A Helluva Post on the Rectification of Names

What the hell does that title mean, you may well ask!  Well, let’s jump right in.

Rectification of names” is a significant concept in Confucius‘ thought.  Simply put, it means calling things what they actually are, and acting accordingly.  Or to put it succinctly, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “Don’t step in s*%$ and call it peanut butter!”  In the course of another lengthy blog discussion, I’ve thought more about some issues I’ve already been pondering, especially in relation to the doctrine of Hell, in the run-up to outing myself as a universalist. I am persuaded that there needs to be a lot of rectification of names in this area, because I think an awful lot of people are stepping in theological s*%$ and calling it eschatological peanut butter.

Let’s start by laying some  groundwork.  Traditionally, the three major Abrahamic religions have all taught the continuance of human existence after death.  The first Abrahamic religion, Judaism, has traditionally been rather vague about this–it is usually phrased in terms of the “world to come”, with the terms “paradise” and “heaven” rarely if ever used, and “hell” (in this context, translations of the Hebrew Šě’ôl, “Sheol” or Gê’ Hinnôm, “Gehenna”) even vaguer.  Broadly, the idea of an eternal hell is not integral to Judaism.

On the other hand, it has historically been front and center in both Christianity and Islam.  That is, both of these religions have taught the following:

1.  All humans will continue to exist after bodily death.

2.  All humans will be divided after death into two categories, the damned and the elect.

3.  The damned will be those who have been evil, sinful, etc. (we’ll discuss exact criteria later); the virtuous will be elect.

4.  The damned will be consigned to Hell, where they will be tortured and punished for all eternity.  The saved will go to Heaven (Paradise, the Garden of Allah, etc.) where they will experience eternal bliss.

This description has been broad-brush and has hewed fairly close to the traditional views.  For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to the four points above as the Traditional View of Hell, which I’m abbreviating TVOH.  Now let’s look at it and see what we can dig out of it.

First, the TVOH necessarily implies one of two things about the damned.  One is that the damned–leave aside for the moment the exact criteria by which they became damned–deserve their fate.  Let’s be explicit:  we’re saying that one possible implication of TVOH is that a finite human being, capable of only a finite (even if large) amount of sin, evil, or miscellaneous mischief, can deserve, in full justice, an eternity of punishment.  Thus, under this assumption, it is fully just and appropriate that God damn such people for eternity.  This has been more or less the view of most strains of Christianity over the centuries.

The second possibility is that God more or less arbitrarily damns certain people for reasons we cannot understand.  Bob goes to Hell, Jack goes to Heaven–simple as that.  This view has been characteristic, to varying extents, of St. Augustine, the Jansenists, traditional TULIP Calvinism, and Islam.  I’d hasten to add that adherents of this view, like those of the first, would argue that it is just.  The difference is that the adherents of the first view would view the justice of damnation as being comprehensible or explicable in human terms, at least in principle; whereas for the latter, God’s actions are just simply because He’s God.  The perfect exemplar of this view is Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to Hell.  He acknowledged that this seemed rather unpleasant, but that (given this theological position) that was just how the cookie crumbled.  God does it, it’s His action, therefore it’s just–case closed.  The Church, unable to stomach such an extreme view, softened it with the concept of Limbo; but if nothing else, Augustine’s view was perfectly logical, given his presuppositions.

Either of these positions could be defended, and both have been defended.  The argument for the first usually boils down to saying that though in their proximal effects, all human sins are finite, they are ultimately sins against God, who is infinite.  A sin against the Infinite is therefore of infinite import, and thus deserving (if unforgiven) of infinite punishment.  This, in my view, is really the only way to defend this perspective; but one doesn’t hear it much any more.  First, it’s not completely clear that this analysis is correct.  Second, it seems to give more weight to God’s justice than to His purported mercy, and implies Him to be more rule-bound than personalistic.  Finally, it begs the question of whether the deck was stacked against humanity to begin with.

As to the second view, that God’s judgments are more or less inscrutable and arbitrary, there are people who are well-meaning, sincere, and basically good people, by no means deficient in intelligence or logic, who hold this view, or something like it, while at the same time maintaining God’s infinite love, mercy, and compassion.  I have to say that I have never understood this.  Such a God seems to me to be monstrous and demonic; but some people seem to be able to believe that such a God is not so.  All I can do is scratch my head.  On the whole, though, this view is little defended; and even those who hold some form of it will usually argue that God is just in arbitrarily damning the lost, since they deserved it.  That’s not even coherent; but it shows that there is some subliminal discomfort with the idea of an absolutely arbitrary judgment.

