Friday, January 30, 2015

Part 2 on Hell: Is Unbelief Really That Bad?

Last post I talked about eternal punishment is justified because there is good reason to think the damned are in hell because they have voluntarily made themselves into an eternally unrepentant person.

I essentially stated that it is not unjust that "there is a hell, and some people go there." However, when most people object to the doctrine of hell, they say "Why would a loving God send people to hell for not believing in him?" I answered the first part of the question in the last blog post. In this second blog post, I answer the second part of the question.

It is my job to show that "unbelief" in the Gospel is not primarily an intellectual activity, but an act of the will that manifests itself in the intellect. (1) Furthermore, I need to demonstrate that unbelief is at it's core, a lack of repentance.

Unjust to Not Believe?

Why would Jesus send people to hell for not believing in him?

At first glance, this seems a very arbitrary standard, especially in matters of justice. What if someone doesn't think there is enough evidence? What if someone simply is misinformed about Christianity?

But as we shall see, I don't think this is arbitrary at all, especially from a justice standpoint.

Human Beliefs Are Peculiar 

Some beliefs people universally agree upon. For example, the color of the sky, the truth of mathematics, etc. etc.

But beliefs are very malleable, not just through deception, but by conflicts of interest. This is easy enough to prove. Take political beliefs for example. People sharply disagree on matters of great importance. Some of this is due to insufficient research or honest misinformation. But mostly, this has to do with preference.

Notice how on the whole, people tend to politically align with the parties that benefit them. They don't just support people who benefit them. They actually believe that those who benefit them are truly correct. Moreover, have you ever met a liberal who prefers to be a conservative, or vice versa? I doubt it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that humans are totally devoid of any rational capacity, even in politics. People have both rational and emotional faculties. What I am saying is that politics is a minefield that is absolutely littered with conflicts of interest, and not just financial ones.

I'm sure you may have also observed in politics, that when people are presented with evidence against their position, they don't necessarily change their mind. In fact, they usually don't. They usually get angrier and more hostile to the other point of view, hardening their own stance.

The Apex of the Pyramid 

If political beliefs are a minefield of conflicts of interests, then beliefs about ultimate questions are even more notorious. People have political views that align with some of their most important and cherished personal values. That is why there is so much yelling and hurt feelings in politics.

But matters of religious import are even worse. Your religion isn't just "one of your most cherished values." It is your MOST cherished thing. Your god is the thing you value most in life. You may feel strongly about your personal values as they relate to politics. But the thing in your life that is the object of your utmost affections is, by definition, the thing you worship. For some, it is a supernatural Being. For others, its their kids. For others, their sex life, or money, etc. Everyone has something that is most important to them.

Atheists of recent times have claimed to be rational actors in this process. But emotions run especially high when atheists debate Christians. Some of them even hate the religion altogether. Those who claim that religious people are heavily biased by wishful thinking may be correct (as I've argued above). But this is also the perfect opportunity for them to look themselves in the mirror, and see how passionately they desire atheism to be true.

Beliefs and Preference

We have already established that many beliefs people hold are mostly determined by preference.  Beliefs with 1) any kind of plausible deniability at all that have 2) major conflicts of interest attached to them tend to be very malleable beliefs.

Now not all beliefs are determined by preference. Some beliefs are so forceful that they basically knock you down if you don't believe them. For example, the belief that a semi truck is about to crash into me, is a very imposing belief without much deniability. Things with immediate consequences are more likely to command belief and mental acceptance.

Historical beliefs don't hit you in the face if you don't believe them. For example, believing the Holocaust really happened is not a belief that will hit you in the face if you don't believe it. And some people really hate Jews. Thus, denying a historical fact that gets Jews any kind of moral sympathy is the route they choose to take.

No Consolation to God

Now, I'm certainly not saying that people who hold religious beliefs other than Christianity are the only people who have strong preferential biases that influence their beliefs. Clearly, everyone does this. Atheists wouldn't be so angry and passionate if preference didn't influence their choice. Christians also would not be so passionate if it was entirely influenced by logic. 

Which merely proves my point. Those who hate the Christian God will not console him by telling him on judgment day that they thought he didn't exist! Nor will those who worship and serve other gods console him by saving they merely believed the other god was the true one. Many beliefs at that high of a level in a person's set of values are determined and biased heavily by preference. So those who hate the Christian God or refuse to give him allegiance, purely based on preference, will be in quite the unenviable situation. 

