Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dante was half right

Unbelievers typically rail against hell as a "torture chamber." That, in turn, makes God a "cosmic sadist" and "worse that Hitler." And so on.

I've argued that this greatly oversimplifies the Biblical view of damnation. For instance:

That said, I think some people richly merit eternal punishment by "torture." Take this example, recounting the policies of the Bolsheviks:

At Odessa the Cheka tied White officers to planks and slowly fed them into furnaces or tanks of boiling water; In Kharkiv, scalpings and hand-flayings were commonplace: the skin was peeled off victims' hands to produce "gloves"; The Voronezh Cheka rolled naked people around in barrels studded internally with nails; victims were Dnipropetrovsk; the Cheka at Kremenchuk impaled members of the clergy and buried alive rebelling peasants; in Orel, water was poured on naked prisoners bound in the winter streets until they became living ice statues; in Kiev, Chinese Cheka detachments placed rats in iron tubes sealed at one end with wire netting and the other placed against the body of a prisoner, with the tubes being heated until the rats gnawed through the victim's body in an effort to escape.

Admittedly, this is Wikipedia, but my argument doesn't depend on the accuracy of this particular claim. I'm using it to illustrate a principle. As long as things like that happen, my argument goes through. 

As far as I'm concerned, people who do that to others richly deserve to have that done to them. If they did it repeatedly to others, they deserve to have that done repeatedly to them. That doesn't offend my moral intuitions in the slightest. If anything, I'd be offended if they got off easier. 

(Mind you, I'm referring to sadistic cruelty. Inflicting pain for the sake of pain.)

There are, of course, annihilationists and universalists who'd disapprove of my attitude. Of course, they say that at a safe distance–not having experienced what victims of the Red Terror endured. I'm not interested in persuading them. 

My point is that even though the "torture chamber" model of hell is greatly overused, I still think that has a morally viable place within the spectrum of eschatological punishments. Not for all the damned. Maybe not for most of the damned. But this would be just deserts for some of the damned. 


  1. I appreciate your take on the subject. Of one thing we can be completely sure. God is Holy, Righteous and Just. The execution of His Will regarding the punishment of mankind will be holy, righteous and just. We will be without excuse before His perfect Justice. We may not understand now, because we see through a glass darkly, but on judgment day all will be revealed, and we will all say AMEN to his perfect Justice.

  2. Not to minimize the atrocities cataloged, but it seems to me that in the light of Scripture man's sin against God (failing to honor, obey, and glorify Him as He commands and deserves) represents wickedness far more worthy of an eternal torture chamber than the temporal evils men visit upon other men because as rebel sinners they deserve worse punishment than is possible for mere men to visit upon them.

    "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." - Matt 10:28

    Is this viewpoint overblown?

    1. Not to minimize the offense to God of failing to render him due honor and obedience, but there's something about passive disobedience of the above versus the active obedience of delighting to deface his image (ie, man).

    2. I guess my thinking is along the lines of the the magnitude of the sin being measured by the person against whom the sin is committed. For example if you slap your father, you would likely receive some form of retribution; if you slap a police officer, the punishment would be more severe, slap a judge, a governor, a senator, probably worse still, slap the get the idea.

      Slap God in the face?

      Of course there's a sense in which all sin is ultimately committed against God (Ps. 51:4), but in the light of Romans 1 I'm not sure there's a Biblical argument for "passive disobedience" of the Lord God, on the contrary it seems pretty active.

      And as for delighting to deface his image, in this instance it seems possible (even probable) to me that in the cases outlined by steve the Cheka weren't consciously delighting in defacing the image of God.

      Anyway, it's an interesting topic to consider.

    3. CR, the idea that punishment should depend on the importance of the victim is morally questionable, and Biblically unprecedented (and in some ways Biblically impossible).

      Take two ends of the personal criminal continuum for example: a premeditated unjust killing, and an obviously insulting slap (with no real physical sting to it - maybe with a flyswatter, or in Biblical times with a sandal). Then consider the target -- a baby, your own father, a wealthy merchant/judge, and the king on his throne.

      The killing gives only one penalty for all -- death for death. A particular cruel killing, as the tortures you cited, might merit a lashing as well as death under Moses; such a penalty is limited to 39 lashes "lest your brother be diminished in your sight" (Deut 25:3). This may be the reason for Luke 12:46-48's "cut in two" and "many lashes" or "few lashes" -- but Jesus explains the cause for the cutting in two and assigning a place with the unbelievers (undeniably the foundational punishment) as being mistreatment of believers. When Jesus explains the many lashes or few lashes, that's about what the person thought toward God, whether the rebellion was knowing or unknowing.

      What about the slap? Obviously a Middle-Eastern king can kill you for anything he wants; but will he? The merchant almost certainly won't; if he's secure in his power he'll order you humiliated, thrown out, and kept out (and unless the king acts capriciously he'll do the same). Your father is more likely to give you a severe punishment. A public insult like that against a child is likely to get you treated as a complete criminal, and you may never see your home again. It's almost the opposite of what you describe -- the weaker the target, the worse the punishment.

      This argument came from Anselm, not the Bible; and it's based on a viewpoint that doesn't seem to connect with the Bible or morality, and may contradict both. There's some hint, after all, that the Hebrews were commanded to have one law for foreigner and citizen, so that you couldn't treat the dignity of the offender as part of the punitive calculation; and similar exhortations are seen in the prophets as they see unjust judgments given against the poor and in favor of the rich.

    4. Hi wt, I actually wasn't attempting to make the argument that you seem to be imputing to me. I'm guessing you probably missed the background of the comment you're responding to, which is a few spots further up the thread.