Regarding Hell

 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

32.) Should an instruction to convert to your religion upon the threat of eternal torture in hell be met with anything other than hostility? 

  

Should the instruction to not jump off a cliff on the threat of broken bones and potential death be met with anything other than hostility?  

 The question reads like that to be honest. If Christianity is true, then telling people about just condemnation for their sin and the grace that is offered in Jesus is the most loving thing someone can do – like warning you that if you turn the corner to which you are walking you will be shot in the temple and die. Why wouldn’t someone tell you that? 

 What this question also reveals is the misunderstanding that Swan has of evangelism a the classic legalistic “turn or burn” kind of scare tactic meant to scare people into the kingdom. While hell is a looming reality, the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the real savor of the gospel. Here Swan is yet again likely thinking that all Christians are of the anti-intellectual, fundamentalistic, legalistic, Pentecostal variety.  

One would be hard-pressed to find an evangelist who threatens people to convert. Any Christian who chooses to evangelize does so not because of fear or threats, but because of love. Truly, if a Christian hated Atheists as much as Swan seems to believe, what cause would they have to want to save them?  

Christianity works because it is true. The draw of Christianity is not to escape punishment or to gain reward – it is to be made whole as a human being.  

Assuming for a moment that God did, indeed, create humans, then the entire purpose for which humans exist is to fulfill some kind of design given them by God.  

If this be the case, then a relationship with one's Creator is the only way in which a human being may find existential fulfillment – at least the kind in which they may mutually participate. Most Christians who evangelizes, do so because they wish others to find true meaning and fulfillment. If they fear for the person's eternal destiny, this is the evangelist's motivation for sharing, not their method.  

This question seems to be under the misguided impression that mankind is just minding their own business and God comes along and decides to force us to obey Him or He’ll throw us all in hell.

It seems that the questioner here totally misses the point that God is The Sovereign Creator of all things, and there is not a single thing in existence that is not under His sovereign authority. That includes us. Hell is not a place where you get thrown because God is ticked that you didn't want to be in His special club. It is the punishment for treachery against the king. We are all guilty of treason and Hell is judgement being meted out by the good and just King whose authority and jurisdiction we are under.

So, if we take this train of thought it and apply it elsewhere, the question or seems to think that when the government says if you break the law you're going to jail that you should respond with hostility,

If hell were even a remote possibility would it be kind not to tell people about it? Enough said.

  

33.) Can a mass murderer go to heaven for accepting your religion, while a kind doctor goes to hell for not? 

  

This again shows a skewed understanding of Christianity within Swan’s mind. He seems to think that what sends people to hell is simply not believing Christianity whereas going to heaven is just about believing a religion. Here he ignores the concepts of sin, justice, wrath, grace, atonement, and a handful of others. The mass murderer, if he has genuinely repented of his sin and turned in faith and trust to Jesus as his savior will be saved, while the doctor who rejects the offer of salvation will suffer the penalty that is due to his sin. In essence the doctor gets what he is owed whereas the converted-no-longer-murderer is spared what his sin was owed because Christ paid it for him, and is given what he does not deserve: mercy.  

  

This is the beautiful thing about the gospel. It doesn’t matter how bad you were in your life before Christ, all can be saved where true repentance and faith are found.  

  

Here we can see that Swan, though responding to a kind of legalistic fundamentalism, is still a legalist himself. He does not believe that anyone should be shown grace. He only believes that those people who are nice and good and work hard enough in life to earn it should be shown grace. Those murderers and such, they are too bad to ever be saved. Let them burn. In essence, Swan is being more judgmental and condemning and less gracious, forgiving and merciful than God – and thank goodness for that! I wouldn’t want a god like Swan! This is a common trend among atheists – a position that I have come to call Pagan Pelagianism. Swan is trying to condemn Christianity for being too harsh but shows that he has an even harsher view than the one he is castigating.  

Here Swan's tactic is to point out what seems counterintuitive: that Christianity offers bad people grace, and will condemn good people who do not accept that grace. 

To the first point: the entire goal of both the legal system and the institution of mental therapy is reform. Make defective people whole. A large swath of the population disagree with the death penalty, likely because they believe the victim of the penalty is not some monster if able to reform. 

A mass murderer has done deeds worthy of condemnation. For this same person to receive forgiveness, he must firstly acknowledge the evil of his deeds and secondly repent of them, showing that he recognizes the wrong and regrets it.  

Were he to do both of these things, God would – indeed – reform him. Give him a new heart, making him a good person through Christ, and still punish the deeds through the work of Christ. This way, both justice and mercy are served, and this man is no longer a killer worthy of punishment. 

