Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Arguing For Hell

We've written a lot over the years in support of a traditional Christian view of hell. See, for example, pages 145-57 of The End Of Infidelity, where Steve Hays and I responded to Keith Parsons on the subject. We address a lot of issues there (objections to the fiery images of hell in scripture and later Christian tradition, whether everybody in hell will suffer equally, how many people will go there, whether children go there, etc.). There's other relevant material in the archives of this blog.

I recently heard Greg Koukl discuss the view that hell is self-perpetuating, in the sense that hell will keep going because people in hell will keep sinning. He thinks highly of the view, but isn't committed to it and isn't aware of any Biblical passage affirming it. However, he refers to how Amy Hall, who works with him at Stand To Reason, advocates the view. I advocate it as well, and I briefly discuss what I consider some Biblical support for it in the section of The End Of Infidelity cited above.

And I want to highlight a point about hell that's often neglected. It's common for people to say that they reject a particular organized religion or organized religion more broadly because of what it teaches about hell. Or it will be suggested that nobody would believe in hell if they weren't told to believe in it by a religious book, religious authority figures, and so on. It's common to assert that some religious belief or another, whether hell or something else, was fabricated by religious authorities to control people, influence them, or whatever.

For a Christian, the teaching of scripture on hell is our primary reason for accepting the concept and a sufficient reason for accepting it. But the extrabiblical evidence has some significance.

We've occasionally discussed some of the philosophical issues associated with hell. For example, as discussed above, if sinning continues in hell, then hell would be self-perpetuating in that sense, even if one were to reject the concept of one sin warranting eternal punishment. And philosophical arguments aren't equivalent to organized religion.

Several years ago, I wrote an article on hellish near-death experiences (NDEs). As I document there, hellish NDEs are more common than is often suggested. I suspect the large majority of people, in fact, underestimate how common such NDEs are. They vary widely, but some of them do involve a hell that's perceived as lengthy or eternal or that has some other characteristic that people object to when that characteristic is taught by an organized religion.

The significance of such NDEs will be different for different people. I'll provide some examples.

Some people have a view of the afterlife that's largely shaped by paranormal phenomena. For those who hold the highest sort of view of the veridicality of NDEs, the evidence from hellish NDEs will be more significant accordingly.

But even for those who hold a more subjective view of NDEs (as I do), they offer some support for the concept of hell. Even if NDEs are generally something like a supernatural dream or supernatural virtual reality, a state the soul enters when released from the body by some mechanism, it doesn't follow that every NDE is of that nature. One or more could be some sort of highly objective foretaste of the afterlife, whether it involves traveling there, so to speak, a vision, or whatever else. And the fact that God allows people to have hellish NDEs, even if all of them are highly subjective (something I don't see how we could prove), demonstrates that God isn't of such a nature as to not let anybody have such an experience. It would be similar to how the existence of wars, genocide, famine, natural disasters, etc. casts doubt on views of God that have him being highly accommodating to our intuitions, our preferences, our practices as parents, and so on. If your God wouldn't allow something like genocide or famine, then your God doesn't exist. And if your God wouldn't allow anybody to experience a hellish NDE, then your God doesn't exist. Similarly, the degree to which hellish NDEs occur tells us the degree to which God is willing to let such things happen. At a minimum, hellish NDEs increase the plausibility of hell.

As the thread I've linked above mentions (read the comments section as well, since there's some relevant material there), people who have hellish NDEs seem to report them less than people who have heavenly NDEs report theirs. Given the difficulty involved in reporting a hellish NDE, such as the shame involved, there's more reason to accept the sincerity of the people reporting such accounts accordingly. (I don't deny that other factors have to be taken into account, such as whether somebody sells a book about his hellish NDE or makes money from it in some other way. But the fact that we take such factors into account doesn't mean that we don't take the other factors I've mentioned into account as well.) Some people have a conversion experience, involving some kind of major change in their life, as a result of a hellish NDE, as discussed in the thread linked above, so that's another factor that adds to the credibility of such accounts.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Enfield Poltergeist Investigation Committee Report

A few decades ago, the Society for Psychical Research set up the Enfield Poltergeist Investigation Committee to reinvestigate the Enfield case and produce a report on their findings. Go here to watch a segment of a documentary that provides an overview of the subject. The report has been hard to access, and those who have read it have had restrictions placed on what they can say about it. A commenter in a recent thread asked me whether I've read it, and here's my response. I want to highlight it here, since the topic is significant and since the exchange is buried deep in the comments section of a thread and could easily be missed otherwise.

The four horsemen

In light of COVID, Paul had the good idea to repost this piece from Steve:

"The four horsemen of the Apocalypse" (Steve Hays)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Nothing Is More Pragmatic Than Theology

In my daily reading of scripture, I recently came to chapter 7 in Matthew's gospel, where the section commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount ends. It's striking how Jesus' remarks close with his referring to the significance of the afterlife (7:21), himself as mankind's judge, who judges based on people's relationship with him (7:23), and his words as foundational to life (7:24). Matthew highlights how the crowd was impressed by his authority (7:29), not something like his sincerity, emotions, or love.

Modern culture typically gives far more attention to some of Jesus' earlier comments, such as what he said about peacemakers (5:9) and loving your enemies (5:44). There are many comments Jesus makes earlier in the Sermon on the Mount about God, the afterlife, and such, which often get ignored or underestimated, but the closing remarks of chapter 7 are especially striking.

One reason that's often given for placing so much focus on things like peacemaking and loving your enemies (often defined in highly anti-Biblical ways that Jesus would have opposed) is that such teachings are so pragmatic. By contrast, teachings about God, salvation, prayer, the afterlife, and such allegedly are far less practical, if they're practical at all. The same individuals who put so much emphasis on what Jesus said about loving people often ignore or give little attention to what Jesus said about how loving God is more important (Matthew 22:37-39). While modern culture has such inordinate concern about short-term physical welfare (giving people food, clothing, shelter, and medicine; helping them find a job; sexual pleasures, humor, and such), Jesus tells people to be prepared to give up something like an eye or a hand for welfare in the afterlife (Matthew 5:29-30, 18:8-9). I wrote the following about this subject on Facebook a few years ago:

Nothing is more pragmatic than theology. I recently had a conversation with a friend whose mother-in-law is dying. He's concerned that his mother-in-law, who comes from a Roman Catholic background, have the peace, comfort, joy, and other advantages of knowing that she's going to heaven rather than purgatory. But how many people are concerned enough about a subject like purgatory to research it to any significant extent before they get close to death? Our culture encourages us to not have much concern about theology in general, and, more specifically, it's often suggested, even by Christian leaders, that the differences between Catholics and Protestants don't matter much. Would they hold the same view on their deathbed, when the difference between heaven and purgatory is staring them in the face? Or would they tell a dying parent or friend to not be concerned about the issue? What if their child were to start praying to the dead? Would they be as unconcerned about the subject as they are now, when they're addressing it at a more abstract level? Theology is foundational to everything from the reliability of our reasoning to our purpose in life, what value we place on human life, our morality, and our hopes for justice and life after death. People who don't see the pragmatism in theology aren't thinking about it enough.

Jesus thought that matters like the primacy of God and the afterlife are deeply pragmatic and highly important.

God's incomprehensibility

"At 80, I’m More Aware of Mystery" (John Frame)

UFOs and religion