11 January 2017
Celebrating Christmas and Opposing Hell
Underlying Christmas is the Offensive Doctrine of Hell
December 26, 2016
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a fun, beautiful, and loving holiday. While Jesus’ birthday is not known, it is most often celebrated on December 25th. The holiday celebrates the idea that God came into the world as a man to atone for other men’s sins. Underlying this picture, though, is the threat of hell. Hell is everlasting suffering that is forced onto those who fail to love God, are unrepentant sinners, or otherwise fail to avail themselves of the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice. Thus, a joyous holiday has in the background one of the most mean-spirited doctrines in all of Christianity.
The belief in permanent hell or annihilation is part of the Catholic and many Protestant traditions. The notion that many will not be saved can be seen in Luke 13:23 and Matt 7:13-14. In addition, the New Testament appears to refer to hell. For example, there are references to “everlasting destruction” (Thessalonians 1:9), “eternal fire” (Jude 7), “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). On some lines of Catholicism and Protestantism, then, God sends some people, the devil, and some fallen angels to hell.
The argument that God would not send human beings to hell is straightforward. God would send someone to hell only if justice permits it as a means of punishing them. Justice permits such a punishment only if someone has does something infinitely wrong or has an infinitely bad character. Human beings do not meet either condition.
Consider whether a human beings could do anything to another human beings that might result in their deserving an infinite punishment, such as hell. In general, a person cannot infinitely wrong another person and rarely, if ever, tries to do so. Killing, murder, and rape are finite wrongs in that they cause others a finite amount of lost years or suffering. Murdering a young man, for example, might take away seventy wonderful years, but this is still a finite loss.
The only chance one person has to infinitely wrong another is to send the second to hell. This might happen, for example, when one person kills an atheist immediately before he was about to repent his sins and atheism. But a person they can’t send another to hell unless hell already exists. This begs the question as to why God would create hell. It makes no sense to create hell if the only thing someone can do to deserve it is to send another there.
People also cannot do anything to God that would result in their deserving hell. Most people do not wrong God. More specifically, people do not violate God’s rights by touching his body or taking his stuff. Nor do they directly harm him in other ways. Few, if any, even try to wrong God. They wrong other people through murder, rape, theft, etc., but this does not wrong God unless he owns people. God doesn’t own people because they’re not his property. Specifically, God doesn’t own people the way that ranchers own cattle. Even if human beings were to wrong God by killing or damaging his property, the wrong is not infinitely serious unless, again, hell exists.
One objection is that God does not impose hell. Rather it is a choice of the people who choose to separate themselves from God. However, if God intentionally makes the consequences of people’s choices harsh, this makes it a punishment. Consider this analogy. If a school principal sets up a system whereby the janitor whips students who get caught dealing drugs, he punishes them, even if, in some sense, they’ve made themselves liable for the harsh treatment. Similarly, if God sets up a system when people suffer greatly for refusing to accept him in their lives or for sinning, he punishes them.
A second objection is that in allowing people to go to hell, God merely refuses to provide them with wonderful benefits rather than harming them. By analogy, if a man pays for only some neighborhood children to go to a fancy private school, he doesn’t wrong those whom he doesn’t pay for. The idea here is that hell is separation from God and with it comes the loss of his love as well as the loss of purpose and community. Because there is no duty to give out these wonderful benefits, those sent to hell have not been punished. However, if someone can provide a wonderful benefit to another and can do so at no cost to himself, failure to do so indicates too little love and kindness. Sending persons to heaven is a benefit that God can provide at no cost to himself and hence his failure to do so would show that he has too little love and kindness. This is impossible for a perfect being.
A third objector might respond that life in heaven is only possible for a person who chooses to join God. Heaven, the objector argues, would be miserable for someone who does not accept God or rejoice in his love. The idea here is that a human being who does not deserve heaven would suffer there because he is unsuited to join God. However, in accord with love and kindness, God would then provide a life that is as good as possible for those unsuited to join him. He would not condemn them to eternal fiery punishment. If this is not possible, then a perfect being like God would annihilate them rather than send them to hell.
It is a shame that such a joyous holiday celebrates the fact that the celebrants will avoid hell while many of their brethren will roast in the eternal fire. Better to have a doctrine based on love. Better yet, a doctrine that is true.