Sunday, December 4, 2016

Why not annihilation?


Another post on hell?  Will this series never end?  Never fear, dear reader.  As Elaine Benes would say, it only feels like an eternity.  We’ll get on to another topic before long.

Hell itself never ends, though.  But why not?  A critic might agree that the damned essentially choose to go to hell, and that it is just for God to inflict a punishment proportionate to this evil choice.  The critic might still wonder, though, why the punishment has to be perpetual.  Couldn’t God simply annihilate the damned person after some period of suffering?  Wouldn’t this be not only more merciful, but also more just?  

Suppose Hitler and Stalin merit millions of lifetimes worth of suffering given the number of people they killed, and that this punishment ought to be inflicted simply for the sake of retributive justice, since deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection are purposes of punishment that no longer apply after death.  Wouldn’t a punishment of many millions of years suffice?  Why would it have to go on forever?  Why not a prolonged period of great misery following by nothingness?

On reflection, however, this annihilationist position doesn’t make sense, for several reasons.  Begin with a consideration that does involve deterrence.  In The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, Fr. Charles Arminjon argues that if the sufferings of hell were temporary, they would be insufficient to deter at least some wrongdoing.  At least some people might judge certain sins to be so attractive that they would be willing to suffer temporarily, even if horribly and for a long time, for the sake of committing them.  They might even thumb their noses at God, knowing that however grave are the evils they commit, they will only ever have to suffer finitely for them.  They will see their eventual annihilation as a means of ultimately escaping divine justice and “getting away with” doing what they wanted to do.

Now, I think this is plausible, though it would be a mistake to take deterrence to be the fundamental consideration here.  For deterrence value is not a sufficient condition for just punishment.  An offender must in the first place deserve a certain punishment before we can go on to consider whether inflicting it would also have value as a way of deterring others.  However, given what has been said in my previous posts on this subject, it is clear that an offender can deserve everlasting punishment.  For (as I have argued, following Aquinas) those who are damned perpetually will to do what is evil, never repenting of it.  They are perpetually in a state that merits punishment, and thus God perpetually ensures that they receive the punishment they merit.  If such an offender adds to his intention to do this evil the further intention of “getting away with it” by virtue of being annihilated, that only adds to the reasons why he must be punished perpetually rather than annihilated. 

Annihilationism and this response to it take for granted, though, that the person who is damned wants to be annihilated, and as Jerry Walls argues, that is open to question.  Annihilationism also assumes that it would be good and indeed more merciful to annihilate the damned person, assumptions challenged by Jonathan Kvanvig and Eleonore Stump.  As Stump points out, from a Thomistic point of view, being and goodness are convertible, so that to keep a soul in being rather than annihilating it is as such to bring about good rather than bad.  As Kvanvig points out, just as capital punishment is a harsher penalty than life imprisonment, annihilation is plausibly, by analogy, a harsher punishment than perpetual confinement in hell.  And as Walls points out, a soul that is damned may prefer to persist forever willing the evil it has chosen, even though this involves unhappiness.

Keep in mind that, as I have suggested in earlier posts, it is a mistake to begin reflection on the subject of hell by calling to mind stereotypical and simplistic specific examples of sins and punishments.  The skeptic who starts by imagining someone being roasted over a pit and punctured with pitchforks over and over forever for the minor crime of stealing a candy bar is, naturally, going to find it hard to believe that anyone would choose to keep this sort of thing up eternally rather than being annihilated.  After all, people often choose suicide over lesser tortures than that.  But that is, again, precisely the wrong way to begin the inquiry.

The right way is to begin with the most relevant general metaphysical and moral principles, then work through concrete examples that most clearly illustrate those principles, and only after that to proceed to all the less clear and more controversial questions about whether this or that particular sin would merit eternal punishment and whether this or that particular sort of punishment would be fitting for someone to suffer eternally.  Hence in previous posts I started by setting out considerations concerning the fixed nature of the will of a disembodied soul, the nature and justification of punishment in general, and so forth.

Where the question of annihilation is concerned, among the general principles we have to keep in mind is Aquinas’s dictum that “every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature” (Summa Theologiae I-II.94.2).  This is true even of the suicidal person, who will spontaneously duck if your throw a knife at him, struggle at least initially if you start to choke him, and so forth.  Preserving himself in being is his natural tendency.  It can be resisted (as it is when someone actually commits or attempts suicide), but self-preservation is a thing’s default position.

A second general Thomistic principle to keep in mind is that, as John Lamont emphasizes in an excellent article on Aquinas’s understanding of hell, the choice to do good or evil is (whether or not we always consciously think of it this way) fundamentally a choice for a certain kind of life – a choice for being a certain kind of person, for having a certain kind of character -- rather than merely for a certain specific action.  And a third general Thomistic principle to keep in mind is that we always choose what we take to be in some way good, even when what we choose is in fact bad and even when we know it to be in some respects bad.

So, take some way of life X that is in fact bad and leads to misery but which many people nevertheless take to be good and actively pursue even when they know it is making them miserable.  X might be a life of cruel domination over others, or of the greedy pursuit of wealth at all costs, or of the envious tearing down of others, or of sexual debauchery, or of drunkenness or drug addiction, or of immersion in endless trivial distractions, or of self-glorification.  The specific example doesn’t matter for present purposes (though it might be a salutary exercise to think in terms of whatever sin it is you personally find the most appealing or difficult to resist).  

Now, we are all familiar with the phenomenon of people who live lives of one of these sorts, and who are miserable as a result but who nevertheless stubbornly refuse to change their ways.  They love the evil to which they have become habituated more than they hate the misery it causes them.  They may also love defying those who urge them to change.  They insist that there is nothing wrong with them, that their unhappiness is due to others rather than to themselves, that it is in any case better to live on their own terms than to concede anything to those criticize them, etc.  They do not wish for death.  On the contrary, they perversely relish their unhappy lives, focusing their attention on the good they think they perceive in the end they have chosen, trying not to dwell on its bad fruits, and being firmly intent on proving wrong those who criticize them.  They manifest the sort irrationality often said to be paradigmatic of insanity, viz. doing the same foolish thing over and over and hoping for a different result. 

The right way to begin thinking about the person who is damned is, I would suggest, to imagine someone like this, but who persists in this particular kind of irrationality in perpetuity.  The damned person is the person whose will is fixed at death on the end of being a person of type X.  That is to say (to apply the general Thomistic principles referred to above), it is fixed on something taken to be good (however mistakenly), and thus on something desired; it is fixed on an overall way of life, and not merely on some momentary act; and it is fixed on being or existing as a person who lives that way of life.  What the damned person is “locked onto” at death is precisely a way of being, rather than on annihilation. 

In refraining from annihilating the person who is damned, then, God is precisely letting that person have what he wants.  As C. S. Lewis puts it, the saved are those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and the damned are those to whom God says “Thy will be done.”

But wouldn’t the damned change their minds?  Wouldn’t buyer’s remorse set in after a season in hell, leading them to say “Whoa, on second thought, I’ll go for annihilation!”  No, because, for the reasons set out in my first post in this series, the soul after death cannot change its basic orientation, cannot alter the fundamental end onto which it is locked.  And opting for annihilation would require such a change.  Hence the soul that is damned, I am suggesting, perpetually wills to exist despite being perpetually miserable.  If this seems insane, that is because it is.  But again, we are familiar with something like this kind of perverse thinking even in this life, in the example of miserable people who refuse even to try to reform but also have no desire to stop living.

Now, we often feel sorry for such people.  So wouldn’t those in heaven feel sorry for the damned – especially if some of their own loved ones are among the damned?  Wouldn’t God therefore annihilate the damned for the sake of the saved, even if not for their own sakes? 

No, and here too, as John Lamont points out in the article linked to above, we can be misled by the examples we take as our models for the damned.  In particular, we might think of that person we know who is habituated to a certain bad way of life, who is miserable as a result, but who might still reform if given enough time and who also has certain good traits.  We might imagine that this person, when in hell, would be essentially like he is now.  And we might then think: “He has such good in him too!  Wouldn’t that lead him to change his ways eventually?  And doesn’t it merit him some happiness, even if he has to be punished for his sins?”  And the problem is that in imagining this, we are, as Lamont points out, attributing to the person in hell traits which he has now but which do not and cannot exist any longer in the afterlife.  For the reason people in this life are mixtures of good and evil is that they are still embodied, and thus not absolutely fixed on either good or evil.  And after death, this is no longer the case.  (Again, see my first post in this series.) 

Hence the good that was in the evil person in this life has completely dropped away after death.  What is left in the lost soul is nothing soft, nothing kind, nothing merciful or wanting mercy, nothing that could generate in the saved the slightest sympathy.  There is only perpetual irrational malice.  If you want an image of the damned, imagine human faces on which there is written only blind, defiant, miserable rage and hatred forever and ever.  Basically, a non-stop Occupy Hell rally.  To which the saved can only shrug and say: “Whatever.  Knock yourselves out, guys.”

247 comments:

  1. Professor Feser, I always wanted to ask you:

    If Heaven is a supernatural gift we cannot achieve by our natural efforts, then what about Limbo?

    Limbo is supposed to be the state where humans achieve the happiness that they can get to with their natural ends.

    Can people after death chose Limbo instead of Heaven?

    Specifically non-believers like agnostics, both baptised and unbaptised, but especially unbaptised.

    Is it possible in your view for some people to achieve a state of eternal natural happiness then?

    Can some modern day people achieve a state like Limbo, or are they all doomed to a state of Hell?

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  2. Edward Feser: "Suppose Hitler and Stalin merit millions of lifetimes worth of suffering given the number of people they killed, and that this punishment ought to be inflicted simply for the sake of retributive justice, since deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection are purposes of punishment that no longer apply after death. Wouldn’t a punishment of many millions of years suffice? Why would it have to go on forever? Why not a prolonged period of great misery following by nothingness?

    On reflection, however, this annihilationist position doesn’t make sense, for several reasons. ... [Some] might even thumb their noses at God, knowing that however grave are the evils they commit, they will only ever have to suffer finitely for them. They will see their eventual annihilation as a means of ultimately escaping divine justice and “getting away with” doing what they wanted to do.
    "

    There is that, looking at a hypothetical finite future existence "in Hell" followed by annihilation from the point of view of the damned sinner.

    But, there is also looking at the idea of punishment-then-annihilation from the point of view of God (as best we may attempt that point of view). It's a favorite trope of God-haters to accuse God of being a moral monster. He isn't, of course, but that's what they like to accuse. However, were God to deal with unrepentant sinners by first punishing them "in Hell" ... and ceasing to sustain/uphold their existence, then he would indeed be a moral monster.