Thus, in our first step towards rectifying the names, we have to say that the existence of Hell means either 1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or 1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.

Next is Christian attitudes towards Hell.  Given the TVOH, many (if not most) of the human race is going to Hell forever.  Is that a horrible tragedy, or should we laud it, even rejoice at it?  In the introduction to later editions of his Dare We Hope that “All Men Be Saved”?, Hans Urs von Balthasar expressed astonishment and dismay at the strength of the response to his book, which posited the mere possibility (he was a soft universalist) of the salvation of all.  He said that many vigorously denounced him, insisting not only that God did damn some, but that it was necessary for Christians to believe, nay, to want these lost souls to be damned.  Balthasar was quite taken aback; he rightly pointed out that Christians are supposed to desire the salvation of all, even if they don’t believe it will be achieved.  He feared that there was a deep-seated vindictiveness being expressed by his critics; and I agree with him.

Several years ago, there was a back-and-forth between the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things, and New Oxford Review editor Dale Vree over a remark by the former that implied a universalist viewpoint (specifically a soft universalist viewpoint, Fr. Neuhaus having a view similar to that of Balthasar).  Vree, in the most hostile terms imaginable, essentially implied Neuhaus to be a borderline heretic, and probably a reprobate, for entertaining even the possibility of universal salvation.  The exchange went on for some months, eventually dying down, though Vree did not give a single inch on his views.

As I was researching for this post, I ran across this post and this one, at this site.  The author is an atheist, and I disagree with some of his views.  Still, the first linked post, entitled “Christians Love Hell More than Heaven”, makes some sobering points, and is worth quoting at length, my emphasis:

In a previous post, I wrote about how religious believers use Heaven and Hell Basically, they can’t enjoy Heaven unless they are sure others must suffer in Hell.

Sure, believers may feel offended by this analysis.  If you ask them, they probably would deny enjoying the idea of hell.  People deny all sorts of things if admission makes them look bad.

Does this atheist have some special insight into religious minds that believers themselves don’t have?

Actually, plenty of Christians know exactly how Heaven and Hell is supposed to work in the minds of believers.  Just days after my post, The Christian Post published an article saying that real Christians must believe in Hell, or else they will go to Hell.  This article, “Universalism: For Whom the Bell Tolls? – It Tolls for Thee” by Kevin Shrum , is an attack on the idea of Universalism — that everyone eventually receives salvation and goes to heaven.

In Kevin Shrum’s hands, Hell becomes just about the most important part of all of God’s creation.  [H]e “has been in ministry for 29 years…and is an Adjunct Professor of Theology for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.”  So he knows about Christianity, all of genuine Christianity, I guess.  Well, at least he knows Hell, and he likes what he sees.

Shrum announces his contempt for anyone favoring Universalism, such as the Universalist he is addressing in this article, megachurch leader Rob Bell :

Shrum goes on to explain why Universalism cannot be God’s plan:

“… if Love Wins in the way you are reported to say that it does, why be a Christian at all? I don’t get it. If, in the end, nothing really matters (how I live or who I serve) because God will save the worst of us even if we refused to follow Jesus in this life, why follow Jesus in this life at all? Why live holy or make any attempt to really love my neighbor?”

Wow — Schrum actually just said that you can’t really love your neighbor unless you can hate another neighbor enough to send them to Hell.

This crude moralism is there in Schrum’s own words:

“If universalism is true, I’m going for the best of what both worlds have to offer – eat, drink, and be merry in this life for tomorrow I will die, and when I do die I get heaven no matter what happened this side of eternity. And what’s my reward? I get away with it!

Are you kidding! I’m a ‘stinkin’ sinner’ who is already uninterested in and struggling with changing my ways, so if I don’t have to and I can still get heaven and if thumbing my self-important finger in God’s face has no eternal consequences, this is awesome and I for one am all about it. If universalism is true I may or may not be faithful to my wife, depending on if it benefits me; I may or may not love my kinds, etc.”

Evidently, being worthy is all about pleasing an authority figure who demands sacrifice, and one’s sacrifice is worthless unless others are punished for not making that sacrifice too.

