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Stubborn Highlanders Revisited, and Antinomies of Pure Reason

Aam still thinkin’ abit it.

We’ve been discussing free will in the context of universalism.  The notion put forth by defenders of the Traditional View of Hell (TVOH) in recent times has tried to defend God from charges of wantonly tossing people to damnation by asserting that the damned damn themselves.  That is, those who choose against God, who choose to reject Him, voluntarily remove themselves from His presence.  This removal from God’s presence is Hell.  To the objection that they would surely change their minds sooner or later, the assertion is made that it is possible to reject God permanently, that is, to make an irrevocable decision from free will.  For one to assert a universalist view–that all will ultimately be saved–one must argue that no such irrevocable decision, at least regarding Hell, is possible.  This possibility of eternally irrevocable choices is what we’ve been looking at.

Let’s briefly sum up what we’ve decided thus far.  Some argue that in the afterlife time as we know it no longer applies to saved or damned souls, and thus that their choices are not irrevocable over countless aeons, but rather made once and for all in an eternal moment.  Against this, I’ve argued here and here that this can apply only to God Himself, and not to lesser beings, even immortal ones in the afterlife.  Therefore, I’ve focused on whether or not a choice, can, in fact, be eternally irrevocable.  I began that discussion here and elaborated here.  I’ve used the whimsical idea that Connor MacCleod, eponymous hero of the Highlander movies and guest star in the series, has vowed that he will never, ever eat a broccoli fudge sundae.  I’ve further specified that he is truly immortal–he will live not just for an unimaginably long time, but literally for all eternity.  Can he keep this vow?

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All Things Dull and Ugly

In which I try to show that God is better than we are.  But of course he is! you say.  Let me explain.

I ran across this on Facebook a couple of days ago, and it is certainly food for thought.  I was moving in a certain direction with my last few posts on universalism, but this and some other things have induced me to deviate a bit on the way to where I’m going with the series, since pertinent issues keep arising.

One issue with hell that’s often brought up is this:  Those in Heaven experience perfect happiness; and yet if some (or many) are in hell, then some of those in Heaven will have friends and loved ones–even spouses, parents, or children–in Hell.  This would obviously seem to make heavenly bliss impossible.  So how can the saved experience Heaven if some whom the love are in Hell?

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More on Universalism–Compulsion vs. Choice

aa-angel-and-devil-on-mans-shoulder

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 didn’t past 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.  The latter perspective would say that 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.  This is the perspective of incompatibilism, which says 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.

So:

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?!)

Universalism: Summary (for now)

Update:  I have edited this post slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of  universalism clearer.

OK, so let’s do a summary of the points I’ve developed over the last few posts (editing slightly where needed).

Either

1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or

1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.

Regarding people who hold the TVOH, and thus necessarily (if implicitly) one of the above,

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.” Read the rest of this entry

Damnation: Inside, Outside, Upside Down

Update:  I have edited this post and the following posts in this series slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of  universalism clearer.

Continuing with the project of rectification of names regarding Hell–that is, saying things as they are, and bringing out  hidden implications, let’s review what we’ve got so far, and then move on to some metaphysics.

Either

1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or

1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.

Regarding people who hold the TVOH, and thus necessarily (if implicitly) one of the above,

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.”

3. a) Soft universalism does not mitigate points 1. a) and 1. b) above.  The rarely stated implication is still that somehow eternal damnation, at least in principle, is just.  The only difference is that there is now a hope that God won’t implement it.  This has no logical bearing on the morality of God setting up such a policy in the first place.  Adding to my original phrasing of this point, it is sometimes said that “Hell exists, but it’s empty.”  Not only does this fail in the way we’ve already described, but it’s not even intelligible.  As most theologians and the late Pope John Paul II have said, Hell is not a place, but a state of being, an eternal alienation from God.  A possible state that is not implemented doesn’t even exist.  It’s like telling my child that there is a time out, but it’s not inhabited!

3. b) The belief that God damns no one but that any damned have brought damnation upon themselves by their sole fault also does not mitigate 1. a) and b) above, nor is it logically coherent.  God has created intelligent beings and established a universe and a milieu in which they can damn themselves; and thus ultimate responsibility still resides with Him.