    It seems to me that these are the options with respect to God's treatment of unrepentant sinners:
    1) Wink at their sin, in which case he is a moral monster;
    2) Punish them finitely, and then wink at their sin, in which case he is a moral monster;
    3) Punish them finitely, and then annihilate them, in which case he is a moral monster;
    4) Punish them finitely until they repent of their sin (assuming repentence after death is logically possible), and then "admit them to Heaven";
    5) Annihilate them without punishment "in Hell";
    6) Punish them infinitely/eternally.

    I can't think of any other logical possibilities.

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  3. St. Thomas says that there is a certain infinite malice involved in sin, in that you are rejecting an infinite good (that is, God), which implies an infinite malice.

    Think about it like this. You want to commit adultery. Your conscience tells you that this is offensive to God. You say, "I don't care that it is offensive to God, I choose to please myself rather than God." Now when you reflect that God is in the infinite source of all goodness and your Creator to whom you owe everything, you will see how malicious this act is. But then God is willing to forgive adultery and every other sin, except the "sin against the Holy Spirit". A mysterious phrase which has a number of interpretations - perhaps it is final impenitence, i.e. a final hardening of the heart where the heart finally and forever chooses not to be pleasing to God, and to please only itself.

    There are people in this world that know full well that there is a God, and that an act of submission is all that is necessary for eternal bliss, but they prefer to disobey God and defile their own souls, as well as the souls of others. If you want to really understand the evil in this world, contemplate ritual child sacrifice. Then you will understand what evil is in man, and you will see why eternal hell is just.

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  4. "Now, I think this is plausible, though it would be a mistake to take deterrence to be the fundamental consideration here. For deterrence value is not a sufficient condition for just punishment. An offender must in the first place deserve a certain punishment before we can go on to consider whether inflicting it would also have value as a way of deterring others."

    Yes.

    Momentarily turning the topic from eternity to the here-and-now, a major reason why our society has gone off the rails is because we, and especially those who would rule us, *hate* justice and hate *just punishment*, but love "sending messages". Thus, our amusingly named criminal justice system (emphasis on 'system') specializes in punishment-as-deterrence, rather than punishment-as-justice.

    And when you're doing punishment-as-deterrence, it really doesn't matter whether the person being punished deserves it. And, in fact, up to a point, you can "send a messages" far more cheaply by punishing the innocent than finding and catching and punishing the guilty.

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  5. // In refraining from annihilating the person who is damned, then, God is precisely letting that person have what he wants. //

    Agreed, if that were so. But what then is the nature of punishment if it consists in fulfillment of desire (reward)?

    Moreover, the response of the damned is described in the Bible in three ways: pleading with the Lord to change his mind (Matt 7:22), gnashing of teeth (rage), and bitter weeping (regret). Which of these ostensibly complementary responses grounds the notion of getting what they want?

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  6. If dying has such absurdly severe metaphysical consequences, why would a just God let us die?

    I went to school with a rebellious young girl who was clearly in a lot of pain and was probably the victim of some pretty severe home abuse. She hung out with the wrong crowd - her boyfriend had a bad habit of driving drunk, and she died in a car accident when she was 15 or 16.

    Now, according to Thomism, because of some metaphysical rules that she has no control over, her soul is immediately and permanently locked into the state it was in when she was a 15 or 16 year old abuse victim acting out in her pain. Because she died, she didn't live to have the opportunity to change that millions of other people in her position have taken advantage of and used to go on to live good Christian lives.

    No, according to Thomism, she gets imprisoned in her 15 or 16 year old abuse-related choices and must endure unimaginable suffering forever. And as she is tormented eternally, what she gets from those of us who were so fortunate as to live long enough to repent of our sins is"Hey, whatever, knock yourself out?"

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  7. I forgot to ask the question which was the point of my post - why would God let her die in that car accident?

    Maybe God is in some sense powerless over the metaphysical consequences of death - it is certainly within his power to stop car accidents.

    Why would he let anyone die before they had ample and numerous chances to repent, if death has such permanent, irreversible consequences?

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  8. Chad,

    The premise of your question is mistaken, because there is nothing in what I have written in any of these posts that implies that your friend is damned.

    Keep in mind that in Catholic theology -- and Thomists are usually Catholics -- there are three conditions for a sin to be mortal, i.e. such as to damn the sinner. First, the sin must be sufficiently grave. Second, the person must have been acting with sufficient knowledge. Third, the person must have acted with sufficient freedom.

    Catholic theologians, including Thomists, are very wary about judging of any particular person whether he or she met all these conditions at death. The reason is the obvious one -- we don't know with certainty the subjective state of a person's soul, and thus do not know with certainty whether the second and third conditions are met. (There are a handful of exceptions. E.g. given what Christ said about Judas -- that it would have been better for him had he not been born -- it is hard to see how Judas could not have been damned.)

    As I have said before, I am not trying to address every question that arises with respect to hell -- that would take a book -- and I have been especially careful to emphasize that I have not been addressing questions about whether this or that particular sin is one for which a person would be damned. When I have mentioned a particular sin, I have done so only for illustrative purposes and have emphasized that some other sin could be substituted if the reader preferred. I find that some of the objections people raise ignore such qualifications, and read into what I wrote things I never said.

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  9. Why is annihilation not a punishment itself? Is there a metaphysical principle that forbids an unrepentant soul to be annihilated?

    "In refraining from annihilating the person who is damned, then, God is precisely letting that person have what he wants."
    True but why God should do so? And supposing an unrepentant sinner actually wishes for annihilation, would God grant him that?

    Per CS Lewis, Jesus emphasized finality of hell more than perpetuity of it. So is the focus on perpetuity, to read infinite punishment as infinite by virtue of being perpetual a
    misreading?

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  10. "They are perpetually in a state that merits punishment, and thus God perpetually ensures that they receive the punishment they merit."

    I think this leaves out an important consideration: isn't it God's choice that they are perpetually in this state, in the sense that it would be equally in God's power to put those who died on Earth into a state where their will was not perpetually "locked" in this sense, by resurrecting those who died in sin in new corporeal bodies? They could still be in a hell-like realm where they could be punished indefinitely (the bodies could be made to be ageless and endlessly regenerating) but in this hypothetical, they would at least have the ability to change their will and eventually get out, though perhaps only after they had received an amount of punishment proportion to their sins on Earth. Wouldn't this be more merciful, while still satisfying the demands of justice?

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  11. Jack Collinson,

    Not necessary.

    Sins don't need to be infinite in malice in order to merit a punishment of Hell.

    And even in the case of directly insulting God and going against him, it is hard to say that the sin itself is infinite, especially considering it was done by beings who themselves are finite.

    Because Hell is most likely perpetual shame, the idea of sin needing to be punished forever because it is an infinite offense is simply not necessary.

    A sin is a sin because it insults the honor of God and tries to take that honor which belongs solely to Him away from Him, and as such the proper punishment would be shame for that.

    And because after death a soul's personality and heart are finalised and certified in their ways, there would be no possible way for the shame to be relieved.

    This gets rid of the problem that states Hell is not just because it is infinite endless torture.

    Because Hell isn't endless infinite torture.It is shame.


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  12. Hi Ed,

    You write:

    "Keep in mind that in Catholic theology -- and Thomists are usually Catholics -- there are three conditions for a sin to be mortal, i.e. such as to damn the sinner. First, the sin must be sufficiently grave. Second, the person must have been acting with sufficient knowledge. Third, the person must have acted with sufficient freedom."

    Here, you acknowledge that a mortal sin is one for which a person may be justly damned, if they commit it freely and knowingly. But in your earlier post, "How to go to Hell," it seems to me that you add a fourth condition, when explaining why the damned are incapable of repentance:

    "Just as an angel, immediately after its creation, either takes God as its ultimate end or something less than God as its ultimate end, so too does the disembodied human soul make the same choice immediately upon death. ... The corporeal preconditions of a change of orientation toward an ultimate good, which were present in life, are now gone. Hence the soul which opts for God as its ultimate end is 'locked on' to that end forever, and the soul which opts instead for something less than God is 'locked on' to that forever."

    Here, you seem to be saying that at the instant the soul is disembodied, it has to make an additional choice - i.e. a "fundamental option" regarding what it takes to be its final end: either God or some lesser good. Then, and only then, is it damned. What that would seem to imply, then, is that mortal sins are not in and of themselves damnable; they are only punished with damnation if the separated soul "locks on" to that particular vice as its final end, at the moment of death.

    This is important, because it relates to the question of whether a person in a state of mortal sin is lovable or not. If only three conditions are required for a sin to damn the sinner (grave matter, full knowledge and freedom of choice), then a person in such a state is (like the souls in Hell) a vile and loathsome creature, devoid of virtue, who is in no way lovable for what they are now, but only insofar as they are still capable of repentance at some future date (unlike the souls in Hell). For the time being, God regards them with utter disgust. And if God does, then presumably we should, too. That would imply that we should keep such people at arm's length, communicating with them only when necessary, and only in order to urge them to repent.

    But this suggestion flies in the face of ordinary experience, which tells us that people "living in sin" may still possess many virtues, such as charity, honesty and patience - often, to a greater degree than many pious Christians. As such, they are worthy of love by God and by us. Such people have not made any "fundamental option" against God, and while they may be attached to their vice, they are not "locked on" to it. People who practice vices don't (in most cases) take them for their final end; they just want to have their cake and eat it.

    So, what are your thoughts on the "fourth condition," Ed?

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  13. "There are people in this world that know full well that there is a God, and that an act of submission is all that is necessary for eternal bliss, but they prefer to disobey God and defile their own souls, as well as the souls of others. " I don't know.

    After many many conversations and contacts, now at midlife,I find that there are precious few who actually profess a belief in God here in Massachusetts. Some go to church, but when pressed, they (especially the men) say they just go to give their kids "some kind of moral grounding". I am beginning to wonder if anyone really does strongly believe in God at my church.

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  14. "Keep in mind that in Catholic theology -- and Thomists are usually Catholics -- there are three conditions for a sin to be mortal, i.e. such as to damn the sinner. First, the sin must be sufficiently grave. Second, the person must have been acting with sufficient knowledge. Third, the person must have acted with sufficient freedom."

    How do all of these conditions come into play if a person's soul is instantly "locked" onto a choice of God or Not God at death?

    To all appearances, this girl's soul was not oriented towards God at the time of her death. From your original post on the subject, it seems that's all that matters - the exact state of your soul at the exact time of death.

    This talk of whether a sin was grave, or done with sufficient knowledge, or free, seems to indicate that their fate is determined by a loving, merciful God.

