“I'm not an atheist, nor do I admire Hitchens at all. But I see his point here. What rational person would, in the absence of heavy religious pressure, be drawn to all these harsh doctrines?”
i) Are you claiming that it’s irrational to believe in harsh truths? I believe that many harsh things are true due to the heavy pressure of reality.
Actually, nothing would be more irrational than to first ask myself if something is harsh, then deny that it could be true. Rather, the only rational course of action is to first ask if something is true, and if it is true, to bring my beliefs into conformity with the real world.
I don’t sort the possible object of belief into what is harsh and what is not, then reserve assent for whatever is agreeable to me. That would be delusional. A make-believe world of wishful thinking.
ii) You are also assuming tht what is harsh is wrong. Why should I share your assumption? For example, I think that child molesters should be treated harshly. They deserved harsh punishment. That is good. That is just. I empathize with the victim.
“Stepping outside of your theology for one or two seconds, I'm sure you can muster the empathy to see how some might find these ideas offensive.”
By all means, let’s consider the implications of stepping outside my theology.
By stepping outside of my theology, I step outside of reality. I step outside of morality. I step outside of meaning. I step outside of hope.
When I step outside of my theology, I step outside of any grounding for good and evil.
When I step outside my theology, I step outside of any grounding for human reason.
When I step outside my theology, I step outside of any hope for the future.
“God gives his creatures specific instructions about not eating of a certain tree.”
And the problem with that is what, exactly?
”Yet He allows a crafty devil to enter the garden.”
No, he doesn’t merely “allow” it. Rather, that’s part of the plan. This is a test. A test of their fidelity. As such, it involves a prohibition as well as a tempter.
“And trick them.”
Where does the Bible say that? According to Scripture, Eve was deceived, but Adam was not deceived” (1 Tim 2:14).
Adam was the federal head of humanity, not his wife. Original sin traces back to Adam (Rom 5: 1 Cor 15).
Since Adam was not deceived, he was in a position to intervene. To overrule his misguided wife. To defend his wife against the advances of the Tempter.
As Gene points out, the garden was a sanctuary, and it was the sacerdotal duty of Adam to guard it from defilement by unclean creatures like the Tempter.
“(To boot, they had no knowledge of good and evil at all).”
False. The name of the tree is an idiomatic merism for omniscience. Good and evil are opposites. Everything ranges along a moral continuum, with degrees of good and evil. To know good and evil means to possess godlike knowledge of all things good and evil.
Prior to the fall, their experience was limited to the good things of the garden. Yet there was evil in the world. The Temper represents the incursion of evil into the holy land of Eden.
Adam and Eve did know the difference between right and wrong. Indeed, the prohibition presupposes such a knowledge. It is wrong to do what God has forbidden.
“As a punishment, God pronounces a number of curses (pain in childbirth, death, weeds in the soil).”
Yes, wrongdoing merits punishment. That’s called justice.
“But without telling anyone,”
Except for Adam and Eve, who else was there to tell?
Anyway, parents frequently know things their children don’t know, and parents make decisions for their children.
“God imposes the curse of endless torment in hell after death for the whole race.”
Wrong. God doesn’t damn the whole human race. Everyone will not end up in hell.
“To whom He also transmits a wholly depraved nature incapable of any real good whatsoever.”
i) No, not “wholly depraved.” Total depravity doesn’t mean that. Common grace preserves a remnant of common decency in the reprobate and unregenerate.
Original sin effects spiritual inability. The unregenerate are incapable of repentance and faith.
ii) A fallen man is not a zombie. He is conscious of his evil predilections. He is both the actor and the audience. He sees himself drawn to evil, and does it anyway. He watches himself committing sin. Reviews his own performance.
iii) The sons of Adam identify with Adam’s sin, in much the same way as we identify with a cinematic character. I am not the character I see on the silver screen, and yet I can relate to that character.
“God later commands all men to repent and believe the gospel ... but this inherited nature precludes their ever listening to it.”
It’s true that an evil heart prevents the listener from giving the gospel a fair hearing. So what?
A misogynist can’t bring himself to think well of women. Is his pathological hatred of women exculpatory? The more evil you are, the more guiltless you are?
“So in eternity, God keeps humans (most of them, in fact) in an immortal state for the sole purpose of inflicting on them the most ghastly tortures imaginable with no hope of abatement.”
i) Where does Scripture ever say the sole purpose of hell is punishment for it’s own sake?
a) Even if that were true, retributive punishment is intrinsically good. It’s an end in itself. That justice be done is intrinsically good.
b) But retributive justice can also be a means to a greater good, which the revelation of God’s character as a just God who exacts retribution on evildoers.
c) And this, in turn, supplies the backdrop for his gratuitous grace and mercy towards the elect.
ii) Where does Scripture say the damned are subject to the “most ghastly tortures imaginable?”
Are you getting this from a few picturesque metaphors? Are you getting this from a literary, artistic, and cinematic tradition?
iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the damned are subject to torture. Who is tormenting them? One hellion would be tormenting another hellion.
What is wrong with that? Isn’t that poetic justice? The damned suffer at their own hands?
iv) Assuming that hell is, in fact, horrible beyond imagination, it is horrible because it is populated by horrible people. What is wrong with throwing all the horrible people together? A quarantine of evil.
“Honestly, aren't you bothered by any of these ideas?”
The only things that bother me are real things. I’m not bothered by fictions.
If something isn’t true, then it doesn’t bother me. It only bothers me if it’s true.
So how is your objection an objection to the reality of hell?
“Don't you wish in your heart of hearts that you could discard some of them and still be Christian?”
i) To begin with, I couldn’t discard them even if I wanted to. Doing theology is not like writing a novel, where—if you don’t like the ending—you can rewrite the ending to make it more to your liking.
Reality is not a piece of paper that you can crumple into a little ball and toss into the trashcan.
Revelation comes to us from God. The Bible is a revelation of reality—seen and unseen—past, present, and future. The future doesn’t have a set of outtakes or alternative endings. You and I don’t get to insert a deleted scene.
ii) It doesn’t matter what I feel. I’m not God. I’m a creature. I don’t necessarily have the same attitude about everything that God has.
At best, I have an attitude appropriate to my creatureliness. I enjoy steak and lobster. God does not.
I’m not God, and he isn’t me. So how I feel about the fate of my fellow man, even if that bothered me, is irrelevant to the fact of damnation.