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.
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.
–Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Cum ergo audimus, Deum omnia facere, nil aliud debemus intelligere, quam Deum in omnibus esse, hoc est, essentiam omnium subsistere.
When we are told that God is the maker of all things, we are simply to understand that God is in all things – that He is the substantial essence of all things.
–John Scotus Eriugena, De Divisione Naturae, Bk. 1, ch. 72; translation from Hugh Fraser Stewart Boethius: An Essay (London: William Blackwood, 1891) p. 255; courtesy of Wikiquote.
I’ve mentioned the term “Rectification of Names” before. The term in Chinese is 正名, or in Pinyin transcription, Zhèngmíng. This is a very important concept in Confucius’s philosophy, and in my view it is universally applicable. The basic idea is that one has to have a clear understanding of the world as it is and to use this understanding to call things what they actually are. In short, we are enjoined to be honest, and in order to be fully honest we must not only not lie, but we must describe things as they really are. To this end, we must dispense with cant, jargon, obfuscation, propaganda, and so on. We should call things what they are because only in so doing can we understand how we should behave in any given situation. The paragraph below gives a succinct description from the Analects (courtesy of here):
A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
— Confucius, Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3, verses 4-7, translated by James Legge
Rectification of Names is a Confucian term, but the idea behind it, as I said, is universal. One of the greatest proponents of this concept, though he didn’t use that term, was the great Greek philosopher Socrates. The “Gadfly”, as he called himself, was so important in the history of Western philosophy that all Greek philosophers prior to him are lumped together as the “Pre-Socratics”. Socrates himself never wrote anything–our knowledge of him comes from his portrayals in the dialogues of his greatest disciple, Plato. In his earlier dialogues, Plato is considered to have portrayed Socrates fairly accurately, though later on he uses him more as a mouthpiece. In any case, I want to focus here on Socrates’ discussion of what is known as the Euthyphro Dilemma, named after the dialogue in which it is discussed.
I believe that the Universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole. (This is physics, I believe, as well as religion.) The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars, none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole. This whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love and there is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation, in turning one’s affections outward toward this one God, rather than inwards on one’s self, or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions — the world of spirits.
I think it is our privilege and felicity to love God for his beauty, without claiming or expecting love from him. We are not important to him, but he to us.
–Letter to Sister Mary James Power (1 October 1934); published in The Wild God of the World : An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers (2003), edited by Albert Gelpi, p. 189; also partly quoted in the essay “Robinson Jeffers, Pantheist Poet” by John Courtney; courtesy of Wikiquote
Shall we not have reason to conclude, that other planets besides our own are inhabited by living creatures? All the planets resemble our earth; like it enjoy the light and genial warmth of the sun, have the alternation of night and day, and the succession of summer and winter: but what end would all these phenomena answer unless the planets were inhabited? Considering them as so many peopled worlds, what a sublime idea we conceive of the grandeur of God, and the extent of his empire! How impossible to fathom his bounty, or penetrate the limits of his power! His glory, reflected from so many worlds, tills us with amaze, and calls forth every sentiment of awe, veneration and gratitude. Supposing that his praise is celebrated in all the worlds which roll above and round us, let us not be surpassed in our adoration, but in holy emulation mingle our hymns with those of the inhabitants of these numerous worlds, and celebrate the Lord God of the universe with eternal thanksgiving!
–Christoph Christian Sturm in March XXX, of Reflections on the works of God, as translated by Robert Balfour (1810), p. 167; courtesy of Wikiquote
- What do I know about God and the purpose of life?
I know that this world exists.
That I am placed in it like my eye in its visual field.
That something about it is problematic, which we call its meaning.
This meaning does not lie in it but outside of it.
That life is the world.
That my will penetrates the world.
That my will is good or evil.
Therefore that good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world.
The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God.
And connect with this the comparison of God to a father.
To pray is to think about the meaning of life.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Journal entry (11 June 1916), p. 72e and 73e; courtesy of Wikiquote