Double-Talk in Defense of the Dubious

ere are two questionable propositions the theologian repeatedly offers.'(1) God
respects our free will so much that he allows non-believers to do their own
thing for eternity in hell.'(2) God loved us so much that he forgave our sins by
punishing Jesus instead of sinners.

Both propositions have the same problem: the
language used refutes itself.’If the
unbeliever’s imprisonment in hell will be unimaginably painful, as the New Testament
says it will be, it could not be “respectful” of God to permit unbelievers to
continue to live in hell. On the
contrary, this would be a sign of wrath and a flat acknowledgment of the
unbeliever’s low value. It matters not
at all if hell is a positive punishment inflicted by God on sinners, or a
matter of sinners inflicting themselves with guilt and other torments. God would
have the power to obliterate the
condemned souls, preventing them from feeling any pain, but theologians typically
assert that unbelievers will exist in hell forever. Knowing that hell
will be horrible for
unbelievers, God nevertheless chooses to permit them to enter that state of
never-ending agony–out of “respect,” the theologian assures us.

This is a highly misleading use of words on
the theologian’s part. “Respect”
involves honour, esteem, and consideration.’
Allowing the people God allegedly respects to suffer without abatement
for eternity is contradictory. What
aspect of the nonbelievers could God hold in high regard?’ What consideration
could God show the
condemned in hell?’ Will he provide the
condemned an intermission from the heartache and misery?

What could God value about the condemned
sinners?’ Their freewill?’ But in the sinners’ case their freewill lands
them the worst thing in existence, eternal absence from God. How could someone
respect a criminal who has
earned the worst fate of all?’ It should
be impossible to hold such a person in high regard, but if God were to value
infinitely condemnable sinners, surely he would take pity on them and
obliterate them rather than permitting them to suffer in hell. If God were to value
freewill, surely he
would allow nonbelievers to use it again rather than forcing or permitting the
nonbelievers to wallow in the consequences of their final, erroneous choice to
reject him. If hell is as bad as the
New Testament describes, it is doubtful that any but the most perverted
nonbelievers would freely choose hell over either heaven or obliteration.

Take this analogy. A child, Billy, chooses to abuse drugs, and the father, Frank,
knows that Billy’s choice will ruin him (Billy). Frank decides not to intervene out
of respect, he says, for his
son’s freewill, and Billy proceeds to ruin his life. Why is it mistaken to suggest
that there could even be a shred of
respect on Frank’s part for his child?’
Because in appreciating Billy’s freewill the father must also
acknowledge that the son will be responsible for his choice and will deserve
whatever suffering he brings upon himself.’
And furthermore, in knowing that Billy’s choice will ruin his life,
Frank must believe that Billy is defective or weak in some way for nevertheless
choosing to abuse drugs.

Billy isn’t respected personally or as an
equal, and neither is he valued highly.’
What is respected, instead, is the moral law, which states that crime
should be punished. In this case, the
appreciation of Billy’s freewill amounts to the judgment that he is fit to
receive punishment or reward depending on his choice, and Frank’s knowledge as
to the criminality of Billy’s choice leads to Frank’s smug decision not to
interfere by correcting or preventing the suffering brought about by Billy’s
drug-use, but to let justice take its course and ruin Billy’s life. In short, the
father shows no respect for
his son, but only love for retributive justice, which in this case is expressed
by his wrathful inaction.

The situation is similar but more extreme in
the case of God’s “respect” for unbelievers in hell. The differences are these:
(1) The heavenly Father is omniscient
and can have no doubt as to the terrible consequences of his children’s
disobedience; (2) in appreciating his children’s freewill, the Father adheres
not simply to a relative moral principle but to the absolute moral law that he
himself institutes; (3) the suffering brought about by sin is everlasting and
unimaginably painful in hell.

Given these three differences, the conclusion
is that far from there being any trace of respect on God’s part in permitting
sinners to torture themselves in hell, this allowance is wrathful in the
extreme. God values the freewill of
sinners, and thus must hold them responsible for their choices. Unbelievers prove
their inferiority,
immorality, blindness and stubbornness in failing to accept Christianity. And
instead of demonstrating concern for the
unbelievers themselves by saving them from hell, if only by obliterating them,
God shows his abstract esteem for the moral law and the role the unbelievers
play in their free choice to break it by rejecting God and his offer of
atonement through Jesus’ death. In
other words, God’s “respect” for freewill, as opposed to the people themselves,
amounts to joy when the people choose well (because the moral law is
appreciated), and to wrath when they choose poorly and violate the law.

The theologian’s presentation of this
benevolent purpose of hell is contradictory.’
Genuine respect is close to admiration, but there would be nothing
admirable about sinners wallowing in their deserved hell. If there were something
admirable about
them, they wouldn’t deserve the worst possible fate (assuming hell is worse
than obliteration). They would deserve
some sort of mercy. Genuine respect
involves esteem for the person, but there could be no high value of sinners in
hell. If there were, God wouldn’t
permit the sinners to be so far away from him or in such agony; God would do
something to lessen their plight. But
instead the theologian reports that God will allow the terrible consequences of
the nonbelievers’ rejection to be carried out in full. The theologian’s double-talk aside,
God shows pure wrath towards sinners, in the form of an abstract regard for strict
justice rather than the condemned, not respect or mercy of any kind.