3.  c) It seems that the main appeal of soft universalism is that

i) it does not deny traditional doctrine, thereby assuaging the fears of those who hold it of being thought by others or by themselves to be heretical

ii) it assuages believers’ discomfort with the concept of eternal damnation by positing that maybe God saves most or all

iii) it “lets God off the hook”–by positing that all people might be saved, and that if that doesn’t happen, then it’s purely and solely the fault of the damned themselves, and God is absolved of all responsibility in the matter.

Thus we can continue to think of Him as all-loving and all-benevolent while still allowing, at least in principle, the existence of Hell.

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Defining Terms and a Recap

Update:  I have edited this post and the following posts in this series slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of  universalism clearer.

Let’s recap what we’ve discussed here and here, and do so in a more focused way.

First, to be clear in the following, we’re going to have to define some things in a fairly consistent way, since there are some subtleties involved.

“Universalism”, at least in a Christian context, is the belief that all humans will eventually be saved.  Details about how this happens and intermediate purification vary, but for what we’re doing here, the given definition is sufficient.

“Hard universalism” is really the source of the problem, since it’s ambiguous.  In the strictest sense, it means the belief that all humans will definitely be saved.  Alternately, a hard universalism could say he knows all will be saved.  The probability of universal salvation is 1 (same as 100%, for non-math people).  I’m going to call this strict definition of hard universalism–well, “hard universalism”, and abbreviate it HU.

“Soft universalism” (SU) is in fact a rather soft and squishy term.  It means the hope that all will be saved while not maintaining that such universalism is certain or can be known.  This is vague, however–does it mean one hopes with no opinion as to the hope’s likelihood of being realized?  In short, does it mean one must remain agnostic?  Or may one speculate on the odds?  From some discussions I’ve had, it seems that many who hold SU think it’s theologically or even morally wrong to say anything beyond “I hope all will be saved,” without speculating beyond that.  There’s really only one theological justification for such a view that I can think of, and I’ll deal with it in the next post.  Meanwhile, I think one can say “I hope, rather than know, that all will be saved, and the likelihood of it is X.”

Now for reasons I’ve discussed in the earlier posts, I don’t think the salvation of all (or any, or none) can be known with 100% accuracy.  Theology aside, there are simple epistemological reasons for this–who can claim to know what God does?  Thus, any belief in universalism is a belief in a possibility, not a fact. However, people may differ over what they consider the possibility–or probability, statistically speaking–to be.  It has to be above 0 (else there’d be no probability of it at all) and below 1 (otherwise it would be certain, which seems impossible to ascertain).  Different people may set low odds–say, 0.01–or high odds–e.g. 0.99.  Even if one sets odds at 0.99999999999, one is short of absolute certainty, and thus not HU properly so-called; however, at that level, one is pretty darn sure.   Read the rest of this entry

Universalism (What the Hell?!): Index

Once again, a sub-thread within my “Legends of the Fall” series has taken on a life of its own, to the extent of meriting its own index.  I don’t know how many more will end up here, but there are probably lots to come, either within “Legends of the Fall” or in this series outright.  Have a hell (or heaven, or none of the above) time reading these posts!

Legends of the Fall:  Reflections

Hell, Salafis, Philosophers, and Playing the Odds

Out of the Closet

A Helluva Post on the Rectification of Names

Excursus:  John Scottus Eriugena

To Hell in a Nice Handbasket

Interlude:  Questions, Objections, Issues

An Analysis of Universalism

Defining Terms and a Recap

Universalism, I Presume?

Damnation:  Inside, Outside, Upside Down

Universalism:  Summary (for now)

The parent series, “Legends of the Fall”, is going in a different direction, so the following addenda will be only in this index, though some may later cross back over.

If I Only Wanted To

The Divine Exception

Been a Long Time, Been a Long Time, Been an Aeviternal Time

Change My Mind (?)

Stubborn Highlanders

Sea Battles and What Will Be

The Divine Exception, Revisited

Simply Irresistible (or not?)

