A medley of questions for Christians

I would describe myself as agnostic. While I was raised a Roman Catholic, I have a great many questions about the veracity of Christian theology which make me so uncomfortable with the idea of calling myself a Christian that I cannot, in good conscience, ascribe to the faith.

Since there are a great many highly educated and eloquent Christians on these boards, I would very much appreciate your opinions on my questions, as I have failed to find the answers in books.

So, with no further ado, here is my first question.

How can a supposedly benevolent and just God sentence anyone to infinite punishment (Hell) for finite sins? Does even the most unrepentant murderer really deserve a thousand million trillion years of pain and suffering for one murder? How about another thousand million trillion years, and yet another, and another ad infinitum? How about a petty thief? Or a just unbeliever?

For this question I am assuming, as the Bible clearly states, that one must be both virtuous, and a believer, in order to enter Heaven. Neither unrepentant sinners nor virtuous non-believers, can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. As I understand it, there is no Biblical basis for a belief in purgatory.

I appreciate that this question may have been posed many times before, but since guests cannot access the search function (and since I’m kinda cheap, and don’t want to sign up unless I know I’ll like it) I can’t tell for sure and so beg your indulgence.

Several common ways to address this (there may be more):
[ul]
[li]A benevolent God can’t; everyone is saved (universalism).[/li][li]“Hell” is seperation from God; it’s no worse for them then their present state.[/li][li]There is no hell; those who aren’t saved simply cease to exist.[/li][li]Even God must obey certain laws (he can still be omnipotent if he does so voluntarily); so he sends people to hell (or non-existence, etc.) even though he doesn’t like to.[/li][/ul]

There may be no direct Biblical basis, in that there’s a passage spelling out the details, but you could start with biblical quotes and reason one into existence. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this Catholic belief as not having a “Biblical basis”.

I’m sure that others can answer this question better than I, but the simple answer is that God does **not ** condemn anyone to infinite punishment in Hell. Human beings condemn themselves. The Catechism makes this plain:

  1. We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love Him…To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from Him for ever **by our own free choice ** (my emphasis). This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

  2. God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.

The success of the God myth is due to the conjunction of the two greatest motivating concepts known to man. Thus the powerful psychological incentive to play along.

  1. The greatest desire- infinite bliss and safety in the bosom of a loving father.

  2. The greatest fear- unrelenting physical torment for eternity

Religion is nothing but a mind game played on desperate victims.

Logic has nothing to do with belief, only hope and fear influence belief.

Or faith. Not there is a snowball’s chance of convincing you of this, as you refer to it as a “God myth” and a “mind game”, so I won’t waste our time.

Well, you kind of defined me out of the discussion, since I’m an Albigensian (and a Unitarian. I can say, however, that all the tales of horrible physical suffering are not canonical. Hell is defined, by most Christians, as separation from God, and nothing more. What could be worse, in the mind of a Christian?

Jesus speaking:

“The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth… So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

(Matt 13:41-42, 49-50)

Come on. Let’s stop this nonsense. This is what the Gospel says. This is what you must believe if you claim to be a Christian.

Either accept it or give up the whole Christianity thing.

Taking a chance on eternal peace and happiness by (hopefully) living a life that helps better the live’s of others?

I anxiously await you pit thread on lottery players.

I’m afraid your boner for Christianity has left you ignorant of religion in general. The concepts of loving father and enternal physical torment are not to be found in most of them.

Well, He’s right, isn’t He? Look at how you’re wailing and gnashing.

Is it not possible that this furnace is one of purification?; consider 1 Corinthians 3:10-14:

And here was me thinking it was us feeble-minded religious folk who were the chief perpetrators of flawed, dichotomous, black-and-white thinking.

As Metacom and saoirse already mentioned, it’s a not-uncommon belief that Hell is not the conventional description of eternal torment, but an eternity with the absence of God.

If one believes that we were created for some purpose, and goes on to believe that that purpose was ordained by God, then an eternity without knowing that purpose, being disconnected from the whole of creation, would be the equivalent of eternal torment.

So Hell isn’t a punishment, but a failure. Failure to live this existence to its fullest potential. Someone who commits “just one murder” without understanding all the implications of that on both the victim and the murderer himself, and without remorse, has failed to understand the purpose of his existence and can never know God. Same with the petty thief who has no remorse.

On the other hand, I believe that a person who leads a virtuous life but doesn’t believe in God, not as a rejection but because their understanding of the universe is complete without that belief, can complete his “purpose” in this life and know God, or enter “heaven.” I just can’t conceive of a God who would create souls for such a petty and simple litmus-test process for salvation.

I don’t know enough about theology except to suspect that this is completely heretical to some Christians’ beliefs (as well as many atheists’), and fits in well with some others. Just one of the many reasons why I’d make a lousy priest or minister.

Fortunately, only the simple-minded need base their existence on such trite “either-or” nonsense as what you describe. The rest of us are able to talk, listen, exchange ideas, and truly get closer to understanding and forming an educated world-view, instead of just taking the easy way out and yelling “I’m right, you’re wrong!” repeatedly on message boards.

I saw an interesting scenario posted on another board, which goes something like this:

A wealthy and powerful man proposes marriage to his girlfriend.

She replies that she loves him but is unsure if she wants to get married just now.

He replies " Thats fine Darling. I wouldn’t want to rush you into anything you are unready for, but keep this in mind. If you say no, I’m going to chain you up in my basement where my deranged cousin will torture you for the rest of your life."

“What kind of choice is that?” she asks. How can you be so cruel?

“I’m all powerful, and I like to get my way” He says simply.

Angel: And be sure to gnash your teeth! The cure isn’t complete unless you wail and gnash!

Sorry.

Well, I suppose if we’re just doing parables, the counter-argument from the Christian camp will be something like this:

A wealthy man discovers that a volcano will soon erupt, destroying a small village, so, with no thought to the cost, he hires a fleet of buses to evacuate the occupants.

One of the residents says that she’s really big on the idea of being rescued, but she’s just not all that sure that travelling by bus is really ‘her’, at least not right now.

He replies “But if you don’t come with me, you’re going to be engulfed by molten rock and you’ll die a really horrible death!”

“What kind of choice is that?” she asks. “How can you be so cruel?”…

This is unoriginal and ridiculous. I’ve heard it several times from several sources. Try to have a real discussion with some believers here on the SDMB and you’ll find that logic and reason have a lot to do with belief.

I’m not a christian myself but this statement is another ridiculous generality. Not all christians believe in the bible in a literal way. To pull out this passage and make a statement such as “This is what you must believe if you claim to be a Christian.” is a blatant display of ignorence. Stop embarrassing yourself.

Not to jump to Ex Machina’s defense or anything, because his arguments are unnecessarily hostile, but that parable doesn’t follow. It would only be relevant if the wealthy man not only made the volcano erupt, but also was responsible for creating the island and putting it so close to the (known all along by the wealthy man) dangerous volcano.

Analogies are useful illustrative devices only in those aspects where they are similar to the concept being illustrated, not necessarily where they are different and they are also only useful if the recipient doesn’t already grasp the unillustrated concept; your comment here is approximately the same as stating that Robert Burns poem “0, my love is like a red, red rose, that’s newly sprung in June” is only relevant if his betrothed contains chlorophylll and bears thorns.

This is part of the reason why analogies are rather useless in a debate - I included the volcano one only to illustrate that you can say whatever you want and support it by analogy.

Why?