    But your first post seemed to indicate that their fate was sealed by a metaphysical quirk of law - the instantaneous "locking in" on the choice of God or Not God, which even God seems powerless to either determine or undo.

    It seems like both accounts can't be true.

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  15. "This talk of whether a sin was grave, or done with sufficient knowledge, or free, seems to indicate that their fate is determined by a loving, merciful God."

    Dear Chad: I don't see the argument for this idea--that one's level or type of sin is "determined" by a loving, merciful God. In fact, it does not seem to make sense, at least to me.

    "But your first post seemed to indicate that their fate was sealed by a metaphysical quirk of law - the instantaneous 'locking in' on the choice of God or Not God, which even God seems powerless to either determine or undo."

    The choice of God or not God seems a lifelong matter, a lifelong orientation. How is it a "metaphysical quirk"?

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  16. As I have mentioned before, I have almost no capacity for nor interest in the joys of debating at the intersection of philosophy and dogma. Abelard said this, St. Thomas said that, Gregory the Great said ... add modus ponens shake vigorously and ... Too much for me.

    But given these discussions, it is curious how some of the "strange tales" which I have mentioned previously, and which on many levels seem preposterous and prima facie unbelievable, have nonetheless conceptual responses to what we here and now seem to imagine as rather sophisticated and up-to-date critiques of the concept of Divine justice.

    Take these excerpts from a supposed testimony of the private revelation received by a nun back in 1880 ... and by someone who asserts no less through her "revelation" that purgatory was in the center of the earth! Hilarious. But ... what then to make of the undeniably sophisticated distinctions drawn [within the outlined context] regarding repentance, deserts, and justice. I have no idea what to make of this stuff, other than to say that the distinctions drawn seem to anticipate and answer many of the supposedly profound hypotheticals posed.

    From the previously mentioned "Unpublished Manuscript ... Purgatory".

    In the second Purgatory are the souls of those who died with venial sins not fully expiated before death, or with mortal sins that have been forgiven but for which they have not made entire satisfaction to the Divine Justice. In this part of Purgatory, there are also different degrees according to the merits of each soul. Thus the Purgatory of the consecrated souls or of those who have received more abundant graces, is longer and far more painful than that of ordinary people of the world.

    Lastly, there is the Purgatory of desire which is called the Threshold. Very few escape this. To avoid it altogether, one must ardently desire Heaven and the vision of God. That is rare, rarer than people think, because even pious people are afraid of God and ....

    I can tell you about the different degrees of Purgatory because I have passed through them. In the great Purgatory there are several stages. In the lowest and most painful, like a temporary hell, are the sinners who have committed terrible crimes during life and whose death surprised them in that state. It was almost a miracle that they were saved, and often by the prayers of holy parents or other pious persons. Sometimes they did not even have time to confess their sins and the world thought them lost, but God, whose mercy is infinite, gave them at the moment of death the contrition necessary for their salvation on account of one or more good actions which they performed during life. For such souls, Purgatory is terrible. It is a real hell with this difference, that in hell they curse God, whereas we bless Him and thank Him for having saved us.

    Are sudden and unprepared deaths acts of God's justice or of His mercy?

    Such deaths are sometimes an act of justice, sometimes one of mercy. When a soul is timid and God knows it is well prepared to appear before Him, He takes it out of this world suddenly to spare it the terrors it might experience at the last moment. Sometimes, also, God takes souls in His justice. They are not for this reason eternally lost, but their Purgatory is much more severe and prolonged than it would otherwise have been, since they were either deprived of the Last Sacraments or received them hastily and so were unprepared for their passage into eternity. Others having filled up the measure of their crimes and having remained deaf to all inspirations of Divine Grace are taken by God out of this world so that they may not excite His vengeance still more.


    Are many Protestants saved?

    By the mercy of God a certain number of Protestants are saved, but their Purgatory is for many long and rigorous. It is true they have not abused grace like many Catholics, but neither have they had the marvelous graces of the sacraments and the other helps of the true religion ...

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  17. "I don't see the argument for this idea--that one's level or type of sin is "determined" by a loving, merciful God. In fact, it does not seem to make sense, at least to me."

    The talk of a sin's being mortal being determined by whether it was grave enough, or free enough, etc, seems to indicate that whether a person is damned is decided by God. God decides to damn you on the basis of your sin, and he can take into account ameliorating factors.

    But the account Professor Feser gave in the "How to Go to Hell" article seemed to indicate that God's judgment as such doesn't enter into it. Your soul spontaneously opts for either God or not God at death and no judgment on God's part is required. Your soul decides whether you're damned or not, and there doesn't seem to be room in that account (so far) for God to do anything about it.

    "The choice of God or not God seems a lifelong matter, a lifelong orientation. How is it a "metaphysical quirk"?"

    Firstly, "lifelong" doesn't mean much if your life ends at 15.

    Secondly, the "quirk" is the instantaneous and irreversible opting for God or Not God, and the fact that you can't make any free choices after death. If Thomism is wrong about this, and there is a basis for change other than matter, then the person who dies in rebellion at 15 has as much of a shot of an eventual shot at salvation as the rest of us.

    But if Thomism is correct, nothing matters so much as the timing of your death. All of us were in rebellion to God at some time and any of us could have died at that time, in which case our souls would have been "locked" in that state and lost.

    That seems quirky to me.

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  18. Thought Chad would get a kick out of the last one.

    Again, I do not claim any of this is philosophy, real criticism, or even dogmatic commentary.

    It is just presented to show how remarkable it is that what we think are insuperable objections, are in fact - and if granting the premise in the first place - not.

    If an uneducated nun back in 1880 (assuming the provenance of text is at least authentic) could on the worst case interpretation think this all stuff up herself, then these conceptual issues are not at all insurmountable.

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  19. "But if Thomism is correct, nothing matters so much as the timing of your death. All of us were in rebellion to God at some time and any of us could have died at that time, in which case our souls would have been 'locked' in that state and lost.

    That seems quirky to me."

    Dear Chad: I sympathize with the death of the young girl to which you refer. However, it seems that her very youth would be a mitigating factor in judgment; i.e., her soul was not in any condition (perhaps) to have a definite, considered judgment regarding God (perhaps). (I say "perhaps" because some 15-year-olds can be pretty mature in their decisions and spiritual judgments.) In that case, who would condemn, given the knowledge we have? (This is, I think, what Prof. Feser also wrote.)

    In these cases, I would think on two things: First, thank God for Purgatory; there is the availability of correction and renewal even after death. (Of course, we do not presume upon arrival in Purgatory as a certainty.) Second, I would say with Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?" (Genesis 18). Our limited human knowledge cannot know of the destiny of Hell for any person in particular who has died. What we can know is that Hell makes sense, and we believe that God's judgment in any particular case will be seen to be right, once we attain to that ultimate knowledge.

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  20. "In that case, who would condemn, given the knowledge we have?"

    That's my point. In the Thomistic account given in the "How to Go To Hell" article, condemnation doesn't enter into it.

    The girl's soul, freed of her body, spontaneously "locks" into one position or other after death. God might want to have mercy on the girl, given her circumstances and youth, but if her soul spontaneously opts for "Not God," there doesn't seem to be anything he can do about it.

    "First, thank God for Purgatory; there is the availability of correction and renewal even after death."

    I think I raised this objection to the first article - this account doesn't seem to leave room for Purgatory.

    If death separates the soul from the body, and if souls separated from bodies cannot change, then Purgatory can't change them either.

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  21. While I understand the explanation given, it still seems intuitively iffy in that it gives finite sin infinite extension, and also metaphysically entails that God's retributive justice outweighs His grace.

    While I do believe willful malevolence perpetually acted upon throughout one's life and all the evils it adds up can be unforgivable, I don't think this entails that punishment must be eternal - only God is eternal anyways - so I also think annihilation is possible due to the above.

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  22. @ Vincent

    Here, you seem to be saying that at the instant the soul is disembodied, it has to make an additional choice - i.e. a "fundamental option" regarding what it takes to be its final end: either God or some lesser good. Then, and only then, is it damned. What that would seem to imply, then, is that mortal sins are not in and of themselves damnable; they are only punished with damnation if the separated soul "locks on" to that particular vice as its final end, at the moment of death.

    As I replied at the time to the "How to go to Hell" post, something has to be said about charity. The question of which choice a soul makes after death is entirely a matter of whether or not that soul has infused charity, and not of whether it has the acquired virtues. A soul cannot lock onto God after death by dint of its own goodness.

    Mortal sins are sins that lead to death; they are those sins the commission of which leads to the loss of charity. And that is why they are damnable.

    Bringing charity back into the account will also allow one to give Purgatory its proper role. It's true that Aquinas thought no one has any true virtue without charity, and that one who has charity has all other virtues. But there will need to be some account of how people can lack the acquired virtues even when they have charity, and this is why some people making regular confessions can struggle with mortal sin, while others do so less. So the soul who dies with charity will still be fixed on God, but if it lacked the acquired virtues--and had some venial attachments--it, perhaps, still must be purged of those before it may be admitted to heaven.

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  23. Hi Greg,

    You write: "Mortal sins are sins that lead to death; they are those sins the commission of which leads to the loss of charity. And that is why they are damnable."

    Surely you jest. You're seriously arguing that people in a state of mortal sin are totally devoid of charity? Everyday experience refutes you on this point.

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  24. You're seriously arguing that people in a state of mortal sin are totally devoid of charity? Everyday experience refutes you on this point.

    This is the standard Thomistic position, as you should well know: mortal sins, by definition, are inconsistent with the virtue of charity. That's what makes them mortal, according to Aquinas.

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  25. @Brandon - In what sense is the word "charity" being used by those quoting the standard Thomistic position? Is it the ordinary secular meaning of helping people who need it, and giving people the benefit of the doubt or at least keeping an open mind when they seem to act badly? Or is it something fairly different from the secular meaning? A commenter on a thread at Catholic Answers Forums here says 'all founding fathers/ all definitions I have seen hold Charity as the "love of God above all else".'

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  26. It's the infused virtue of charity received in the sacrament of baptism, our participation in divine love (which is the foundation of eternal life); it's what is described in 1 Corinthians 13 (which explicitly states that it is more fundamental than helping those in need). The secular meaning, of course, is a derivative meaning that has wandered on its own way for a few centuries, and would be covered in moral theology by various other acquired virtues (patience, liberality, etc.).

