Hell has a way of putting “the fear of God” inside you. So much so that many modern religious “thinkers” are starting to question the reality of Hell. Seems perfectly reasonable to me, but why not just go one supernatural realm further and dismiss Heaven, too? I simply don’t see how one can be more likely than the other, and it seems obvious that it is only one’s opinion of these places that lead one to dismiss a nasty place like hell while fully embracing comforting concept of Heaven.
I recently blogged about a discussion between Bill O’Reilly and Jack McKinney regarding the existence of a literal Hell, and now the evangelical preacher Rob Bell is chiming in in support of the “no Hell” stance. Ross Douthat wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times, and summarized this new anti-Hell view of religion thus (my bold):
In part, hell’s weakening grip on the religious imagination is a consequence of growing pluralism. Bell’s book begins with a provocative question: Are Christians required to believe that Gandhi is in hell for being Hindu? The mahatma is a distinctive case, but swap in “my Hindu/Jewish/Buddhist neighbor” for Gandhi, and you can see why many religious Americans find the idea of eternal punishment for wrong belief increasingly unpalatable.
As I made clear in my post about O’Reilly, the simple act of “finding an idea wrong” about teachings in the Bible reveals the absurdity of going to the Bible to discover moral truths in the first place. Where does one get the idea that a Biblical teaching is unpalatable? The answer: from their own internal moral barometer separate from scripture. This all goes back to the Euthyphro dilemma which asks, “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?” If you chose the former, you are faced with the idea that God does not establish moral laws, but is instead bound to them Himself, and God can only be said to be good as far as He Himself conforms to this independent moral standard. This takes omnipotence out of the God equation, since this, as Richard Swinburn puts it,
. . .seems to place a restriction on God’s power if he cannot make any action which he chooses obligatory… [and also] it seems to limit what God can command us to do. God, if he is to be God, cannot command us to do what, independently of his will, is wrong.
Furthermore, this implies that, if the moral standards exist independent of God, then God need not exist in order for morality to keep its authority. Wikipedia puts it thus,
On such a view, God is no longer a “law-giver” but at most a “law-transmitter” who plays no vital role in the foundations of morality.
Now, if you take the latter view that something is morally good because it is commanded by God, then you’re stripped of your license to disagree with scripture even at its most absurd. This goes under the name of Divine Command Theory. Without God, according to this vein of thought, there is no right or wrong. Hence, if God commands you to kill your son (the story of Abraham and Isaac), you must do this and any hesitation is blasphemous. This calls into question the claim that God is good since, as Wikipedia puts it,
If all goodness is a matter of God’s will, then what shall become of God’s goodness? Thus William P. Alston writes, “since the standards of moral goodness are set by divine commands, to say that God is morally good is just to say that he obeys his own commands… that God practises what he preaches, whatever that might be.”
It’s all pretty clear to me–religion is bunk and explains nothing.