In the flurry of letters and comments unleashed during the Neuhaus/Vree brouhaha, several commenters in those benighted, pre-blogosphere days said pretty much the same thing:  that they would live how they liked were it not for the fear of Hell, and that therefore to teach universal salvation is an invitation to immorality and societal collapse–the same kind of thing Shrum is quoted as saying above.

Now all great theologians have said that virtue is its own reward and that doing right merely out of fear of punishment is, while better than doing evil, nevertheless the least laudable form of behavior.  To put it in psychological terms, pre-conventional or conventional morality (doing right because of fear of punishment or desire to conform to society) is good in that it at least keeps you from doing wrong and keeps society safe, but people ought to aspire to post-conventional morality–doing right for its own sake and not being bound in a straightjacket of fear and draconian rules.  Apparently, many of the proponents of Hell are not only not post-conventional in their moral outlook, but they think that even the concept of it is a bad, if not potentially disastrous, thing.

So to rectify names a bit more:

2.  a) Many Christians actually see Hell not as a sorrowful thing, but a vital necessity and an active good.

2. b) As a corollary, they have an active desire to see malefactors damned.  In short, it’s not just a tragedy, but an active attitude of, “Yes, those m*^%$#@*&^%$#s are getting what they deserve!  Justice is served!  God is not mocked!”

2. c) As another corollary, such people seem to have a model of morality that is at best conventional, if not pre-conventional, a model which they project on everyone else; that is, they assume that people are driven so much towards selfishness and sin that only threats, the bigger the better–preferably the infinite and eternal threat of Hell–can keep them in line.

2. d)  As a final corollary, this implies that these people have rather disordered inner lives themselves.  In short, they are not saying, “Because of the love of God and the grace He gives me, I no longer have a desire for sin X,” or even the less exalted, “Though I am strongly tempted to X, I don’t want to be that kind of person,” but rather, “I wanna do X soooo bad, but if I do I’m gonna burn, so I’ll refrain.  As long as all the other yahoos who give in will burn.”  To me, this is clearly the subtext of Shrum’s statements above.  In short, it is (at least on a subconscious level) not about becoming a better person as an end in itself or or becoming more loving or decent or getting closer to God.  In short, it’s not about personal transformation–it’s about personal preservation.  That is, it’s about keeping the rules sufficiently to get picked to go to the head of the eschatological class.

This post has looked at the blunter aspects of the TVOH and those who hold it.  It gets much subtler than that, though, which is what we’ll look at in the next post.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 02/11/2012, in Catholicism, Christianity, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. “several commenters in those benighted, pre-blogosphere days said pretty much the same thing: that they would live how they liked were it not for the fear of Hell, and that therefore to teach universal salvation is an invitation to immorality and societal collapse”

    Perhaps. But to condemn this is to condemn a certain type of TEMPERAMENT, a category of person, rather than a belief.

    Because for some of us it’s true. If not one is going to Hell, I’m not going to be good. Even if it were annihilation instead of Hell…I’d still be bad, rather than good. Heck, if I don’t exist, I won’t be conscious of the fact I’m missing out on heaven, so no real loss to me in the end.

    Your position seems to be, “No, you should want to be good for it’s own sake” or something like that. But in fact this amounts to saying, “You should be the type of person who would be good even if you WEREN’T Christian.”

    But then Christianity “adds” nothing to the moral equation. If to get to heaven or avoid hell we have to be the sort of person who would be good even WITHOUT a heaven or hell, then that’s to condemn people simply for their innate temperament.

    Some of us (most humans, actually) NEED the threat of punishment and promise of reward to act differently, against our basest instincts. Telling people, then, that “If Christianity is what’s making you good, then you’re not a good Christian” is just paradoxical tripe. The whole point of Christianity is indeed just that: to make people be good who WOULDN’T be good without Christianity.

    Belief in the threat of Hell hanging inches from my head…has been my salvation, and that of MANY other people. Who are you to discount our salvation like that??

    “Now all great theologians have said that virtue is its own reward and that doing right merely out of fear of punishment is, while better than doing evil, nevertheless the least laudable form of behavior.”

    I think this is a false dichotomy. Hell is separation from God, is an “intrinsic” punishment, not one extrinsically imposed. God is not some anthropomorphic being who “sends” people to Hell. Rather, if we set our own will, our own life-orientation as apart from Supreme Meaning…then that IS Hell, there is no separation, they are the same thing. Sin IS its own Punishment. If you don’t believe in Hell, then you don’t believe in Sin, because Hell IS Sin.