Being a doctor is one of many noble things a person can do in life for the betterment of another. One wonders, however, under what conditions Swan has judged the worthiness of this man? Has this man never once been selfish? Told no lies? Never inconvenienced another for his own benefit?  

More, if this man wishes to be in heaven with God, does he at the very least accept the God of that heaven? 

If the man rejects God, under what obligation ought God to accept that man? 

No.

The mass murderer gets to go to heaven whenever he realizes his evil ways and essentially falls on his face in repentance and humility and begs for mercy from the king who he has offended by slaughtering his people. Meanwhile the kind and gentle doctor who loves everyone around him but is giving God the one-finger salute does not get to go to heaven.

 

The central issue of Christianity is not just whether or not we're being good little boys and girls, it is the human condition and our relationship to God. Think of it this way: imagine you're a good and benevolent and loving king, and there is a citizen of your kingdom who treats his fellow citizens wonderfully. He helps the poor little old lady across the street and generally does good deeds for those who are around him. However, he seeks to undermine your rule and your authority every chance he gets. What do all of his good deeds amount to in the face of treason? He is still guilty of a rather heinous crime.

Yes and yes. Christianity is not about what people “do”. Christianity is about a gap placed between God and man based on man’s choices and God’s perfection. Given this relationship man cannot do anything to bridge the gap. Only God Himself as Christ is able to bridge the gap and balance things. However, the Christian faith is more than blindly believing. Acceptance of God’s grace is an active rather than passive activity. And with that said there is no knowing if the mass murderer is truly saved if he goes on mass murdering after he is “saved”.

  

34.) Did the mass murdering Crusaders and Inquisitors make it into the Christian heaven? 

  

See my response to the historical issues of the Crusades and Inquisition above. Likely Swan is relying on a kind of revisionist history cultural belief about these two periods of time with relatively little actual study going into understanding either of them.  

  

As for their eternal fate – I have no idea. I didn’t know any of them and I do not pretend to be God, knowing the end from the beginning.  

Did the person of whom you speak recognize their sinful nature, repent of wrongdoing and seek forgiveness in Christ? If yes, then yes, if not, then no.  

The church should never be confused with God. During this period in time, the Church took for a time to selling Indulgences, wherein they promised the forgiveness of God for a price. As Martin Luther was quick to point out: the Church has no power to absolve a person of sins, therefore participation in a sinful activity done under Church authority does not excuse the person from wrongdoing. 

First off, this seems to assume a faulty understanding of what the Crusades and the Inquisition were. The Crusades were a military campaign against and encroaching violent, militant culture seeking to take over Europe. Yes, people did terrible things during the Crusades. Individual people do terrible things in all wars, and they will have to answer to God for the terrible things they've done. The Crusades, were not a mass murdering or genocidal campaign in purpose or plan.

 

As for the Inquisition, actually very few people were put to death because of the Inquisition. Most people were just excommunicated and shunned and ostracized. The deadly piles of burning corpses of Heretics that people paint about the Inquisition is a myth.

 

However, please recall that the point of going to Heaven or Hell is not about whether or not we have been perfectly nice good little boys and girls to our neighbors. Ultimately the question resides in your response to God. As long as we are choosing to remain in a state of rebellion against Him, the issue of how He deals with us regarding our other crimes is a moot point.

I don't know.

  

35.) How can we know what is right when we don’t know for sure who makes it into heaven and hell? 

  

This seems like a radical non sequitur. Why would I need to know who makes it into heaven or hell before I can know or reasonably believe what is right? I’m guessing here he means knowing what conditions are required for entrance into heaven or judgement in hell and then I would need to know who is going where in order to validate that knowledge. That would still be a complete non sequitur. I know the way to drive from Los Angeles to Chicago and to Miami, but I do not need to know what people have made the drive to each before I can know the paths to each.  

umans may not know who makes it into heaven and hell, but they have every means to know how to make it into heaven or hell.  

Question #6 and 7 appeal to a mutually-felt conviction that murder is wrong. In question 8, Swan appeals to his (and presumably the reader's) impressions that kindness and charity are good attributes for people to have. In fact, in question 12, Swan goes so far as to recognize that nurture and loyalty are good attributes even when seen in animals.  

Knowing what is right does not seem to be the issue at hand. The issue at hand is that, while all people seem to be able to recognize right from wrong (as Swan himself shows in his selection of questions), no one is able to always do that which is right and avoid that which is wrong.  

Heaven is a place for people who have won the mercy and forgiveness of Christ by simply asking for that mercy. Hell is a place for those who refuse to repent of any wrong deed they have done. At a certain point, the problem becomes arrogance – not ignorance. 

This question seems to get things in reverse. It is our knowledge of right and wrong that helps to know we are deserving of God’s justice.