The second
proposition, given above, is at least as incoherent as the first. The theologian
says that God’s decision to
have Jesus rather than us executed for our sins was an example of perfect,
ideal love, forgiveness, and mercy. But
again the common definitions of the key words involved refute this notion. Genuine
forgiveness involves giving up
resentment against or the desire to punish, or a pardon, which is the releasing
from further punishment. Forgiveness,
then, is very far from taking the punishment out on someone else in full. If
God really forgave us our sins he would have abandoned the desire to punish us.’
But instead the theologian teaches that Jesus paid the entire price of
sin, an infinitely terrible punishment involving the death of a divine
person. God says he forgives sinners,
but then he proceeds to vent his wrath on someone else.

This is just as strange as the following
scenario: John punches Fred in the face, Fred says “John, I forgive you,” but
then Fred promptly finds an appropriate substitute, like John’s wife, and
strikes her in the face. There is no
mercy, love, or forgiveness involved here.’
Only a mean switching of victims, or in Christian terms the
“transference of sin-debt.”

Jesus was supposed to be the second
representative of humanity, and so the fact that God chose him as our sacrifice
should be at least as insulting to every one us, as the represented group, as
an American would be justifiably insulted were the American President singled
out as the sacrifice for the sins of Americans, all done out of forgiveness of
Americans’ sins. With regard to the
analogy of Fred and John, the parallel is with the fact that it is John’s wife,
someone closely connected with John and someone whom John loves, that receives
the substitutive punishment. True, we
never knew God had a Son until Christians preached that Jesus was the one, but
God the Father, the one inflicting or permitting the punishment, would have
known that Jesus, the Word or Logos, was all-important to Creation and thus to
us.

It doesn’t matter who was punished in our place, the result is the
same: at best God would have showed insincere forgiveness of sinners.
If God had vented his wrath on a mountain by blasting it to dust, his
mercy, love, and forgiveness would still have been negated. Wrath
and mercy are simply incompatible motivations.’The first seeks compensation,
the latter seeks to do away with payment.

The apologist teaches that the plan of Jesus’ death was beautiful and
perfect, since it allowed God to demonstrate both his mercy towards sinners
and his wrath towards sin.’But sin itself apart from the sinner simply can’t
be punished. How else could an act of murder be punished except by punishing
the murderer?’Further, there would be no point in punishing sin itself even
if this were possible. Sins are just choices or events. They aren’t morally
responsible for their effects. It should give a judge precisely zero
satisfaction to seek the punishment of a sin in itself or to watch the sin
be punished (again even if this were possible). It would make no sense at all
for God to be wrathful toward sins themselves but not toward sinners, or to
have sought the destruction of sins but not those who having committed them
are morally responsible for them.

Furthermore, God’s public punishment of Jesus in effect did punish sinners
themselves, because the latter had their noses rubbed in God’s fully wrathful
reaction to their sin. By showing us just what we deserve for our sins, and
just what someone actually underwent for our sake, God makes sinners feel
guilty and penitent, which are psychological punishments of devastating force.
This is why the teacher will tell a student who just received corporal punishment
for some offense to go stand in the corner so he or she can feel guilty and
ashamed. Standing in the corner amounts to a continuation of the punishment,
or perhaps even its culmination.’

God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness of sinners was like a slap in the face.
Return to the analogy of John being “forgiven” by Fred for punching him in
the face. Imagine now that Fred says “John, I forgive you,” but then proceeds
to lay an enormous guilt trip on John for having punched him. Again, what
would we think of Fred’s “forgiveness”?’ We would think that Fred never in
fact forgave John, but instead harboured feelings of ill-will like resentment
or wrath. We would certainly not believe that Fred gave up resentment or the
desire to punish, which is precisely what “forgiveness” means.

These two propositions, that God shows “respect” for sinners by giving
them hell, and that God showed us “love” and “forgiveness” by punishing
someone else for our sins, are stunning examples of double-talk. What exactly
is “double-talk”?’ It is a technique of obfuscation that attempts to defend
and justify with mellifluous but empty expressions, faulty analogies, and
other misuses of language a reversal of the truth, producing an incoherent mess.
In these two cases at least (and there are many more), the rhetoric is meant to
justify what are in fact unseemly acts the theologian attributes to God. The
existence of both hell and God’s love and mercy cannot easily be justified,
and neither can the appropriateness of substitutive sacrifice. In wanting to
hide or soften the repugnant ideas of hell and human sacrifice, the theologian
resorts to contradictory language.

Double-talk is a species of self-contradiction. Respect can play no
part at all in sending someone to hell or even in permitting someone to punish
herself in hell. And there can be no forgiveness in the switching of victims so
that a full payment of pain can yet be made. This is true because of the
meaning of the words “respect” and “forgiveness.”‘ These terms jar against the
context in which the theologian puts them. “Respect” and causing or
permitting eternal, infinite pain?'”Forgiveness” and a switching of victims?

The Church has throughout its long history committed innumerable blatant
atrocities, which the theologian now regards, of course, as the actions of
false Christians who abused the bible and overturned God’s message of love
and forgiveness.’The modern apologist’s rhetorical tactics of obfuscation
and double-talk represent only a scaling down of the more barbaric misdeeds
committed by the Church. They are united, however, in being part of a desperate
cover-up effort to hide not just the falsity but the sheer ugliness of
Christianity’s more peculiar truth claims.