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  27. Here is Aquinas De Malo 7.1 (Regan, tr.):

    And so the source of spiritual life, which consists of right action is the end of human actions. And the end of human actions is love of God and neighbor: "For the end of the commandments is love," as 1 Tim. 1:5 says. For the virtue of charity unites the soul to God, who is the life of the soul as the soul is the life of the body.. And so if charity be excluded, there is mortal sin. For there remains no life principle that would restore the deficiency, and only the Holy Spirit can do so, since "the Holy Spirit given to us pours love of God in our hearts," as Rom. 5:5 says. And if the deficiency of rectitude be such as not to exclude charity, there will be venial sin. For charity, remaining as a life principle, as it were, can restore all deficiencies: "For love covers all sins," as Prov. 10:12 says.

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  28. No time to respond to all of this, but here are some comments:

    1. Contrary to what Vincent appears to think, nothing in my posts implies a “fundamental option” theory, as should have been clear from my remarks in the main post above when citing John Lamont’s article. If I understand the fundamental option theory correctly, it holds that individual actions float free of one’s fundamental orientation either for God or for something less than God. The fundamental option, on this view, might still be for God even if one commits acts that are gravely sinful, known to be so, and freely chosen. That is precisely what Aquinas denies insofar as, as Lamont puts it, Aquinas takes the choice involved in any action also to be in itself and at the same time a choice for a certain kind of life. These choices do not come apart as they do on the fundamental option theory. So, there is not (contra Vincent) some further choice that must be made in addition to the choice for a mortal sin in order for one to be damned. (See Lamont’s article for more on Aquinas’s view.)

    2. Contrary to what Chad thinks, there is nothing in anything I’ve said that is incompatible with purgatory. Chad seems to think purgatory is like hell except that we can still get out of it if things go well because we can still change our overall orientation either toward or away from God. But that is precisely what purgatory is not. The soul in purgatory is saved. Its will is locked on to God forever. It cannot change this basic orientation and thus cannot be damned. The reason it is not in heaven yet is thus not the same as the reason why a soul in hell is not in heaven. The reason is rather that the soul in purgatory is still attached to venial sin (as opposed to mortal sin) or still merits temporal punishment (despite having been freed from eternal punishment) for sins the person committed in this life. (Change of one’s secondary attachments --- which are essentially choices of means to one’s fundamental end – is still possible after death, on Aquinas’s view. What can’t change is the fundamental end itself.)

    3. Chad also seems to think that the three conditions on mortal sin are irrelevant to whether a soul gets locked on to God upon death. He seems to think the “locking” mechanism (if we want to call it that) works independently of these conditions. I have no idea why he thinks this since neither I, nor Aquinas, nor any other writer on these matters I know of says anything which implies that. If one’s act is not gravely sinful, or not done with sufficient knowledge, or not done with sufficient freedom, then it simply is not the sort of act which could “lock” one on to something other than God. The “locking” mechanism doesn’t work that way.

    4. Nor do I have the faintest idea why Chad thinks the way the soul is oriented at death is “spontaneous” or “quirky” (to use some of his expressions). This is some straw man view of his own devising, not mine. I explicitly said in my first post that the habituation that develops over the course of a human life is key to how one’s soul is likely to be oriented at death. Hence the course of a whole life plays the major role in what sort of death one is likely to have – in contrast to Chad’s bizarre caricature of my view, on which everything hinges on some weird random event at death, making the preceding lifespan essentially irrelevant.

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  29. This piece reminds me of the popular (when I was a teen) SF novel "Inferno," based on Dante's book of the same name. A science fiction writer dies and goes to Hell and thinks he is in an alternate reality because he refuses to believe in Hell, and he thinks the idea of Hell is awful. But as he goes through the various levels, he finds out that the people in them deserve to be there, becaues the things they have done (which he doesn't think should be sins at all) have made them into awful people and they continue to want to BE awful people -- forever. Obviously it wouldnt' be much of a book if that were true of everyone he meets in Hell (and himself) but I reread it recently and realized what a surprising idea that was for a novel then -- and still is.

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  30. BTW, if my view were that some weird "quirky" or "spontaneous" last minute event is what determines the orientation of the soul at death, then it would be odd to worry (as Chad does) about whether someone with a bad upbringing etc. (like the friend of his that he mentions) might end up being damned. It would also be weird to assume that people who live righteous lives are likely to be saved. Anything could randomly happen to anybody on the view Chad attributes to me. Since I obviously do not think that what happens is random -- as Chad realizes given his worries about his friend, etc. -- it should be clear that I also do not hold to the "spontaneous" or "quirky" mechanism Chad describes.

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  31. This entire discussion ties in, in my thinking, with the recent discussion of "schadenfreude." In Thomas, it is not correct--in fact, it is a sin--to rejoice at another's damnation. However, the saved in Heaven can rejoice as they see the perfect justice of God's judgment, whatever that judgment may be and in whatever case it may be seen. To me, this will be PART of Heaven: that all the questions about specific cases which we cannot in the nature of things answer right now, such as the final destiny of any particular person, will be answered. In fact, not only would these questions be answered, but we ourselves (assuming we are in Heaven) would be enabled to see the perfect justice of God in each case, and be able to rejoice in that perfection.

    Although I do not do so habitually, it is good sometimes to think about Heaven and the perfected and glorified state of existence, in which the lack of complete understanding we have now will evaporate. We will know as we are known. Whatever surprises are in store will be good ones. I would not give up hope for anyone, despite current appearances.

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  32. The statement that men die in a condition of love with their sin and that is not remediable has no proof other than the speculations of the Thomist crowd. I see a problem with this that no one...not a single person.....on this earth willingly wants to give up their sinful pleasures. How many millions and millions of people lived lives of varying lengths before they were brought to a point of repentance?

    So what you are saying is that at death, the choice is made for either evil or good, yet you discount all the good that a person may have done in their lives to concentrate upon the evil, rather than God weighing it out and rewarding or chastening according to His knowledge.

    The more I read it, the more I find the whole scholastic approach preposterous on the face of it. It seems that rather than take the many verses in Scripture which speak to the will of God being to save all mankind, the whole Western approach is to find as many reasons as possible that God sends the greatest number of people into eternal torment rather than patiently working with them to bring them to repentance.

    Which makes me wonder about how you view the character of God in the first place. No wonder you Westerners had a Protestant Rebellion on your hands and wound up producing that dreadful heresy called Calvinism.

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  33. Dr. Feser writes that one reason annihilationism won't do is because the impenitent sinner might have a sense of "getting away with it", but he then goes on to suggest that annihilationism might be a greater penalty than eternal damnation. Is annihilation really "getting away with it" when the alternative is eternal joy in the vision of God?

    I read in a work by Pieper an excerpt from Aquinas: "Sicut colus Deus potest creare, ita solus Deus potest creaturas in nihilum redigere.” ST, III, 13, 2.

    “Just as it was not a malum before the creation of things (that things were not), so it would also not be a malum if God brought back everything into nothingness.”

    From this Thomistic dictum it would seem that annihilationism is completely tickety boo?



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  34. // If those wretches were offered immortality, on the condition that their misery would be undying, with the alternative that if they refused to live for ever in the same misery they would cease to have any existence at all, and would perish utterly, then they would certainly be overjoyed to choose perpetual misery in preference to complete annihilation. //

    —St. Augustine, ‘City of God’, XI.27, Penguin Classics Edition.


    // For Epicurus supposes that fear of punishment is the only motive to which we can properly appeal in deterring from crime. It follows that we should cram them even fuller of superstitious dread and bring to bear on them the joint array of celestial and terrestrial terrors and chasms and alarms and apprehensions . . . The great majority, however, have an expectation of eternity undisturbed by any myth-inspired fear of what may come after death; and the love of being, the oldest and greatest of all our passions, is more than a counterpoise for that childish terror . . . Hence it is not Cerberus nor yet Cocytus that has set no period to the fear of death, but the threat of non-being, which allows those once dead no return to being, for ‘there is no second birth; we must forever be no more’ as Epicurus says. For if the limit is non-being, and this has no limit and no exit, we discover that this loss of all good things is an evil that lasts forever, because it comes from an insentience that will never end. //

    —Plutarch. Moralia, Volume XIV: That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible. Loeb Classical Library 428. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967. P131, p147


    // The idea of annihilation . . . was intolerable to the Greek mind. If they had no choice left them between entire extinction and an eternity of torment in Hades, they would have chosen the latter; almost all, men and women both, would have surrendered themselves to the teeth of Cerberus, or the buckets of the Danaidae, rather than to non-entity. //

    —Stewart Salmond, The Christian Hope of Immortality, pp608-609.

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  35. Vincent:

    Surely you jest. You're seriously arguing that people in a state of mortal sin are totally devoid of charity? Everyday experience refutes you on this point.

    JesseM:

    @Brandon - In what sense is the word "charity" being used by those quoting the standard Thomistic position? Is it the ordinary secular meaning of helping people who need it, and giving people the benefit of the doubt or at least keeping an open mind when they seem to act badly? Or is it something fairly different from the secular meaning? A commenter on a thread at Catholic Answers Forums here says 'all founding fathers/ all definitions I have seen hold Charity as the "love of God above all else".'

    This being a Catholic Philosopher's blog, Vincent should well know that "charity" has a specific meaning that is different from the colloquial one. But to be more clear, here, I will use "caritas" for the special term, and "kindness" for the colloquial one. Caritas is the special love of God that is attendant on sanctifying grace: it is love of God for Himself, as the one final last end of our life. In so loving him, He is the lodestone around which all other loves are determinate, so nothing else is loved except insofar as it aligns with love of God. (This is how it is in one who loves God perfectly, anyway.) In order to have any other virtue properly, according to Thomas, it is first necessary to have caritas, for without caritas, any other virtue-like habit will be aligning your actions according to a final end OTHER than God, and this is disordered.

    Hence, such habitual behaviors as generosity and kindliness, when present in one who has not caritas, are outwardly the behaviors of the virtues, and they may have the outward material structure of good acts, they cannot be ordered properly to God as such. They will then be goodly sorts of acts disordered by being aligned to wrongful ends. So, for example is the gangster's kindliness toward his mother, to whom he feels much affection: since he does not love his mother properly (i.e. he does not love his mother so as to will to do what is right by God and become a good son), his kindliness toward his mother is outwardly good but inwardly evil, disordered. It lacks the due order toward Godliness.

    Each fully willed act by a person who lacks sanctifying grace, who thus lacks caritas, is made defective thereby. Each such act cannot be for the love of God as the whole and entire final end of your life, and thus it must be for some other final end, which is per se deformative of human moral acts. It is therefore a degraded human act, even if it outwardly conforms to one of the virtues.

