. What is wrong with that explanation?

It seems we have here an entire class of arguments in this form:

1. If hellism is true then to do X is moral.
2. To do X is not moral.
3. Therefore, hellism is not true.

Kurt said...

So, since it is usually bad to enter into a scary situation or to put others into one, it can seem bad for God to send people to hell. But of course, it is not in fact always and intrinsically bad to enter such a situation or to put others into one. For example, it is scary to undergo major surgery, but sometimes it is nevertheless good to do so or good to recommend that others do so

Recommending major surgery is not good because it is scary, but because of the results of the surgery. If the surgery is to repair a shattered leg, what is good is being able to walk again. Thus recommending surgery is perfectly consistent with willing the good of another (love). My question is how is hell compatible with God's love? If God wills the good of person X, and person X goes to hell, doesn't this require that hell is good for person X? What am I missing? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Greg and Brandon,

Dial down the browbeating.

Let's revisit the issue.

The question at hand: Should one reproduce knowing that one's offspring might experience eternal torment? Specifically, should one reproduce knowing that eternal torment is the more probable outcome for one's child given Jesus' remarks regarding the narrow way and few finding it. The "should" in this question can be read as - is it prudent and moral?

The 6 premise argument I gave above is logically valid but its soundness is contestable since premise 4 can be challenged.

1. Hell is infinite loss
2. Heaven is infinite gain
3. Every person will experience either infinite loss or infinite gain
4. Subjecting a person to risk of infinite loss sans consent is immoral
5. Procreation subjects a person to a risk of infinite loss sans consent
6. Therefore, procreation is immoral

Premise 4 expansive rephrasing: bringing a being into the existential bind of freely choosing infinite loss or gain and facing the eternal consequences imposes the most dramatic of risks given that eternal torment is the worst possible state for a human; given the catastrophic possibility of eternal torment, bringing a being into this scenario without their consent is immoral, especially since the realization of this catastrophic possibility is more likely than the happier alternative. Obviously a non-being cannot give consent, but that only reinforces premise 4.

Furthermore, I would assert that the lack of opportunity for infinite gain is not a loss or harm for an unborn/potential person.

The following auxiliary premise would, I believe strengthen 6: we have the duty to minimize the population of hell. Not reproducing would certainly help with that.

Now for the bathroom analogy.

It doesn't apply b/c the friend already exists whereas a parent births into existence a being that did not previously exist and thus places the new being in the existential bind of either freely choosing infinite gain or infinite loss and facing the eternal consequences, an existential bind that could have been avoided had the new being not been birthed. The friend is already in the existential bind and you had nothing to do with bringing them from a state of non-existence into the state of said existential bind. Hence, it's a disanalogy because the issue is the propriety of birthing a new being that faces eternal torment as a probable final state, not the interaction between two persons that are already living through that existential bind.

The language of risk is applicable b/c the existential bind involves choice, different outcomes and uncertainty. When a parent births a new being the parent is taking the risk of bringing into existence a being that will freely choose infinite loss. A parent takes the risk of increasing the population of hell.

Birthing a bundle of joy certainly seems to be an intrinsic good. But the strong possibility that the bundle of joy will exist in a final state of eternal torment should raise serious scruples about the prudence and morality of reproduction.

Anonymous said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis

Re: the absurdities that follow from hellism - exactly!

The hellist doctrine upturns our whole moral edifice. My argument is essentially a reductio ad absurdum since reproduction is an intrinsic good.

Brandon said...

Anonymous,

You could have easily dialed down the "browbeating" yourself by simply focusing on the argument rather than on dishonestly characterizing Greg's response, as you did originally, and simply focusing on the argument. It's not complicated; if you don't like people pointing out that you were being dishonest, don't say dishonest things.

Obviously in your explanation, the only concept that is doing major work is that of an "existential bind". Note that this is a completely new introduction: it is not explicit in your original premise, and is not an obvious way of reading it, and yet it is the one and only thing that you are putting forward to distinguish the procreative case (in which one makes it possible for person to be tempted to mortal sin and thus risk infinite loss) from the creating-opportunity-for-temptation case (in which one also makes it possible for a person to be tempted to mortal sin and thus risk infinite loss).

But this, of course, means that your original premise can only be understood to mean:

Subjecting a person to an existential bind in which they risk infinite loss is immoral

(Consent, as you yourself note, is completely irrelevant.) There are two things, however, that are still unclear about this premise:

(1) What does it mean to subject a person to an existential bind? Procreators, for instance, are not creating the 'existential bind'; nor are they the causes of a person being in it; they just generate the persons, and given broader circumstances over which the procreators have no control, the existential bind exists.

(2) What moral principles are supposed establish this premise as a moral truth? It doesn't seem to be analytic and it's not as if "subjecting a person to an existential bind" is a common thing; and your rejection of the analogy of the bathroom case establishes clearly that the moral principles involved here are not general -- it is inconsistent with your rejection of the analogy to say, for instance, that it follows from a more general principle that subjecting people to risk of infinite loss is immoral. Thus the question arises pretty straightforwardly: what is supposed to establish the truth of the premise?

When a parent births a new being the parent is taking the risk of bringing into existence a being that will freely choose infinite loss. A parent takes the risk of increasing the population of hell.

Birthing a bundle of joy certainly seems to be an intrinsic good. But the strong possibility that the bundle of joy will exist in a final state of eternal torment should raise serious scruples about the prudence and morality of reproduction.


There are a number of countervailing considerations.
[1] The fact that the new person is freely choosing seems to indicate pretty clearly that he or she is responsible for that fact, not his or her parents.
[2] It's pretty clearly no one's view that hell is simply inevitable, even given the difficulties, so this mitigates the risk in the first place.
[3] An intrinsic good is not nullified by conjoined bad; that your argument does not consider the intrinsic good of a person and how it affects the question is a defect.
[4] Your handling of risk and how it relates to prudence appears to be tutioristic: that is, for your argument to go through moral safety in the face of risk has to trump possibility of good, which is a tutioristic principle. (This is in fact almost universal with respect to anti-natalist arguments of any kind, so it's perhaps not surprising.) However, tutiorism is not the only option on the table (and indeed is considered heretical by at least Catholics), and is not a popular understanding of prudence in general. It needs justification. Perhaps this is found in the moral justification of premise 4, but as we don't have such a justification, as noted above, it's not really possible to say.

Anonymous said...

Brandon,

I told Mark W. that his reply wasn't an argument. That doesn't run afoul of even the strictest standard of conversational etiquette.

Your reply is difficult to follow. But I'll try my best.

God is responsible for the existential bind but humans can abstain from adding more people to the existential bind by not reproducing.

I didn't say consent is irrelevant. I said the inability of a non-existent person to give consent only strengthens the thrust of premise 4.

Every one faces risk in their everyday life. Some options carry too much risk for us to try (i.e. creating a fire indoors to roast marshmallows). For the most part, we decide what risk/rewards we are willing to take on. Generally, imposing risks on others cannot be done without due consideration.

I take it to be non-controversial that imposing a very risky scenario on a person without their consent is immoral (i.e. investing a client's money in a very risky stock without their consent; subjecting a person to very risky medical treatments without their consent).

If that's true for a scenario that involves imposed finite risks, it would be equally true for a scenario that involves imposed infinite risk (i.e. being birthed, entering the existential bind, freely choosing infinite loss and thereby experiencing eternal torment).

The prospect of eternal torment makes reproduction an act that imposes infinite risk on a being that had no say in the matter.

Yes, a person is of intrinsic value, which makes the conjoining of this intrinsic value with the prospect of eternal torment a curious and untenable one.

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

I don't think that stealing a purse is a mortal sin.

The particular example was irrelevant. The point is just that I've provided my friend with some opportunity to commit a mortal sin.

But suppose it were. Then to do something that tempts somebody else to act in a way that will probably result in endless suffering is indeed immoral, isn't it?

This depends on what you mean by 'tempt'. If to tempt is just to cause someone, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to have an opportunity to commit a mortal sin, then no.

Once we have entered life we are responsible for our own choices – even when tempted by others. But the original argument was about forcing a person to be born, an event which may well result in endless suffering.

I wholeheartedly agree that we are responsible for our own choices. I also think that any children I might later have will be responsible for their own choices, though by baptizing them I would avail them of sanctifying grace and give them the opportunity to cooperate with it.

More relevantly for our purposes, you are pointing toward a distinction here. On the one hand, that the two cases are different in that my friend already exists while the child does not. The problem with distinctions, though, is that they must be shown to be relevant. I don't see an argument here for the relevance of this distinction--after all, if the problem with having a child given the doctrine of hell is supposed to be that it might choose in such a way that it be damned, how can it be permissible to allow my friend to be put in a position in which he might choose to damn himself? I'm not going to try to make up this argument for you.

I flag, though, the continued universalist slippage into language which removes human agency: having a child is "an event which may well result in endless suffering."

Suppose a charitable person were to murder hundreds of babies immediately after they are baptized explaining that in this way she will certainly go to hell, but thanks to the sacrifice of her own soul hundreds of other souls will safely go to heaven. What is wrong with that explanation?

The problem with her explanation is its consequentialism. The problem with this example is its failure to attempt to show why this would count as a good action within the bounds of, say, Thomas Aquinas's moral theory, or some other theological ethics. The other problem with this example philosophically is that, if it is a good argument against the doctrine of hell, then it is also a good argument against universalism, since on universalism you can kill the children and get an even better result: they go on to enjoy the beatific vision, and so do you!

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

I told [Scott] W. that his reply wasn't an argument. That doesn't run afoul of even the strictest standard of conversational etiquette.

My initial complaint was explicit. It wasn't merely to your telling Scott that his reply wasn't an argument. It was to doing so after you'd offered your own non-argument, of which my original summary remains accurate:

Your original post on this topic made anything but an argument. You mused that maybe there is some connection between eternal torment and anti-natalism (Shouldn't the prospect of eternal torment entail anti-natalism?). Then you suggested that the possible connection "might" give the believer in the former "second thoughts", and you guess that the connection has occurred to some Catholic parents.

Again, for Scott to point out the possible consequentialism of your reasoning, if it may be called that, was entirely legitimate. The connection between the doctrine of hell and anti-natalism, if it were to be thought defensible, would have at least to be defended, as you had not.

Then you did produce an argument. When I tried to apply (4) to concrete cases other than procreation, I found that it was ambiguous, and no reading I could conceive could render the argument sound. So I said as much. At first it was said that I was misunderstanding, then simply that the analogy wasn't apt. (NB: It isn't an analogy; it is an attempt to apply a purportedly general principle to a case to get a clear idea of what the principle means and to appreciate the scope of its ambiguities.) But finally we received an 'expansive rephrasing' that, as Brandon notes, introduces a novel concept of an 'existential bind' and is not an obvious reading of the original premise. Brandon also rightly notes that this expansive rephrasing raises a host of new questions.

This all bears out my original point, which has been described as "emotional" "browbeating": that is, that the original statement of the argument contained "much huffing and puffing about how ineluctable it is supposed to be". This was entirely correct; the argument's key premise did contain ambiguities, the attempted resolution of which has rendered the argument anything but rationally unavoidable.

Rational unavoidability is the ideal for a philosophical argument. But it's hard to get, if it is ever attained. If an argument is good, then the person reading it will feel pursued at every turn, unable to find a premise he can comfortably reject. Your argument does not approach that ideal. As in Dianelos' example, there is no attempt to show why, say, a Thomist would view (4) as a consequence of the first principles of practical reason, and I do not feel remotely compelled to hold it.

All of that said, I have little to add to what Brandon has said. If your rephrased argument seems clear to you, then I'm not going to try to argue you out of that. What continues to strike me as wholly inappropriate was the purporting to have some sort of knockdown argument for a tendentious conclusion when, in fact, the argument was fatally undeveloped. It was likewise wholly unappropriate to impugn the faith, integrity, and rationality of believing Catholics on the basis of an argument so lacking in probity.

Brandon said...

I told Mark W. that his reply wasn't an argument. That doesn't run afoul of even the strictest standard of conversational etiquette.

(1) Scott W. was answering your question. Whether or not your response runs afoul of "even the strictest standard of conversational etiquette" depends on whether and to what extent Scott W. had any reason to think that he needed to do more than give a response to your question, and the related question of whether he had any obligation to provide an argument; depending on the exact answer to such questions, it might be you were just reminding him of what he was supposed to be doing in the first place, or it might be that you were being a jackass to someone answering your question, which latter certainly would run afoul of the strictest standard of conversational etiquette. Given the situation, a wide variety of judgments on this point is possible.
(2) You lied outright about Greg's response in order to score merely rhetorical points. That runs afoul of even the most elementary standards of intellectual integrity.

God is responsible for the existential bind but humans can abstain from adding more people to the existential bind by not reproducing.

So it seems that your premise needs to be changed yet again. Instead of

Subjecting a person to an existential bind in which they risk infinite loss is immoral

it needs to be something more like

Adding more people who would be in an existential bind in which they risk infinite loss is immoral.

Very notably, every time you clarify, your premise becomes less and less the kind of thing that would be a part of ordinary morality, thus increasing the need for a rigorous rational justification. But we don't get any such thing; see below.

I didn't say consent is irrelevant. I said the inability of a non-existent person to give consent only strengthens the thrust of premise 4.

