We’ve been looking at arguments against universalism. Here, here, and here we considered the traditional view that God damns sinners to eternal hell as a form of retributive punishment, and found it lacking. Last time, we looked at the notion that the damned actually damn themselves. From an external perspective, which is what we considered, it seems that such a system paints God in every bit as bad a light as does the notion of His vindictively casting sinners into hell. There is, however, another, more psychological flavor of the “damned are in Hell because they damned themselves” argument. I’ve touched on it in the past, but I want to look at it in greater detail now.
The argument is in brief that those who are ultimately lost have not transgressed a rule or set of rules that God has implemented and thus failed to make the cut for Heaven. Rather, they have made themselves, by their own choices, incapable of Heaven. To use an analogy: If I loaf around as a couch potato and don’t go to training sessions, I won’t make the track team. This won’t be a punishment as such–rather, it’s because I won’t have the ability to run! Moreover, if I hate track, then to me, being a couch potato is even desirable! Thus, in a sense, the damned not only have cultivated attitudes and habits that make it impossible for them to appreciate Heaven, but they also get what the really want. Hell, to them, is perhaps not a punishment, but an actual desire. This model of damnation is strikingly–and chillingly–described in C. S. Lewis’s classic novel The Great Divorce.
Back here I discussed arguments against universalism that I considered to be invalid, since they missed the point by devolving into ad hominems or other logical fallacies. At the end of that post, I touched on the two types of anti-universalist arguments that I thought actually addressed the issue:
I’m dividing [anti-universalist arguments] into the more traditional arguments that God directly punishes sinners, who deserve what they get, and more modern arguments that take a more psychological approach and locate Hell in the viewpoint of the damned themselves.
I dealt with the first of these here, here, and here, concluding that a truly loving and just God would not logically cast people into eternal hell as a retributive punishment. Even many people who want to defend the idea of a populated Hell agree as far as that, especially since the last century. Thus, I want to look at the second set of arguments–that the damned in some sense damn themselves.
Last time we discussed whether infinite retribution for even the worst of finite sins is just. Our answer to that was, “No.” Here, though, we’ll look at a more fundamental question: Is retributive justice itself truly just?
In the first post of this discussion, we looked at the various types of punishments for transgression, and what purposes they try to achieve:
- Restitution seeks to redress a loss. For example, if you steal from me, you must give the money back.
- Prevention or containment seeks to prevent a crime from happening again. If you’re in jail for bank robbery, you can’t rob another bank (at least until you are released).
- Deterrence seeks to prevent crime in the first place. If I know I’ll go to jail for bank robbery, I’ll be less inclined to rob banks to begin with.
- Rehabilitation seeks to retrain or reform a criminal so that he or she can become, in the words of the cliche, a “productive member of society” who will not be inclined to be a repeat offender.
- Retribution is the notion that certain responses are inherently appropriate for certain offenses.
All of these models of punishment are more or less intuitively obvious. Certainly a criminal should make restitution for his or her crime; prevention and deterrence are fairly obvious motivations for punishment; and while rehabilitation had been controversial for various reasons, it still is fairly logical on its face. Retribution–that a person deserves a certain punishment because of what he or she did–is, however, more mysterious. It seems to be uncontroversial and intuitively right; and yet it seems to defy easy analysis.
Not that kind of dessert; but I couldn’t resist the visual pun!
Back here we began the discussion of the traditional argument in favor of Hell (and thus against universalism) which asserts that God is just in condemning to Hell the souls of those who are not saved (by whatever specific criteria that is determined). In that context, we looked at the functions of punishment for transgression, and we came up with the following: restitution, prevention, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution. After discussing these various motivations for punishment, I concluded with this:
Hell certainly won’t rehabilitate the damned, since they are said to be damned eternally, incapable of reform. It won’t give the saved restitution–if someone murders me, no amount of Hell he experiences will bring me back to life. Further, whether I go to Heaven or Hell is traditionally said to be dependent on my own spiritual state. In short, Heaven is not a “restitution” to me for getting murdered. If I’m in a state of mortal sin, I’d go to spend eternity in Hell with the one who murdered me. Prevention and deterrence are not operative here, either. Fear of Hell might keep a living person on the straight and narrow. However, after the Last Judgement, when everyone is either in Heaven or Hell, neither prevention nor deterrence has any further purpose. The saved can no longer sin, so there is no necessity to deter them from evil. Even if the damned were “let loose” from Hell, the saved can no longer be harmed in any way, so there’s nothing the damned can be prevented from doing to the innocent.
