Straight talk on the doctrine of Hell from cold case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace.
In the wake of Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins,” many people are beginning to question the nature and existence of Hell and how exactly God decides who must go there. For many, the idea that our temporal, finite sin on earth should deserve an eternal punishment of infinite torment in hell is ridiculously inequitable. Why would God torture infinitely those who have only sinned finitely? Jim addresses this objection and answers listener email.
A loving God would never create a place like Hell, would He? Any God that would send people to a place of punishment and torment is unloving by definition, right? In this podcast, Jim responds to these foundational objections to the existence of Hell. In addition, Jim comments on the Harris / Craig debate and answers listener email related to hearing God’s voice.
In this podcast, Jim answers the objection that God would send people like Gandhi to Hell (simply because they are not Christians) alongside people like Hitler (who have committed unspeakable atrocities). How can a reasonable and just God be the source of such inequitable punishment? Also Jim answers listener email related to the power of prayer, the importance of evidential apologetics and the grounding for objective morality.
Isn’t it unfair for God to penalize people who are otherwise good, just because they haven’t heard about Jesus? A good God would not send good people to Hell. Jim responds to this objection and answers listener email related to the Craig/Harris debate, pre-existing mythologies that are similar to Jesus, and the difficult, exclusive nature of “election”.
If God is all-loving, why doesn’t he “reform” people rather than simply “punish” them in Hell? Skeptics sometimes argue that a God who simply punishes his children in Hell is a sadistic and vengeful God, unworthy of our worship. Jim responds to this objection and answers listener email related to the nature of “election”, the evidence for “annihilationism”, and a political quote related to same sex marriage.
Yesterday, I blogged about the hook-up culture, and how many young women were freely choosing to participate in it. In their own words, the young, unmarried women explained how they wanted to have fun and get “acceptance” from men who were good-looking by having sex with them within minutes of meeting them. I argued that we needed to tell young, unmarried women not to be seeking fun and thrills, and that we need to oppose radical feminism and selfishness in the culture.
Well, a woman who had an irresponsible mom read that post and left a comment telling her story.
Here is the first comment from Mysterious M. in full:
I was born to a woman who fits a very similar description to what you describe here in your post, WK, so perhaps it would be apropos for me to share my experience being raised by her.
My mom was brought up in a Christian home but allowed herself to be influenced by the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s after she left home. She spent one year in college, got a job, got married and then divorced within a few years (no kids). She met my dad in a bar after her divorce. She celebrated her divorce by going out drinking, btw. My dad was married at the time they met and had been previously married, as well, and had a slew of kids scattered across the country. His current wife was also pregnant. My half sister was born 3 weeks before me, in the same hospital.
Once she found out she was pregnant, she realized that I’d be better off without him around and told him to leave, which he did without any argument, unsurprisingly. I asked her once what she saw in him and she said, “Well, he was funny.” So she slept with him. No matter that he had a wife, ex-wives, kids, etc. Those things aren’t important when you’re out looking for a good time for yourself.
I was a teenager before I knew who my dad was and how I came into being. After I was born she did start to attend church and put me in Christian school and attempted to raise me in a Christian home. However, she never once told me that she thought she’d done anything wrong or that she was sorry for the pain that her decisions caused me. I went through years of anguish, depression, an eating disorder that almost killed me and other behavioral problems clearly stemming from the feelings of abandonment I experienced and her continuously irresponsible behavior, but never once did it appear to cross her mind that she might be responsible for any of this.
Although my mom appeared from the outside to have changed her ways, in hindsight I see that the reckless independence she acquired from her years away from family and church never really left. They switched from outwardly rebellious behavior, like dating married men, to more private bad habits to fulfill her desire for fun and excitement, like internet gambling and reckless spending on credit cards (to the tune of 70K at last count). I think these were also attempts to distract and comfort herself when she was lonely. When she got older, she resented that she didn’t have a husband to take care of her and enjoy a simple life with, but never seemed to put it together that her choices pretty much precluded her from that opportunity.
Although she’s faithfully attended church since my childhood and read her Bible, etc, I have never, ever once heard her admit that she sinned by doing any of these things, or that they were bad decisions that caused unnecessary hurt and harm to her child or herself. If anything, she still seems to think that it’s kind of funny or cute that she, an otherwise quiet, reserved, seemingly respectable woman, has a torrid past that resulted in an affair with a married man and a child to commemorate the event. I almost sense she’s proud of it, to this day, and that makes me very sad and scared for her.