Since premise 4, by your explicit explanation of why Greg's analogy failed, only applies to people who are non-existent ("a parent births into existence a being that did not previously exist and thus places the new being in the existential bind"), consent is in fact irrelevant to it. If premise 4 applied to beings capable of consent, your argument for why Greg's analogy failed would be wrong.

I take it to be non-controversial that imposing a very risky scenario on a person without their consent is immoral

This is exactly the point at which Greg built his analogy: that imposing on someone a situation, without their consent, in which they may be tempted to mortal sin is immoral, so casual actions that risked the possibility of such situations would then all be immoral. This is exactly what is operative in Greg's analogy. Thus you are now committing yourself again to the parallel holding, when before you said it didn't. You explicitly restricted the applicability to cases of 'existential bind' in order to avoid the parallel.

You still haven't addressed the tutiorism issue, which is actually a very serious one here, and is a sign that your moral justification for premise 4 is not adequate, even setting aside the fact that, as just noted, you seem to have contradicted yourself in explaining the premise.

Anonymous said...

Any god who would inflict torment is a satanic beast, and is his own Antichrist.

You, Edward Feser, worship the devil. Ditto Aquinas.

Get thee hence.

Anonymous said...

Brandon and Greg,

So much hostility. Chill out. Pettiness detracts from reasoned discourse and the quality of this forum. It's a disservice to all of us.

Greg,

"It was likewise wholly unappropriate to impugn the faith, integrity, and rationality of believing Catholics on the basis of an argument so lacking in probity."

Presenting an argument relevant to philosophical theology on a philosophical theology site is offensive? Okay.

Brandon,

"(2) You lied outright about Greg's response in order to score merely rhetorical points. That runs afoul of even the most elementary standards of intellectual integrity."

Lied? Come on. I said Scott's reply to my initial comment wasn't an argument. And it wasn't.

As for your latest response, yes the bathroom analogy remains a disanalogy with respect to premise 4.

Thanks for the exchange. It helped refine my thinking on the matter.

Brandon said...

"Lied? Come on. I said Scott's reply to my initial comment wasn't an argument. And it wasn't. "

As I said, you lied about Greg's response. This was already pointed out to you in my very first comment; not realizing it this late in the game merely shows that you aren't bothering to read the people you are responding to.

"As for your latest response, yes the bathroom analogy remains a disanalogy with respect to premise 4."

In some famous words: This is not an argument.

Noachide said...

It is often pointed out that Judaism has a more "this-worldly" focus than chr*stianity (which is obvious from comparing the TaNa"KH with the "new testament"). Propagandists and shallow thinkers often leave the impression that this is because Judaism doesn't have much of a commitment to a belief in the afterlife. This is not so. The real reason for the focus on "Torah and mitzvot" in this world rather than the state of the soul after death or the life of the World to Come is simply because of Judaism's statutory worldview. Because man never fell into the possession of an evil "anti-G-d," "eternal damnation" is not his only and inevitable fate unless he somehow is "ransomed" by the G-d Who created him. Man is not walking a tightrope between a one-size-fits-all eternal damnation on one hand and a one-size-fits-all paradise on the other. Man's goal in life is not "salvation" but tiqqun (completion or reparation), and everyone dies somewhere along this road. Neither spotless perfection nor "salvation" by a "man-gxd" is necessary to avoid "eternal damnation." While a few people have reached great levels of holiness and many many more have fallen to a level of demonic evil, most people fall somewhere in between. Whatever recompense awaits the soul after death, it is based on G-d's unique judgement of the totality of a man's life and circumstances, and there is probably much more available to him than either paradise or "eternal damnation." This is why the basic philosophy of Judaism towards eternity is that recorded in Pirqei 'Avot in the Mishnah: "Lo' `aleykha hamela'khah ligmor, 'aval lo' 'attah ben chorin lehibbatel mimennah" ("you are not responsible to finish the work, but neither are you free to withdraw from it"). Again, each individual must obey G-d's statutes to the best of his ability so that when he appears before G-d in judgement he has made progress in his journey.
http://redneck_rastafarian.tripod.com/diff.html

Vincent Torley said...

Ed writes: "If someone says to you: "Don't smoke so much, or you'll get cancer, and here's why," it is silly to respond : "How callous of you to tell me I'm in danger of getting cancer!"

Fair point. But what if someone says to you: "Don't smoke so much, or you'll get cancer, and none of your non-smoking friends who managed to avoid cancer will care. In fact, they'll even gloat over your torment," is it so silly to respond : "How callous of you to tell me that!"?

Here's another question. Think of the person in the world who is nearest and dearest to you. Could you imagine wanting to enter Heaven, knowing that that person had gone to Hell, and knowing also that that person had no hidden character flaws that might have altered the way you feel about them?

Here's a final question. Suppose you could take a magic red pill to stop you feeling any grief over the damnation of your dearly beloved. Would you?

I raise these questions not to discredit the idea of Hell as such, but in order to criticize certain notions of it: specifically, the notions that:

(i) notwithstanding a person's many virtues (including the greatest virtue of all, which is charity), they can be damned for a single vice;
(ii) damnation can be the result of dying at the wrong time (so that a person who has acquired a vice would have been saved if they had died while still young or in infancy);
(iii) damnation involves the Divine infliction of pain on the damned (something which Aquinas certainly believed);
(iv) it is proper to rejoice at someone's suffering everlasting pain; and
(v) the soul, once separated from the body, is automatically and permanently locked into a state of either love or enmity towards God, supposedly because it is incapable of engaging in discursive reasoning (I have previously explained that it would be no problem for God to continually feed images to the intellect of a separated soul, if He so wished).

I would also argue that no-one is damned unless God does everything possible (in some post-mortem state of review) to bring that person to their senses, and encourage them to choose salvation, and that those who are damned suffer the pains of bitterness and self-inflicted loneliness, but no physical fire.

Finally, I would maintain that if you know that someone near and dear to you is a fundamentally good person, notwithstanding their vices, then it goes without saying that God knows that too, and that He will take that into account.

Ilíon said...

^ Mr Torley, you're a Christian ... stop trying to be a pagan,

(i) We are all born damned, that is our "natural" state. We don't "go to Hell" because of our individual acts of sin, but because we refuse to acknowledge that we can't "get to Heaven" under our own steam; Everyone's "many virtues" are as filthy rags ... and indistinguishable from their alleged "single vice";

(ii) once again, a false assumption (a host of them, probably) leads to a false conclusion; as to the state of those who died without hearing the name of Christ (whether Aztec or infant) ... trust to the love and goodness of God. If a person doesn't trust that God has made provision to save all the souls it is possible to save, then that person doesn't love God, and certainly will not want to "spend eternity" face to face with him.

Even "in Hell" they "live and move and have their being" in God -- nothing that exists and nothing that happens does so without God not merely allowing it to be but actively upholding its reality. So, yes, IF God sustains the continued existence of the damned "in Hell" (instead of them giving them annihilation), THEN “damnation involves the Divine infliction of pain on the damned” … and also upon God himself … if the damned exist in a state of damnation “for all eternity” than their existence is even more a torment to God than it is to themselves.

But, is it even possible for God to “uncreate” the damned? God only knows.

(iii) It is proper to rejoice when justice is done; it is proper to rejoice that all souls live the fate they have freely chosen;

(iv) It is proper to rejoice when justice is done; it is proper to rejoice that all souls live the fate they have freely chosen;

(v) *Finally* a criticism that isn’t pointless;

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ilion,

You write: "We are all born damned, that is our 'natural' state." That's not Christianity, it's not Catholicism and it's not Orthodoxy either. That's the Protestant doctrine of the total depravity of man. Genesis 1:31 says: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Since the Fall, we are born in a state of Original Sin. That means we are not born children of God. But that doesn't make us children of the Devil. even in a fallen state, we are fundamentally good. And while it is true that we can't do anything good without God's grace, it is also true that we can't do anything bad without God's grace, either.

You suggest that the damnation of the wicked inflicts torment upon God himself. Interesting idea, but I think you'd be hard put to find any Church Father supporting it.

Re the Divine infliction of pain: surely separation from the One in Whom we live and move and have our being is painful in and of itself. In that case, it is hard to see what purpose the infliction of additional pain (i.e. fire) serves.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Presenting an argument relevant to philosophical theology on a philosophical theology site is offensive? Okay.

No. I have no problem with arguments. Your problems, recall, began before you ever presented an argument, when you mused about the connection between the doctrine of hell and anti-natalism, and supposed that either Catholics don't really believe the former or else are failing to act on the recognized consequences thereof, and thus showing a lack of integrity:

I'm sure this has occurred to more than a few parents of large Catholic families. If you have 12 kids, what are the chances that all of them will make it to heaven?

I think most people in practical terms don't take the doctrine seriously, or have a strong sense of being destined for heaven.


When you gave the argument, you suggested that its force is obvious and those who reject it irrational.

I have a problem with presumptions made about other's faith and integrity on the basis of an exceedingly flimsy argument. You wouldn't get polemics from me if you'd started by saying, "Hey, here's an argument that the doctrine of hell implies anti-natalism. What do you guys think?" Nor, even, would you get polemics from me if, after Scott W. gave an entirely legitimate response to your non-argument, you had said, "Ok, well, here is my line of thinking on the matter."

Instead, you were rude and unfair to Scott W., and, out of proportion to the quality of your argument, you have shouted checkmate throughout the conversation. Those are examples of incivility and pettiness detracting from reasoned discourse, if anyone needed them.

It remains true that (4) was silly. It remains true that your initial response, blaming Scott W. for not giving an argument, was ridiculous. It has been borne out that the rumors of your argument's probity were greatly exaggerated.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Presenting an argument relevant to philosophical theology on a philosophical theology site is offensive? Okay.

No. The complaint was not merely to your presenting an argument. It is dishonest to cast that as the point made in my most recent post.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn

“Refusing to accept the choice a person freely makes constitutes showing respect for that person's freedom of choice?”

Nobody in her right mind “chooses” to go to hell. That's by definition impossible. What does hold is that many people choose the path that leads to hell, a path which one's taken is increasingly difficult to repent from. There's a big difference between the two.

”But if things are going to be simplified to the point that, "Yes, I agree with that," is a likely response from the Christian, why not simplify things so that, "Yes, I agree with that," is a likely response from even the non-Christian:

We are to do good, and to avoid evil.”


What is bad with “simple”? I mean “We are to do good and to avoid evil” is the gist of Christ's call – after all by doing good and avoiding evil one becomes like Christ. A very simple thing indeed, and one I don't realize in my own life.

In the times of Jesus of Nazareth the Samaritans were a hated and despised people, traitors to the true faith. Yet when Christ tells the story of the “Good Samaritan” isn't He telling us not only that one shouldn't hate and despise anybody but also that what really counts is to be good? After all, in that story who you think followed Christ, the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan?

I wonder sometimes whether all the ceremonial and dogmatic jewels with which we have enriched Christianity don't sometimes obscure this fundamental and very simple truth about what God wishes for us.

Let us not confuse the means with the ends. The knowledge of Christ is a blessing in that it illuminates for us the path to salvation and gives us strength to walk on it. But the end is to walk on that path.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 3:49 PM

"The hellist doctrine upturns our whole moral edifice."

Right. All universalists I know hate the doctrine of hell because we find it immoral and diminishing of God and diminishing of Christ's sacrifice and an obstacle for following Christ's last command to love God and to love our neighbor. I understand that the problem of hell is always hashed out in moral terms. And of course if the doctrine of hell is true then the name of the gospels “evangelion” as in “good news” becomes a parody.

But many hellists think that we hate the doctrine of hell because we hate the idea that we risk infinite punishment. Which is also true. Speaking for myself I do of course hate the idea that anybody risks infinite punishment, not only for the monstrosity of this possible destiny for myself, but also because hellism destroys the possibility of *any* good destiny for myself. For I couldn't rejoice in heaven knowing that even one person is for ever living devoid of hope in hell. Never mind being moreover roasted alive for ever in hell.

When in the gospels Christ so often speaks of salvation as “life” and of damnation as “death”, and when Gehenna (usually translated as “hell”) was the place outside Jerusalem's walls where pestilent garbage and unburied cadavers were burned and thus destroyed – I wonder why within Christian tradition at least some kind of annihilationism didn't take root. The bit about “ever burning fire” could easily be interpreted as making the point that nobody who definitely rejects God will ever be saved from destruction, and the “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth” could be interpreted as a response to the imminent destruction of the self.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Greg

”I don't see an argument here for the relevance of this distinction--after all, if the problem with having a child given the doctrine of hell is supposed to be that it might choose in such a way that it be damned, how can it be permissible to allow my friend to be put in a position in which he might choose to damn himself?”

The distinction is that I can't avoid putting my friend in a position in which he might choose the path to hell. But I can easily avoid putting a child of mine in that position, namely by not procreating.
”The problem with her explanation is its consequentialism.”

The moral theory of consequentialism fails as a complete theory, but this does not mean that we shouldn't use consequentialism in our moral thought. Indeed we do it every day of our lives. For example I enjoy sitting on the beach and throwing stones into the sea, but I never do it when there people swimming in front of me because of the possible consequence of hitting somebody.

