Morality in conflict
I find myself in a bit of a moral quandary.
On Monday our club had a meeting with the Campus for Christ group, to talk about proselytization. It started with us sitting in a kind of awkward circle, and went from there. We were slightly outnumbered, but given how much most of us like to talk, it wasn’t really an issue.
First off we argued about proselytization. Essentially, they prefer the term “evangelize”, and we agreed that both groups use persuasion to attempt to convince people of the correctness of their position. The main C4C guy brought up an idea I understand from Aquinas, that Christians use rational arguments to convince people of the truth of theism, and then allow God to convince them of Christianity. I have an issue with those arguments being rational (since, you know, I don’t think they are), but I agree that Christians do use rational-type arguments at times, separate from discussions about faith alone.
We talked a bit about what evangelists hope to achieve by evangelizing, and they replied that it would be selfish not to spread the good news, and the joy they’ve experienced through their personal relationship with Christ.
Both of us agreed that we tend to aim our arguments at undecided people, as well as reinforcing and examining the positions of people who already share our view.
There was a lot that came up, including some finer theological questions about Jesus and redemption, and how original sin created a gulf between God and man, which could only be bridged by God through Jesus (via some hand-waving about our inability to understand God’s omnipotence). But the major thing for me what when I asked about hell, and whether non-believers and those who’ve never heard of Jesus (separate groups, to my mind) go to hell.
They’d mentioned earlier than Hell is necessary for God to be both merciful and just, but we hadn’t really examined that idea. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised, since Hell seems like such an indefensible doctrine that I sort of assumed most mainstream Christians glossed over it. But C4C explained that Christianity holds three major positions on the question of hell.
In universalism, everyone goes to Heaven, regardless. In inclusiveness (which is apparently the Catholic position, post Vatican-II), everyone goes to Heaven through the Church, regardless of their religious beliefs. And then there’s exclusivism, which goes by John 14:6, where Christ says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is the doctrine held to by C4C people, where the only way to avoid Hell is through Jesus.
There was a lot more argumentation and discussion, some of which I have problems with, especially as we never got to discussing that a lot of these doctrines come with an enormous number of assumptions – particularly the existence of the Christian God. But afterwards the above point about exclusivism kept coming back to me.
We spent most of the evening sitting and having a civil and polite discussion with some nice, fairly intelligent people who sincerely believe that I and my friends will be in eternal agony after death. And not only do they think this, it’s a feature, not a bug. We sort of changed the subject after exclusivism came up, but in retrospect I wish we’d kept on this point. I don’t understand how people can believe this and still think of themselves as good people.
From the discussion, I think they’d talk about God’s role, and how without the connection provided by Jesus, we’re cut off from God. But that’s not really an excuse, just an abdication of moral obligation to God. The more I think about it, the more monstrous it seems.
A lot of the Freethought people seemed a bit surprised at how much this was affecting me. But I wasn’t in the Church when I was old enough to really think about these things. And since then, I’ve always sort of though these ideas were the province of racist Southern white Baptists, not normal, friendly Christians. It might be part of mostly knowing Christians of a fairly liberal persuasion, but now I wonder if they believe the same thing. How can you be friends with someone who is alright with you suffering eternally, and who thinks this is just and merciful? How can you even have a civil conversation with them? It makes me wonder if it’s even moral for me to participate in another discussion with C4C. And what seems even stranger is that not only do people not seem to think this point of view is monstrous, but they think people who believe it are laudable, upstanding members of society.
We think Christians are incorrect. But we don’t think their mistake or misbelief will result in them being punished. As much as people think atheists are arrogant or superior, I can’t see how thinking someone is mistaken measures up against someone thinking it deserves eternal suffering.