She’s dying now and her mind is going. She says she’s ready to meet the Lord, and I can only hope that between herself and Him, she’s made things right, although I’ve seen very little fruit speaking to that possibility. She talks the talk, but seeing her walk up close and in person, I’m left with more questions than answers about whether she really ever submitted to Christ. It just doesn’t show to me, and I probably know her better than anyone else. She’s left an enormous mess financially for my husband and I to cope with and she can no longer distract herself with spending sprees, so the bitterness caused by her life decisions have finally caught up with her and there’s no avoiding them now.
I guess from my perspective, when I see young woman who claim to be Christian but are living the most important aspects of their lives out in the way the rest of the world says is acceptable, it makes me very confused about what they really believe. I purposely waited for sex until marriage, chose a man with good morals and a good job and did everything in power to stay as far away from the hook-up culture as possible. I know the pain that comes from such foolish living. I can’t fathom why any Christian woman would engage in such foolish and selfish behavior as the ones I see doing this very thing today. They do not know what it means to know, serve and love Christ. They are too busy loving and serving themselves to see what a dangerous path they are traveling.
My mom was raised in a loving home with Christian parents and grew up very involved in church. My grandmother ran the Sunday school program for years. My other aunts and uncles led decent, moral, Christian lives. My mom wanted to do something more exciting. She was rebellious, plain and simple. She thought it was funny. If she had been raised in a situation that was equally as bad as the one she created, I could feel more sympathy. But she was raised differently than what she chose. I don’t understand it but I watched my own Christian friends do the same thing as a teen and young adult. It’s so perplexing to me. They’re raised in a stable Christian household and then choose the most unstable and reckless men because of the feelings those men inspired. I was the product of those feelings and knew from a young age I’d rather stay single and chaste the rest of my life than end up repeating the choices that my parents made.
And an excerpt from a later one:
I know it’s popular to say that any time someone makes bad choices, it’s because they are hurting and are acting out. But once you reach adulthood and have a child, you forfeit your right to make excuses for your behavior. You either change or you risk damaging the children you’ve been entrusted with.
Regarding WK’s comment about condoning her recklessness, I will say this. To my mom, any relationship that involved conflict was disposable. I know that other Christians tried to confront her, and she rejected them. She cut them out, no holds barred. If you didn’t agree, you were not a part of her circle. For those who were close, she was very adept at keeping secrets. Even I didn’t know the breadth of the destructiveness of certain aspects of her life until recently, I was her closest confidant. People who are desperate to keep secrets are typically fairly adept at doing so, at least for a while. Eventually it catches up, but often it’s far too late to do any real remediation. At that point it’s just a matter of salvaging what you can and trying to cope with the rest as best as possible.
[…]Bottom line: excuses or not, bad decisions create bad consequences and are generally pretty avoidable if you’re willing to be humble and submit to Christ, regardless of the circumstances. Helping people identify excuses does not help them avoid these consequences. Only by pointing out the truth, no matter the friction it might cause, can we help people on a bad path see the error of their ways and offer them any real hope.
That is a situation (text in bold) that I have experienced myself.
I found this essay on After All, but it looks like their site is not working well, so I’m just going to steal it and post it here, in case it disappears completely. This is one of my favorite short essays on utilitarianism, and it’s a wonder that the thing can’t stay up somewhere. Well, it will have a home here now. I’d be surprised to see anyone else be this awesome in a measly 1000 words as Dr. Moreland is below.
Utilitarianism and the Moral Life
What Is Utilitarianism?
Utilitarianism (also called consequentialism) is a moral theory developed and refined in the modern world by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). It can be defined as follows:
An action or moral rule is right if and only if it maximizes the amount of nonmoral good produced in the consequences that result from doing that act or following that rule compared with other acts or rules open to the agent.
By focusing on three features of utilitarianism, we can clarify this definition.
(1) Utilitarian theories of value.
What is a nonmoral good? Utilitarians deny that there are any moral actions or rules that are intrinsically right or wrong. But they do believe in objective values that are nonmoral.
Hedonistic utilitarians say that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Quantitative hedonists (Bentham) say that the amount of pleasure and pain is the only thing that matters in deciding between two courses of action, I should do the one that produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain (measured by factors like the duration and intensity of the pleasure). Qualitative hedonists (Mill) say that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, but the type of pleasure is what is important, not the amount. They would rank pleasures that come from reading, art, and friendship as more valuable than those that come from, say, a full stomach.
Pluralistic utilitarians say there are a number of things that have intrinsic, nonmoral value: pleasure, friendship, health, knowledge, freedom, peace, security, and so forth. For pluralists, it is not just the pleasure that comes from friendship that has value but also friendship itself.