”The problem with this example is its failure to attempt to show why this would count as a good action within the bounds of, say, Thomas Aquinas's moral theory”

Does Thomas Aquinas's moral theory prohibit sacrificing oneself for the profit of the many?

”The other problem with this example philosophically is that, if it is a good argument against the doctrine of hell, then it is also a good argument against universalism, since on universalism you can kill the children and get an even better result: they go on to enjoy the beatific vision, and so do you!”

Not at all. On universalism neither the killed babies nor the baby killer will go directly to heaven. In the afterlife the babies must walk the path of repentance to salvation, and the baby killer must do the same and will have a much harder time doing it.

Universalism is a simple idea and I am surprised how often people seem to misunderstand it. Basically it says that through Christ's sacrifice death is truly vanquished, which means that both conscious and salvific life continue after it. I understand Aquinas produced some metaphysical reasoning why conscious but not salvific life will continue after death, but the whole thing looks clearly ad-hoc for me. I mean we are talking about God here. If God wants salvific life to continue after death then there is certainly no logical impossibility that would stop God from doing it. At least I haven't see anything even only resembling an argument that shows that it is impossible for salvific life to continue after death. If it is possible before death, why should it be impossible after death?

So in conclusion I still don't see what given hellism is wrong with the baby killer's explanation. But if hellism makes it reasonable to commit heinous crimes then hellism cannot be true.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Ilíon

”if the damned exist in a state of damnation “for all eternity” than their existence is even more a torment to God than it is to themselves.”

”it is proper to rejoice that all souls live the fate they have freely chosen”

Isn't there a contradiction here? God is both tormented and rejoices in the fate of the damned? If so, aren't the saints in heaven better off than God, since presumably they will only rejoice but not partake in the fate of the damned?

Incidentally I agree with the premise of the first statement. Given theism's metaphysics God experiences all that is experienced. But I strongly disagree with the second statement. For example if somebody chooses to smoke and in the end suffers lung cancer – this does not in any way constitute grounds for rejoicing. Only for regret and pity and hope that she will recover. But the perdition of the soul is a kind of illness – a loss of its natural state – and the wages of spiritual illness should elicit in us the same kind of response: pity and hope for recovery.

Ilíon said...

Vincent Torley: "You suggest ..."

I'm a man, and I speak as a man, not an pussified academic -- I don't "suggest", I state.

Vincent Torley: "You write: "We are all born damned, that is our 'natural' state." That's not Christianity, it's not Catholicism and it's not Orthodoxy either. That's the Protestant doctrine of the total depravity of man."

So, what you're really suggesting is that Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) isn't really Christian. Hell! you're also suggesting that Pelagianism is compatible with Catholicism (and Orthodoxy), after all.

Vincent Torley: "Since the Fall, we are born in a state of Original Sin. That means we are not born children of God. ... And while it is true that we can't do anything good without God's grace ..."

In other words, you have just suggested that "we are all born damned, that is our 'natural' state." You know, the very thing I stated.

What is this? you're violently agreeing with what I had said ... that is, you're playing that disreputable old game of "You're Right, Which Just Proves How Wrong You Are"

Vincent Torley: "even in a fallen state, we are fundamentally good"

Even the pre-Christian pagans knew that that isn’t true. It takes a “post-Christian” mindset to believe that howler.

Vincent Torley: "Since the Fall, we are born in a state of Original Sin. That means we are not born children of God. But that doesn't make us children of the Devil."

You introduced Satan; I said nothing about him.

Ilíon said...

Vincent Torley: "Since the Fall, we are born in a state of Original Sin. That means we are not born children of God. … And while it is true that we can't do anything good without God's grace, it is also true that we can't do anything bad without God's grace, either.

You suggest that the damnation of the wicked inflicts torment upon God himself. Interesting idea, but I think you'd be hard put to find any Church Father supporting it.
"

Do you have a point with that last statement? Are you suggesting that if no Church Father ever saw a specific logical implication of some Scriptural claim, that no one else in the entire history of the church is allowed to see it and state it?

Really, on this point, your dispute isn't with me, it's with claims made in the Gospel.

Look again at what you yourself have written -- "Since the Fall, we are born in a state of Original Sin. … it is true that we can't do anything good without God's grace, it is also true that we can't do anything bad without God's grace, either."

As I said (in the post you imagine you’re disputing): Even "in Hell" they "live and move and have their being" in God -- nothing that exists and nothing that happens does so without God not merely allowing it to be but actively upholding its reality.

God isn’t watching our lives, as though the world were a play or a movie; he is participating in our lives, he is living our lives *with* right here us.

Only God is self-existent -- *nothing* exists apart from God; *nothing* exists unless God participates in its existence. This is as true of the damned as of the redeemed. This is as true of sin as of righteousness.

So, since even the damned do not exist but that God participates in their existence, since even the damned do not act but that God participates in their action, … well, follow the logic.

Vincent Torley: "Re the Divine infliction of pain: surely separation from the One in Whom we live and move and have our being is painful in and of itself. In that case, it is hard to see what purpose the infliction of additional pain (i.e. fire) serves. "

Does God answer to you?

Look, “hellfire” is probably a metaphor … nearly everyone understands that. BUT, just as we don’t have the language to fully describe Heaven, so too, we don’t have the language to fully describe Hell.

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

The distinction is that I can't avoid putting my friend in a position in which he might choose the path to hell.

You may not be able to avoid that he wind up in such a position at some time or other, but you certainly can--by, say, your presence and actions if he attempts something--prevent him from committing particular mortal sins at particular times. And, again, if what is unacceptable is giving someone the opportunity, even unintentionally, to choose some course of action that would lead to his being damned, then it is not clear why doing so would not be immoral.

The moral theory of consequentialism fails as a complete theory, but this does not mean that we shouldn't use consequentialism in our moral thought.

Depends what your argument against consequentialism is. Some arguments would have it that the injunction to maximize goods and minimize evils is senseless, because goods and evils are not fungible. If one accepts such an argument against consequentialism, then it cannot even be invoked as a 'subroutine' of practical thought.

Indeed we [apply consequentialism] every day of our lives. For example I enjoy sitting on the beach and throwing stones into the sea, but I never do it when there people swimming in front of me because of the possible consequence of hitting somebody.

I'm not sure you know what consequentialism is.

Does Thomas Aquinas's moral theory prohibit sacrificing oneself for the profit of the many?

Sacrificing oneself? No. But what you mean is not sacrificing oneself, i.e., martyrdom, but rather dirtying one's hands. And Aquinas's moral theory does prohibit that.

That wasn't my point though. My point was just that you haven't tried to argue that the action in question, on the presupposition of the doctrine of hell, would be a good action in accordance with the first principles of practical reason, as Aquinas understands those. That would be necessary, though, if you hoped to show that a Thomist is committed to the conclusion you think he is.

On universalism neither the killed babies nor the baby killer will go directly to heaven. In the afterlife the babies must walk the path of repentance to salvation, and the baby killer must do the same and will have a much harder time doing it.

Well, nothing rides on this point, but I am assuming that it is some form of Thomism under discussion here, in which case the beatific vision is absolutely good, lacking nothing good, so the goodness of its eventual attainment is not mitigated by any form of purgation prior to its attainment.

Universalism is a simple idea and I am surprised how often people seem to misunderstand it.

I was not aware that there was a single theory called 'universalism'? I thought universalism was just the thesis that all are saved--I take it that universalism is therefore compatible with a variety of theses regarding whether all immediately saved after death or something else.

So in conclusion I still don't see what given hellism is wrong with the baby killer's explanation.

If her claim is that she's doing right by sending more souls to heaven than she is sending to hell, then, for a start, we can note that her explanation assumes the falsity of the Pauline principle.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ilion,

You claim that I actually suggested that "we are all born damned, that is our 'natural' state." Not so. What I wrote was: "Since the Fall, we are born in a state of Original Sin. That means we are not born children of God." That doesn't mean we're born damned. What it means is that we're born in Limbo, rather than Hell: Limbo would be our natural state, in the absence of supernatural grace.

You also wrote: "Look, 'hellfire' is probably a metaphor ... nearly everyone understands that. BUT, just as we don’t have the language to fully describe Heaven, so too, we don’t have the language to fully describe Hell."

My objection was not merely about fire as such, but about any additional infliction of pain by God. I wrote: "Re the Divine infliction of pain: surely separation from the One in Whom we live and move and have our being is painful in and of itself. In that case, it is hard to see what purpose the infliction of additional pain (i.e. fire) serves." Whether the pain be caused by fire or some other agent, the same logic applies.

By the way, Aquinas had no doubt that the fire of Hell is corporeal. He approvingly quotes St. Gregory the Great as saying as much: "On the contrary, He says (Dial. iv, 29): "I doubt not that the fire of hell is corporeal, since it is certain that bodies are tortured there." (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5097.htm#article5). I think he was wrong here, and I hope Ed does, too.

Anonymous said...

@Noahchide
Thanks for a bit of Jewish wisdom there. I have always considered "Refiners Fire" an eminantly sensible position. Funny how what is called Universalism here has always run through Jewish thought...did no one notice?

Gyan said...

Dianelos Georgoudis,

The idea of CS Lewis, presented in The Great Divorce, that the damned do not retain their integrity may resolve some of your problems with "hellism". The damned are no longer persons but merely remains of persons. This along with the observations, also made by CS Lewis, that "eternal" is not an endless stretch of time and the crucial element in Dominical teaching about hell is the finality of it.

As for post-mortem salvific life, who k nows the exact moment of metaphysical death? We know medical death but death as experienced by the soul, who knows?

Gyan said...

DNW,
You are correct that CS Lewis sought to focus on the choice made by the hellbound or heavenbound souls and not on the condition of souls in the hell.

Yet, I find rather implausible the portrayals of hellish souls in Catholic literature and philosophy that make the souls in hell just like souls on the earth. Humans were not made for the hell and one would expect drastic changes in the human personality there.

Ilíon said...

Gyan: "As for post-mortem salvific life, who k nows the exact moment of metaphysical death? We know medical death but death as experienced by the soul, who knows?"

In truth, we don't even understand physical death -- nor *when* it occurs, as a perusal of the news shows (*).

Gyan: "... Humans were not made for the hell and one would expect drastic changes in the human personality there."

A point that deserves to be emphasized.



(*) unless the organ-scavengers anesthetize the "corpses", it's not unheard of for "dead" people to "come back to life" as they are about to be strip-mined for spare parts.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Gyan

”As for post-mortem salvific life, who knows the exact moment of metaphysical death? We know medical death but death as experienced by the soul, who knows?”

Well, perhaps we all can know. God has given us the cognitive capacity to discover truths, obviously not with perfect certainty but with enough warrant to make it rational to make choices according to them. Rationality is generally accepted as one of the implications of the fundamental theistic premise that we are created in God's image.

So how can we reason about the question you posit above? A fundamental premise in all theistic philosophy is St. Anselm's definition that God is the greatest conceivable being. We are on very secure ground here since it is absurd to think that God is less than the greatest conceivable being. A second premise is that there is no impossibility in the hypothesis that our salvific life will also survive the biological death of our bodies. After all we have no the slightest argument in that direction (except plainly ad-hoc arguments such as St. Aquinas's in the OP), and it seems clear that if God so wanted God could reincarnate us in the same condition we are now, having the same kind of body, living in the same kind of physical environment, having the same kind of relation to divine grace etc. So the only way forward is by considering what the greatest being we can conceive would *want* to be the case in the afterlife, and therefore would realize in the afterlife.

So what is that God would want? Here reason stops and faith starts, for we can only know this by the deliverances of our sense of the divine. Which is part of us, since we are made in the image of God. Given that and given how clear the answer is to me I need not tell you what I think God would want, since you can see it for yourself.

Now some will object to my “the only way forward” claim above. I meant that claim in the context of broadly understood *reasoning* about your question – say within the confines of natural theology. Actually it seems to me that our good Lord has given us various paths to spiritual truth, and I would like to mention a second, a third, and a fourth alternative:

2. Finding what God wants by considering the fruit each alternative answer produces in you. Above I have described that path – in short if a belief makes it more natural for you to follow Christ's commands then it comes from the truth, if not then it comes from deception.

3. Finding what God wants by personal acquaintance. By following Christ's commands one becomes more similar to Christ and thus knows God in a more plentiful and clear manner. The analogy here is that between the seed and the seedling. The seed is created in the image of the tree, but if the seed has grown even a little its similarity to the tree is greater and thus it is clearer to see how the tree is. Similarly our soul is created in the image of God, but by following Christ even a little we become more similar to Him and thus can find in ourselves more clearly the will of God. Finally, in prayer or in mystical experiences we are given the blessing of seeing God more clearly even without actually walking on Christ's path.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

4. Finding what God wants through that part of God's revelation which obtains in human history. Here one normally speaks of Christian scripture and of tradition as being separate, but in a sense they both have their roots on God's revelation in history and I think should be considered as a continuum. Now scripture gives not as clear an answer as we would like. In tradition we find three general answers, namely hellism, universalism, and annihilationism. Now some facts here are clear: a) The dominant answer in our tradition, indeed the official answer in our great churches (the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) is hellism. b) All three answers have been defended by great theologians who have argued quoting from scriptures, which proves first that scripture is not clear and allows for different interpretations (perhaps proving that even from the very first decades there was some disagreement about this question), and secondly that the matter is not easily resolved. I find it remarkable that more intractable questions (about Christology and the nature of the Trinity for example) have been successfully and definitely resolved in our tradition, whereas eschatology remains even today a matter of contention. c) Finally I think there is some difference between the three great churches with the Orthodox church being the less sternly and inflexibly and the Protestant church being the more sternly and inflexibly in favor of hellism – even though I read that the Church of England is of late leaning towards annihilationism.

