More on Universalism–Compulsion vs. Choice


In the last post, we saw how both we and God must be held to the same moral standards.  If it would be wrong for us to condemn someone to an eternal (or near-eternal) hell, then the same is true for God.  Now the typical work-around for this, with those who promote the traditional idea of hell, is that God doesn’t condemn anyone; rather, by their free choices, the damned condemn themselves.  The damned were not sent or compelled–they freely chose to listen to the little guy with horns and a pitchfork on the wrong shoulder!  I’ve discussed this notion more technically here.  What I’m doing in this post is tackling the same notion–that allowing people to damn themselves gets God off the hook–in a less technical and philosophical, and more direct way.  This was originally from  a blog discussion on universalism that I had awhile back.  I had written up my response in a Word Pad document for posting; but I’ve since forgotten the context, so I don’t remember exactly when, where, or with whom I had this discussion (though I know the likely candidates for each). 

In any case, I’ve put my part of the discussion here intact.  I decided not to edit it, and left it as is.  However, to give it context for the discussion we’re making here, and to clarify some points, I’ve added this commentary which I’ve put in dark green (I originally did it in red, but decided that’s too hard on the eyes), leaving the original post in black.

God has the choice to make or not make any of various possible universes inhabited by intelligent creatures.  Free will isn’t really the issue:  since He’s all-knowing, He knows exactly what choices these creatures will freely make.  Thus, He knows, for example, that in Universe X, containing Joe Schmoe, Joe, as a result of his temperament, the choices that are presented to him in Universe X, and so on,  will freely make choices resulting in his eternal damnation.  In fact, God knows this with absolute certaintyI’m aware that this last point could be argued–some would say that by definition God cannot know a freely made choice with 100% certainty.  He might know it with any arbitrary accuracy short of that; but there would always be room for doubt.  For the purpose of the discussion here, though, we’ll let that be for now; I’m looking more in-depth at free will in a separate, though related, series.

Now God makes Joe, his temperament, etc. and also sets the ground rules of Universe X.  Thus it seems reasonable to say that God is in a real sense responsible for Joe ending up in Hell.  To argue, “Well, it was Joe’s choices that damned himself” seems fatuous.  It’s as if I bred a type  of dog that is highly disposed to chase cars and then turned it loose in Times Square, then disavowed responsibility for the inevitable moment when the dog gets run over.  Yes, arguably the dog doesn’t “make a choice”; but given God’s perfect knowledge, it’s a difference of degree, not kind.  After all, God knows with 100% accuracy that Joe, in Universe X, will end up damned, so the for all the difference it makes and all the good it does him, Joe might as well be the dog turned loose in Times Square.

Now one might still say that it’s Joe’s fault because he freely chose; but at this point I think we’re at a metaphysical impasse.  I think some want to use “free will” here as a way to absolve God of blame.  Yes, He made Joe and every aspect of his personality, and put him in Universe X, where he will certainly be damned, as opposed to Universe Y, in which God foresees that Joe would not have chosen so as to be damned; but Joe is still free, so the fact that God essentially set him up is still not His fault.

This is more or less the argument of “free” as “lacking exterior compulsion or duress” vs. “free” as “able to decide otherwise”.  In the first case, God doesn’t “force” Joe to do the things that lead to his damnation, any more than in the dog analogy I “force” the dog to chase the car that runs over it.  This is essentially the viewpoint of soft determinism or compatiblism.  Many forms of Calvinism tend towards this view; that is, no matter what the biological inclinations and desires, family background, etc. that Joe may have, he is still free to choose options in a real sense.  By way of contrast, incompatibilism–which is the perspective both of those who assert the existence of free will and also of those who assert so-called “hard” determinism–argues that pure determinism cannot be reconciled with true human free will.

If this is your perspective, then I guess there’s nothing more to say, since you apparently don’t mean by “fault” or “responsibility” what I do (once more, see the discussion here)I think God is on the hook there, and Joe’s freedom doesn’t absolve Him.


1.  God is supposed to be perfectly loving and to desire the salvation of all.

2.  Since He can foresee all results, even of free choices, with perfect accuracy, He can be said, in effect, to choose how many will be damned, since He knows the exact outcome of every decision of every being in every cosmos He could create.  He knows, e.g., that in Universe C only three percent of the humans will ultimately be damned, but that in Universe D, all of them will be.  By choosing to make Universe D, God would be deliberately choosing the damnation and eternal suffering of everyone in it, even if each person freely chose the actions resulting in this.

3.  From 1, it would seem that God would choose the universe with the fewest damned.  Arguably, He would not choose to make a universe in which any were damned.  Of course that gets into “best possible world” stuff–it’s better to have ten million damned and four million saved than to have a world where none are saved–but this is fatuous, and Voltaire did a better takedown of this line of thinking than I ever could.  There is no way we can make determinations like that (who says the four million saved is worth the ten million damned, anyway?), not least that since damnation and salvation are eternal, it becomes difficult to put valuations on those states.  Anything claiming otherwise is mere assertion.

4.  Thus, assuming the traditional view that most are damned (let’s say 95%, just to put a number on it), it seems odd that God would have made this universe, rather than one in which only 50% were damned, or 25%, or 10%, or 0%.  My opinion is that He did, in fact, make one in which 0% are damned (not to say they don’t undergo lengthy purgation; I’m talking about eternal damnation).  To be explicit, I think He made a world in which 0% are ultimately damned, and that world is this one.  We are, after all, discussing universalism.

5.  Thus, if you assert otherwise, it seems that either you’re saying that somehow 95% damned is congruent with God’s love and mercy–which is fine, but it’s hard to see how that works; or that you’ve got to say that God couldn’t make a universe with better stats.  I don’t see how you prove that; and if God is  all-loving, I don’t see why he’d even make such a crummy cosmos in the first place.

I doubt any of this changes your mind, which is fine; but perhaps it puts things in a clearer light in terms of what I’m arguing.

Next:  A couple more refinements, followed by a look at the motivating factors behind those with the beliefs against which I argued in this post.

Part of the series Universalism (What the Hell?!)

Posted on 21/03/2014, in Christianity, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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