Thus, the only logic of Hell can be that it is a just retribution. If an eternal Hell exists, retribution is its sole logical purpose. Thus, in looking at this issue, the question is not “Is eternal damnation just?” as such, but “In what way and to what extent is retribution, or more precisely retributive punishment just?”
Thus in trying to determine if it is just for God to damn certain people for eternity, we actually have two questions. The first and most obvious is, “Is eternal punishment for one’s sins just?” This is the question I’ll discuss in this post. However, the very question brings up another, subtler question, to wit: “Is retribution a just motivation for punishment at all?” That question I will deal with in the next post in this series.
Back here, having addressed arguments against universalism that miss the point, I said,
In the next two posts in this series I’ll look at arguments for Hell that at least address the issue. I’m dividing them into the more traditional arguments that God directly punishes sinners, who deserve what they get, and more modern arguments that take a more psychological approach and locate Hell in the viewpoint of the damned themselves.
Thus, I want now to look at the former of these notions: that God directly punishes sinners, with the corollaries that they deserve that punishment; or to put it another way, that eternal damnation is in fact just. In order to do this, before even discussing “just”, we have to begin by unpacking the meaning of “punishment” itself. After all, if a person has transgressed moral law, there are several different responses society can have, all loosely lumped under “punishment”. These responses are distinct, though, and are very different in what they attempt to achieve. First, there is the notion of restoration or restitution.
I hate it when I run across an interesting blog and find it has not been updated in months, or even years. I can’t speak for others as to whether my blog is interesting–though the traffic hasn’t been bad lately–but it has not been updated since November, with the exception of a brief note of its five-year anniversary in December.
Alas, life has got in the way. With no intention of whining, I have had many personal things, including health issues, that have had to take precedence. These have caused me to slip out of regular posting; and slipping out of regular posting leads all too easily to no posting. In any case, this post it to make it clear that I’m still around and do intend–when I don’t know–to resume at least some posting, within the parameters of some still-pressing concerns.
First, I will at some point resume the “Daily Whitman” series. Instead of backdating it, I will probably just re-start it at whatever date it happens to be, and go from there. The index has presented some thorny problems, and may have to be totally re-done; so I don’t expect I’ll have it updated for some time, even after I re-start posting the poems.
Second, I’m mostly satisfied with my series on universalism, but may post occasionally to it, as ideas occur or worthwhile exterior links crop up.
Third, I have a broad overview of what I want to do with my tent-pole “Legends of the Fall” series, which I still consider incomplete. This will require several more posts–I don’t know how many–and I will try to get started back on them in the coming weeks, as I’m able to. To me, this is the most important series on the blog, and the one I consider the linchpin; so if nothing else, I want to finish it.
Of the other series, I want to eventually resume the series on religion and role-playing, as I have some good ideas for it, and I want to finish the series on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Beyond that, we’ll just see what happens.
Many thanks to all of you who follow, read, and (I hope) enjoy the blog, especially those who have kept coming during its hiatus. That means a lot to me, and I appreciate it very much. Keep coming–hopefully there will be new material soon!
BOOKXXXV. GOOD-BYE MY FANCY
Sail out for Good, Eidolon Yacht!
Heave the anchor short! Raise main-sail and jib—steer forth, O little white-hull'd sloop, now speed on really deep waters, (I will not call it our concluding voyage, But outset and sure entrance to the truest, best, maturest;) Depart, depart from solid earth—no more returning to these shores, Now on for aye our infinite free venture wending, Spurning all yet tried ports, seas, hawsers, densities, gravitation, Sail out for good, eidolon yacht of me!
After the Supper and Talk
After the supper and talk—after the day is done, As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging, Good-bye and Good-bye with emotional lips repeating, (So hard for his hand to release those hands—no more will they meet, No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young, A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more,) Shunning, postponing severance—seeking to ward off the last word ever so little, E'en at the exit-door turning—charges superfluous calling back— e'en as he descends the steps, Something to eke out a minute additional—shadows of nightfall deepening, Farewells, messages lessening—dimmer the forthgoer's visage and form, Soon to be lost for aye in the darkness—loth, O so loth to depart! Garrulous to the very last.
Old Age’s Lambent Peaks
The touch of flame—the illuminating fire—the loftiest look at last, O'er city, passion, sea—o'er prairie, mountain, wood—the earth itself, The airy, different, changing hues of all, in failing twilight, Objects and groups, bearings, faces, reminiscences; The calmer sight—the golden setting, clear and broad: So much i' the atmosphere, the points of view, the situations whence we scan, Bro't out by them alone—so much (perhaps the best) unreck'd before; The lights indeed from them—old age's lambent peaks.