So how is the confused Christian to decide what to believe? More specifically how is one to find which answer to your question is the one more probably true? I think there is not general answer. What is best for the Christian depends on her temperament – or more generally on the state of her soul. I personally have no problem whatsoever if people follow their church's official teaching about hell, even if that is contrary to mine. I can see why somebody would judge that this is the safest way, and I agree it is the safest way as long as it doesn't make it more difficult for them to follow Christ. And it goes without saying that the church is infinitely more trustworthy than I am, so the fact that I don't believe in hellism should have zero weight to anybody else. But neither do I have any problem with other Christians following other ways to spiritual truth. In my personal case I find that universalism comports with the first, second, and third way – and at least in part with the fourth way, namely that of considering the weight of tradition as an objective part of God's revelation.

The reason I don't feel troubled about my minority belief in universalism is that I realize that nothing much rides on it. If I follow Christ's commands I will be safe even if it turns out that universalism is false. But if I don't follow Christ's commands then I won't be safe even if all my beliefs turned out to be true. To know the truth and thus know what God wants and nevertheless fail, if anything makes that failure even more grave.

Ben Wallis said...

If someone thinks that tormenting someone for all eternity is "good" (or playing any part whatsoever in that torment), then I just don't know what that person means when he talks about goodness. That kind of God is clearly a monster. Is it plausible to think that a monster can be good? I guess Feser is committed to saying yes. But I want nothing to do with that kind of so-called goodness.

DNW said...



"If someone thinks that tormenting someone for all eternity is "good" (or playing any part whatsoever in that torment), then I just don't know what that person means when he talks about goodness."


What do you mean when you talk about what is "good"?

DNW said...

" ... I find rather implausible the portrayals of hellish souls in Catholic literature and philosophy that make the souls in hell just like souls on the earth. Humans were not made for the hell and one would expect drastic changes in the human personality there.

November 27, 2016 at 10:19 PM"


Well, as near as I can tell, they are not so conceived. What is stripped from them - among other powers - is the ability to dissemble, or any opportunity or forum in which to do so.

What is left then, is not merely a disintegrated bundle of appetites looping in some timeless plane, but a self-knowing being from which the ability to foster illusion both in itself and others, has been stripped, and which finds itself in a place in which its pride based commitments leave it permanently estranged from the Ultimate Reality, and with no power or desire to rectify the situation in a positive manner. (Note that the damned Ani (or Anna) of the "letter", while wishing to be annihilated as a means of flinging her existence back in God's face if it were possible, has no desire whatever for salvation, viewing it with contempt, and the personal judgment she has experienced of her choices as true in mere fact, but which she categorically rejects on value)

Again, as near as I can determine, one element which is lacking in these kinds of discussions - while bracketting the question of the actual existence of Hell and placing that entirely aside - is the ability of most of us to imagine an existence without self-serving excuses, and to consider the consequences of an encounter with an "Absolute".

I think that most of us grow up imagining that Darwinian conflict, deception and maneuvering as the very stuff of life itself (and not part of a "fallen nature") and that transparency and truth are fable based mythical ideals, if not outright delusions.

Thus, any standard which allows NO self-serving excuses, seems constitutionally unjust.

We are depraved (or not) to the core, it is not our fault, and therefore Mercy if it exists should somehow make whatever allowances are necessary in order to accommodate what we have inextricably made of ourselves with the bad (or value free) materials and choices at hand.

But imagine instead that you start with the "nature" of a God as conceived of as Truth per se: by His own "nature" incapable of admitting untruth and deception into His presence. What do you do with the hypothesized being, call it a "soul" if you will, that wills the manipulation of others in order to achieve its chosen ends?

What you have is an existential analogue to a logical contradiction.

If you pull the thread of its will from the being, then all you do have left is a congeries of now frustrated and pointlessly looping appetite expressions; as in Lewis. But that would mean the destruction of the being, as a coherent being.

I don't claim that any of what I am saying is sound doctrine, or even real philosophizing; much less that any of it is true.

What I am trying to do, is simply to reconcile various propositions by assuming this or that one are the major or more fundamental axiom.


As Lewis commented, "goodness" is not a synonym for indulgence. And the idea of Good seems to involve in its various uses the idea of that which gathers, suffices, and preserves; and "True" as that which stands unmoved and does not fail its purposes and can be relied upon.

It is difficult to imagine a being which has adopted of its own accord a mode of satisfying its urges through deceptive manipulations and exploitations, finding a confrontation with absolute Truth, a congenial experience.

Ben Wallis said...

DNW,

You ask: "What do you mean when you talk about what is 'good'?"

I don't have a rigorous analysis of moral goodness, but caring for the well-being of other conscious creatures is a decent start. Happiness and joy are pretty basic goods. Etc.

Ben Wallis said...

DNW,

It might be worth adding that I don't think justice is a good thing per se, but rather more like a necessary evil. Justice is better than otherwise in many cases, as it helps us maintain an ordered society. But a divine punishment system doesn't seem to offer us anything like that. What else could it be good for? Maybe it could satisfy a victim's desire for retribution/revenge. But why should that be good? For a victim to desire retribution or revenge seems to me to be a very bad thing, as it requires suffering or deception to satisfy. Or maybe God just really loves his rules. But, this too seems monstrous, as it means God values his rules more than he values the well-being of his creation. Such a system seems, therefore, unworthy of the label "justice." It is instead just a punishment game, and one that anyone who sufficiently values the well-being of others should abhor.

DNW said...

Ben Wallis said...

DNW,

You ask: "What do you mean when you talk about what is 'good'?"

I don't have a rigorous analysis of moral goodness, but caring for the well-being of other conscious creatures is a decent start. Happiness and joy are pretty basic goods. Etc.

November 28, 2016 at 11:36 AM




Ok, I am going to ask a couple of further questions. You will have to trust me that I am not being trollish, but am sincere.

Once you manage that you will instantly see where it is all leading.

"What do you mean when you talk about what is 'good'?"

" ...caring for the well-being of other conscious creatures is a decent start. "


What is it about caring for or the well-being of others that leads us to call such acts "good"? Or is "good" just a pure synonym for "caring"? Is there any sense in which calling something "good" is not a two-step circle dance? The good is caring for others; and we know it because caring is good"?


"Happiness and joy are pretty basic goods. Etc."

Do you intend by that to assert more than the fact that: People have emotions and therefore they have emotions?

Or alternatively is it that experiencing these emotions is in aid of something besides instancing or producing themselves?

As I said, it will be obvious to you immediately where this is leading; and that one must either put up with a certain amount of "childlike" repeats of "why?" or "so what" until you can really go no further. Either that, or one must simply declare something along the lines of " When I say good, I mean the subjective experience of pleasurable feelings, and no more than that; and that is the end of it"

Otherwise it is inevitably: What is happiness as a feeling representative of, or caring about, in aid of? Or from the reverse angle: The satisfaction of what conditions produce feelings of happiness, and why?

Because if it just reduces to feelings or not-feelings per se, or feelings about states of affairs which are in themselves neither good nor bad, then drug produced feelings of satisfaction are just as good as satisfaction in a job well done, and death as effectual as health from the stand point of the realization of sheer "Aponia".

In that case we really don't even need the word "good".

DNW said...


" But, this too seems monstrous, as it means God values his rules more than he values the well-being of his creation. "

Well, there's the rub, as they say. It's found in the meaning or description of the term "well-being" taken to be adequate, and what well-being is taken to imply, and why (in the sense of reasons supporting the particular definition of well-being) that conception of well-being is settled upon.

We can it seems to me try to escape from teleological regress; but in doing so most of the value terms we use become comically hollow, and lose any distinctive sense.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ DNW

As should be expected the dogma of hell turns people away from the gospel, and for the simple reason that they find it monstrously ugly and thus inconsistent with God.

”What you have is an existential analogue to a logical contradiction.”

Do you think that intellectualizing around the issue will prettify the ugliness? After all hellism is not a dogma one arrives at through reason, but many believe in it because they consider it part of God's revelation.

I am not a hellist and so I don't have the problem of turning people away from the gospel, but I wonder what is the best a hellist can do to at least diminish this negative effect. One possible line would be to try fear, as in in the warning “Believe in hell lest you fall into it!”. If one believes in hellism then warning people in the most dramatic terms seems a reasonable thing to do. Another possibility would be to inspire doubts using some defeater, such as “Hellism only seems ugly to us because of our fallen state; those who through repentance come close to God see the beauty of it”. Perhaps the best line would be to give our troubled neighbor a way out as in “According to the teaching of the Church one can be a good Christian without believing in hellism”.

DNW said...

"Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ DNW

As should be expected the dogma of hell turns people away from the gospel, and for the simple reason that they find it monstrously ugly and thus inconsistent with God.

”What you have is an existential analogue to a logical contradiction.”

Do you think that intellectualizing around the issue will prettify the ugliness? After all hellism is not a dogma one arrives at through reason, but many believe in it because they consider it part of God's revelation. ..."


Sorry, I cannot help you there since I don't really understand what "hellism" is.

I suppose it is true enough that those Christians who consider Hell to be a real possibility have gotten their notion from revelation. Though the idea of a hellish afterlife for the evil minded is not, strictly speaking, exclusive to Christians.

I also have admitted that what I have been doing here is not philosophy, or even criticism, so much as arranging found concepts taken as hypothetically sound and seeing how they fit, or fail to fit, together. Kind of a speculative or casual exercise in conceptual geometry, you might say.

As far as "monstrous ugly" goes, one of the odd things I have noted about those who feel they have had a special insight into the matter and then have spoken with some urgency about it, is how monstrous ugly is "sin" which we hardly even take any notice of, or think serious at all.

This leads me to consider that if they are not deranged, then it is a nearly inescapable conclusion that much of what constitutes our ordinary moral sensibilities, is itself seriously deranged.

In this regard I am not referring exclusively to Catholic doctors, visionaries, or mystics, but even to Isaiah's reported terror before the holiness of the Lord, and his own subjection as a prophet to a sign of purification. (at least as I read it)

But again, I am not at this point even arguing the actual point of Hell or critiquing the sources, but just exploring the general lay of the land, you might say.

And as such it seems to me that when taking the concept of an unutterable holiness of God at face value, the idea of the possibility of an exclusion from it, becomes more understandable.

In any event, I am probably the least qualified here to discuss this matter, given my own severely limited interest in dogmatic argument.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Ben Wallis,

I don't think justice is a good thing per se, but rather more like a necessary evil. Justice is better than otherwise in many cases, as it helps us maintain an ordered society.”

I think there are (at least) three different notions of justice:

1) Justice as a means to an end where the end is an orderly society, as in “those who behave according to the society's norms will be rewarded but those who don't will be punished”.

2) Justice as a means to an end where the end is fairness, as in “It will not be the case that those who do evil will profit or those who do good will suffer”, or in other words “to do evil is never smart and to do good is never dumb”.

3) Justice as a good in itself, as in “we are made by God in such a way that to do good makes one greater, and to do evil diminishes oneself”.

I find that on theism the more relevant notion is #3. And since the most valuable thing one can possess is to be good oneself, #2 is consistent with #3. In my judgment #1 may have application to human societies (as well as to animal societies) – but not to God's creation.

In this blog Feser often expounds the so-called Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, which is a particular view about how things are. I only have a vague understanding of this view, but it seems a basic premise is that the nature of all things has a particular orientation, a particular natural way to evolve. Applied to human souls I think A-T metaphysics leads to #3 - but I could be wrong.

Now let's see the implications of #3. On Christianity when we speak of becoming greater we mean for our soul to become more similar to Christ (who is the divine ideal of personal perfection), and we name this process “repenting” or “following Christ”. Conversely to diminish ourselves means to become more unlike Christ. The former state is one of happiness and of having fulfilled God's purpose in creating us, the latter of unhappiness and of having contravened God's purpose in creating us. The former path leads to so-called heaven and into communion with God, the latter leads to so-called hell and great distance from God. Both heaven and hell are final destinations of the state of our soul. So in heaven no-one will ever choose to turn away from God and leave the place, and in hell people are so lost and diminished that no-one will ever be able to choose to leave.

The basic disagreement you find in the present discussion is about what God will decide about the people who go to hell. In one view (hellism) God will abandon people there, making hell a place of hopeless condition and everlasting unhappiness (an unhappiness that is not imposed from the outside but is the natural implication of their greatly diminished everlasting state). In another view (annihilationism) given the hopeless condition of the people in hell God will have pity on them and simply remove from them the grace by which they continue to exist (on theism any existence depends on God's continuing grace) – so they will truly die. In another view (universalism) God will instead remove the hopelessness by continuing to strive for the salvation of those even in hell. And given God's infinite goodness and infinite power, on universalism there is the hope and sometimes indeed the belief that God will ultimately succeed to draw all to perfection – as it were to reconstitute everybody.