Some Preliminary Groundwork

Confucius and Socrates

More on Universalism–Compulsion vs. Choice

All Things Dull and Ugly

Choices and Consequences

The Mind is Like a Mirror Bright

I Want Your Love and I Want Your Revenge

Stubborn Highlanders Revisited, and Antinomies of Pure Reason

Arguments Against Universalism:  Missing the Point

On Anti-Universalist Arguments (reblogged from Opus Publicum)

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 1–Retribution

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 2–Just Desserts

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part3–An Eye for an Eye?

Arguments Against Universalism: Your Own Damn Fault, Part 1–Rules are Rules

Arguments Against Universalism: Your Own Damn Fault, Part 2–Better to Reign in Hell

 

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An Analysis of Universalism

Continuing from my last post, I want to bring out more explicitly the logic of my thinking that soft and hard universalism are not readily or easily distinguishable.

A soft universalist hopes for the salvation of all.  To hope for something seems to imply, of necessity, that the thing hoped for be possible, no matter how improbable.  To put it another way, one may hope for something that is likely, or that is improbable, or that is very improbable, or that is 99.999999% + improbable; but it is incoherent to hope for something that is impossible.

For example, I might roll the dice and hope for a seven or eleven, which is very moderately improbable (about 22%, or a little more than a one in five chance).  I might hope for a twelve (though in craps I’d lose with that!), which is more improbable–only a one out of thirty-six chance, or slightly less than 3%.  I might hope for 10 twelves in a row (0.00000000000000027%, or about 3 out of ten quadrillion), which is highly improbable.  I might even hope for 50,000 twelves in a row.  I’m not going to calculate that, but if you rolled the dice every second for the entire life of the universe you’d probably not have long enough for the odds to favor such a run.  It’s not impossible, though.

However, I can’t hope to roll a seventeen.  Given that the dice have faces that go up to six, two dice could never land in a configuration that adds to anything higher than twelve.  No number of rolls would make this possible, obviously.  Therefore, to hope to roll a seventeen is meaningless.

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Interlude: Questions, Objections, Issues

Before we move along to more of the philosophical and theological issues involved in the concept of Hell, let’s look at objections, questions, and issues involved with the view of universalism.  Remember, there are two flavors:  soft universalism (all might be saved, or we can legitimately hope all will be saved) and hard universalism (all will be saved, or it is highly likely that all will be saved).

First, are these two versions even that much different?  I didn’t really express my answer–“no”–clearly when I declared myself a hard universalist.  There is very little of which we can say we know it to be true.  I’m 99.9999999% + sure that I’m in my house typing this post; but I could be hallucinating, plugged in to the Matrix, a brain in a vat being fed false impulses, the only being in a solipsitic universe which is creating his own fancies, etc.  Ultimately everything comes down to odds.  The odds of the Matrix, etc. are low; the odds I’m really doing this are high.

Likewise, I don’t claim to know that God will save everyone, or most, or some, or anyone.  By the same token, I don’t know whom He will damn.  For that matter, I don’t know He even exists.  I think He does; I think it’s highly likely He does; I certainly have faith that He does; but I don’t know this.  Some individuals who’ve had mystic experiences claim to know God exists, and to know things about Him.  Maybe they’re right; maybe not.  Pending the reception of direct revelation, I have to say that what mystics say in unconfirmed, and that while I believe, I don’t know.

Thus the difference between soft and hard universalism is really more a matter of one’s assessment of the probabilities.  The soft universalist is either A. agnostic, refusing to say what the probability of universal salvation actually is; or B. believes the probability is very low (even to the point that they may actually doubt it), but hopes otherwise (like the purchaser of a lottery ticket); or (and I think very many fall into this category) C. thinks the chances of universal salvation are actually high, but that it is morally suspect to say that explicitly.

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To Hell in a Nice Handbasket

We’ve been looking at the underlying logic of the Traditional View of Hell (TVOH) and trying to tease out some things that often are not spoken of publicly, or perhaps not even consciously realized.  We reached the following conclusions there, given the TVOH:

Either

1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or

1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.

Regarding people who hold the TVOH, and thus necessarily (if implicitly) one of the above,

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, which I’ve noted before.  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.

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