Rethinking Hell: A Review

Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical ConditionalismShould Christians “re-think” the doctrine of hell? The editors of a new volume entitled Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism certainly think so. (At the outset, I should disclose I personally know two the editors: Greg Stump was my pastor at the church I attended in California, and Josh Anderson was a friend and fellow student at Talbot School of Theology). Theirs is a compendium of articles written over the last hundred years or so that claim three things: (1) the human soul is not naturally immortal, (2) the duration of punishment suffered by the wicked is finite, and (3) the effect of the final punishment on the wicked is the cessation of their existence. The authors of these articles, hailing from vastly different neighborhoods of evangelicalism and the broader Christian world, argue for each of these claims via biblical exegesis, historical survey, theological consideration, and philosophic argument. That these three claims–that go by the names “annihilationism,” “conditionalism,” or “conditional immortality”–could garner support from such a diverse cross-section of believers merits serious attention (I will refer to this view as “conditionalism” hereafter).*

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What I Don’t Like About the Hobby Lobby Case

By now you have heard the SCOTUS ruling regarding Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that compelling employers to pay for certain forms of contraception is burdensome to their religious liberty. When outlining these burdens, Justice Alito said, “It [the HHS mandate] requires the Hahns and Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” The problem I’ve had all along with this case is that I fail to see how life beginning at conception is a “religious belief.” What makes it religious? Nothing as far as I can tell. No biblical text, or major creed, or longstanding sacred practice claims as much (the Bible recognizes that we exist before birth, but it does not say we exist at conception). You don’t even find this sort of thing in “statements of faith” save the Catholic Catechism, and the plaintiffs were not Catholic. If anything, whether or not life begins at conception is empirically determined. Why, then, is it counted as a religious belief?

Of course, there is more to it than just the beginning of human existence. For the plaintiffs, the belief that human life begins at conception implies that human life has moral status and should not be killed unless there is a good reason for doing so. Thus, we have a conjunction of beliefs at issue in this case: (1) human life begins at conception, and (2) human life has moral status. But the second one is no more religious than the first: one can reasonably hold it without being religious. There is even a third implied belief: killing early-stage human beings by virtue of birth control that is possibly abortifacient isn’t justifiable. Religious teaching may be the most relevant here, but like the other three beliefs, it need not be.

The Hobbly Lobby case is seen as a victory for religious liberty, and it surely is. But I doubt that it is a victory for the pro-life movement, because its key premises are judged merely to be “sincerely held religious beliefs,” which in the eyes of law at least, are beliefs that cannot be rationally supported. If they could, then we wouldn’t need to appeal to religion to prop them up.

Can Love Be Manipulated Manufactured?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Edit: a better title would have been: Can love potions or drugs cause real love? Or can love be manufactured? Of course, love can be manipulated! 

“Amortenia doesn’t really create love, of course. It is impossible to manufacture or imitate love. No this will simply cause a powerful infatuation or obsession. It is probably the most dangerous and powerful potion in this room — oh yes.”

–Professor Horace Slughorn in the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (by J.K. Rowling).

“Suppose Ann causally determines you to love her by manipulating your brain so that you are oblivious to her flaws of character, and by slipping Love Potion Number 9 into your morning coffee. That would be objectionable. But imagine instead that you have a self-destructive proclivity to love people who are harmful to you, and not to love those who would benefit you, partly because you have a tendency overlook people’s valuable characteristics, such as kindness and concern for the well-being of others. Suppose Ann slips a drug into your coffee that eliminates this tendency, as a result of which you are able to fully appreciate her valuable characteristics, and as a result you are causally determined to love her. How bad would that be? It would seem that what is unacceptable is not being causally determined to love by the other party per se, but rather how one is causally determined, and that there are varieties of determination by the other party that are not objectionable.”

–Derk Pereboom from Free Will, Love, and Anger.

There are things in both of these statements I agree and disagree with. I’m with Slughorn: love potions can’t create real love in those who imbibe them, but I think it is perfectly possible to imitate love–actors do it all the time to convincing degrees. I disagree with Pereboom that Ann produces genuine love in her subject, though I agree, assuming Ann is worthy of love, that she wills the good of her subject (let’s call him Ben). My problem is this: Ben’s love for Ann does not come from Ben or through Ben in a way that befits love. How to make sense of this befitting is difficult, but I submit that Ben’s love for Ann is genuine only if Ben’s love for Ann is best explained by Ben–his nature, will, and dispositions. The reasons for loving Ann ought to be explained by Ben’s ability to find Ann lovely. This is not the case in Pereboom’s example, because Ben’s so-called “love” for Ann is best explained by a drug so that he might act in ways that imitate love for her. The reason we might not find Ann’s behavior objectionable is because she is doing something good for Ben, not because Ben is doing something good for her. Would it not be better if Ben could learn to love Ann without the aid of a drug? Surely, it would be a more valuable state of affairs for Ben to find Ann lovely by virtue of his own ability. Perhaps a drug is what is needed to get Ben habituated in the right ways so that he can develop the right character so as to love Ann. And Ann, being the kind of person who wills the best for Ben, would want Ben to come to a place where Ben could love her on his own. Everything said so far makes no claims about whether or not Ben could resist Ann after he is free of the drug or not. I only claim that genuine love cannot be so manipulated manufactured.