Finally there are variants in each of these basic views. So in one particularly severe version of hellism God doesn't simply abandon hell-bound people in their hopeless and everlasting condition of natural unhappiness, but moreover actively punishes them by torturing them. On hellism there are also disagreements about the condition of those in heaven, with some holding that they will know about people in hell and even in a sense rejoice in viewing them, and others holding that God will grant people in heaven some kind of amnesia and so they will ignore all about hell.

Gyan said...

"the dogma of hell turns people away from the gospel"
Perhaps. But so does the dogma of indissolubility of marriage.
Question arises why does the preaching of hellfire ever considered to be Good News in the first place?
One might say that the idea of hellfire came first. Indeed, life in Hades was not exactly very pleasant.


The Christian Gospel is meant for people that do realize the fact of sin albeit imperfectly. It is simply tiresome to those that aren't convicted of their own sinfulness.

Gyan said...

Dianelos Georgoudis,

"post-mortem salvific life"

What do you understand death to be? Why does it occur? Does it has a role in salvific life? Or is it just an arbitrary marker between embodied and disembodied existence?
You say ) "God will instead remove the hopelessness by continuing to strive for the salvation of those even in hell."
Do you mean "those even in hell" those souls that are in hell after their private judgment?
Is this view, of second chance post-judgment have any support, in Scripture or Tradition at all? Even CS Lewis in The Great Divorce, though he takes many liberties, does not actually talk about second chances. His souls are not in hell but merely wandering in a Hades-like environment, awaiting the moment of choice that per Feser a disembodied soul needs to make. .

Mr. Green said...

Brian: If a man has been strongly on the right trajectory all his life, but then one day missteps, commits a mortal sin

I think the problem here is supposing that a man who has cultivated virtue all his life will suddenly wake up one day and commit a mortal sin. If such a good man commits an offense that is objectively grave, there will most likely be mitigating circumstances, such as diminished co-operation or understanding, that reduce his culpability. And if not, is it not to be expected that he will very soon follow his sin with remorse? Even if he dies on his way to confession, we appeal (as always) to God's mercy. And if the man suddenly turns and spits in God's eye, fully willful, and with remorseless hardness of heart, is that not the very kind of rejection of God that we in fact would expect to lead to Hell?

In other words, this is a highly contrived scenario — philosophically there is no logical difficulty, but there is a psychological difficulty; if the story were fleshed out in such a way as to make the man's actions plausible, the story would not sound so strange after all.

Mr. Green said...

Ben Wallis: then I just don't know what that person means when he talks about goodness.

That seems likely. It would be good to invest some effort into study of what he means.

I want nothing to do with that kind of so-called goodness.

Ah, so you are in fact one of those people who think it is something good!
(Perhaps you don't know what you yourself mean by goodness. Socratic enlightenment awaits! I recommend yet more study.)

Mr. Green said...

DNW: As far as "monstrous ugly" goes, one of the odd things I have noted about those who feel they have had a special insight into the matter and then have spoken with some urgency about it, is how monstrous ugly is "sin" which we hardly even take any notice of, or think serious at all.

This leads me to consider that if they are not deranged, then it is a nearly inescapable conclusion that much of what constitutes our ordinary moral sensibilities, is itself seriously deranged.


That bears repeating.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ DNW,

”Sorry, I cannot help you there since I don't really understand what "hellism" is.”

By “hellism” I mean the dogma of hell as we find it in our shared tradition and pretty much in the teaching of the three great Christian churches. I don't find it profitable to study ugly ideas, but in the context of the recent discussions in this blog I looked up the corresponding page in the Catholic church's website here. Of particular relevance is the page on moral and venial sin. You may also want to read this with a lot of quotes from official documents.

”I suppose it is true enough that those Christians who consider Hell to be a real possibility have gotten their notion from revelation.

Hellism is not affirmed as a possibility but as a truth.

”arranging found concepts taken as hypothetically sound and seeing how they fit, or fail to fit, together. Kind of a speculative or casual exercise in conceptual geometry, you might say.”

That's fine. If you then compare hellism's conceptual geometry with universalism's I think you'll find that the latter works much better.

”As far as "monstrous ugly" goes, one of the odd things I have noted about those who feel they have had a special insight into the matter and then have spoken with some urgency about it, is how monstrous ugly is "sin" which we hardly even take any notice of, or think serious at all.

Even though there are some sins that are monstrously ugly, nothing compares with the ugliness of hell.

”This leads me to consider that if they are not deranged, then it is a nearly inescapable conclusion that much of what constitutes our ordinary moral sensibilities, is itself seriously deranged.

That's the second line I suggested above. It's a good line if one needs to defend an idea that looks bad just by looking at it. The problem is that if we are not to trust our sense of what is good - which is the clearest light in our spiritual life - then we risk losing sight of Christ. For we believe in Christ not by reason but by faith.

”And as such it seems to me that when taking the concept of an unutterable holiness of God at face value, the idea of the possibility of an exclusion from it, becomes more understandable.”

No universalist affirms that the wicked will be in the presence of God; the idea is that in the end all will repent and thus will come to be in the presence of God. As for “unutterable holiness” we Christians have the benefit of knowing in the actual example of God incarnate how God's character is.

There is more primitive and more advanced theology. Some of the initial concepts of God were developed at a time where people thought that greatness is exemplified by the ways of a good and just king. I am saying this because it seems to me that much theological talk that survives to this day would fit that notion.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Gyan,

”What do you understand death to be? Why does it occur? Does it has a role in salvific life?”

The first question is easily answered: Death is our passing from this life (in our current condition living in this physical environment) to the next (in our afterlife condition living in our afterlife environment).

Now why death occurs and which role it has in salvific life cannot be answered outside of theodicy. Theodicy explains the purpose of creation and through it it explains all the main features of our condition, such as free will, good and evil, our physical environment and God's hiddenness, death and the afterlife. In my judgment Irenaean theodicy as developed by John Hick works extremely well – indeed I am somehow confused why it hasn't been recognized as pretty much a complete theory. The main idea is that as we are made in the image of God, so the world in which we live is made in the image of us: Our is soul is made in a fallen state but by nature oriented towards becoming more similar to Christ, and the nature of the world is such as to facilitate that movement. It is marvelous to observe the coherence of it all – how our sense of the divine leads us to comprehend all of creation. Let me know if you want me to elaborate.

”Do you mean "those even in hell" those souls that are in hell after their private judgment?”

In our salvific life judgment is a continuous process of justice being done – in the sense that our deeds, good and evil, directly affect the state of our soul, for the better or worse. And as I tried to explain in the dimension of that movement of the soul heaven and hell are existential “points of no return” standing at opposite ends.

”Is this view, of second chance post-judgment have any support, in Scripture or Tradition at all?”

It's not really about “second chance” but about the love of God through the power of grace continuously pulling us towards atonement.

”have any support, in Scripture or Tradition at all?”

Well there are many quotes in scripture which seem to point towards universalism; for me the strongest is the parable of the Good Shepherd searching for the very last lost sheep. As for our tradition one of the earliest expounders of universalism (or “universal reconciliation”) was Origen. Another very great teacher (he was called “the Father of Fathers”) was Gregory of Nyssa. It is I think clear that from the very beginning of our tradition down to modern times there has been much tension between hellism and universalism - hellism definitely winning the upper hand but universalism kind of remaining a respectable or at least tolerated option. I think that in the future the advancement in theodicy will turn the scales towards universalism, and I believe this will be a fruitful development.

”the moment of choice that per Feser a disembodied soul needs to make”

Aquinas's theory about disembodied souls having their will fixed in an instance strikes me as a clever but really ad-hoc way to make sense of the eternity of hell. Incidentally I don't find it makes sense to talk of disembodied souls, so for example as long as we humans have selves we are going to be embodied souls. By “embodied” I don't mean possessing a physical body of the kind we have now. I mean that we shall always be subject to consistent limitations – which limitations we will experience as a personal body. For example if our vision is limited we shall experience possessing eyes.

DNW said...

"No universalist affirms that the wicked will be in the presence of God; the idea is that in the end all will repent and thus will come to be in the presence of God."


Why should they bother, if they can go along as they are forever and have the expense underwritten by God?



"There is more primitive and more advanced theology. Some of the initial concepts of God were developed at a time where people thought that greatness is exemplified by the ways of a good and just king. I am saying this because it seems to me that much theological talk that survives to this day would fit that notion."


Well, no sooner than you said that, it no doubt occurred to you as a good Greek, that the same thing could be said about any conception of God whatever as having been conditioned by the social relations or structures of this or that population group.


"But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do ..."

No doubt, neurotic tattooed overweight lesbians, if they let their imaginations run free would have a rather more ammoniated vision of heaven and bliss than would Plato.


"With a new lens, women also began to see the divine within nature, the value and importance of the cosmos, and that the emerging new cosmology encouraged their spirituality and fed their souls.

As one sister described it, “I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but I’ve also moved beyond Jesus.” The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine ...

The Benedictine Women of Madison are the most current example I can name. Their commitment to ecumenism lead them beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of seeking God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage."


Imagine evolving into their sour and humid version of "heaven". https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/calendar/attachments/2007_Keynote_Address-Laurie_Brink-OP.pdf

Gyan said...

Dianelos Georgoudis,
I apprciate the idea of world as a soul-making factory myself (isn't it a fairly standard idea?) but how does death fit into it?


Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ DNW

”Why should they bother, if they can go along as they are forever and have the expense underwritten by God?

Our average condition today is already quite unhappy, so it's not like it's a smart decision to keep going for ever like we are now. But in fact it is not possible to go on like that for ever. Those among us who are less aware of God will tend to follow the path of perdition which is a path of increasing loneliness and hopelessness. And those among us who are more aware of God, if they tried and succeeded in not repenting, after a while would feel increasingly brokenhearted, unworthy, and indeed foolish. It seems that in our salvific life it is not really possible to stand still. As is the case with biological life, or, say, the life of culture, so salvific life entails movement.

(Incidentally, “expense underwritten by God” can only be meant metaphorically. There is nothing like a “cost” for God. The exception was the sacrifice of Christ, but His suffering was made possible by so-called kenosis.)

”the same thing could be said about any conception of God whatever as having been conditioned by the social relations or structures of this or that population group.”

I know about the genetic fallacy. I was pointing out the obvious: Since theism is true, and since humanity is blessed with at least some cognitive capability for understanding the divine (never mind there is no reason to suspect that God's revelation has stopped), it is to be expected that through the centuries theology would advance from more primitive roots to a more precise knowledge about God.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”No doubt, neurotic tattooed overweight lesbians, if they let their imaginations run free would have a rather more ammoniated vision of heaven and bliss than would Plato.

I am not sure what you mean here. Perhaps you are saying that people who given their appearance and way of life we judge to have moved far from God, might feel justified in believing that their understanding of God is the right one. Even when, given the quotes you gave, what they understand seems to conflict with orthodox tradition and even at least in some sense has moved them to deny Christ whom they previously had.

If that's what you mean then a few comments:

1. Theology is hard. Harder then philosophy which in turn is harder than science. If one steps out of the beaten path of our tradition then it is quite probable one goes wrong. On the other hand if nobody stepped out of the beaten path then we wouldn't have any advance in theology. Those who feel confident in stepping out of the beaten path should at least know they may well go wrong and have the respective humility.

2. It's difficult to understand theological talk. (I found it striking when a little while ago I realized that people were writing articles about how one should interpret a document a Pope wrote only a few decades ago.) But even when one understands correctly what other people mean it is difficult to judge it. Not only because one oneself may be wrong, but for a deeper reason still: You mention Xenophanes's observation that a horse would think of God as some kind of glorified horse. Xenophanes was being a sceptic trying so show that we should not trust our own sense of the divine. He was wrong for the following reason: A horse – within the limitations of the horse's condition – cannot do any better than to conceive of God as some kind of glorified horse. That's not the true picture of God, but is the best picture it is possible for a horse to conceptualize. Thus it makes no sense to claim that the horse is wrong in its belief about God. If I am right so far then two implications follow: We who perhaps have a better idea about God should not be scornful if other people entertain an idea which is different from ours. Perhaps for a person in her particular condition that's the best possible idea and therefore the right one; similarly perhaps for a people in a different time in history of today in a different culture the best possible idea about God is not ours. Or, conversely, it may be us who given our own condition entertain the more limited idea. Which brings me to the second implication: It is more or less generally accepted that our cognitive capacity is by far inadequate for seeing God. Even if God were to stand in front of us we wouldn't understand. But we can understand this limitation, and this puts our theological knowledge in the right perspective.

3. Theological knowledge per se is not the goal of the Christian, to follow Christ is. So, no matter how precious theological knowledge is (and it is obviously the most valuable knowledge one may have) – we should not let it hide from us what it is that Christ really asks of us. Conversely the good news is that theological knowledge is testable, here and now, in our own life: If it hinders us from following Christ then it is certainly wrong; if it helps us to follow Christ then either it is right, and even if wrong it is not wrong in any dangerous sense.

DNW said...

”No doubt, neurotic tattooed overweight lesbians, if they let their imaginations run free would have a rather more ammoniated vision of heaven and bliss than would Plato.”

I am not sure what you mean here. "


What I mean to do is to respond to the open implications of the statement:

"There is more primitive and more advanced theology. Some of the initial concepts of God were developed at a time where people thought that greatness is exemplified by the ways of a good and just king. I am saying this because it seems to me that much theological talk that survives to this day would fit that notion."

