To Hell with Hell

According to one of Wes Morriston’s friends, long ago Morriston insisted that Ghandi was burning in Hell and would continue to do so for all eternity. Now that Morriston has thought about the matter a bit more, he has concluded that, not only is Ghandi not burning in Hell, but nobody will suffer an eternity in Hell. Morriston presented his ideas February 21 at a THINK! lecture sponsored by the Center for Values and Social Policy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Morriston’s complete lecture is available online in mp3 format; his lecture notes too are available.

I was worried when, early on, Morriston conceded that, if there is no life after death, the debate about Hell is rather pointless, but then asked us to suppose that there is life after death. Was this going to be a night of angels and pins? But Morriston’s talk turned into a fascinating history lesson of various views of Hell, and an explanation of why many of those views contain faulty arguments.

Morriston argued, “If you believe in God, you probably shouldn’t believe in Hell.” His basic argument is that people, as finite beings, are incapable of doing something that would merit infinite punishment. If God is just, then he would not sentence any mortal being to an infinite punishment. (Morriston allowed for the possibility of a very long punishment.)

Morriston briefly reviewed the views of Hell by such Christians as Dennis Prager, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, and Stephen Davis. [Actually Prager is Jewish.] He effectively responded to each argument in turn.

Edwards, for example, claimed about Hell, “The seeing of the calamities of others tends to heighten the sense of our own enjoyments. When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state…”

Morriston’s most interesting arguments opposed the “free will defense for hell” of Lewis and Davis. The idea is that people “choose to be in hell” and “live their lives apart from God” (in Davis’s words). Morriston offered three possibilities for why someone might make such a choice. First, a person might be ill-informed, but then how could the person reasonably be punished for that? Second, a person might be a “reasonable non-believer,” which is different from “rejecting God.” Again, why would this merit eternal punishment? Finally, a person might ruin his soul to the point where redemption is impossible. But then “why doesn’t God fix their wills and restore their freedom?”

But doesn’t Christian theology clearly maintain the existence of Hell? Morriston offered two responses. First, if the Bible really supports a belief in Hell (as eternal punishment), then something in the Bible is wrong. Second, it’s not clear that the Bible does support a belief in Hell (as eternal punishment); Morriston pointed to an essay by Keith DeRose on the matter.

However, while it’s all very interesting to look at some of the details of Christian theology, the supernatural realm does not exist, and that remains the most important reason why one should not fear spending an eternity in Hell.

One thought on “To Hell with Hell”

  1. Actually Dennis Prager is not a Christian but a Jew. He has written a number of books on Judaism. As far as I understand it, Judaism does not believe in any eternal hells.

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