    To say that someone is "lovable" is not to say that they still have some of the virtues; it is to say that they still have some good. Ontologically: To be is good. To have intellect is good. To be capable of grace and virtue is good. We will love even bad men for these goods, and while they are not yet damned we will hope for their salvation, which is to hope for still more good for them.

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  36. "There is only perpetual irrational malice. If you want an image of the damned, imagine human faces on which there is written only blind, defiant, miserable rage and hatred forever and ever."

    I don't understand how this wouldn't diminish the joy of the saved. Even if your mom or dad or wife or son or daughter or best friend were in this justifiably in this state, you'd still mourn the fact that they chose that state.

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  37. I don't understand how this wouldn't diminish the joy of the saved. Even if your mom or dad or wife or son or daughter or best friend were in this justifiably in this state, you'd still mourn the fact that they chose that state.

    I suspect, cautiously and with trepidation, that our enjoyment of heaven does not preclude the holy joy of seeing an ill that is being turned to God's purpose for good, knowing all the while that it is a suffering. For instance, when Jesus was told of the death of Lazarus, He wept, even though He knew that He would raise Lazarus up from the dead. And, by the way, St. Thomas teaches that Jesus had the Beatific Vision at every moment of His earthly life, so even that blessedness did not preclude weeping in sadness for death of a friend.

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  38. EddieIrishOhara wrote "So what you are saying is that at death, the choice is made for either evil or good, yet you discount all the good that a person may have done in their lives to concentrate upon the evil, rather than God weighing it out and rewarding or chastening according to His knowledge."

    I think you are failng to see the point, either on purpose or by not giving it enough thought, and also not taking Purgatory into account. However one views Purgatory -- literally, figuratively, an illustration of what can't be descirbed -- the idea is the same: It is a place or state in which a person's sins are purged. This presupposes that people can be sinful (sometimes very sinful) and yet not damned. So this addresses your point (again, however you want to think of it -- whether an accurate description of eternity or a general idea). Aside from people who get to Heaven, there are some people who are damned and some who aren't. How else COULD they be damned if they weren't already damned at the moment of death? Do you posit the possibility of sin and damnation after death? While it could perhaps happen, it is pure speculation. There is nothing at all to base it on. So if some people are damned at the moment of death, either we are all damned if we are sinful, or we're not. If we're not, then either we all go to paradis (or wherever you want to posit the "good people" go) or we don't. Either way, what COULD it be based on but the state of our soul when we die?

    THomism has a very complicated system of grace and sin. Some people think it's wonderful and some thing it's nutty, but in my experience that is more based on one's personality than one's intellect -- either you love every little thing being explained in great detail or you don't. Either way, the idea here is that at death you either have enough good in you, even if it's only a tiny bit, that is rightly ordered toward God, or you don't. This might seem unfair, because in theory the person doesn't get the chance to repent. But by this theory, the person will never WANT to repent. If he's the kind of person who will want to repent, that's the kind of person he IS (whether or not he ever had the chance to do so) and will be saved.

    The only other possibility given these basic assumptions is, as Feser says, that everyone would want to repent given enough time - that there is no Hell, only shorter or longer (however one concceives it) Purgatory. That would not seem to be just, but I don't think justice has anything to do with rejecting it. I think it's a thought pattern of our particular age. We have a hard time believing that anyone could be all THAT bad, even Hitler and Mao and Pol Pot. People in other cultures don't have such qualms. I think that the easier life gets and the fewer horrors one generally has to face, the less one wants to believe in eternal damnation. We want everything to be smooth, everyone to be nice, nothing to be too bad... if even the worst human beings never go to Hell, we will obviously be okay because we aren't THAT bad. Talk logic all you want to, but I thnk it mostly comes down to that.

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  39. Hi Ed (and all!),

    Quick question regarding the correlation between embodiment and the mixture of good and bad. As I read the claim, the suggestion seems to be that our embodied state contributes to or is related in some way to our protection from eternal damnation in this life because we still have the ability to choose good; we're not yet determined towards evil. If my reading is correct (and it may well not be!), then what do we make of bodily ressurection, as it seems that qua embodied, the blessed might have to fight temptation from evil. This could also raise a problem for those in hell if we assume embodiment for the damned, as qua embodied they could still have some disposition towards good, but so far as I know the Church hasn't really settled whether the damned are embodied, and indeed some of Her greatest saints, e.g., Augustine, seem to suggest the possibility of disembodied torment of the damned. Anyway, if you or anyone have time to clarify the point being made here, I'd appreciate it!

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  40. Ed, Brandon, Tony:

    I am saddened, and even appalled, but not surprised by your comments. I am of course quite familiar with the traditional view (which I was taught during my childhood) that the soul of a person in a state of mortal sin is utterly devoid of supernatural grace - including, of course, the theological virtue of charity, and that the commission of a single mortal sin wipes out all the merit you may have accumulated during the course of your life. I am also familiar with the view that while pagans and apostates may be capable of natural virtues (e.g. courage), they are utterly incapable of possessing any supernatural virtues. Finally, I have heard many Christians (Protestant and Catholic) pooh-pooh the notion that a person's willingness to die for someone whom they love is a sign that they possess supernatural love: "Nonsense. After all, a tigress will do as much for her cubs."

    Ed writes: "Aquinas takes the choice involved in any action also to be in itself and at the same time a choice for a certain kind of life... So, there is not (contra Vincent) some further choice that must be made in addition to the choice for a mortal sin in order for one to be damned." The choice made by a person who commits a mortal sin is, in and of itself, worthy of damnation. Putting it another way, a person who is in a state of (unrepented) mortal sin now is no better than a soul in Hell, because there's no additional choice he needs to make in order to land in Hell.

    Now let's go back to Ed's post: "What is left in the lost soul is nothing soft, nothing kind, nothing merciful or wanting mercy, nothing that could generate in the saved the slightest sympathy. There is only perpetual irrational malice." It follows from the preceding paragraph that what is left in the soul of a person in a state of mortal sin is "nothing soft, nothing kind, nothing merciful or wanting mercy, nothing that could generate in the saved the slightest sympathy." And this I hold to be "a damnable doctrine," as Darwin memorably put it.

    I have three brothers, two of whom are either atheist or agnostic, despite having had a very thorough Catholic education. I cannot accept the view that their souls are devoid of supernatural charity, because it would be like saying that black is white, or that 2+2=5. When I compare their filial piety with mine, or their love for their spouse with mine, I cannot see any difference. If anything, I would say that their love exceeds mine. Now, I take it that a Christian man's love for his wife or his parents is infused with supernatural charity, which is patient, kind, not boastful, not proud, and not self-seeking, as St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 13). Using Leibniz's principle of the identity of indiscernibles, if my brothers' love is indistinguishable from mine, and if my love is infused with supernatural charity, then so is my brothers' love.

    The idea that there is, in my brothers' souls, "nothing that could generate ... the slightest sympathy," is patently ridiculous. It is contradicted by the fact of experience. If this is what Thomism teaches, then I want none of it.

    Aquinas' whole theology is founded on a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural - a distinction questioned by Fr. Henri de Lubac, who pointed out that man is a natural being created for a supernatural end. Living in Japan, I see people all the time whose virtue far exceeds mine, despite their having no religious belief whatsoever. I believe that God's supernatural grace works in mysterious ways.

    I acknowledge that people can irrevocably choose to wallow in sin. Hell is real. But I would also insist that if we find something lovable in the soul of someone we know, then God does, too.

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  41. @ Vincent

    I am saddened, and even appalled, but not surprised by your comments. I am of course quite familiar with the traditional view (which I was taught during my childhood) that the soul of a person in a state of mortal sin is utterly devoid of supernatural grace - including, of course, the theological virtue of charity, and that the commission of a single mortal sin wipes out all the merit you may have accumulated during the course of your life. I am also familiar with the view that while pagans and apostates may be capable of natural virtues (e.g. courage), they are utterly incapable of possessing any supernatural virtues.

    You sure seemed to be surprised when you insisted that, by stating the "traditional" view, which is still (the horror!) in the Catechism, I must have been joking.

    But you misstate the traditional view. A person in a state of mortal sin need not be devoid of actual grace, for even lifeless faith--that is, faith that is not informed by charity--is a gift of God in those who have it, "and as lifeless faith is from God, so too, acts that are good generically, though not quickened by charity, as is frequently the case in sinners, are from God."

    But someone in a state of mortal sin is lacking in sanctifying grace. Charity is the love of God, and it can't subsist with disobedience to his commandments, that is, with mortal sin.

    Aquinas' whole theology is founded on a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural - a distinction questioned by Fr. Henri de Lubac, who pointed out that man is a natural being created for a supernatural end.

    Man is naturally endless, for his final end is God, whom he cannot attain without grace.

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  42. In agreement with Greg: the notion that "Aquinas whole theology is founded on a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural", to the detriment of that theology, is usually due to an inadequate understanding of Aquinas and some perhaps overly facile "interpretations" of Aquinas by others. Aquinas, for example, NEVER posits that
    (1) Man has a natural end (simply), which he can achieve without grace; and
    (2) Man has a supernatural end, which he can achieve via grace.
    though this false position is indeed attributed to him. Man has one integral nature, and that nature has one true end only: one end that can satisfy that nature properly and in toto. That is God enjoyed in the Beatific Vision. No other. And it cannot be achieved by the operation of the (unaided) natural powers of any created nature.

    The "sharp distinction" (such as it is) is not with regard to man's nature, but with regard to the modes under which God causes things. God causes created nature (i.e. created beings with created natures) to be, and thus causes effects by causing secondary causes to operate in accordance with their natures. This is "Nature". In addition, God causes other things directly, distinct from this Nature, including the gift of sanctifying grace, which inherently cannot be a natural effect, since it is the presence of God's own life in the soul: no created nature is sufficient to the effect, only God is sufficient to this state, hence it is beyond the causality of any created nature, and is therefore "supernatural".

    Hence, God's operations in creating ex nihilo and in giving sanctifying grace are necessarily supernatural operations, as compared to the operations of created things which act according to their natures. But of course God causes all of what is good, both the supernatural and the natural. If you mean by the "sharp distinction" that some things God causes through the operations of the natures of created things, and other things directly, well, yes I would have to agree with that.

    To decline THAT distinction can only be to embrace muddleheadedness. Or, any of several heresies, such as (a) that there is only God, naught else; or (b) that God causes everything directly, no other apparent cause really acts as cause.

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  43. I am saddened, and even appalled, but not surprised by your comments. I am of course quite familiar with the traditional view (which I was taught during my childhood) that the soul of a person in a state of mortal sin is utterly devoid of supernatural grace - including, of course, the theological virtue of charity, and that the commission of a single mortal sin wipes out all the merit you may have accumulated during the course of your life.