    “As a corollary, they have an active desire to see malefactors damned. In short, it’s not just a tragedy, but an active attitude of, ‘Yes, those m*^%$#@*&^%$#s are getting what they deserve! Justice is served! God is not mocked!'”

    “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath judged your judgment on her. ”

    “After these things I heard as it were the voice of much people in heaven, saying: Alleluia. Salvation, and glory, and power is to our God. For true and just are his judgments, who hath judged the great harlot which corrupted the earth with her fornication, and hath revenged the blood of his servants, at her hands. And again they said: Alleluia. And her smoke ascendeth for ever and ever. And the four and twenty ancients, and the four living creatures fell down and adored God that sitteth upon the throne, saying: Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out from the throne, saying: Give praise to our God, all ye his servants; and you that fear him, little and great.”

    If Christ can say “Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire,” we’re all free to say the same.

    But, I suppose you’ll claim that he “never really said that” because it doesn’t fit with a judgment of His personality that you base on already assuming that such things are not part of the real picture.

    “they assume that people are driven so much towards selfishness and sin that only threats, the bigger the better–preferably the infinite and eternal threat of Hell–can keep them in line.”

    But I know that this is true at the end of the day. I know someone who is inclined to “talk modern” like you, liked to excuse his own wicked behavior with obfuscation about progressive dialectic and “conscience” and God being bigger than institutional formulas, etc.

    One day a Catholic friend of his cut him off and sent him a departing philippic about Hell. Well, he basically had an emotional breakdown and came crawling back repentant, exposing that all his “post-conventional” moral attitudes were just a verbal castle in the sky, a house built on sand to assuage his own guilty conscience. But a guilty conscience is the Wrath of God, and load of crap is all these arguments ever are.

    “As a final corollary, this implies that these people have rather disordered inner lives themselves. In short, they are not saying, ‘Because of the love of God and the grace He gives me, I no longer have a desire for sin X,’ or even the less exalted, ‘Though I am strongly tempted to X, I don’t want to be that kind of person,’ but rather, ‘I wanna do X soooo bad, but if I do I’m gonna burn, so I’ll refrain.’ As long as all the other yahoos who give in will burn.’ To me, this is clearly the subtext of Shrum’s statements above. In short, it is (at least on a subconscious level) not about becoming a better person as an end in itself or or becoming more loving or decent or getting closer to God. In short, it’s not about personal transformation–it’s about personal preservation. That is, it’s about keeping the rules sufficiently to get picked to go to the head of the eschatological class.”

    Again, a false dichotomy. There are two I’s within us. There is the old man and the new. The old I DOES wanna do it so bad, but fears burning. It is the new who is the “transformed” self you speak of. Most of the Hell-fearing crowd I know and respect would recognize this fact, and would definitely praise what you say about the proper motives, perfect vs imperfect contrition, etc. We just recognize that the Old Man is still there too, and more often than not may represent our “real voice” (it’s harder to refer to the New Man as “I” because his agency comes from grace alone, and the transformation of selfhood there is not yet complete in this life!)

    The fact that your crowd wants to pretend the old man isn’t there, and isn’t going to Hell, is why you are the ones who are so self-deceptive.

    • Perhaps. But to condemn this is to condemn a certain type of TEMPERAMENT, a category of person, rather than a belief.

      Agreed. However, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” If a disproportionately large number of those holding position X have a certain negative temperament, personality trait, etc., one might begin to suspect X.

      If not one is going to Hell, I’m not going to be good. Even if it were annihilation instead of Hell…I’d still be bad, rather than good.

      Well, each his own, I guess. My basic areas of moral failing have been pretty much consistent across my life, and at times when I did believe in the traditional view of Hell, I wasn’t noticeably more (or less) moral. In any case, if I lost my belief in God or an afterlife tomorrow, I’d still strive to be a better person for the sake of my daughter, if nothing else, and for my wife and friends. Even if I thought there was nothing to live for, it would not be fair of me to impose that on them, and subject them to suffering just because I didn’t believe in meaning or salvation any more. Strictly speaking, that’s inconsistent, since if there’s no meaning there’s no reason to try to make a better life for one’s children; but to that, all I can do is quote Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.”