Currently, the most popular utilitarian view of value is subjective preference utilitarianism. This position says it is presumptuous and impossible to specify things that have intrinsic nonmoral worth. So, they claim, intrinsic value ought to be defined as that which each individual subjectively desires or wants, provided these do not harm others. Unfortunately, this view collapses into moral relativism.
(2) Utilitarians and maximizing utility.
Utilitarians use the term utility to stand for whatever good they are seeking to produce as consequences of a moral action (e.g., “pleasure” for the hedonist, “satisfaction of subjective preference” for others). They see morality in a means-to-ends way. The sole value of a moral action or rule is the utility of its consequences. Moral action should maximize utility. This can be interpreted in different ways, but many utilitarians embrace the following: the correct moral action or rule is the one that produces the greatest amount of utility for the greatest number of people.
(3) Two forms of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.
According to act utilitarianism, an act is right if and only if no other act available maximizes utility more than the act in question. Here, each new moral situation is evaluated on its own, and moral rules like “don’t steal” or “don’t break promises” are secondary The moral agent must weigh available alternatives and choose the one that produces the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism says that correct moral actions are done in keeping with correct moral rules, However, no moral rule is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, a correct moral rule is one that would maximize utility if most people followed it as opposed to following an alternative rule. Here, alternative rules (e.g., “don’t lie” vs. “don’t lie unless doing so would enhance friendship”) are compared for their consequences, not specific actions.
What Is Wrong with Utilitarianism?
Several objections show the inadequacy of utilitarianism as a normative moral theory.
First, utilitarianism can be used to justify actions that are clearly immoral. Consider the case of a severely deformed fetus. The child is certain to live a brief, albeit painless life. He or she will make no contribution to society. Society, however, will bear great expense. Doctors and other caregivers will invest time, emotion, and effort in adding mere hours to the baby’s life. The parents will know and love the child only long enough to be heartbroken at the inevitable loss. An abortion negates all those “utility” losses. There is no positive utility lost. Many of the same costs are involved in the care of the terminally ill elderly. They too may suffer no pain, but they may offer no benefit to society. In balancing positives and negatives, and excluding from the equation the objective sacredness of all human life, we arrive at morally repugnant decisions. Here deontological and virtue ethics steer us clear of what is easier to what is right.
Second, in a similar way, utilitarianism denies the existence of supererogatory acts. These are acts of moral heroism that are not morally obligatory but are still praiseworthy. Examples would be giving 75 percent of your income to the poor or throwing yourself on a bomb to save a stranger. Consider the bomb example. You have two choices — throwing yourself on the bomb or not doing so. Each choice would have consequences and, according to utilitarianism, you are morally obligated to do one or the other depending on which option maximized utility. Thus, there is no room for acts that go beyond the call of morality.
Third, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of human rights and human dignity. If enslaving a minority of people, say by a lottery, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, or if conceiving children only to harvest their parts would do the same, then these could he justified in a utilitarian scheme. But enslavement and abortion violate individual rights and treat people as a means to an end, not as creatures with intrinsic dignity as human beings. If acts of abortion, active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and so forth maximize utility, then they are morally obligatory for the utilitarian. But any moral system that makes abortion and suicide morally obligatory is surely flawed.
Finally, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of motives and character. We should praise good motives and seek good character because such motives and character are intrinsically valuable. But utilitarianism implies that the only reason we should praise good motives instead of bad ones, or seek good character instead of bad character, is because such acts would maximize utility. But this has the cart before the horse. We should praise good motives and blame bad ones because they are good or bad, not because such acts of praising and blaming produce good consequences.
In sum, it should be clear that utilitarianism is an inadequate moral theory. Unfortunately, ours is a pragmatic culture and utilitarianism is on the rise. But for those of us who follow Christ, a combination of virtue and deontological ethics is a more adequate view of common sense morality found in natural law and of the moral vision contained in the Bible.
Dina was off from her stressful job last week, so we spent some time talking over some articles that we found on the culture. We specifically talked about what is motivating young people, so I wanted to write something about that.
FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out
Here’s a leftist New York Times article explaining where FOMO comes from:
It’s known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” and refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. Billions of Twitter messages, status updates and photographs provide thrilling glimpses of the daily lives and activities of friends, “frenemies,” co-workers and peers.
[…]When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational” and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.
[…]A friend who works in advertising told me that she felt fine about her life — until she opened Facebook. “Then I’m thinking, ‘I am 28, with three roommates, and oh, it looks like you have a precious baby and a mortgage,’ ” she said. “And then I wanna die.”