... with the observation that what is modal or emergent at the moment is not per se proof of objective advancement or progress; or, sufficient to model aspects of progress. A more overarching well-defined standard is needed against which the "progress" may be assessed. Thus, I would need to see a stipulation of the criteria which need to be met in order to label this or that understanding or construal or vision of blessedness, as an objective advancement. Simply opening up the boundaries to socially emergent "visions" does not seem to me proof of anything other than that the boundaries have been opened up.


" DNW

”Why should they bother, if they can go along as they are forever and have the expense underwritten by God?”

Our average condition today is already quite unhappy, so it's not like it's a smart decision to keep going for ever like we are now."


I don't know what you mean by average. Perhaps you mean it distributively: as in, " each and every individual is on average (usually as defined by the mean, or perhaps modally by moments) quite unhappy". Or perhaps you mean that on average, a certain cohort of members in every defined population are unhappy, as in, "on average members of medium height predominate in the population". Which leaves the 'tall' happy nonetheless, doesn't it.

But the fact is that by and large in the groups of people I have encountered most of my life, the healthy and hale, have not been unhappy. And those who look to be troubled and neurotic don't seem to admit that the problem with their discontent originates within themselves.

So, I cannot really make sense of your statement as it relates to my claim that there are many hypothetically hell-bound who are perfectly and un-reflectively content with themselves.

It may be that "getting your way" does not guarantee happiness; but of those who do, I think a very large number are quite content to just leave it at that.

DNW said...

”the same thing could be said about any conception of God whatever as having been conditioned by the social relations or structures of this or that population group.”

I know about the genetic fallacy. "


I was not trying to tag you with that. I have no interest in flinging around informal fallacy terminology. Other than the traditional list of fallacies of relevance or ambiguity, as might be found in Copi, much of what are trotted out as informal fallacies nowadays are just bull s*** exercises in jargonistic one-ups man-ship. Converse accident or composition? ok. "No true scotsman"? Pfft.



"I was pointing out the obvious: Since theism is true,

and since humanity is blessed with at least some cognitive capability for understanding the divine "


LOL You might have to recognize an exception in my case.


"(never mind there is no reason to suspect that God's revelation has stopped),..."

Well, my understanding is that it is a matter of Catholic doctrine that apart from private revelations which are not in any way binding, it has and did with the death of the last Apostle. What the Orthodox think, I could not say.


" ... it is to be expected that through the centuries theology would advance from more primitive roots to a more precise knowledge about God."

I can make sense out of looking at certain concepts which have been argued as historically validated, and then, granting their validity for the sake of argument, deducing certain conclusions from them.

I can even make sense out of playing with imaginary concepts which are well-defined and considering how they might fit ... with the proviso it is purely speculative in the most ungrounded sense.

I cannot figure out why theology (or speculative deductions about God) of the kind that leverage off of some supposed notion of progress, are entitled to be taken seriously at all.

DNW said...

Some may find this at least thought provoking if not pleasing.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Gyan,

”I apprciate the idea of world as a soul-making factory myself (isn't it a fairly standard idea?)”

Not at all. Perhaps many of those who think about theodicy today judge it to be the best theory, but most theists continue to believe that the Genesis story of the Fall correctly describes the reason why human souls and the world are as they are.

Incidentally I like the metaphor of the a “soul-making factory” :-) Of course there is a significant difference in that human souls are free, so our environment is created to take this into account.

”but how does death fit into it?

The stronger question would be “How does the soul-making theodicy lead to the requirement of there being death”?

Let us first describe the domain of the thought. Using your soul-making factory metaphor, if we find a factory then we can deduce what it produces by studying it. Conversely if we know what is to be produced, say cars, we can deduce a lot about the factory that would produce them. In short there is an intrinsic relation between the factory meant to produce a product and the product itself.

Coming now to the soul-making theodicy we have a falsifiable hypothesis, which goes like this: Our soul is by nature oriented towards God. Thus by considering that orientation of the soul, in natural theology we can reach some understanding about how God is. (Incidentally that's why atheists manage to intelligently discuss with theists: we all have a sense of the divine albeit atheists believe it's exclusively some kind of effect of blind sociobiological evolution and argue that the world is not as it would be if God had created it – I am talking about the problem of evil in its many forms.) In our understanding of God we see that God's purpose in our creation is the perfection of our soul and thus that the purpose in the creation of the world is to facilitate – to give the appropriate environment – for that perfection to obtain. (The perfected soul would then be “product”, and all of creation would be the “factory”.)

I have claimed that following this cognitive path one can deduce many of the main features of the world, indeed explain much that is entirely beyond the physical sciences. I wonder sometimes how far one can go. For example one can easily explain why the world is not deterministic – but could one deduce, say, the fundamental equations of physics? Who knows.

Now you ask about why there should be death. It would be best to give a complete description of what the soul-making theodicy implies, but death is such a conspicuous part of creation that I think one can explain it independently. Before continuing to read I would like it very much if you took some time and tried to answer this question for yourself: If God wants to build a creation in which human souls are perfected to the greatest degree possible, why would God introduce the experience of death in it?

[my answer below, but take a little time to think before continuing]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

So here is a very short answer: The same way in a factory products must go through various stages of production, so the soul must also pass through various experiential environments. We are now in the first environment and through death we shall arrive to the next. (This primitive analogy suggests a sequence of deaths in our future, but this isn't the case: Only the first passing is death, for if more passages exist in our future we shall know that they are only a door to the next life.)

Now here is a somewhat more specific answer: Consider the soul that conforms to God's will and chooses (and sticks to) the path of repentance. The end-product will be a state of the soul in the greatest possible perfection, a state some describe as being in the presence of God, some call divinization, and some call theosis. What's certain is that this end-state cannot obtain in our current condition in this world. Why not? Because in our current condition all knowledge and all experience are *limited* by our physical environment. So, for example, the mystic may directly and powerfully experience God, but even the greatest mystic's experience of God is limited by the physiology of the human brain. (Except in the case of miracles, but such are beyond our discussion about general providence.) Thus the final state of the soul cannot obtain in our current condition, which entails that a passage of the good souls into a different condition is required, a condition that will allow for their continuous evolution. Conversely, those souls who choose the path of perdition, if they are to have any chance to repent must find themselves in a different condition optimized for their sorry state; perhaps some kind of “purgatory”. (In fact we can know very little about how it will be like in the afterlife, for the same reason that it is next to impossible to know how it is like in any other case of a different conscious condition – but that's irrelevant in our current discussion. I must add that I don't even feel certain that humanity will be separated in the afterlife.) In conclusion, the necessary passage from our current condition in this life to our new condition in the afterlife, is death.

I am certain there is much more to be said about death, but I think that's the gist of it. Clearly, on the soul-making theodicy our current world is not adequate, and given the vast distance between our current state and theosis there isn't one world that would be adequate. The world we find ourselves currently in as well as the state of the soul we are born with are optimized for the beginning of our journey towards God.

Anon said...

Phew! Ventosa loquacitas philosophorum!

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

I've heard it said that death is but a portal unto another life.

Incidentally, though it won't fit well into your thesis, and likely won't sit well with you, still I say forget not that, accidentally, without death the 23rd Chapter of the 1st Book of Thomas à Kempis' the Imitation of Christ, Thoughts On Death, could not have been what it is.

Gyan said...

Dianelos,
Is the idea that our embodiment as physical beings hinders our perfection a Christian idea?
Didn't God pronounce good his creation?
And aren't we supposed to be re-embodied in a New Earth?

"on the soul-making theodicy our current world is not adequate"
On the contrary, the current world, with its temptations and fleshly weaknesses, and opportunities both for consequential acts
seems perfectly geared for soul-making.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn,

Thanks for the link. I have not read the book even though only the title “The Imitation of Christ” speaks volumes. Indeed there is nothing better a Christian can do than try to imitate Christ - even a little – every day in one's life.

Now when reading the particular chapter about death you linked to, I found myself mostly nodding in agreement. There are a few passages that bothered me since they can be misunderstood. For example, “Learn to spurn all things now” should not be understood as a call not to care about one's health, or about the environment. And “Chastise your body in penance now” should not be understood as a call to punish one's body (spiritual exercises are useful but I've heard that some monks mix ashes with their food lest it tastes god; some actually whip themselves – but to imitate Christ means to be ready to accept punishment from the world, and not of course to punish oneself in a parody of imitation).

On the other hand reading this chapter the thought occurred to me that people may misunderstand universalism thinking that on universalism nothing much rides on the moment of our death. But, beyond the many admonitions of Christ in the gospels about what we should do in this life in order to build treasure in the next, we feel it in our bones that how we manage our life here and now matters very much indeed. Universalism does not imply that since salvific life continues after death one can take it easy here and see what happens in the next.

Now as I said one can't know how the afterlife will be like, nor is it particularly profitable to speculate – after all we may trust that God will always provide the world that best moves us to repentance. Still the thought naturally presents itself that the afterlife will be different from the current one in at least in one important aspect: In our current condition God is kind of hidden, in the sense that well-meaning people may pass through this life without believing in God and even good Christians often feel doubts. This property of our current condition, the so-called hiddenness of God, is very well explained by the soul-making theodicy, and is really a blessing in the sense that it greatly increases the merit (the positive impact on the state of one's soul) if one does an act of charity. Why? Because in this world an act of charity (any self-transcending act of love) is done for its own sake. When in the afterlife we find out we survived death, the reality of God will become obvious in a sense it can't be obvious in this life, and thus repentance will be harder.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

What I am saying is this: Nobody reaches the end-state of theosis in this life (I have argued that barred a miracle this is metaphysically impossible). Thus even for the best among us there is much way to go in the afterlife too; we are not done yet and there is no free meal even after death. So how we live in this life prepares us for the path in the next life. Those who unwisely waste their time here will have a harder time in the next. Here's an analogy: I've said above that on the soul-making theodicy the current world is made in our image and that's why by considering one's sense of the divine one can deduce a lot about the main features of the world. Similarly one may then think that in the afterlife we shall find ourselves living in a world made in the image of the soul which we shall carry in the next. Those wiser in this life will find themselves in the afterlife living in a more beautiful environment and walking on a straight path; whereas those who die in a bad state will find themselves living in a more ugly environment and having to walk on a steeper path.

A final observation: The analogy above does not entail that humanity will be separated into different worlds, for it may well be that we shall all live together in the same world but experience it radically differently. This is not as strange as it sounds; even in this life the quality of our experience of the world can vary very much indeed. I happen to believe that this picture of humanity staying together is closer to the truth. On universalism atonement is not only about atonement with God but atonement with each other as well, and this seems to entail that in the afterlife we shall stay together. There all unfinished business to each other will have to be remedied. The evil among us who hurt others in this life will have that realization weight on them like a ton of bricks and will have to make painful amends, and those who in this life failed to forgive others will need to do so in the next, and those who hated, despised, or ignored a neighbor will have to love her all the more. Life is wonderful, but in this life and in the next it won't be easy I don't expect.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Gyan,

”Is the idea that our embodiment as physical beings hinders our perfection a Christian idea?”

That's not what I said. Let me unpack what I meant:

1. Only God is perfect.
2. Only a person who is perfect is not subject to limitations.
3. As long as we humans are not perfect we are going to be subject to limitations.
4. To be subject to limitations is necessarily experienced as having a body.
5. As long as we are not perfect we humans shall experience having a body.

Perhaps #4 needs some explaining. First of all observe that all the limitations we suffer in our current condition are predicated on properties of our body, so here we have an actual case in point. Still, #4 is a general claim, so let's consider some examples. Imagine a personal condition in which one can move instantly from one point of space to another, but still experiences the limitation of always being in some particular point. One would then experience having a body the position of which determines the point one is located (albeit a weightless body). Or imagine a personal condition in which one is able to instantly know anything one wants to know about the physical universe but not about mathematics. One would then experience having a brain that limits one from instantly knowing mathematical truths. I claim that any possible limitation follows the same pattern. Why? Because to be subject to a limitation entails to experience that something is consistently limiting us, and that something we shall naturally call “body” by analogy to the current body we possess and which limits us in the many ways we are limited.

”Didn't God pronounce good his creation?”

So it says in scripture, but is really a tautology. God's creation is by definition perfect for God's purpose.

”And aren't we supposed to be re-embodied in a New Earth?''

Since in our current condition the Earth is our home, I suppose one may call our home in the afterlife the “New Earth”. Nothing much rides on a name. One may speculate how similar the New Earth will be to Earth, and, who knows, perhaps it won't be that dissimilar.

On the contrary, the current world, with its temptations and fleshly weaknesses, and opportunities both for consequential acts seems perfectly geared for soul-making.

Perfectly geared for soul-making in our current condition. But clearly not adequate for the afterlife – I think I proved this much by observing that the physiology of our brain limits the knowledge and experience we may have in this world.

Please observe that by “creation” one never means just the world in which we live now. Creation refers to all of existence that God sustains and orders. I happen to think that hellism is false but I understand the official dogma about the afterlife posits several distinct worlds such as heaven, hell, the Purgatory, Abraham's Bosom, some world for unbaptized babies, and so on. So even on hellism it's not like the current word is all there is in creation. All these worlds then comprise God's creation, and we all agree that God's creation in its totality is perfect. (Universalists reject hellism precisely because in their judgment it mars the perfection of creation, since it entails that God's purpose will not be fulfilled, that Christ's sacrificial atonement will not succeed completely, that evil and suffering will exist for ever.)