      The whole point of Christianity is indeed just that: to make people be good who WOULDN’T be good without Christianity.

      I strongly disagree. Paul is very clear that the Law (for him the Torah, but it can be construed more generally) can never justify us, and it is through faith in Christ that we are saved, not though any action on our own part. Yes, “faith without works is dead”; but to say that our faith must be manifested concretely is very much different from saying that the “point of Christianity is…to make people good who wouldn’t be good” otherwise. I’m very much with Robert Farrar Capon, my emphasis:

      But now, In Lazarus, you see that it is just that extremity that has always been our hope – that very prison, the doorway to our liberty. Because making things jump out of nothing is God’s favorite act. He creates us out of it and raises us up from it. Jesus came to raise the dead. Not to improve the improvable, not to perfect the perfectible, not to teach the teachable, but to raise the dead. He never met a corpse that didn’t sit right up then and there. And he never meets us without bringing us out of nothing to the joy of his resurrection…– Robert Farrar Capon, Between Three and Noon: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

      Hell is separation from God, is an “intrinsic” punishment, not one extrinsically imposed.

      I’m actually working on a post in that regard, but in brief here: God eternally has us in mind, even “before” (an inappropriate word in the context of eternity, of course) Creation. In one sense, we come from Him, are an aspect of His mind, His meaning. I’m not taking it to the same extent as the Hindu idea that we are ultimately indistinguishable from the Atman; but there’s a point there. In creating creatures that are capable of finally and ultimately rejecting meaning, God seems to be, in a sense, expelling parts of Himself. Do you see what I mean? Even if Hell is seen as “intrinsic”, it appears then to be somehow intrinsic to God Himself; which gets back to what I said about how that makes Him look. As I said, this is super-brief—I’ll elaborate later.

      As to the Scriptural quotes, we could proof-text back and forth on that, but to no real purpose.

      But I know that this is true at the end of the day. I know someone who is inclined to “talk modern” like you, liked to excuse his own wicked behavior with obfuscation about progressive dialectic and “conscience” and God being bigger than institutional formulas, etc.

      Well, you don’t know me in person, and I don’t particularly feel like discussing personal issues in a context like this. Not least, it would come off as sounding smarmy, or striving to be humble, or arrogant, or what have you. All I can say is that I am keenly aware of my sins, that I never excuse anything I do, that given the faces I see when I go to Confession, it appears that I go more frequently than most people I know, and that I am aware of the need of God’s grace to get through the day, let alone become a better person.

      The fact that your crowd wants to pretend the old man isn’t there, and isn’t going to Hell, is why you are the ones who are so self-deceptive.

      I don’t know about my purported “crowd”, but I make no pretense of the nastier, sinful part of my personality. The idea of the “false self” or “ego” or whatever you want to call it isn’t unique to Christianity; and broadly I’d tend to agree with it, though I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all details of your interpretation of it.

  2. “Agreed. However, ‘by their fruits ye shall know them.’ If a disproportionately large number of those holding position X have a certain negative temperament, personality trait, etc., one might begin to suspect X.”

    Again, though, this is judging temperaments. As “negative.”

    “I strongly disagree. Paul is very clear that the Law (for him the Torah, but it can be construed more generally) can never justify us, and it is through faith in Christ that we are saved, not though any action on our own part.”

    No one is saying “What we do justifies us.” I’m saying my faith in Hell, in Christ the Goat-Hating Judge, is a major instrument of my sanctification. Christianity IS to sanctify, which is equivalent to your “raising the dead.”

    “God eternally has us in mind, even ‘before’ (an inappropriate word in the context of eternity, of course) Creation. In one sense, we come from Him, are an aspect of His mind, His meaning. I’m not taking it to the same extent as the Hindu idea that we are ultimately indistinguishable from the Atman; but there’s a point there. In creating creatures that are capable of finally and ultimately rejecting meaning, God seems to be, in a sense, expelling parts of Himself. Do you see what I mean? Even if Hell is seen as ‘intrinsic’, it appears then to be somehow intrinsic to God Himself; which gets back to what I said about how that makes Him look. As I said, this is super-brief—I’ll elaborate later.”

    I do see what you mean. But I don’t understand the problem with it.