    As Greg notes, this not quite the traditional view. But again, 'mortal sin' by definition means sin that destroys the spiritual life of the soul, the essential part of which is charity. Being 'saddened' by the notion that mortal sin is inconsistent with the virtue of charity is as absurd as being saddened by someone's view that sin is a bad thing; it's incoherent. If you hold that all sins are consistent with charity, so that it is possible to have the virtue of charity while committing them, you are arguing -- again, by definition -- that there are no mortal sins, only venial sins.

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  44. Using Leibniz's principle of the identity of indiscernibles, if my brothers' love is indistinguishable from mine, and if my love is infused with supernatural charity, then so is my brothers' love.

    The idea that there is, in my brothers' souls, "nothing that could generate ... the slightest sympathy," is patently ridiculous. It is contradicted by the fact of experience. If this is what Thomism teaches, then I want none of it.


    One of the difficulties with applying something like Leibniz's principle to moral acts, of course, is that we do not have direct access to other people's souls, or even to their intentions. We cannot "discern" the necessary factors to make such a principle applicable. Only God can do so adequately. This is why the Bible takes such pains to point out that man judges by superficialities, but God judges by seeing what is true even with the depths of the soul.

    St. John goes on at length about the fact that "God is love" and anything born of true love is of God. So, it is necessarily the case that IF what you observe in your brothers is of true love, then it is of God. And if not, not. But to judge that it is so, by the piddling exterior evidence we have, is not for man. We can hope, we can pray, and we can (if we are under a duty to 'judge') make an estimate so far as the evidence provides, but such judgments are always tentative.

    I would guess that perhaps half the 'Catholics' in America have been so befuddled by bad catechesis in their youth, that their moral responsibility for behavior which repudiates sound and perennial Christian doctrine (e.g. against contraception) is greatly diminished, possibly even to the point that their actions in this regard fail to be mortal sins. But it's just a guess, I don't presume to know. When we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, (as St. Paul tells us to do), we can do so in fear and trembling for our brothers and sisters at the same time, for their are in the same boat as us. I am not sure what the fear and trembling would be of, if we are all going to get to heaven.

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  45. The Catechism states: "Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God." (para. 1822)

    It also states: "Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him." (para. 1855)

    Love of one's neighbor is a form of charity. Mortal sin ruptures one's relationship with God, but not (necessarily) with one's neighbor. Hence I would argue that charity towards one's neighbor can remain in the soul of one who sins mortally.

    I hope that answers Brandon's argument: "If you hold that all sins are consistent with charity, so that it is possible to have the virtue of charity while committing them, you are arguing -- again, by definition -- that there are no mortal sins, only venial sins."

    As to whether atheists and agnostics can possess supernatural charity: someone might argue that while they love their neighbor, they don't love them "for the love of God." But that objection assumes that we are supposed to love God primarily, and creatures secondarily, only insofar as they are reflections of God. Humans are not made that way, any more than they are made to know God first, and other things as derived from God. Epistemologically, our knowledge ascends from creatures to God. And so it is with our love. Our primary attachments are the people in our families. It is these people whom we love first, and our realization that we must love them is prior to our knowledge of God. Only by experiencing their love can we come to grasp the fact that God loves us and that He is our Father.

    The phrase "love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God" in the Catechism should therefore be interpreted to mean that in loving our neighbor as ourselves, we do so not merely because they are reflections of God, or because God commands us to love them, but because we wish for them whatever we recognize as our own final end. Someone who believes in God will identify that final end as the Vision of God; but even an atheist who wishes for his neighbor any goods that he would wish for himself has implicit charity towards his neighbor.

    Tony argues that we do not have direct access to other people's souls. I'm quite sure that as a child, Tony firmly believed that his parents loved him. And I'm quite sure that the children of a Christian and an unbeliever are equally sure that both their parents love them, and that the kind of love is the same in both cases. To be sure, there are rare cases of children whose certainty of their parents' love proved to be unfounded. But I would submit that our certainty that our parents love us is epistemically more warranted than our certainty that the Faith is true - a certainty which rests on firm but fallible human testimony about miraculous events that happened a very long time ago. The same goes for our certainty that our (non-Christian) family members love their spouses as we love ours, based on observations over a long period.

    Tony also argues (correctly) that God's act of giving sanctifying grace is necessarily a supernatural operation. Fine. What about actual grace, then? Greg argued above that a person in a state of mortal sin need not be devoid of actual grace. That seems to require a supernatural cause, too.

    (To be continued)

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  46. I am not arguing that we need not be worried about our own salvation. Frankly, I'm very worried about mine. But I also think that people should (for the sake of their mental health) avoid beliefs that literally drive them insane. The idea that our every thought, word and deed is predestined by God is one example of an insanity-producing belief (it nearly gave me a nervous breakdown 34 years ago, when I read Garrigou-Lagrange Vol. II); and the idea that the people whom we love most in the world, and with whom our very identity is bound up, could be damned while we are saved, is another.

    Incidentally, I wonder if Greg believes the souls in Hell could possess any actual graces. After all, if people in mortal sin can do so, and if such souls are no better than the souls in Hell (having opted for a kind of life that excludes God, on Aquinas's reckoning), then the possibility seems to follow. Sounds odd, doesn't it? Just saying.

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  47. Love of one's neighbor is a form of charity. Mortal sin ruptures one's relationship with God, but not (necessarily) with one's neighbor.

    The love of neighbor that belongs to charity is part and parcel with the love of God; they are not separate things. This is also the standard view, and is explicitly found in Augustine and Aquinas. It is also why magisterial documents sometimes say the greatest commandment is love of God and sometimes say that it is love of neighbor. It is also why the Catechism describes charity as it does at CCC 1822. Charity is one thing; you can't both have it and not have it. Not to love God is inconsistent with charitable love of neighbor; and not to love neighbor is inconsistent with charitable love of God.

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  48. To extend what Brandon said: The first and great commandment is to love God: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. " The second comes after: To love your neighbor as yourself.

    Now in what manner could it be possible to love God "with all they heart" and still to love your neighbor? With what love left over can you love your neighbor if ALL your love is for the Lord? The only possibility is that the love of neighbor is a love that flows out of the love of God. And this is exactly the traditional sense of the second great commandment: that love of which it speaks is a love that is a love of neighbor that springs from and depends wholly on love of God; it is a derivative love, just as the neighbor is a derivative good. Indeed, one way to describe the second commandment is that under the love of God reigning over "your whole heart, soul and mind," your love of neighbor comes to loving your neighbor from seeing your neighbor through God's eyes - which is the same way you ought to love yourself: as another rational creature ordained to heaven through meritorious love. This due and proportionate love of neighbor of necessity puts the neighbor in a subordinate position, since your love of him inherently respects his dependency on God and ordination toward God.

    Your proper love of neighbor, since it exists as an outflow of your love of God, cannot be love as the second great commandment provides if it is a love that excludes the proper love of God. Only love that is an outflow of the first love qualifies.

    Hence, a 'love' of neighbor that is not orderly and proportionate, that is a love which departs from your neighbor as he properly resides in dependence on God and in ordination to God, is something else than what the commandment speaks of. So, for example, a love of spouse that admits of desiring for the spouse a successful job that will push him or her farther from God is not love under the second commandment. Indeed, any love that does not somewhere within it reflect a desire for the person's salvation as the paramount, chief good, is not love as St. John uses the term.

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  49. But I also think that people should (for the sake of their mental health) avoid beliefs that literally drive them insane. The idea that our every thought, word and deed is predestined by God is one example of an insanity-producing belief (it nearly gave me a nervous breakdown 34 years ago, when I read Garrigou-Lagrange Vol. II)

    Much as I respect G-L overall, I am confident that he makes a small but very significant error regarding grace and predestination. And I accept that this error is one that could drive people badly - much as errors of similar kind drove Martin Luther from the Church. You should get Fr. William Most's book Grace and Free Will, which corrects the error while remaining utterly true to the Fathers and Doctors and Tradition, and (especially) the Bible.

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  50. @ Vincent

    But I also think that people should (for the sake of their mental health) avoid beliefs that literally drive them insane. The idea that our every thought, word and deed is predestined by God is one example of an insanity-producing belief (it nearly gave me a nervous breakdown 34 years ago, when I read Garrigou-Lagrange Vol. II); and the idea that the people whom we love most in the world, and with whom our very identity is bound up, could be damned while we are saved, is another.

    But anyone who holds that universalism is not true holds that his family could be damned while he is saved. An obsession with this straightforward consequence of Catholic teaching might amount to insanity, but lots of obsessions are insane.

    Incidentally, I wonder if Greg believes the souls in Hell could possess any actual graces. After all, if people in mortal sin can do so, and if such souls are no better than the souls in Hell (having opted for a kind of life that excludes God, on Aquinas's reckoning), then the possibility seems to follow. Sounds odd, doesn't it? Just saying.

    Actual graces being promptings from God that push us to redemption or help sanctify those already in a state of grace--I don't see why the souls in Hell would be granted actual graces, if Hell is perpetual. That isn't to give a metaphysical argument to the effect that they could not possess actual graces, though.

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  51. Hello Mr. Feser! My question for you is simple: Can one become a philosopher without college classes on it (I plan to major in engineering and minor in mathematics)? How would one do it? How would you know what you need to know? Would you be taken seriously by professionals? Your answers will be greatly appreciated.

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  52. @ aspiringSocrates

    I am not Dr. Feser but I can try to answer your questions.

    Can one become a philosopher without college classes on it (I plan to major in engineering and minor in mathematics)?

    Of course. There were philosophers before there were colleges.

    How would one do it?

    Read a lot of philosophy, and try to find people to discuss it with. What you should read will be governed by your interests.

    How would you know what you need to know?

    Ask people who have studied philosophy. Some commenters here congregate at the Classical Theism, Philosophy, and Religion Forum to avoid cluttering up Dr. Feser's combox. You can get recommendations there, or from other philosophers.

    Would you be taken seriously by professionals?

    It is rare that someone without formal training in philosophy would be taken seriously by professional philosophers, but it isn't impossible. Even an undergraduate degree would not generally prepare you for engaging with professional philosophers, unless you are especially talented or have studied a lot extracurricularly. In theory, you could submit work to academic journals without an academic affiliation. But I wouldn't worry about having your work taken seriously by professionals.