It’s like they want to run a race to do fun and exotic things with their peers, and not finish last.
Anyway, I want to begin this post with examples of FOMO behavior I have personally encountered.
Dina and I read and discussed this article by Alain de Botton in The European – notice the emphasis on travel and having fun, sophisticated experiences:
We’re continually being bombarded with suggestions about what we might do (go jet skiing, study in Colorado, visit the Maldives or see the Pyramids). We’re always hearing of the amazing things friends have done or are going to do: ‘there was this great bar we all went to …’; ‘she’s getting married in a little country church, then we’re having a picnic…’; ‘the sun was glinting on Sydney Harbour…’ There are endless hints of the allure of life in other places: an article about family-friendly restaurants in Brooklyn, a crime novel set in Trieste, the departure board at the airport with its list of places only a plane trip away: Moscow, Bangkok, Addis Ababa… The modern world makes sure we know at all times just how much we’re missing. It is a culture in which intense and painful doses of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) are almost inevitable.
What’s interesting is this – how does FOMO travel affect young, unmarried Christians?
Travel through missions work seems to be the FOMO activity of choice for at least a few young, unmarried Christians. One of my best friends who is married to another of my best friends told me about her missions trip to a European country. I asked her why she did it, since it meant lost savings, lost earnings, lost work experience, etc. (She gave up a year of earnings, and she had a great job in engineering). Her answer was that she did it for the adventure. I have a hard time hearing Jesus say that he was going to do something because he was bored and wanted an adventure. Especially when it’s $30,000 in costs, $60,000 of lost income, and lost work experience – per year. This was before the time of the Internet, though, when missionary work actually made sense. I just don’t think it’s worth spending that kind of money for the impact you make. The people I know who went on missionary trips just wanted to feel spiritual, look spiritual, and have a fun “life experience” vacation. One missionary told me that she was desperate to get away from her boring mid-Western roots.
If you really want to share Christ effectively with people in other countries, then you can start a blog and pay the tiny costs for it out of your earnings from your day job – that’s what I do. I get more people from Europe reading my blog than I could contact in a year of missionary work. I Skype with the people who are interested in Christianity from these countries (Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Canada, etc.), as well. Meanwhile, I keep working my not-exciting job, so my savings increase, and my resume remains gap-less. This is good stewardship of finances, and self-denial prepares your character for the hard work of marriage and parenting. The Bible says that those who do not work should not eat. And Paul says that he built tents so that no one could accuse him of taking on missionary work for financial gain.
You can tell whether a person is sincere in their missionary intentions by looking at how responsible they’ve been in their decision-making. If a person has gone into debt paying for fun, thrilling activities like skydiving, ziplining, surfing, etc., then it’s FOMO travel. We must look past the spiritual smokescreen, and tell young people to grow up.
After all, if defending God’s honor was the missionary’s main goal, then the real battlefield would be the university.
There is already a perfectly fine university right next door – no need to fly to Europe to find one! Remember, the university that took your faith away, or maybe the faith of someone you cared about? Yeah, it’s still there in your home town! And it’s still ruining the lives of thousands of young people. It seems to me that it’s better stewardship to stay here and work, then give money to groups like Reasonable Faith. And you can start a blog, teach in church and invite scholars to the local university, too. That costs almost nothing, and it produces better results.
What about Jesus?
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to look beyond the words of the Bible and reflect on the overall message of it at a higher level. When I look in the Bible, I see that Jesus went through a lot of suffering in obedience to God in order to secure the salvation of people who did not even like him. And it’s from this sacrifice on our behalf that his claim on our obedience comes. There are things that I don’t like to do that I do anyway because they work to serve God. Jesus life’s ambition was not to do things that were easy, or that made him happy. Experienced Christians do things that are not fun, because these things are right and because they solve the real problem.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start, choose two activities that are absolutely not about you: charity and stewardship. Give away some money to an apologetics ministry, e.g. – BeliefMap, and then spend less money on recreational travel, and fun activities. Stop doing things that feel good, and do hard things that work.
I thought that I would make some general comments about why I think that many people leave the Christian faith, and what you should be careful of in order to avoid following in Dan Barker’s footsteps, specifically.
Basically, there are four major reasons why people leave Christianity.
They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex. They dump Christianity in order to feel better about seeking happiness in this life, apart from God and his moral duties.
They want to pursue happiness in irresponsible ways. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly while pursuing happiness. When God disappoints them by not giving them what they want in order to be happy, they leave the faith.
They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with atheists, liberal Christians and other religions. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely and focus on making everyone feel good about whatever they believe.
They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true and to prepare to defend it in public, they dump it so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.
