A Discussion Stemming from TTA's Burn Victims Video
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11-11-2012, 07:50 PM
A Discussion Stemming from TTA's Burn Victims Video
After seeing the new Burn Victims video, I was motivated to send the link to some of my theist friends so I could hear their responses. I've always enjoyed religious discussions with one theist friend in particular, we'll call him "A," and so I made sure to ask him for some feedback. It took A about an hour to respond, and his answer was: "I think Tim Keller, Head Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian up in New York, NY, gave a very good essay that addresses this very question." At the end of A's answer was a link to Mr. Keller's article, "The Importance of Hell."

I didn't have much to do that evening, so I took some time reading Mr. Keller's essay, and I typed up a lengthy reply to send back to A regarding the essay. After some thought, I decided to put my reply here as well in case anyone was interested. A has not replied to my below response, but when he does I'll be sure to keep everyone on here updated. I hope you all enjoy!

[Note: I copied/pasted it from my Microsoft Word file, so the formatting might be a bit off. Also, the three footnotes I used don't seem to be using superscript here, so I've just put them in brackets instead.]

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The overall premise of The Thinking Atheist’s [hereafter TTA] video is to ask yourself, “If 1) the God of the Bible is content to let people burn in the agony of Hell for all of eternity, 2) you believe in that God, and 3) you worship and/or serve that God, then what kind God are you serving/worshiping?”

“1. It is important because Jesus taught about it more than all other Biblical authors put together.”

This entire point section only describes the importance of Hell based on Jesus talking about it. If anything, Jesus’ descriptions of Hell only seem to give more weight to the implication of TTA’s question.

“2. It is important because it shows how infinitely dependent we are on God for everything.”

There’s a key phrase in Mr. Keller’s segment here: “In that sense, then, it is impossible to depart from the Lord; even hell cannot exist unless God upholds it.” This quote recognizes two troublesome implications that could be drawn from Mr. Keller’s argument.

  1. First, Mr. Keller is recognizing that Hell was created by, and is sustained by, God. Again, TTA’s argument is that what kind of God would create a place like Hell and send people to it for eternity? This very quote screams: “My God would! Yes, indeed! This God right here, mine!”
  2. If it is impossible to fully remove ourselves from God, yet still possible to remove ourselves enough to be sent to Hell, what kind of God would allow us the capability to inflict such horrors upon ourselves? I would give a proximate cause argument here, where if a parent handed a loaded gun to a child and the child shot himself in the head, we would clearly lay blame on the parent for allowing the opportunity to present itself. I’m sure you would agree that any defense from the parent claiming “But it was not I who pulled the trigger, it was the child!” would only fall on deaf ears.
Another interesting phrase that Mr. Keller offers is this one: “All the life, joy, love, strength, and meaning we have looked for and longed for is found in his face (Psalm 16:11)-that is, in his favor, presence, fellowship, and pleasure.” I’ve heard this, and several other verses like it, recited to me before, and I’ve always had a certain problem with it. The people who extol God for all the “life, joy, love, strength, and meaning we have looked for and longed for […] being found […] in his favor, presence, fellowship, and pleasure” have absolutely no problem with the same God taking away all the “life, joy, love, strength, and meaning we have looked for and longed for […] being found […] in his favor, presence, fellowship, and pleasure” for all of eternity and replaced with “a place of unimaginably terrible misery and unhappiness [filled with] painful fire and outer darkness, [where being] tortured, sawed in half, flayed and burned alive [would only be] a picnic compared to hell.” How can people who are so happy with God’s “gifts” (as mentioned above) be so callous at the eternal removal of them replaced with infinite and incomprehensible suffering?

Mr. Keller also says this: “the human soul was built for worshiping and enjoying the true God.” If that is so, notwithstanding the above paragraph’s argument, then why would God also “build” our soul so that it could malfunction in order to go astray from him? Furthermore, why would God, who is supposedly all-loving, create a place such as Hell that is so inimical to our purpose of worshiping and enjoying him? Wouldn’t a place of rehabilitation, care, and love be much more amenable rather than an eternal pit of fiery torment and agony?

"3. It is important because it unveils the seriousness and danger of living life for yourself."

Another claim that Mr. Keller makes is the following: “Paul explains that God, in his wrath against those who reject him, 'gives them up' to the sinful passions of their hearts.” Mr. Keller’s argument here is that God’s punishment for abandonment is to leave them to their own devices. That clearly isn’t the case, however, as God will also condemn that person to Hell once they die. In effect, this is God allowing for two punishments stemming from one crime. It is not enough that God punish the abandoner finitely by allowing him to his own devices while on this Earth, but then God also issues a second punishment, akin to double jeopardy, after the abandoner’s death in the form of an infinite Hell.

The above quote also recognizes that God does not follow the same standards that he sets forth for his creation. If God detests abandonment, then would it not be better to lead by example and remain with those who have abandoned him rather than “giving them up” as Mr. Keller thinks? A theistic student of logic might answer this objection by claiming I have committed a tu quoque (‘You’re one too!’) fallacy here. However, a tu quoue fallacy would not apply when the standards of God are in question – God is supposedly a perfect being whose standard/morals would also necessarily have to be perfect. Therefore, if God may remain perfectly moral in “giving [us] up,” then it must also remain perfectly moral for us to give up God.[1] Thus, we are faced with the question: If it is moral to give up God, then on what basis does he send us to Hell once we’ve abandoned him?