    Rowan Williams once said, regarding Von Balthasar’s beloved Holy Saturday: “God must be such as to make it possible for divine life to live in the heart of its own opposite, for divine life to be victorious simply by ‘sustaining’ itself in hell. But this directs us clearly to the conclusion that the divine identity cannot be a straightforward sameness or self-equivalence. God’s freedom to be God in the centre of what is not God (creation, suffering, hell) must not be grounded in an abstract liberty of the divine will (such a contentless liberty would only divide the divine will from any coherent account of divine consistency and thus personal dependability), but in the character of God’s life. If God can be revealed in the cross, if God can be actively God in hell, God is God in or even as what is other than God (a dead man, a lost soul). Yet that otherness must itself be intrinsic to God, not a self-alienation.”

    As I’ve said before, I think, Hell is at the very heart of God. The Furnace is burning at the center of all being, and it is that very furnace which creates and radiates the Divine Light. It IS intrinsic to God, because God’s own opposite or negation is itself intrinsic to God, as Williams describes here.

    • I’d have to read Williams’s article in full to get the entire context before I’d comment on it too much. The book is actually in a fairly cheap Kindle format, so I may just do so soon. What’s interesting is that we’re drawing diametrically opposite conclusions from the same premises. Balthasar sees the total Divine kenosis as pointing to the ultimate reconciliation of all–since the Son empties himself totally but returns, even from hell, likewise, so ultimately does all mankind, of whom he is the exemplar. John Scottus Eriugena, on whom I wrote a post a few hours ago, seems to have had a similar view. Eriugena, btw, thought that all were saved, but that they differed in their closeness to God–hence the “many mansions” of the Father’s house.

      You, on the other hand, are using the same concept of Divine kenosis to argue that eternal damnation and a loss of part of His creation is consistent with an omnipotent and all-loving God. Same premises, completely different conclusions.

      That’s why I say I’d have to read the whole article–I’m not sure which side Williams’s statements here could be said to support. In any case, it’s clear that Balthasar–and Eriugena, and many other universalist Fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, Macarius the Great, and Isaac of Syria, to name a few, did have a “problem with” the idea of “Hell at the very heart of God”. If you’re going to call me a heretic, be consistent and call them all heretics or borderline heretics, too.

      What I don’t get is your attitude, or at least what it seems to be to me. C. S. Lewis was not a universalist, and gave a good explanation as to why in various places, most notably The Great Divorce. He was, however, very regretful of that. I forget the exact source and don’t have time to find it, but he somewhere said that the doctrine of Hell is the one Christian doctrine that he wished he could do away with, but that he couldn’t. In other words, he believed in Hell, and thought that it would be inhabited; but he thought that was a great tragedy and even a partial defeat of God. In short, he believed it but he didn’t like it.

      You, by contrast, not only believe it, but you seem to like it in some weird way, and if I’ve understood you correctly in the dozens of posts I’ve read over the last few months, you seem to find it vitally necessary for your emotional well-being and your very sanity. You also seem to feel the need to promote it relentlessly rather than saying, as did Lewis, “Well, there it is–I wish universalists were right, but I don’t think they are; now let’s move on to other areas.” You seem, in fact, to think universalists to be obstinately pernicious–something Lewis never thought, though he disagreed with them. All that I really, really do not understand at all. Each his own, I guess.

      To close: you are on record as saying that the saved rejoice in the suffering of the damned; that you’d rather there be a hell and no heaven so at least that justice would be done, rather than a perishing of all; you have in your own words admitted that your views make God “monstrous”; you have said that God’s hatred is his love and have commented favorably on the views of the Westboro Baptist Church; and you seem to think that threats of eternal punishment are the best way to a moral, coherent society. I have to say that I appreciate your honesty and bluntness in saying such things, since one of the theses of the last few (and some upcoming) posts is that a lot of traditionalists are intellectually dishonest in trying to “domesticate” God by adopting soft universalism while more or less downplaying Hell and the logic thereof, and not wanting to deal with the issues of whether it’s just or logical. Really, it’s only fully coherent to make a full-bore defense of traditional doctrine, with an inhabited Hell–which you do; or to argue for some form of hard universalism, as Eriugena et al. do. I give you kudos in that respect. Beyond that, as to whose views are correct, more fitting, more coherent, more repugnant–that’s up to any readers to judge temporally, and God to judge eternally.