Now listen to the discussion and see if you can identify some of these factors from Barker’s own carefully-prepared words. He is trying very hard to make himself look honest and moderate, because he wants Christians to be sympathetic with his story and his motives for leaving Christianity. But I think that there is enough in his statements to construct a different hypothesis of why he left Christianity.
I’ve grouped the data by risk factor. (These are not his exact views)
Non-rational, emotional approach to Christianity
he was raised in a devout Christian family where he probably wouldn’t have faced skeptical questions
he converted to Christianity at age 15 as a result of a religious experience, not a serious investigation
his idea of God was probably idealized and uninformed, e.g. – a loving God who wants us to be happy
he wandered around from church to church preaching, with no fixed address or source of income
he earned money by collecting “love offerings” from churches where he performed his music
he wrote Christian songs and Christian musicals, but nothing substantive on apologetics and theology
he worked in three churches known for being anti-intellectual and fundamentalist
there’s no evidence that of any deep study of philosophy, science and history during this time
Desire to gain acceptance from non-Christians
he began to notice that some people were uncomfortable with sin and Hell
he began to avoid preaching about sin and Hell in order to make these people comfortable
he watered-down the gospel to focus on helping people to be happy in this life
his manic approach to Christian ministry was challenged by the “real life” needs of his growing family
he met liberal pastors while performing his music in their churches
he found it difficult to disagree with them because they seemed to be “good” people
he watered down his message further in order to appeal to people across the theological spectrum
Ignorance of Christian apologetics
he began to think that if there are many different views of religion, then no view can be correct
he was not intellectually capable of using logic and evidence to test these competing claims to see which was true
he decided to instead re-interpret Christian truth claims as non-rational opinions, so they could all be “valid”
he became a theological liberal, abandoning theism for an impersonal “ground of being”
he embraced religious pluralism, the view that all religions are non-rational and make no testable truth claims
he began to see God as a “metaphor” whose purpose is to make people have a sense of meaning and purpose
he jettisoned God completely and focused more on helping people find meaning and morality apart from God
seems to think that religion is about having a “great life”, and felt that you can have a “great life” without religion
seems to think that religion is about being “good”, and felt that you can be “good” without religion
religion makes people feel bad by telling them what to do instead of letting them do anything they want
religion makes people feel bad by telling them what is true, instead of letting them believe whatever they want
religion makes people feel bad by telling them that God will hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions
So what do I think happened?
I think he abandoned his faith because he wanted people to like him and because he needed to be invited to liberal churches in order to make money to pay for the “real life” needs of his family.
He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. He hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so that he would have been able to demonstrate to other people whether what he was saying was true. It’s hard to offend people when you don’t really know whether your claims are true or not, and when you don’t know how to demonstrate whether they are true or not.
I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would probably have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message.
Life isn’t a fairy tale. God isn’t there to reward risky behavior. We need to be more shrewd about financial matters so that we have the ability to not care about what people think of us. Look at this blog. I work all day as a senior software engineer with two degrees in computer science so that I can refuse donations. I save most of what I make in case a tragedy strikes. Since I am financially secure, I can say what I think, and disregard anyone who wants me to change my message because they are offended. Becoming a Christian isn’t a license to behave irrationally and immaturely with money. For some people, (like William Lane Craig), stepping out in faith works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s better to retreat and re-trench, rather than to compromise your message for money.
Barker didn’t seem to make any effort to deal intellectually with typical challenges like the existence of Hell and religious pluralism. He just wanted to be liked by people instead of being liked by God. He seemed to have thought that being a Christian would make him happy and that other people would all respond to him and like him without having to do any work to explain why Christianity is true. But that’s not Biblical. When the singing and preaching is over, you still have to know how to give an answer to non-Christians. But Barker couldn’t give an answer – not one that allowed him to retain his beliefs. He had not prepared a defense.
What does Dan Barker think about Christianity today?
Many atheists today are interested in eradicating public expressions of Christian beliefs in the public square, because they hate Christianity and believe that Christians should not be allowed to make them feel bad by exercising their rights of free speech. Is Dan Barker one of these militant atheists?
Well, take a look at this video, in which he objects to a nativity scene and demands that an atheistic denunciation of theism be posted alongside it. In the video, Barker explains that the nativity scene is hate speech, and that the baby Jesus is a dictator. He seems to be totally oblivious to the the idea that if Christianity is true, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s mean and exclusive. And this seems to me to have been his problem all along, from the day of his “conversion”.
So the real question is this: is it true? Barker seems to be much more interested in asking “is it nice?” and “will it make me happy?”.