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  53. Contrary to what Chad thinks, there is nothing in anything I’ve said that is incompatible with purgatory. Chad seems to think purgatory is like hell except that we can still get out of it if things go well because we can still change our overall orientation either toward or away from God. But that is precisely what purgatory is not. The soul in purgatory is saved. Its will is locked on to God forever. It cannot change this basic orientation and thus cannot be damned. The reason it is not in heaven yet is thus not the same as the reason why a soul in hell is not in heaven. The reason is rather that the soul in purgatory is still attached to venial sin (as opposed to mortal sin) or still merits temporal punishment (despite having been freed from eternal punishment) for sins the person committed in this life. (Change of one’s secondary attachments --- which are essentially choices of means to one’s fundamental end – is still possible after death, on Aquinas’s view. What can’t change is the fundamental end itself.)

    The "How to Go to Hell" article seemed to indicate that change as such was impossible for a soul because of the lack of a material component to the soul. Can you explain why fundamental change is impossible because of the lack of a material component but changes of means are still possible? Why is matter necessary for the latter but not the former?

    Chad also seems to think that the three conditions on mortal sin are irrelevant to whether a soul gets locked on to God upon death. He seems to think the “locking” mechanism (if we want to call it that) works independently of these conditions. I have no idea why he thinks this since neither I, nor Aquinas, nor any other writer on these matters I know of says anything which implies that. If one’s act is not gravely sinful, or not done with sufficient knowledge, or not done with sufficient freedom, then it simply is not the sort of act which could “lock” one on to something other than God. The “locking” mechanism doesn’t work that way.

    We're dealing with a binary proposition here. The only choices are God and Not God. Even if my friend's choices were not such that they definitely locked her into a Not God choice, neither did they lock her onto a God choice. She was too young and too confused to make any definitive choice about the matter. So, what is it, then, that "locks" her into one decision or another upon death?

    For that matter, what is it that "locks" in the decisions of infants, or the mentally retarded, or the mentally unstable?

    Again, if damnation and salvation is a matter of God's merciful judgment, then these conditions can be taken into account.

    But if it is just a matter of what the soul "locks" onto at death, then there seems to be no room for God to offer pardon for circumstances beyond the person's control.

    (Continued...)

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  54. Perhaps my Protestantism is causing the confusion. In Protestantism, at least, it is understood that the default state of the soul is damnation - the soul will be damned if God does not intervene. God offers to intervene for everyone, but only will intervene if asked, UNLESS there are extenuating circumstances which make it impossible for the person to freely ask. (Such as if they are infants, or mentally handicapped or disabled.)

    My big problem with the account is I don't see where God comes in, or where it's even possible for God to intervene, or indeed, where the work of the cross or God's grace enters into the matter. You are saved or damned by your own actions, Jesus or no Jesus, grace or no grace. Your actions determine the state of your soul and if your soul has added up enough "points" to make it opt for God, then you're saved. If it hasn't, well, that's not clear to me yet in Professor Feser's account. Do Catholics think souls are so constructed that they will, by default, opt for God over Not God unless warped by sin? If that is the case, then my friend is probably okay, as presumably would be children and the mentally deicient. But if that is the case, wherefore the Cross? It seems unnecessary and insufficient to achieve salvation. And in that scenario, wouldn't we all, or at least a great, great many of us, be better off if we died as children?

    So, I suppose that's my big question: if the soul makes no free or grave or knowing choices, as is the case with children and the mentally deficient, what will that soul opt for? Will the innocent soul always opt for God, will it always opt for Not God, or is it random?

    Any answer you give leads to a result that is, in my view, quirky. Either the innocent soul will always opt for God, meaning it would be safer and better for most human beings at least to die as infants. Or it will always opt for Not God, forcing God to stand by idly and watch as many who do not deserve it are damned. Or, it's random, and some opt for God and some opt for Not God despite the fact they've never made any real free moral choices (as is the case at any rate on the Thomistic account for Angels, which seems unfair and absurd and, if true, would give me a lot of Sympathy for the Devil, as the song says.)

    But what's really bothersome about all of this to me is that God does not decide, even for those who cannot decide for themselves. Given the metaphysical situation, it certainly seems like God cannot intervene for the bodiless soul - He's powerless to do anything about what it opts for, even if the soul is 15 or an infant or mentally deficient.

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  55. But that objection assumes that we are supposed to love God primarily, and creatures secondarily, only insofar as they are reflections of God. Humans are not made that way, any more than they are made to know God first, and other things as derived from God. Epistemologically, our knowledge ascends from creatures to God. And so it is with our love. Our primary attachments are the people in our families. It is these people whom we love first, and our realization that we must love them is prior to our knowledge of God. Only by experiencing their love can we come to grasp the fact that God loves us and that He is our Father.

    But I would submit that our certainty that our parents love us is epistemically more warranted than our certainty that the Faith is true - a certainty which rests on firm but fallible human testimony about miraculous events that happened a very long time ago.


    This is an interesting notion. There are reasons to not follow along with this. First and foremost:

    Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see. 2This is why the ancients were commended.…

    One of the ancients spoken of is Abraham, whose faith was sufficient to be ready to offer up Isaac on God's word - i.e. to overcome natural bonds of love and affection for the sake of supernatural faith, not accepting the "natural warrants" about what he must do.

    Although we are led toward, and disposed toward, the right understanding of God via the natural love with our family, FAITH provides a superabundance of assurance beyond that provided by natural reason. Faith is more certain than what is available to the natural light of reason. Grace is a stronger light than the natural light.

    Brothers who are beloved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction...

    Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us; through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the CERTAIN knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ our Lord; according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue...

    Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the CERTAIN knowledge of the truth which is after godliness...

    When you had received of us the word of the hearing, you received it not as the word of men, but, as it is indeed, the word of God.


    St. Thomas:

    But it must be observed that wisdom, science and understanding may be taken in two ways: first, as intellectual virtues, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 2,3); secondly, for the gifts of the Holy Ghost. If we consider them in the first way, we must note that certitude can be looked at in two ways. First, on the part of its cause, and thus a thing which has a more certain cause, is itself more certain. On this way faith is more certain than those three virtues, because it is founded on the Divine truth, whereas the aforesaid three virtues are based on human reason. Secondly, certitude may be considered on the part of the subject, and thus the more a man's intellect lays hold of a thing, the more certain it is. On this way, faith is less certain, because matters of faith are above the human intellect, whereas the objects of the aforesaid three virtues are not. Since, however, a thing is judged simply with regard to its cause, but relatively, with respect to a disposition on the part of the subject, it follows that faith is more certain simply, while the others are more certain relatively, i.e. for us.

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  56. When reading through this thread I found myself thinking “what a mess”. This is a serious matter. Being uncertain about the afterlife is being uncertain about the character of God and indeed about the meaning of our current life.

    At least I understood a little better the idea of the purgatory: At death it's not so much that the will is fixed but that as the result of one's entire life the general orientation of the will is fixed (within that general orientation the will is still free to choose). Those whose will is fixed away from God – not so much in the sense that they hate God (after all perhaps they are not even aware of God's presence) but in the sense of being completely devoid of love for goodness itself – these die in a state of mortal sin, their soul is in the salvific sense already dead, and thus they will go to the condition of hell that fits with the kind of being they chose for themselves, and where on account of divine justice they will receive the suffering that their own continuous sinning entails. In that state no repentance is possible and no grace will be extended. - Now those whose will is fixed towards God, at least in the sense of still having some “charity” (have some love for the good itself) are saved. Presumably only very few among them, the saints, will go directly to heaven and the rest will go to the purgatory, a state in which salvific life goes on and which guarantees that by the grace of God in the end all souls will become good enough to go to heaven. Thus the good atheists and agnostics, indeed all people who die with some goodness in their souls, will go to purgatory. (It's not quite clear but I suppose only the saintly good people who are also Christians might go directly to heaven.)

    I hope I have that right. If so I still I wonder what to make of the multiple instances in our tradition where it is said that many will go to hell and few to heaven.

    On the other hand there was one bit about mortal sin which rather increased my confusion. So Feser writes:

    ”Keep in mind that in Catholic theology -- and Thomists are usually Catholics -- there are three conditions for a sin to be mortal, i.e. such as to damn the sinner. First, the sin must be sufficiently grave. Second, the person must have been acting with sufficient knowledge. Third, the person must have acted with sufficient freedom.”

    I wonder, if Christian parents believe this wouldn't it make sense for them *not* to give their children a Christian education, but rather raise them to be atheists? Their children would thus not have “sufficient knowledge” about the graveness of sin and that they are rejecting God's will. This would guarantee that they would not die in a state of mortal sin, and that in the end they would go to heaven. - But this logic is absurd. So where's the error in it?

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  57. @ Dianelos

    So where's the error in it?

    It requires the parents to lie, which they ought never to do, especially about the faith. It requires presumption on God's mercy. It assumes that the only knowledge of the rightness and wrongness of actions that the children will ever possess is that which their parents give them.

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  58. So wouldn't the more certain path to assure a child's salvation be to kill them when they are innocent, perhaps before they are even born?

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  59. It might be that killing a child immediately after it is baptized is an effective way of ensuring that that child is saved, but as we discussed in the combox for the last post, that doesn't mean you should do it.

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  60. Tony,

    When it comes to Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, it wasn't something based on pure faith to defy natural bonds of family love that happened.

    Abraham was already told by God he was going to have many descendants through Isaac.

    That already would be enough to make Abraham think that God planned to do something to negate the effect of Isaac's death.

    It was at that point obvious to Abraham that God would either stop him before he killed Isaac or would resuscitate him.

    And keep in mind it's more likely that Isaac was in his early twenties than him being a child.

    So Abraham would have had to explain to him that this was likely a test by God, to which he would have accepted and obeyed Abraham's, or rather God's, instructions.

    The sacrifice was mostly a test to determine Abraham's loyalty and faithfulness. And it wasn't a blind one.

    Abraham had enough information at his disposal to conclude it was likely a test and that he should listen to God's request.

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  61. Chad, isn't that what the church teaches about the infants who were killed instead of Jesus by Herod? Isn't it called the slaughter of the innocents and aren't they presumed to be in Heaven?

    Maybe that's why God felt he could morally justify 'testing' Abraham with his son's life?

    But i don't think there is any way around that fact that God will not damn anyone who really is innocent even if it means accepting some really strange (nuking the world) and malevolent possibilities.

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  62. it make sense for them *not* to give their children a Christian education, but rather raise them to be atheists? Their children would thus not have “sufficient knowledge” about the graveness of sin and that they are rejecting God's will.

    Dianelos, one does not have to be taught about God or the 3 criteria for mortal sin in order to commit mortal sin. One can have sufficient knowledge of the gravity of the act through the natural light of reason, which tells us quite readily that murder and rape are gravely evil acts. Plenty of atheists acknowledge the gravity of such behavior.