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

I happen to think that hellism is false...

You also:

1) think that Christ's call to us is not to avoid false beliefs, but to follow him [1];

2) think that 'Theological knowledge' which better enables one to follow Christ cannot be wrong in any dangerous sense [2]; and,

3) nonetheless tacitly acknowledge that more people think it is universalism which is false than the other way around [3].

In light of the above, and other things which immediately follow below, it would appear that you haven't any rational basis for either:

4) making a fuss (to put it mildly) over universalism vs hellism, or vice versa [4]; or,

5) doing yourself spiritual harm by hating (that which is helpful to the majority from which you exclude yourself, and unhelpful only to the minority in which you include yourself) [5].

- - - - -

[1] November 21, 2016 at 11:18 AM: "After all Christ's call is to follow Him, not to avoid holding false beliefs."

[2] November 30, 2016 at 8:25 AM: "[T]he good news is that theological knowledge is testable, here and now, in our own life: If it hinders us from following Christ then it is certainly wrong; if it helps us to follow Christ then either it is right, and even if wrong it is not wrong in any dangerous sense."

[3] November 28, 2016 at 4:08 AM: "The reason I don't feel troubled about my minority belief in universalism is that I realize that nothing much rides on it." (Emphasis added.)

[4] November 28, 2016 at 4:08 AM: "The reason I don't feel troubled about my minority belief in universalism is that I realize that nothing much rides on it." (Emphasis added.)

[5] November 27, 2016 at 9:06 AM: "All universalists I know hate the doctrine of hell[.]"

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn

I am making a fuss about universalism vs hellism because I judge that this is the most important disagreement there is in theology. Eschatology is about the greater part of creation, we understand our own current condition in relation to it, and we understand the nature and character of God according to it. So on hellism God will not succeed in realizing the divine wish and this diminishes God. Christ will not succeed in saving everyone and this diminishes His sacrifice. Even worse, the idea that God will fix the will of the damned and will then for ever punish them because of their fixed will – sounds ethically monstrous to anyone who hears. Not to mention the idea that the saints in heaven will rejoice in viewing their neighbors suffer (but only indirectly).

Faced with hellism our neighbor might well decide that God according to the Christrianity's teaching is not worth loving, and therefore that Christianity is false. Hellism is probably the majority view among Christians but this only suggests that many people manage to remain Christians despite hellism. You say that the majority of Christians finds hellism helpful, but given our common sense of the divine I think this is false. Perhaps many of these Christians decide that there must be something wrong with their own sense of the divine, others may fear hell so much they figure that believing in it keeps them safe in case it exists. As for the priests who teach about hell perhaps they figure that inspiring the greatest possible fear in the hearts of their flock is a good way to keep them from sinning – forgetting that sinning is only a visible implication of a fallen soul and that to abstain of sinning because of fear does nothing to cure it, and may well drive it to hypocrisy.

Finally, when I said that “nothing much rides on it”, I was speaking about myself and my belief in universalism. The next sentence was “If I follow Christ's commands I will be safe even if it turns out that universalism is false”. But since I believe that hellism is false, and since I think this belief makes great harm to the spreading of the gospel, I feel I should speak for universalism at least in the face of arguments in favor of hellism.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Finally, when I said that “nothing much rides on it”, I was speaking about myself and my belief in universalism. The next sentence was “If I follow Christ's commands I will be safe even if it turns out that universalism is false”.

This does not counter my point; rather, it supports it.

For if it is true on your account that the universalist who follows Christ's commands is safe even if it turns out that universalism is false, then it likewise must be true on your account that the hellist who follows Christ's command is safe even if it turns out that hellism is false.

Since he who follows Christ's commands is safe on your account, be said follower a universalist or a hellist, there is, on your account, really no point to making a fuss about universalism vs hellism or vice versa.

(You will, of course, object by saying that under universalism God succeeds in realizing the divine wish that all be saved, whereas under hellism God does not succeed in realizing said divine wish, so that, yes, there is a point -- a very important point -- to making a fuss about universalism vs hellism or vice versa.

(The problem with this is that anyone and everyone who does not freely comply with the divine wish is, sooner or later -- i.e., definitely ultimately -- compelled to 'freely' comply with the divine wish, and this makes a mockery of the free will God has given His creatures.

(In a sense, then, it even may be said that universalism ultimately entails the debasing claim that God erred in giving His creatures free will.)

Faced with hellism our neighbor might well decide that God according to the Christianity’s teaching is not worth loving,

If that's a rational way of showing how, why or that hellism is false, then this must be a rational way of showing how, why or that the very idea of sin is false:

Faced with the notion that there is such a thing as sin, and that some of his ways may be sinful, our neighbor might well decide that God according to Christianity's teaching is a kill joy, a wet blanket, and Someone better not to have around to spoil his fun.

As for the priests who teach about hell...

No one -- i.e., no sane person -- refrains from reminding others not to skate on thin ice simply because dreadful hypothermia-related things, including death, can happen to the one who, skating on thin ice, suddenly finds himself immersed in freezing water.

Indeed, it is precisely because dreadful hypothermia-related things, including death, can happen to the one who, skating on thin ice, suddenly finds himself immersed in freezing water that people are reminded not to skate on thin ice.

Tony said...

So on hellism God will not succeed in realizing the divine wish and this diminishes God.

He realizes the salvation of everyone he predestined to save, which is according to his more comprehensive wish to emanate both mercy and justice. "The order of justice is the order of the universe" (ST. Thomas).

Christ will not succeed in saving everyone and this diminishes His sacrifice.

Christ succeeds in saving everyone whom he was sent for:

"He did this to fulfill his own statement: 'I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.' "

This does not diminish Christ's sacrifice.

Even worse, the idea that God will fix the will of the damned and will then for ever punish them because of their fixed will – sounds ethically monstrous to anyone who hears.

"God will fix..." can be more correctly stated as "by the nature of post-death conditions, their will IS fixed..." God doesn't DO the fixing more proactively than by making a universe in which some moral beings have a temporary earthly period in which to CHANGE their minds. A temporary period must, as such, come to an end, at which point there is no more period to change.

The idea that a person might go on forever rejecting God with ever new opportunities to sin anew, with no final resolve to their condition as either meritorious reward or just punishment, is ethically monstrous to anyone who hears.

Aside from that: some acts are in themselves permanent. They cannot be "recovered from" because they cause an fundamental change. (An injured animal can recover, a DEAD animal cannot recover. To kill an animal is a PERMANENT act removing a being forever more from the universe.) A mortal sin is one of the acts that is not (of its own nature) possible to recover from. No person can recover from rejecting God permanently: for it takes GRACE to love God as He is in Himself, i.e. something over and above what we can, ourselves, produce from our own powers. Having rejected that grace whereby one can love God, one cannot choose to recover that grace of yourself. You cannot CHOOSE that God shall freely make a NEW gift of the grace you have rebelled against. Hence mortal sin is mortal, in part, because it leaves the sinner unable to recover to the state of innocence. It is permanent of its own nature. (It is only miracle that can overcome it, from the outside.) It makes no sense to rebel against the condition of mortal sin as being a permanent rejection of God and His grace, and therefore it makes no sense in objecting to the punishment DUE for mortal sin as being permanent. The one implies the other. It is like objecting to the result that once you put the dairy cow Bessy on a spit and roast her for a party, you cannot "recover" her to milk at some future date. Dead is dead.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Glenn,

”Since he who follows Christ's commands is safe on your account, be said follower a universalist or a hellist, there is, on your account, really no point to making a fuss about universalism vs hellism or vice versa.

Only if whether one believes in hellism or in universalism makes no difference to one's success in following Christ's commands. But in reality beliefs matter in how one lives one's life. In my own case I can testify that the idea that Christ will never tire and will always try to save the very last soul makes Christ far more beautiful and loveable in my eyes, and makes my own sinning even more shameful and bitter. Could it be that for some people the opposite holds – that for them Christ abandoning part of His flock, indeed by all accounts the bigger part of His flock, is the most beautiful and loveable being? I very much doubt it. In fact given what I know about human nature I consider it very improbable.

If I am right (and this is perhaps a matter that can be scientifically studied) then in universalism and hellism we have a signature case where Christ's dictum “from their fruit you recognize them” can be applied.

”The problem with this is that anyone and everyone who does not freely comply with the divine wish is, sooner or later -- i.e., definitely ultimately -- compelled to 'freely' comply with the divine wish, and this makes a mockery of the free will God has given His creatures.”

I never understood this argument.

First of all we are not completely free. By freedom of choice we mean that we have the possibility of choosing our actions but not necessarily the power to do so. We know from proper experience the truth of the “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. It's not really that the will is weak, rather we have little mastery of our will and that's why temptation often drives it. The other thing we know from proper experience is that where we have a vice our mastery of the will is weaker, whereas where we have a virtue our mastery of the will is stronger. That's why those who follow Christ are the most free, and why it is mainly the sinful that most need Christ and the grace of the Spirit.

Secondly, I don't understand the argument itself. After all it's not like helping somebody we violate her free will. Suppose you are a math teacher and have two pupils. The first one appears to have an open mind to math, quickly sees the beauty and usefulness of it and takes an active interest in learning more. The second one appears to have a more closed mind, does not seem to see the beauty and usefulness in math, and is clearly bored by your teaching. What is the right thing for you to do? Should you work harder with this second student, laboring to show her how beautiful and useful math really is, and trying to get her take an interest in it? Or should you abandon the second student in her clearly expressed disposition lest you violate her free will?

Continuing with the analogy, suppose you were to frighten the second pupil promising her severe physical punishments if she did not took interest in math – while at the same time making a show of promising the good student plenty of sweets she does not even require. Wouldn't rather that choice of yours violate the bad pupil's free will (and perhaps the good student's also)? And wouldn't it actually misguide both the good and the bad pupil about the fact that the beauty and usefulness of math is in itself?

Analogies are never perfect, but this one I think is particularly apt. And I notice that Jesus was often called “rabbi” or “teacher” by His followers.

Thirdly, how come before death free will is not at all violated by Christ's message and the work of the grace – but after death it is? What is it in death that makes it necessarily so significant?

In conclusion I find the hellist argument from freedom of the will doesn't hold water any way you look at it.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

Faced with the notion that there is such a thing as sin, and that some of his ways may be sinful, our neighbor might well decide that God according to Christianity's teaching is a kill joy, a wet blanket, and Someone better not to have around to spoil his fun.

Right, and this effect is real, isn't it? That's why we must teach our neighbor that sinning is like the high one gets from drugs, a thing that momentarily appears to be pleasurable but quickly leads to misery and weakness. And that in virtuous behavior one can discovers a much more real kind of joy which never tires, and which leads the self-fulfillment and strength.

Also consider that evil, both moral and natural, is evil in two senses. First in the sense that it causes pain to the afflicted, and secondly in the sense that it engenders doubts in the love of God and thus weakens faith. The second sense is the overall worse one. So we have cases where people lose their faith when struck with a particularly bad instance of natural evil (say a loved one of theirs dies from leukemia) or moral evil (say a loved one of theirs is abused and killed). Imagine how they must feel thinking that their loved one moreover risks suffering in hell for ever. For ever, mind you. Abandoned by God and with the saints in heaven rejoicing.

Horrendous things do sometimes happen in this life with sometimes damaging effects on the soul. If we are not certain that in the afterlife even more terrible things (indeed infinitely terrible things) will happen we should be extremely careful before teaching them, because ever worse damage may issue. And I say we are not certain about hellism, as proven by the ongoing debate by some of the best theologians in history and of today. Pedagogically speaking it is sufficient to teach people the certain truth, namely that justice will be done and good deeds and bad deed will get their just wages, which will be many times over.

”No one -- i.e., no sane person -- refrains from reminding others not to skate on thin ice

Both hellists and universalists agree about the harmfulness of sinning and warn people from it (actually skating on thin ice is not a good analogy, because if you are lucky you can get away with that particular foolishness). If anything it bothers me to see how in popular Christianity the harmfulness of sin is trivialized by people who on the one hand teach about hell and on the other hand teach that to avoid hell you just have to belong to the right church – this often seems to be the most important thing – and then go to magical-like motions like receiving the Eucharist and regretting one's sins and getting absolution from the priest, preferably just before dying. I was reading the Catholic church's catechism and I understood that absolution is for naught unless there is a true change of heart, and often penance is also required – but this is not what percolates down to popular culture and all the talk about “we need go to God and say 'God I want your mercy'” (as in minute 1:25 in this terrible show here (thanks to DNW above for pointing it out for me). You know, stuff like: The full cost of mercy for you has already been paid by Christ on the cross, so you just have to go to the church and claim the price.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Could it be that for some people the opposite holds – that for them Christ abandoning part of His flock, indeed by all accounts the bigger part of His flock, is the most beautiful and loveable being? I very much doubt it. In fact given what I know about human nature I consider it very improbable.

Christ doesn't abandon members of His flock. It's members of His flock who abandon Him. And if you do know anything at all about human nature, then you know it is not at all very improbable that some members of His flock will abandon Him.

