04 February 2013

The Christian concept of sin and salvation: no matter how you slice it, it's ridiculous

Over at the ironically named website Reasonablefaith.org, this week's Question & Answer column deals with a tragedy in a Brazilian nightclub and the ramifications of all those people facing eternal judgment. The reader writes,

According to my evangelical christian faith, most of these people are now in hell. It seems to me extremely cruel. They were good people, young, with dreams and hearts full of love for their friends and life. Now let me set some things straight: I read the last chapter of your book "On Guard" and I've been following some of your work and I think I know what you will say. I know according to classical christian beliefs none is good enough to God, and those who live without Christ, without Christ will perish. But again, it seems extremely painful. I just can't look to the parents of the victims and think of that. So this context makes me really wonder about salvation in christianity. In theory is not that hard to accept it, but in reality is seems cruel and meaningless.

It seems cruel and meaningless because it is. There is absolutely no justification for torturing people for all eternity. Even if you're the more liberal type of Christian who pleads the case for a kinder, gentler Hell (e.g., "Well, maybe it's just separation from God and not a literal lake of fire"), no good comes from people suffering for all eternity. If God couldn't accept certain people into Heaven, the merciful thing would be to simply snuff them out of existence. It also raises the question of God's omniscience – if God is all-knowing, then he knew that certain people would reject him and end up in Hell. Again, the merciful thing would have been to simply avoid creating them in the first place. Christian apologists try to get around this uncomfortable truth by playing semantic games about the meaning of omniscience, but they just dig their hole deeper.

Craig's response runs head-first into those very issues:

I am inclined to think that God would not let any of these people perish in the nightclub fire and go into eternity separated from Him if He knew that by allowing them to live longer they would have come to a saving knowledge of Christ. If God has middle knowledge, as I think that He does, then He can providentially order the world so that people will not die if His allowing them to live longer would have resulted in their salvation.
"Middle knowledge", according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is "God’s prevolitional knowledge of all true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom." In other words: God knows what choices you will make before you make them.

If God could know that allowing someone to live longer would result in their salvation, then logic dictates that he would also know whether creating them in the first place would not lead to salvation. To argue otherwise seems to be a rather obvious type of special pleading which attempts to exclude God's omniscience from one scenario or another – mainly the theologically inconvenient ones. (I highly recommend reading the article linked in the previous paragraph, which has an in-depth discussion of the issues.)

Craig weighs in further on the salvation of the deceased:
I don’t think you realize what a terrible curse salvation by works is. Wholly apart from the fact that none of us could manage to be good enough in order to earn our way to heaven, salvation by works puts us on the treadmill of trying to earn favor with God rather than gratefully receive His unmerited love and grace. In fact, ironically, salvation by works would probably lead to the condemnation of many of those who perished in this nightclub fire. For many of them might not have led particularly good lives up until the point of their deaths. Their only hope was salvation by grace alone. In the last minutes they could have turned to God in genuine repentance and faith and received His saving grace. Apart from God’s grace they would have no hope of escape, for there is no longer time to lead a life of good works sufficient to outweigh what has been done up to that point.

All of Craig's blathering is predicated on the assumption that humans are, by merely being what we are, deserving of eternal torment in Hell. God was just so compassionate to allow us to live, if we only accept a bunch of supernatural tales from desert-dwelling tribes. This raises a number of severe logical conundrums.

First, it requires one to accept the concept of Original Sin. The sin of our ancestors provoked God into casting humanity out of Paradise. But in no way can this be construed as loving or just – no finite crime, particularly one of our ancestors, makes us deserving of infinite punishment. It's especially perverse to punish anyone for the crimes of others, and yet accepting such a perversity as the action of a maximally-loving deity is essential to Christian theology.

Secondly, there is the rather large conundrum of Adam and Eve not actually being real people. Paul, in the Epistles, unambiguously teaches that we are saved "covenantally" in the book of Romans:
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. [Romans 5]
Paul's writing here is redundant, but he makes himself clear: sin and death entered the world through one man. Except that one man never existed. Adam and Eve are mythical people. BioLogos, the accommodationist organization, has tried very hard to conjure up rational explanations for this glaring discrepancy,

So, to accept Craig's Christianity, you have to believe that an omniscient God allowed one man to curse all of humanity (or, depending on your reading of Genesis, God himself cursed humanity as punishment) so that everyone who ever lives will face infinite punishment for the finite crime of another person. But God was so merciful that he created a body for himself and killed it in a ritual sacrifice of himself to himself, because only his own blood had the power to free humanity from the curse he put on it – on the condition, of course, that we believe these ancient stories to be factually accurate.

Where is the justice in any of this absurdity? The love and mercy of an all-knowing, all-powerful being? It's mind-boggling that Christians spend so much time and effort attempting to rationalize such flagrant affronts to reason. Fortunately, we don't have to buy it – we can reject it for the nonsense that it is.   

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