Hasker on Theological Determinism

The Triumph of God Over Evil: Theodicy for a World of SufferingIn his book The Triumph of God Over Evil (2008) William Hasker writes:

If theological determinism is true, then everything whatsoever that takes place, including all the evil, suffering, degradation and injustice the world contains, is exactly as God wants it to be in every respect. This contradicts a great deal of what is said in the Bible, which repeatedly and emphatically insists that many things are not as God wishes them to be [see Matthew 23:37; Hosea]. (Pg. 93)

This implies, of course, that theological determinism is false. By “theological determinism” Hasker means “the view according to which everything that transpires is necessarily determined by a unilateral, efficacious divine decree” (Pg. 80). In  support of the first claim, Hasker has us imagine God’s pre-creation scenario where every possible world is before the divine mind. The one selected has to be the most satisfying and most in tune with God’s creative purposes, otherwise God wouldn’t create it. The inescapable conclusion, says Hasker, is that “God is entirely pleased with the world exactly as it is; there is no single fact he would wish to alter in any respect” (Pg. 151). With respect to the those events in creation that are evil, God takes whatever steps are necessary to ensure that they occur.

Objection: we must distinguish between all the of events, taken as a whole, that make up creation, and the individual events, which in of and themselves, make up creation. It does not follow from the fact that God is pleased with the whole of creation, that he is pleased with each individual part of creation. That is, God is not pleased by an evil event taken by itself in isolation from the others, and God would not desire to create the conditions necessary for its existence just for its own sake.

Hasker’s reply: “It remains true, nevertheless, that every event that occurs, no matter how evil or tragic, is exactly what God intended to occur, and God has taken whatever steps are necessary to guarantee its occurrence” (Pg. 152 n4). It is, thus, very cold comfort to suppose that, all things being equal, God does not desire evil events to occur, though, all things considered, he most certainly does.

As far as I can tell this argument is sound, but it should be noted that the belief in its soundness depends more on judgments formed more by intuition than a method of reasoning (though, I think this always happens at some point). It just doesn’t seem right to me that the actual world is the best or one of the best possible worlds, meaning it is most satisfying and most in tune with God’s creational purposes. Interestingly, Hasker agrees when he says he is not hopeful that those who are committed to theological determinism will be persuaded by this argument. If a method of reasoning is needed, it should start from Scripture to show that, all things considered, God is not pleased with people rejecting his overtures of grace.

Must Love Be Chosen?

Love must always be chosen. Love never forces itself on someone. So says Benjamin Corey, who echos popular beliefs about the nature of love. But is it true? I think not, because in both cases there are clear counterexamples.

It is not the case that love must always be chosen. Suppose it is: then every mother had to will herself to love her newborn child when it was placed in her arms. If not, she failed to love her baby. That is very hard to believe, for in many cases such love naturally arises without a second-thought, and remains in place without interruption. Only malformed parents have to will themselves to love their child at birth. This is not the say that there are not cases where exemplary love is chosen–enemy love for example. In that case, love is not naturally determined by the nature of the beloved, and takes conscious effort of the will to bring about. Such love is admirable in its own way, but not all forms of love require such willing. From a theological point of view (a view Corey speaks from), it does not appear that the Trinitarian Persons must choose to love one another. Indeed, there would be something defective or imperfect about a love that requires such a choice, for if the beloved is worthy of love, claiming that it is up to us to bestow love on the beloved disrespects the beloved.

It is not the case that love never forces itself on someone. No doubt this is plausible, but think of a couple who adopts an orphaned infant who lives in dire poverty. It is not up to the beloved in this case to accept or reject the love of the adoptive parents: the love of the parents is related to the infant without the infant’s consent, and it would not be wrong to remain so related to the infant who might grow up and reject the love of the adoptive parents.

To be fair, Corey is talking about romantic love, the kind a man expresses to a woman in a marriage proposal: it would be unloving to override her autonomy, and that surely seems correct. It would be too much to spell out what exactly “autonomy” entails, but with respect to love, I think the intuition Corey is trying to explain is this: the beloved must not be manipulated into loving the lover. This explains why the “love” that comes from the beloved who is under the influence of a love potion concocted by the lover is a farce (see the video below). And this plausible belief underlies Corey’s objection to the Calvinist’s doctrine of irresistible grace, which implies that the love that comes from the beloved to the lover is such that it is produced by the lover. Presumably, God is interested in there being a genuine love relationship between him and his creatures, and the kind that results from irresistible grace is not it.

 

 

 

Causing Death and Saving Lives

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In Causing Deaths and Saving Lives Jonathan Glover offers a broadly utilitarian analysis of killing. It is, however, not purely utilitarian; Glover makes room for respecting the autonomy of those who wish to go on living even if we cannot determine what it is that makes their lives worth living (perhaps, though, this grounded in some kind of rule utilitarianism). Indeed, Glover thinks that the wrongness of killing (considered apart from its side-effects on others) is explained by either the overriding of another’s autonomy or by reducing the total amount of worthwhile life that would otherwise exist if no life-thwarting action were taken. While this classic volume is easy to read, non-technical, honest, and fair, the foundational assumptions seem to me to be drastically flawed.

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There Are No Fertilized Eggs

A quick and dirty argument:

  1. For all humans, if there are fertilized eggs, then humans are such that they hatch from them.
  2. Humans don’t hatch from eggs.
  3. Therefore, there are no fertilized eggs.