 

We are able to know what is right by various means. For starters, mankind has an innate sense of morality. At least in very broad principles. Often this is more easily recognized when we are the ones being wronged, but not always. We also experience matters of conscience regarding moral obligations as well, feeling guilty for not doing something we ought.

 

Also, God has revealed to us His will and moral principles in the Bible. In several places the Bible points out that the purpose of the law is to reveal to us our guilt. The very fact that we do not measure up to God’s moral standard shows our need for a savior. As all of mankind is guilty, all of mankind is justly deserving of Hell.  

 

However, the determining factor of whether one “makes it into heaven or hell” is whether they accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness. We are born into a world at war with God. We are citizens of a kingdom in rebellion of it’s rightful king. We can either remain in rebellion or defect to the one to whom we rightfully owe our allegiance and obedience. And the means of that defection is Jesus Christ.

 

Our knowledge of what is right or wrong is something we have, regardless of if we or anyone else accepts the offer to defect … or if we are able to tell who genuinely has.

As with other questions here this shows a core misunderstanding of Christianity and what “salvation” actually is. Salvation to a Christian is grace through faith by accepting that it is NOT good behavior that brings you to heaven but only through the sacrifice offered by Jesus. This is the core of Christianity, not someone's behavior. 

  

36.) If aliens exist on several worlds that have never heard of your god, will they all be going to hell when they die? 

  

I honestly don’t know. The Bible is God’s revelation for man. To show us how to live and how to please God and what God has done to procure redemption for humanity. If aliens hadn’t fallen or sinned then maybe they wouldn’t need a savior. If they had, maybe God became incarnate for them. Who knows. Aliens pose no problem for Christian theology because Christian theology is concerning God’s revelation to man alone.  

Once every three years or so, astronomers will find an exo-planet (a planet around another star) which seems to be in the general range to possibly support life. At these times, readers might note that there is a drastic spike in atheist articles declaring the discovery of a potentially life-supporting planet as being the wooden stake to drive through the heart of Christianity. 

Why should aliens be such a big problem for Christianity? 

It's actually a fair insight on the part of the skeptic. Under Christian dogma, humans were created in God's image, and the third person of the trinity – Christ – actually became a human in his act of sacrifice, and then ascended as a glorified human to God's right hand.  

Presumably, if the atheist could produce a non-terrestrial, conscious, intelligent, moral agent, they could show that humans weren't special and unique. Christ didn't incarnate as a Klingon and die for Klingon sins, so God's plan seems flawed if humans aren't the only moral agents in the universe. 

There is one glaring flaw in this line of reason: Christian dogma already allows for non-terrestrial conscious moral agents. They're called "angels."  

In fact, scripture describes a whole variety of celestial beings who are conscious, intelligent, and able to recognize the goodness of God, so are apparently moral agents. 

What is the relationship of these other beings to Christ's redemptive work on earth? Impossible to say. But the mere fact that Christians acknowledge that humans are not the only conscious beings to exist means that the existence of other conscious beings does anything to damage Christian doctrine.  

So far as the "never heard of God," and "going to hell," part goes: if humans were to discover a race of aliens which had never heard of vaccines, are they all going to die of malaria? You say that isn't a problem for aliens? Well... 

Are these aliens in a state of rebellion against God? We have to remember that Jesus came to save mankind because mankind is fallen, a state of rebellion against God. CS Lewis, of Narnia fame, actually has a sci-fi trilogy where there is alien life on other planets, but those aliens are enjoying a life spent in harmony with God as He created them to live. In Lewis’ story it is only on Earth which is considered enemy occupied territory where sinful Rebellion is taking place. Surely if there are aliens that is one possibility.

 

However, if they are in rebellion against God you have two options. Either (1) God has made some sort of provision for them irrelevant to us, so therefore He never mentioned it. Or (2) it may be that they are in a similar relationship to God as the angels and are a type of creature with no redemption possible. This seems likely since Jesus specifically became a human in order to specifically forgive the sins of mankind.

 

The best option is that no such beings exist. According to the Bible, all of creation is affected by The Fall. That would include any aliens. However, since it was mankind that sinned, not the aliens, it would be incompatible with God’s just and loving nature for Him to punish innocent creatures for mankind’s sin. And considering that Jesus was born as a man in order to redeem mankind, that redemption would not apply to aliens. Which would effectively mean that God created a race a being who are unjustly condemned with no hope of forgiveness. That whole scenario would contradict with His nature.   

   There are some questions that are so hypothetical that the answers are hardly worth giving. Even if this were the case there are so many “hypothetical” solutions. Upon getting a question like this I would cut to the chase and ask them “do you have a problem with the concept of hell?” There is really no reason to even discuss this degree of hypothetical question unless you understand each other’s core views on the more important issues.