  3. This little chapter on Hell (only 4 pages) by Ratzinger is worth a read:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=AfomsX5KtYkC&lpg=PA215&ots=z9RGttvzbN&dq=ratzinger%20on%20hell&pg=PA215#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Specifically, look how he follows the thread of the idea of universal reconciliation “following from the logic of the system.” Hope “does not emerge from the neutral logic of a system.”

    • I note that he does concede the universalism of many great Fathers, many of whom are saints. Much of Catholic doctrine, including things such as the Trinity, the hypostatic union, the double nature of Christ, etc. comes from the system of theology developed over the years, as such doctrines (and many of the words used in expressing them) were not explicitly Biblical (and not even implicitly so to their foes). I don’t think this is a sufficient argument to dismiss universalism.

  4. Hint: I’m pretty sure your position is EXACTLY the “self-willed assertion” he’s warning us about.

    Place your petition in the hands of the Lord, and leave it there.

    • I make no assertions about anything. I don’t even assert that there is an afterlife, or a God, or anything else. I have faith in such things, but I do not assert. Who knows? Maybe God damns everybody. I don’t believe that, but it’s conceivable. Aware of my sins, I can say that any good outcome is certainly not on any of my merits, but is purely grace; but as to others, I don’t see how widespread damnation squares with the God we’re supposed to believe in.

      In the pre-Vatican II (1953) book, A Catholic dictionary, by W.E. Addis and T. Arnold (viewable here) is the following interesting passage on page 399, my emphasis:

      Why does not God, who holds all hearts in his hand, turn the hearts of sinners to Himself? It is no answer to say that He chooses to confer the gift of free will on men with its attendant responsibilities, for it is the common doctrine of theologians that God could soften the heart of each and every sinner, and yet leave the freedom of the will in its integrity; and one who seriously reflects on the meaning of omnipotence as a divine attribute will scarcely venture to contradict the proposition. The only safe reply is that God so acts for reasons inscrutable to us….

      If indeed God could “soften the heart of each and every sinner, and yet leave the freedom of the will in its integrity” and yet refuses to do so, then sorry, I’m not interested.

  5. Yes, but he’s referring to a Thomist philosophy of grace and free will that, ironically, you apparently hold too!

    I’ve often mused that Calvinism and Universalism are two sides of the same coin, because the thought of God becomes so unbearable in, say, traditional Presbyterian predestinationism…that the only way to solve it is to say, “Okay, well, if God is ultimately dictating who is saved and who isn’t…then maybe the circle is squared by saying the secret is that He SAVES EVERYONE” and so the hardest Calvinism becomes the hardest Universalism.

    Now, the Thomism at play in this quote (and, I think, secretly in your position) is a bit different inasmuch as it doesn’t deny free will, but sometimes seemingly turns it into something whose “freedom” is essentially a verbal technicality. It’s just that this quote uses that to say “God damns some” whereas you use it to say, “Well, then he must save everyone.”

    I don’t know if this sort of Thomism is an adequate representation of free will. But even if so, it still doesn’t imply your hard universalism. Your “Well, if He can save everyone but doesn’t, I’m not interested” is NOT taking the Leap that needs to be taken. I have good hope that He will for exactly the reasons that quote implies. But I’m not going to impose some sort of meta-value on Him. I’m going to trust Him instead. He could damn, and (“systems” and “logics” be damned) it would be His to do, even if inscrutably. But that willingness to believe people COULD be damned is exactly the leap that’s needed to save them. There can be no mercy if there is presumption. There can be no leaving it confidently in His hands, no earnest entreaty that He WOULD do it…if we assert already what He WILL do.

    • I think this site is sedevacantist, but here, here, and here they make arguments that sound much like yours in tenor, and which are (given their assumptions) perfectly logical. Money quote from the middle link, my emphasis:

      We have seen the early Fathers teach that God does not want all men to be saved. If he did, then everyone would be saved because it is incompatible with his omnipotence that he should fail to realize his intention. Moreover he would not withhold from some the gospel that he has made necessary for salvation. Rather he predestined a superlative few to salvation and damns almost everyone because he wants to. He intended to do this before he considered the fall of Adam and the sins of men.

      f ‘God is love’ (I St. John 4:8) to those few upon whom he has mercy, whom he spares his gratuitous wrath, then he is hate to the mass of humanity. He hates them unto everlasting damnation, not because of their sins, which he permits and facilitates but of himself. The denial of this doctrine is perhaps the fundamental heresy today, facilitating the denial of the dogma ‘no salvation outside the Church’ and the ecumenical and universalist apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church.