Mr. Keller continues onward to quote J.I. Packer’s “Concise Theology,” “Scripture sees hell as self-chosen . . . [H]ell appears as God's gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshipping him, or without God forever, worshipping themselves.” The simple fact that both Mr. Keller and Mr. Packer fail to observe is that no one (madmen aside) would ever choose infinite torment.[2] More importantly, if Mr. Packer’s claim was true, then God must have been cruel enough to create us with the capacity to so seriously err in judgment as to choose infinite torment.

Finally, Mr. Keller comes to the bread and butter of addressing TTA’s question in saying: “The idea of hell is implausible to people because they see it as unfair that infinite punishment would be meted out for comparably minor, finite false steps. Also, almost no one knows anyone that seem to be bad enough to merit hell.” Mr. Keller offers two solutions to this vexing problem in claiming that “Biblical teaching on hell answers both of these objections”…

  1. First, it tells us that people only get in the afterlife what they have most wanted-either to have God as Savior and Master or to be their own Saviors and Masters.
  2. Secondly, it tells us that hell is a natural consequence. Even in this world it is clear that self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness makes you miserable and blind. The more self-centered, self-absorbed, self-pitying, and self-justifying people are, the more breakdowns occur, relationally, psychologically, and even physically. They also go deeper into denial about the source of their problems.
Mr. Keller’s points do nothing to address the given problem. Instead, the answers only place Mr. Keller in the role of Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons pointing and childishly telling us while he laughs: “Ha ha! You did it to yourself!”
[Image: q2yCq.jpg]
So what if God warned you about Hell in the Bible? The fact of the matter is that God is still issuing out an infinitely terrible punishment for a finite crime. To make an analogy to God’s behavior here: Imagine that you are in a jury, judging a man who killed a child. The man is not denying having committed the murder, but instead is proffering the defense that “I told the little punk that if he came onto my lawn again that I’d cut off his head with the chainsaw. I warned him, and he didn’t listen.” You, just like anyone else, would find the man culpable and morally detestable for the child’s murder, despite any warning he may have given the child.

In short, Mr. Keller’s first answer does nothing to address the necessary flaws with God giving out an infinite punishment. It is nothing but feeble and improper blame-shifting apologetics.

Perhaps the most morally disgusting parts of Mr. Keller’s essay is the statement after addressing the Problem of Hell, where he justifies using Hell as a deterrent from freethought and disbelief in God. Mr. Keller his justification by reciting a personal story to his reader, where he used the works of C.S. Lewis to make a man “properly frightened by Hell” because the man thought that the fires of Hell “seemed too far-fetched, even silly.

Is this what religion and its leaders have resorted to, fear mongering and threats of an eternal punishment filled with fire and torment? The act of using fear of pain and suffering to bring someone to your belief is not something righteous or praiseworthy, but is instead nothing more than a bully-like threat.[3] In Mr. Keller’s worldview, God sits on high and tyrannically sentences people to Hell for eternity for finite actions (such as acting opposed to the nature that he, himself, programmed into us), while his agents such as Mr. Keller utilize terror to scare us into believing. If such a worldview and activity makes Mr. Keller a “holy man,” then what kind of morally depraved person would follow Mr. Keller, let alone his God?

"4. The doctrine of hell is important because it is the only way to know how much Jesus loved us and how much he did for us."

Mr. Keller begins this segment by talking to us using lines from the Book of Matthew, specifically pointing out that Jesus died for us on the cross, which shows how much God loves us and does not want us to go to Hell. However, Mr. Keller is forgetting that God is supposedly omnipotent, and thus did not require the crucifixion/death of Jesus in order to save us from Hell; in fact, the entire drama pageant of Jesus’ death was entirely unnecessary, as God could have simply waved his hand to save us from Hell and simultaneously instill the knowledge/weight of such into our heads. Thus, the full ramifications of Mr. Keller’s doctrines (and anyone who abides by them, for that matter) are all the more morally deplorable. Why? God could have spared the suffering of Jesus and still achieved the exact same end by a simple waive of his hand, but instead he chose to go the route of suffering, pain, and bloodshed in order to abolish a law/standard that he established in the first place.

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Footnotes
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[1] There is always the objection to this argument that “God has different morals than we, as humans, have.” This argument fails for multiple reasons, which, due to space concerns, will not be discussed in this dialogue. If you are interested in reading the various reasons why such an argument would fail, please examine “The Euthyphro Dilemma” and also read James Rachels’ article “God and Moral Autonomy."

[2] The full argument against “choosing to go to Hell” is concisely and effectively given by YouTube user QualiaSoup in his video “Hell: An Excessive Punishment.”

[3] This also raises the question of the authenticity of a person’s belief who believes only due to the threat of Hell looming above their head. Is God so petty as to be satisfied by believing in him out of fear?

"More and more is being relentlessly subtracted from less and less."
-- Christopher Hitchens, Mortality
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15-11-2012, 10:51 PM (This post was last modified: 16-11-2012 03:30 PM by Atothetheist.)
RE: A Discussion Stemming from TTA's Burn Victims Video
Hell is not needed or even justified in the eyes of any reasonable being, let alone any all powerful being which could, in theory, make a better place for the damned.

Hell is a place where infinite punishments are doled out for finite crimes. It is a horrible place of unjustified torture under the guise of "eternal justice" which is a contemptible idea when applied to a finite, lowly, and flawed mammal such as the human being.

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Credit goes to UndercoverAtheist.
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