Furthermore, when Christ returns, those who already disbelieve him out of loyalty to other things will not magically feel more in love with him. In fact, as I mentioned in the previous post, it seems they will hate him more. Like I said before, when people who have strong beliefs and feelings about a topic are presented diconfirmatory evidence, they often get angrier. So it makes sense they would get especially angry when Jesus returns!

Gambling on Judgment Day 

Humans are both emotional and rational creatures. Though we may choose religion based on preference, we still are accountable to the truth of our choice. Imagine that objectively speaking, one religion has a lot more evidence than another. But let's just say I choose to believe the one with less evidence, ultimately out of preference. (I wouldn't admit this to myself, but let's say that was the underlying bias). 

Imagine that God, the one that had more evidence, returned to judge the world. He would search my hidden motives, and know that I failed to give him allegiance, because I preferred some other god. That would be a pretty embarrassing and frightening quandary to be stuck in. That is a situation and fate I wish on no one. 

As far as Christianity is concerned, I would hate to get caught on judgment day not believing in Christianity because I didn't like it. Christianity offers a clean slate and forgiveness for all sins. It doesn't just pardon the sins. God was so loving as to take the penalty we deserved for our sin, on himself on the cross. Not only a forgiving God. But a very loving and sacrificial God who actually cares about you and is willing to go to great troubles to help you. This willingness to help you goes so far as to include undergoing a death by torture in order to reconcile the broken relationship.

In addition to this, Christianity offers eternal life in a resurrected body, patterned after the resurrection body of Jesus. All humans experience moral guilt. And I have yet to meet a happy person who wants to die. So the idea of all of our wrongdoing expunged in God's courtroom, coupled with eternal life in an indestructible body seems too good to pass up. All of this is presented as a gift, and not as something that is earned.

Preference and Evidence

We have already seen that preference has a strong influence on beliefs. I fully include Christians in this assessment. After all, I just got telling you the compelling benefits Christianity has to offer, if true. Clearly, preference would play a strong role here! Look at all the perks!

Even if it had pretty shaky evidence, like 40% chance of being true, some people would still accept it with great enthusiasm, because preference influences religious belief so strongly. 

But I contend it has enough evidence that it is quite frankly weird that anyone at all rejects it. The fact that the entire planet isn't wildly psychologically biased towards Christianity is rather confusing to me. Most people on earth are not Christian and don't intend to become one anytime soon.

But why do they do this? Is it because they have refused to succumb to the powers of wishful thinking? Is it because they express cautious agnosticism over the Christian God's existence, or a healthy skepticism, not wanting to rush into something without examining it first?

Hardly. Oddly enough, people choose to believe in religions that not only have less evidence but are actually less appealing. In terms of evidence Christianity has a more compelling offer and more evidence than many of the worlds major religions. And when presented with the gospel of Christianity, most humans on earth react with a mild awkwardness, apathy or frustration.

Enough Evidence to Make Everyone Badly Biased

Let us run with the contention, often made by atheists (and by me in this blog post) that preference massively influences religious belief in a very profound way. Consider these two facts:

1) DNA has more "information" in it than a novel.
2) The resurrection of Jesus has an equal amount and earlier primary source documentation than Julius Caesar's assasination (according to "liberal" and atheist Bible scholars).

This is not ironclad evidence, though for two sentences, it is quite decent. But from a psychological standpoint, what does it matter? Compared to other religions, this is much stronger evidence. And the offer of Christianity is much more compelling. So we would then predict that the infinite magnetism of wishful thinking would drive almost everyone on the face of the earth inexorably to some form of Christianity.

Even for atheists and agnostics, this would be true. Even compared to "nothing at all" Christianity has "decent" evidence. After all, the two facts above do not contrast different religions, but attempt to use some kind of objective, non-religious standard (i.e. DNA has more information than a book and, Jesus' resurrection has more historical primary sources than Caesar's assassination).

Agnostics and atheists are not immune to wishful thinking. In fact, they seem to wish pretty badly that Christianity would stop being a force in the world. The way some of them act, either through extreme apathy, or by reacting in anger, one would think that it wouldn't make them happy if it was true. So here they have lots of emotion and wishful thinking as well.

But why anger and hate against Christianity, by people in all religious or non-religious groups? That's like someone offering you 600 billion dollars, and wishing that it wasn't so. "Just please. Let it not be so!"

