Friday, July 14, 2006

Armchair psychology


Today there is violence between Israel and Lebanon. And while no one can say this is purely a religious war, the elements of religion are plainly evident, especially when militant Islamics (like Hamas, and Hezbollah) want to destroy Israel as part of what they understand the Koran to say.

And then there are Christians who are so zealous for their faith they consider anyone who questions their faith as a personal attack. They too are zealots for their faith.

But why? Why are these religious people so zealous for their faith? Why? Is anyone that zealous in defending their favorite Baseball team, or in defending the historicity the founding of ancient Rome, such that they will personally attack someone who denies it (well there might be a small select few regarding a baseball team, but Christians as a whole take our questions personally).

Fear of hell. That explains the zeal of the zealots in this world. It's a cradle to grave intimidation that causes otherwise intelligent and caring people to be stupid and fearful and zealous for their faith.

Tell me this, Christians, if it weren't for the fear of hell, how zealous would you be for your faith? How willing would you be to consider the questions we pose here at DC? How does the fear of hell itself affect how zealous you are to defend your faith?


1.This is all very illogical. For one thing, I can think of plenty of sports fans that are quite zealous about the home team. I guess they’re motivated by the fear of hell, right?

2.Loftus’ analysis would only make sense if two conditions were met:

i) The zealot is afraid of hell, and

ii) He believes that his zealous activities will save him from hell.

As far as militant Muslims are concerned, they seem to be motivated, not by the disincentive of hell-fire, but by the incentive of their 72 virgins in Paradise.

It’s about the carrot, not the stick.

And there are other factors in play. The peer pressure from a cult of martyrdom. A propaganda machine along with a cottage industry of victimology. And the rush that comes of killing people. The thrill of danger.

As far as Christians are concerned, Evangelicals don’t believe that doing apologetics will save them from the flames of perdition. We are justified by faith, not by apologetics.

Moreover, many Evangelicals are unafraid of hell. They became Christians out of fear of hell. But now that they are Christians, they no longer fear the prospect of hell.

This is especially true for Christians in a theological tradition like Lutheranism or Calvinism in which a Christian can enjoy the assurance of salvation.

3.Finally, apostates can be every bit as zealous as Christians. Is this because the apostate is inspired by his fear of hell?


  1. Calvinists know that they are saved? Really? So they have direct access to the secret will of God? There is no such assurance. As far as you know all you have is false assurance. Claim it all you want to if it makes you psychologically confident. But you can never be intellectually convinced of this, and you know it.

    And the fear of hell keeps you from entertaining your hidden doubts, which makes you zealous for your faith since you suppress them. Tell me this. No matter how confident you are that a particular sports team in the past was the best one ever, you can still more rationally entertain the question of whether or not a present team is better, since you don't fear hell if you entertain such a question.

  2. Oh, and for a superior analysis of the practical differences between Arminian and Calvinist views of assurance, read William J. Abraham's chapter, "Predestination and Assurance" in The Grace of God, The Will of Man, ed, Clark Pinnock, (Zondervan, 1989).

    He wrote: "As far as assurance is an issue, the debate between the two positions is to a great extent a verbal one. The differences arise in part because the competing sides are interested in two different questions. The Arminian focuses on whether one can know NOW that one is a child of God; the Calvinist focuses on whether one will ULTIMATELY be saved in the future."" (p. 239).

  3. Loftus said:
    Calvinists know that they are saved? Really? So they have direct access to the secret will of God?

    One does not need access to the "secret will of God." God's revealed will in Scripture is sufficient to answer that.

  4. Another hole in Loftus' argument is that he evidently does not believe that a true love for God can, and is, a motivating factor for Christians. Hell is certainly a deterrant, but God's sovereign, electing love together with Christ's work is our motivation.

  5. I can confirm that atheists can be just as zealous, to the extent of using railing and insulting language from the number of times I've spoken to bad-tempered atheists.

    What does motivate them? It can't be fear of hell. Belief that they're privately wrong?

    And the truth is that the Israel-Palestine conflict has as much to do with title to a particular part of land as does with specific dogma. Very hard, I'd be the first to admit.

    On sports teams, Mr. Loftus, I recommend that you go into a pub in Grangetown and tell the regulars that Cardiff is a worse team than Swansea. On second thoughts, I really don't recommend it. Or Pantycelyn Hall in Aberystwyth to tell them that there is a better rugby team than Wales.

    I had a friend who did that once for a bet. He left without touching the ground. Fortunately, he hadn't made it to the first floor...

  6. Hiraeth, what if they are also motivated by the fear of hell if they're wrong? Wow! The look out now!

  7. Loftus, I think they're rather motivated by an all-consuming hatred for their bitterest rivals who can't possibly be better than they are. If the other side did win this year it was because they were dirty cheating you-know-whats.

    I rather doubt whether Cardiff fans think they'll go to hell if Swansea's the better team. They will lose face, but that's different.

    In fact, you know, I think we're on to something. The fear probably is more a fear of losing face than any eternal consequences. I cases where I've lost debates with atheists it has been pride, not faith which suffered.

    Of course, pride being a sin, that meant it was good for me. After all, the whole simply became a slanging match with insulting epithets being exchanged.

    Yes, I do think the motivation is one of saving face. It applies so much better than your theory. Salvation isn't dependent on answering every scoffer's objection, and beligerent atheists can't be motivated by a fear of hell, unless you're one of those 'in their hearts they know their wrong' atheists towarfds atheists, which I doubt.

  8. Oh yes, and I guessed you were joking.

    Mind you, if you walk into the wrong pub in Glasgow with a Celtic shirt on, you might think you'd made a wrong turning and ended up in the infernal regions.

    The tendency is that teams which are geographically close but represent different ethnic groups or exemplify local divisions are those where you have grudges. So the Swansea/Cardiff divide reflects the competiton between the two cities as to which is the biggest in Glamorgan, the Celtic/Rangers split was ethnic between Irish immigrants and natives (think Gangs of New York), and the Norwich/Ipswich division between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk over which is best (the right answer is Norfolk, obviously). And I don't need to explain Wales/England. Suffice it to say the Welsh hate the English.

    And both sides were normally of the same religion when that mattered. Thing is, the English kings were greedy swine who wanted to add to their already bloated domains...

    I'll stop before the rant begins.