If I am right (and this is perhaps a matter that can be scientifically studied) then in universalism and hellism we have a signature case where Christ's dictum “from their fruit you recognize them” can be applied.

Several times in comments under the recent 'hell' OPs you have made reference to knowing people by their fruits. And each reference seems to rest on an underlying assumption according to which it is that he who accepts your universalism is a good tree bearing good fruit, and that he who does not accept your universalism is a bad tree bearing bad fruit.

That aside, why not view the matter in light of scripture? Why not, for example, consult Matt. 7:16-23:

"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

Right, and this effect is real, isn't it?

Yes, the effect is real. It is real when sin is mentioned, and it is real when hell is mentioned. However, you are willing to keep the cause and cope with the effect in the former case, but are unwilling to cope with the effect in the latter case and so seek to abolish its cause. Why the difference? Might it be that your universalism can accommodate the former, but not the latter? Since both are in accordance with Scripture, but only one is in accordance with your universalism, it would seem to follow that your universalism is not in accordance with Scripture.

John West said...

Hi Jo,

You're right that your questions are off-topic. There is, however, a forum some of us frequent, and you're welcome to ask as many off-topic questions as you like there.

You might also want to check out Ed's cosmological argument roundup, his ID versus A-T roundup, and the Scholastic's Bookshelf links here.

Gyan said...

Tony,
It has been said that God acts primarily for the common good of the universe (Sumna Contra Gentiles III,24).
This is the greatest good of the members of the universe and greater than private good of any member of the universe (Fr Sebastian Walshe).

And that's why God does not predestine all to eternal salvation.
This I understand as pertaining to evils--some of the greatest goods can not exist unless certain evils are permitted. Unless there are tyrants, there could not be martyrs. Unless there was sin,there could not be forgiveness. And so, God permits sin and hence the possibility of damnation.

But I don't understand the concept of common good as applied to actual damnation and not merely possibility of it. Could you expound on this?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”He realizes the salvation of everyone he predestined to save

But this idea diminishes God even more. A good creator would never put in the world creatures predestined to go to hell. I mean on the standard view of hellism people get a fair chance and fail; on the predestination view they don't even have a chance but are created to suffer for ever.

”according to his more comprehensive wish to emanate both mercy and justice”

God is love, and mercy and justice emanate from it only. We should not let our human notions of “justice”, often forged by the needs of our own primitive societiesm slip into our consideration of God's justice. Divine justice, as all that emanates from God, is a positive force for the good. In my understanding “divine justice” means the destruction of the evil of injustice, namely the evil that obtains in creation when the good are hurt and the wicked are pleased. Such evil of injustice will not hold, and as all evil this too will be vanquished from creation.

I find a useful way to consider creation is not as something that is concluded but as something still growing: Christ being the light in the center working its way outwards illuminating and thus perfecting everything. Until in the end all darkness is vanquished.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”He did this to fulfill his own statement: 'I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.'”

Please keep in mind that I am not a scholar, but being Greek I am blessed with the chance to feel in my bones the sound of the original text in the gospels. So when reading Christ's prayer in the garden I get a universalist tenor. The tenor starts at the very beginning at John 17:2. Now I can see that this is not the only interpretation possible, indeed starting with 17:6 Christ appears to be talking only about those who've heard His message, indeed He appears to be speaking only about His actual followers in that point in time – hence the “all but Judas Iscariot whom I had to lose so that your will be done”. It is as if Christ is here justifying the message itself.

Now because of your comment I've just reread the text and discovered how slight nuances in the English translation can give a different impressions. I think that's quite interesting and would like to explain here what I've found. My source in what follows is the biblegateway website. So when reading John 17:2 what I get is Christ saying basically the coherent and beautiful “You gave Me power over all people in order for Me to give salvation to all of them”. (Incidentally beyond the beauty and coherence of the idea there is also a poetic rhythm in the original wording which to some degree may explain their choice [1].)

But in the definitive King James Version I read the following translation “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him”. Doesn't this translation strike you as kind of labored? Why “all flesh” in the first part connected as an explanation to only “as many as” in the second? And I can fairly guarantee that in the original Greek there is nothing like the “as many as”, an expression which definitely suggests the thought “perhaps not all”.

Interestingly enough in the later American Standard Version I read a significantly different translation: ”even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life”. I think reading in that translation the second part as a continuation of the first part does justice to the sense of the original: “As you (God) gave Him (Christ) authority over *all* creatures, so that He (Christ) should give salvation to *all* that were given to Him.” More interestingly still, immediately after the second “all” I find a footnote which reads “Greek whatsoever thou hast given him, to them he etc.”, as if the translator felt obliged to kind of justify the change from “as many as” to “all”. But the word in the original Greek is “pan”, a very common and plain word which means “all” and not “whatsoever”, never mind “as many as”. Incidentally I think that the “all” in the second part of the sentence had to be clarified with the following “you gave him”, not only because the second “gave” poetically reflects the first, but also because “pan” in ancient Greek is quite abstract and should one remove the clause “you gave him” then the whole sentence would not make sense.

Incidentally the Revised Standard Version (which I understand is considered the standard today) has the same translation “since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him”. As does the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

In conclusion I get the feeling that perhaps through the centuries an echo chamber was built around scripture, where not only exegesis but even translation served as both the start and the end of theology. I am not suggesting any kind of fraudulent intent here, but only that those who were translating were influenced by the theology they knew and thus by what they believed the meaning of the text is. This effect can't be completely neutralized; the translator has no alternative but to use the meaning she gets from the text she is translating, and that meaning is influenced by her background knowledge (or “noetic structure”) – no doubt my own translating suffers from this necessary effect too. On the other hand I see that recently more objective translations (and thus perhaps more ambiguous translations) are winning the day. Ambiguity is not necessarily a bad thing – poetry is often ambiguous and in that ambiguity it draws the reader deeper inside. Poetry like life itself is something to interact with. - A final thought: The above effect is present not only when one translates a text but in general when on reads a text even in one's mother tongue. The problem with translations is that not only one's given noetic structure affects one's understanding, but also the translator's. And we should always keep in mind that the original gospel even when quoting Christ is a translation too, so the English speaker is two translations removed from the actual words uttered by Christ. And we should keep in mind that the theology we find in the gospels is not even a translation but pretty much the making-sense of what the first Christians experienced when meeting Christ in the flesh, and the continuous meeting of Christ in the church continues to guide theology even to this day. (Very clearly orthodox Christian theology has grown by heaps and bounds beyond the NT even if at all times it is stressed that the roots go back to the text.)

[1] I'd like to give you a sense of that rhythm. Bellow the Greek transliterated to the left, the literal English translation to the right:

kathos edokas afto (the-way you-gave him)
exusian pasis sarkos (power-over all-of flesh)
ina pan o dedokas afto (in-order all it you-gave him)
dosi aftis zoin eonion (he-should-give them life eternal)

Incidentally in the New Revised Standard Revision the “flesh” is substituted with “people”, but even though this makes for simpler reading something from the original is lost it seems to me. At least in my sense in the original the impersonal “it flesh” is contrasted with the personal “them life”, suggesting a transformation of sorts.

The next verse 17:3 continues explaining the reason that all should be given life eternal:

afti de estin I eonios zoi (this incidentally is the eternal life)
ina ginoskosi se ton monon alithinon theon (in-order they-know you who only true God)
ke on apestilas Iisun Christon (and whom you-sent Jesus Christ)

The idea I get here is that Christ is justifying the giving of eternal life, namely that through eternal life creatures will know God and also the sent Christ. Interestingly enough this implies also the reverse, namely that those at the opposite end of eternal life will *not* know God and Christ. Now the verb “gignosko” translated as “know” has a rather intellectual bent and not an experiential one, more like “to recognize” or “to realize” than “to experience” or “to be in the presence of”. Thus the following thought suggests itself: If we start by our current condition and how it is like to move towards virtue or conversely towards vice – and then project how it must be in heaven or conversely in hell – we realize that being far from God entails not only unhappiness but also ignorance. That those in hell will ignore the existence of God is something that I have the impression is not mentioned much, but the idea flows naturally from considering our own condition and I think is given support by John 17:3.

Tony said...

Reading the whole passage, I have to say that finding in Christ's words a division of people, the saved and those not, is to me more natural. Certainly verse 9 suggests that he is intent on dividing up:

"I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours."

The rest of the prayer in Ch. 17 keeps on distinguishing "the world" from his disciples and those who "will come to believe in me".

I accept that there are ambiguities that cannot be resolved by citing translations, and I do not know Greek. Reading over a large selection of translations, though, I find little room for overall ambiguity in the way Jesus distinguishes and separates the two over and over.

One could see a poetic intent, for example, in initiating a sense of distinction between the evil and those saved in the first verses, and then to morph that distinction by Christ making and moving even "the evil ones" to be remade into good people by His redemption, so that the former category is empty...but poetically that makes no sense of the rest of the chapter just harping on the continued distinction between his disciples and their followers, and "the world".

I find a useful way to consider creation is not as something that is concluded but as something still growing: Christ being the light in the center working its way outwards illuminating and thus perfecting everything. Until in the end all darkness is vanquished.

I too think of creation as not yet finished. First, God's ongoing maintenance of our being is an ongoing creative act, or perhaps the SAME creative act, which (to us) is extended in time. Moreover, each new human being is an instance of God's ongoing creative movement in the world. St. John Paul II evokes a lesser but still real sense of the growing of creation when he points out that when a worker, or an inventor, or a businessman uses the world to generate NEW good things that didn't before exist: though these all work WITH some existing substrate, the overall larger reality is God continuing to produce brand new good things with men as instrumental causes thereof. This is perhaps more clear with a genius inventing a new product based on a new insight into the way reality works, a work of "creative genius" that is God working in us.

But I don't find this a sufficient reason to repudiate a permanent hell. Since cannot be any such thing as "the greatest possible universe" which God might have created, it is a given that any universe God elects to create is not infinite in good, but limited. Having a world in which a lamb dies to feed a lion, or a seed dies to feed a bird, shows that there being some kinds of evil is not reason to call the making such a world bad, but good. God's triumph over darkness encompassed by mercifully saving some and justly punishing others is one kind of complete triumph, not partial success and partial failure.

IrishEddieOHara said...

I find the idea of a never-ending punishment to be not only reprehensible, but against the very thing which we have been taught by God of Himself through the Scriptures. The law of Lex Talonis posits that you do not hang a man, nor tear him limb from limb for stealing a loaf of bread. You do, however, as noted, have certain crimes which are more severe than others and which call for the death penalty. There is something called "proportionality" which comes into play here. It seems that St. Thomas and others, in their attachment to Roman law as the main expression of God's soteriological dealings with us, has forgotten this.

So perhaps you could tell me which sin it is that in the view of Lex Talonis punishment deserves an unending punishment?

Secondly. you state that the soul is fixed in its state after death. If this is so, then why do we pray for the souls of the departed after death? According to this rationale, there is no point in praying for the departed, as their state in the next life is unalterably fixed. Someone needs to make up their mind on this one way or the other.

And what of the admonition of Christ our God to be like our Father in heaven, of whom it says that He forgives His enemies? We are commanded to do likewise to be like Him. How does that not mitigate punishment?

I find that the Roman scholastic mind is enamoured of lengthy diatribes on God and Scripture. Or as one wag put it: why use 10 words when 100 will do? You couldn't have come to the point in a shorter post?

IrishEddieOHara said...

QUOTE: "Much more could be said, but that suffices to make the point that the goodness of punishment, including eternal punishment, follows from the general background metaphysical assumptions the Thomist brings to bear on this subject, as on moral questions generally. Part of the reason some find hell incompatible with God’s goodness, then, is that they don’t share a commitment to those metaphysical assumptions. But I think there are other factors as well."

The idea I have read in this blog is that punishment is towards a proper teleological end, that is the restoration of man's soul to that for which it was intended at the Creation.

But here is the problem with the thinking regarding the eternal nature of such punishment: no person ever born after the Fall is able in any sense to understand the truth of his sin nor the beauty of turning to God. We are like the dwarves in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, completely blind and unable to make a comparison between the good and the evil. Therefore, we are subject to being easily manipulated by our depraved passions. In addition - and this is quite puzzling to me - our faith teaches that Satan is allowed to present to us all manner of deceptions, including painting God as a monster instead of a love which we would eagerly run to if we but got a glimpse of that love.

(That God allows Satan to roam this cosmos rather than bind him up puzzles me, for if God truly desires the salvation of all, then how does He allow such evil to roam the earth deceiving people into their own damnation? This is akin to a father telling a beloved daughter "I love you" and then allowing an unrepentant serial rapist to have bed and board in the house. I cannot fathom why God allows this and quite frankly, it makes God very scary to me.

Is the desire of God simply retribution? If so, how is our God, who is described as love, any different from the pagan imaginations of what God is like? Has Western soteriology been compromised by pagan mythology in this matter? An eternal retribution does not speak of a love which drove God Himself to the Cross.

Gyan said...

"why do we pray for the souls of the departed after death? "

Because our prayers do make a difference on what the soul chooses at the moment of death. We can pray because we do not know what the departed soul has chosen. A prayer is a window into eternity so we can pray for an event even if the event has already happened (in any case time post-mortem is not simply related to time here).