If it's true that people's beliefs about ultimate questions are strongly driven by preference, then why isn't almost everyone Christian?

I think the Bible has the answer. 

A Special Kind of Idolatry
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. Romans 1:18-19
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:19-21

There are a lot of Christians who do bad things. They say to themselves "Yeah I know God doesn't like it. But I do it anyways." This un-reprentant sin is risky and very bad thing in and of itself. But imagine an alternative scenario. Imagine someone saying "I love X so much I can't imagine even admitting that it is wrong in God's eyes, and thus I will not believe in a God that does." In this situation, a person would even reject forgiveness, because that means they have to admit the thing they are doing is wrong. 

This is not far fetched at all. There are numerous people who heap abuse on Christianity because they don't want to follow it's rules. And don't think for a second that the only "sins" in Christianity  are your stereotypical sexual restrictions and loving your neighbor type rules (though these are most certainly included). Romans 1, in the passage above, says that one of the primary sins that is the consequence of unbelief is idolatry.

If a person thinks something in their life is more important than Jesus, then they are not going to follow a religion that forgives them for loving that thing too much! They don't wanna admit that loving that thing too much is a sin in God's eyes.

This involves the admission that serving and worshiping that thing is wrong. If you love your kids too much, you won't take too well to a religion that says you should love Jesus more than your family (Matt. 10:37). If you love money too much, you won't want to follow a God that makes you love God more than money (which would naturally entail giving some of it away).

Aren't Some Believers Unrepentant?

But perhaps my thesis proves too much. It seems logical that some believers have some kind of unrepentant sin when they die. After all, many people get involved in sin, but then die suddenly. So what differentiates these people from the eternally unrepentant people, mentioned in the previous blog post? 

People who accept Christ now give him an inroad into their lives and hearts, effectively consenting to God's influence on their lives. So God can bring about a change of heart, in this life or the next. There is no such recourse for the nonbelievers, who love their sin so much they refuse to so much as even acknowledge the truth about God. They can't even stomach the idea that he doesn't like something they do. They don't just say "yeah he doesn't like it, but I do so I'm gonna do it." They hate the thought of him to such an extent that they block him out entirely, even though "preference" should dictate the opposite. This seems to be a very resistant form of idolatry. Those temporal, short term benefits of wickedness outweigh the benefits of a guilt free and eternal existence with the Creator of the universe.

A Second Chance at the Second Coming?

Such is the case when Jesus returns. When Jesus returns, people who worship other gods won't suddenly want to worship Jesus for his own sake. Their will might be hardened. Furthermore, those who propose that God gives a second chance after death forget that every moment of every day is our "second chance" to turn to him. Because if we don't worship him now, it is unlikely we ever will when faced with his wrath. Giant hailstones and even hell itself are going to have a hardening effect on someone who already doesn't believe in Christianity.

So that is why unbelief is so bad. Unbelief shows up in a persons intellect, but is a product of their will and intentions. Indeed, those who refuse to believe in Christianity do so out of preference, and more evidence for him will just harden their will against him. And those who never believe in this life are demonstrating the ultimate lack of repentance, which will not be even remedied for all eternity.

I don't think its a very extreme contention to say that those who disbelieve in Christ for their entire life, simply out of loyalty to other things, will want to repent at the Second Coming of Christ.

A Word About Those Who Never Heard?

But what about small children or people in distant countries who haven't heard the Gospel, nor have had it clearly explained to them. Heck, what about those in the U.S. in this situation?

Based on the Bible, it seems God judges people by the amount of evidence available to them. Those who turn their hearts away from monotheism, and embrace idolatry, will not escape the wrath of God, despite not knowing of Jesus. But of those who have never heard the Gospel, God will base his judgment on how they responded to the truth he provided. (2)

In Conclusion

I have talked about a very somber topic that is a rather large "buzzkill" to me and about everyone else. Of all the doctrines of Christianity, I dislike hell the most. Though emotional appeal has extreme sway over myself and all humanity, I must admit that the emotional appeal of this doctrine is very very minimal.

But I must remind the reader that it is not too late. God became a human being, died a torturous death at the hands of the Romans, and rose from the dead. To trust in this Jesus for forgiveness of sins is the way to salvation. And the door remains wide open.

But why isn't their a stampede to the door?


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