      This is not “leaving it confidently in His hands”; this is spiritual masochism.

      Two quick points: when I say I’m a hard universalist, I don’t mean I know that God saves all–I don’t know I’m not a brain in a vat. I don’t mean God has to save all–He’s free and can do what He wants. I’m saying that given what we believe about His nature, it seems extremely unlikely that He doesn’t eventually save all. But maybe He doesn’t; or maybe He doesn’t even exist; or maybe Krishna is in charge. Any religious belief entails “leaving things confidently in His hands” in one way or another–even if that confidence is that most will burn.

      Second, as I’ve pointed out earlier, I don’t get why this is seemingly so extremely important to you. As I said, C. S. Lewis wasn’t even a soft universalist, but he seemed to feel bad about the doctrine–you enthusiastically embrace it and seem to feel the need to cling to it and fight to the death for it. Why?

  6. Once again, we have to walk up the mountain with Isaac knowing full well that God at least MIGHT kill him (and, probably, our disposition is a great deal more in the bad direction than just “might”) but also trusting Him.

    You can’t be “surprised” by salvation if you assert it as a rule from the start. The salvation is IN THE VERY SURPRISE, as it were.

    I think back to the final scene of “The Man Who Was Thursday” again. I think of Syme’s speech: “Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, ‘You lie!’ No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered.’”

    We have to “be alone in the dreadful Council of Days.” We DON’T get to know from the start. We are kept in breathless suspense, filled with hope and dread, until the very end.

    I’m reminded of another speech in that chapter: ” “I know what you mean,” he cried, “and it is exactly that that I cannot forgive you. I know you are contentment, optimism, what do they call the thing, an ultimate reconciliation. Well, I am not reconciled. If you were the man in the dark room, why were you also Sunday, an offence to the sunlight? If you were from the first our father and our friend, why were you also our greatest enemy? We wept, we fled in terror; the iron entered into our souls—and you are the peace of God! Oh, I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His peace.” ”

    If he was from the first our father and friend, why was he also our greatest enemy?? But that’s the drama of it!!!

    ” I sent you out to war. I sat in the darkness, where there is not any created thing, and to you I was only a voice commanding valour and an unnatural virtue. You heard the voice in the dark, and you never heard it again. The sun in heaven denied it, the earth and sky denied it, all human wisdom denied it. And when I met you in the daylight I denied it myself…But you were men. You did not forget your secret honour, though the whole cosmos turned an engine of torture to tear it out of you. I knew how near you were to hell. I know how you, Thursday, crossed swords with King Satan, and how you, Wednesday, named me in the hour without hope.” ”

    Your optimism is actually narrow and not optimistic. God is the “Sunday” of TMWWT, not some straightforward benign figure who saves everyone blah blah blah. He may, but if He does, it’s only through this sort of suspense, where He gives us hope in the darkness, and then in the daylight even denies it Himself.

    • God is the “Sunday” of TMWWT….

      Not according to GKC himself. From the Afterword:

      I happened to dedicate to Mr. Bentley, in those distant days, a book called The Man Who Was Thursday; it was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that is described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy; and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf; who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the same cause; that they had read the book but had not read the title-page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a sub-title rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: a Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date: with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.

      I read the book several years ago with high expectations and was very much disappointed. I thought it was weird, confusing, and stupid–more than just a little bit “melodramatic moonshine”.

      If he was from the first our father and friend, why was he also our greatest enemy?? But that’s the drama of it!!!

      That’s the same kind of thing that has made me tend to like Chesterton less and C. S. Lewis more over the years. It’s easy for well-fed, comfortable, white, First World people who have known little privation or want and who have experienced little real evil face-to-face to bloviate about “drama” and “adventure”. C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces is much better and much more psychologically interesting than TMWWT. It’s also noteworthy that Lewis and Tolkien, both of whom had experienced difficulties in early life (deaths of parents, dislocation, etc.) and both of whom had served in WW I and seen trench warfare up close and personal were much less jolly and bombastic in their writings than GKC, and less prone to sweeping statements. When I re-read Chesterton, he doesn’t stand up as well as he did when I first read him twenty-odd years ago, even when I agree with him. Lewis (whom I also first read two decades ago) stands up better the more I read him, even when I disagree.

      Anyway, I think we’ve beaten it to death. I’m leaving it at this.

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