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  63. It might be that killing a child immediately after it is baptized is an effective way of ensuring that that child is saved, but as we discussed in the combox for the last post, that doesn't mean you should do it.

    Okay, but generally, that a view generates such massively absurd and morally repugnant results is an indication that it has to be wrong.

    If Thomism says that all innocent souls are automatically saved, nothing has saved more souls in the past 30 years than the American abortion industry.

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  64. Chad, isn't that what the church teaches about the infants who were killed instead of Jesus by Herod? Isn't it called the slaughter of the innocents and aren't they presumed to be in Heaven?

    If by the church you mean the Catholic church, I don't know. I'm not a Catholic. I'm a Protestant who believes in the possibility that a freely-chosen decision to be saved is possible post mortem. I see no good reason to believe that souls can't change in every respect after death.

    In fact, I could see some philosopher who is much smarter than I am making an argument that the very existence of morally free adult human beings is a reductio of this idea, since if it were true, a morally good God would arrange things such that we all die in our innocence.

    But i don't think there is any way around that fact that God will not damn anyone who really is innocent even if it means accepting some really strange (nuking the world) and malevolent possibilities.

    But this assumes that God is the one doing the deciding. The Thomstic view doesn't seem to teach that. It seems to teach that the soul decides, and God can't do anything about it.

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  65. "If Thomism says that all innocent souls are automatically saved, nothing has saved more souls in the past 30 years than the American abortion industry."

    Even if this claim for the abortion industry were true, abortion itself remains a grave sin. It is never right to seek right by committing wrong, as the CC has repeatedly claimed. This reduces to a form of utilitarianism, which is not specifically Christian (or Thomist) and often leads to repugnant conclusions. But it is not the Church's position.

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  66. "I'm a Protestant who believes in the possibility that a freely-chosen decision to be saved is possible post mortem. I see no good reason to believe that souls can't change in every respect after death."

    Consider another Protestant, C.S. Lewis, who argues in "The Great Divorce" that when those in Hell are given, post-mortem, another freely-chosen chance to be saved, they again choose to return to Hell. At least there they can remain who they have always chosen to be.

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  67. Even if this claim for the abortion industry were true, abortion itself remains a grave sin.

    So it seems like the best thing to do would be to neither participate in abortion nor oppose it. That way your soul is preserved and millions of souls gain the certainty of Heaven.

    But it is not the Church's position.

    I'm sorry, what is not the Church's position? That all innocent souls are automatically saved?

    Is that why Greg modified my example to be about baptized infants, rather than the unborn? Do Catholics believe all of the unborn (and therefore unbaptized) go to Hell?

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  68. @ Chad

    Okay, but generally, that a view generates such massively absurd and morally repugnant results is an indication that it has to be wrong.

    It doesn't generate absurd or repugnant results. As I pointed out, "that [killing a child might send that child to heaven] doesn't mean you should do it," morally speaking.

    If Thomism says that all innocent souls are automatically saved, nothing has saved more souls in the past 30 years than the American abortion industry.

    The souls that are saved are those that die with charity. The point of the medieval hypothesis of Limbo was to consider what would happen to someone who dies with no fault other than original sin. Without charity, such a person could not attain to the beatific vision; without having sinned in life, though, there is no additional penalty to be administered in the afterlife.

    Limbo was always a hypothesis and was never dogmatically defined. The Church encourages us to hope that infants who die before baptism are saved:

    The conclusion of this [2007] study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation. However, none of the considerations proposed in this text to motivate a new approach to the question may be used to negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament. Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable— to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.

    While one can hope, one doesn't have proof. It'd be presumption upon God's mercy to think that one were sending fetuses to heaven by aborting them.

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  69. @ Chad

    I'm sorry, what is not the Church's position? That all innocent souls are automatically saved?

    Is that why Greg modified my example to be about baptized infants, rather than the unborn? Do Catholics believe all of the unborn (and therefore unbaptized) go to Hell?


    That isn't the Church's position, as I now explained. I changed your example without comment because I assume anyone railing against the purported moral repugnance of Catholicism knows how Catholicism takes charity, original sin, baptism, mortal sin, and salvation to be related.

    I suppose that assumption had already been thwarted by Vincent in this discussion, who asked if I was joking when I suggested that charity is lost through mortal sin, and by Dianelos who said, "On the other hand there was one bit about mortal sin which rather increased my confusion," after reading Dr. Feser's statement of the well-known three conditions for mortal sin.

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  70. Consider another Protestant, C.S. Lewis, who argues in "The Great Divorce" that when those in Hell are given, post-mortem, another freely-chosen chance to be saved, they again choose to return to Hell. At least there they can remain who they have always chosen to be.

    I'm not a Universalist. I have no problem with the idea that those who really do get to make a free decision about their eternal destination in this life, and who nonetheless choose Hell, would make the same choice postmortem.

    My problem is that the Thomist position seems to indicate that many, perhaps most, through no fault of their own, will never get to make that free decision and because of that will end up in Hell.

    My friend, at 15, was not a Catholic or even a Christian. The orientation of her soul undoubtedly had more to do with her abuse she endured at home than any free decision she made. She was very likely deeply involved in what Catholics would call mortal sin.

    Now, many of us were in this position when we were here age, and we were lucky enough to live long enough to repent. She wasn't.

    On my view, God can take this into account and give her a chance to postmortem to make the right decision. I have no idea how this works, but as I am more sure of the goodness of God than of any metaphysical view, I have no choice but to believe that it's possible, because if it isn't, God would be unjust.

    The Thomistic view, by contrast SEEMS to indicate that God's hands are tied, and the girl's fate is totally up to the exact state of her soul at the exact time of death. Even if God knows the girl would have lived to repent if not for the car accident, she's still damned forever and God can't do anything about it.

    If the metaphysical situation were really such that, in creating the world, God ran the risk of people going to Hell through no fault of their own, I do not believe He would have created the world. Since the world exists, Thomism must be wrong on this point.

    Do I have some theory as to how an essential change in orientation is possible without matter? Nope. I just know that must be the case or God wouldn't let people die young and in their sin.

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  71. I find your posts explaining Thomistic philosophy and therefore Catholic theology from a Thomistic perspective quite enlightening. They show with perfect clarity how the consequences such as the one from this post follow from their premises.

    That said, I still find these consequences abhorrent, and in thinking about them I conclude that, if the Thomistic premises are correct, I will most certainly go to Hell. The interesting thing, however, is that concluding this about myself doesn't cause me to feel in any way wronged, or in the wrong for that matter.

    These are the three reasons I conclude this:

    a) First, about the Christian God:

    My morality is such, that I refuse to submit to a torturer's will that I accept his torturing ways irrespective of the validity of the reasons the torturer might have for his acts of torture.

    My moral sense screams to me that, if there is a torturer, I will try to the best of my effort to avoid being tortured myself as long as I don't have to take to acts of myself torturing another, nor to acts of implicit or explicit acceptance of torture by said torturer. And that if I cannot escape those alternatives, I would accept ending up tortured myself as long as I didn't have to associate in friendship or submission to the torturer.

    My self-analysis also tells to me that, were I to end up under torture, I most certainly would be angry at the torturer (gnashing of teeth, as someone commented), but that wouldn't be my main emotional response. First and foremost, I would pity the torturer for being a torturer, and for having had to descent into an existence of torturing.

    As such, it's clear I would be in a position of permanent defiance and rejection of the Christian God's false (for me) justice, and therefore of the Christian God himself. Which means I'd be among those considered guilty and deserving of torture, my pitying of God only adding to the reasons for God to torture me.

    b) Second, about being in Heaven vs. being in Hell:

    I also see myself as having a strong impulse to try and help others being tortured if I am in a position to do so, and of lamenting being actively prevented from helping. As such, given Lewis' concept of the Great Divorce, I would lament being in Heaven and not in Hell. Therefore, my will being fulfilled, I'd go to Hell.

    That fits with my own religiosity. In Buddhism there's the moral tale of Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha's Great Vow. In it, Kshitigarbha is seated among the other Bodhisattva and, looking around, asks them who is helping the condemned. As he hears no answer, he gets up, pronounces his vow:

    "If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? If the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi."

    And then moves there of his own will.

    Given I'm of a similar mind, that's were I'm destined to be.

    c) Third, on the matter of the Judgment.

    Finally, I feel these two positions enter together into self-glorification territory. That's a reasonable conclusion, and one I wouldn't refuse it I were accused of for the premises expounded support it as a necessary conclusion. Furthermore, refusing it would be hypocritical, which I try not to be.

    As such, if anything resembling an actual, not metaphorical, judgment were to be held, I can say I wouldn't try to gild the lilly. I would certainly do as someone mentioned an argue for the evilness of Hell as such, but in having this denied, which it would be, I would willingly declare myself "guilty" (which probably is going to add "pride" to the list of reasons) and go forward with the consequences.

    That, I think, more or less covers it.

    Therefore, thank you for helping me proceed with this self-analysis. It was most enlightening. :-)

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  72. The Church encourages us to hope that infants who die before baptism are saved:

    But it seems the only way this hope could be realized is if the Thomistic view is wrong and souls can change in their essential orientation even if separated from the body.

    The souls that are saved are those that die with charity. The point of the medieval hypothesis of Limbo was to consider what would happen to someone who dies with no fault other than original sin. Without charity, such a person could not attain to the beatific vision; without having sinned in life, though, there is no additional penalty to be administered in the afterlife.

    Seems like a million things have a say in whether or not a person is saved - baptism, car accidents, whether you happened to go to confession after your last mortal sin but before your death, - but not one of those things is a sovereign and merciful God.

    I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone could find God worthy of worship, but think He might send a baby to Limbo rather than Heaven because no human being sprinkled water on his head before he died.

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  73. That isn't the Church's position, as I now explained. I changed your example without comment because I assume anyone railing against the purported moral repugnance of Catholicism knows how Catholicism takes charity, original sin, baptism, mortal sin, and salvation to be related.

    Most people are only going to learn about Catholicism from Catholics.

    And as I think it's possible to be a Catholic without agreeing with Aquinas on this particular point, I was not accusing Catholicism of being morally repugnant I was accusing this particular view of Thomism of being morally repugnant.

    Actually, not even that, I said it seemed to lead to morally repugnant consequences (such as, possibly, that we should not oppose abortion.)

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  74. @ Chad

    But it seems the only way this hope could be realized is if the Thomistic view is wrong and souls can change in their essential orientation even if separated from the body.

    No, I suspect the possibility could be accommodated along the lines of baptism of desire. The infusion of charity would have to be prior to death.

    Seems like a million things have a say in whether or not a person is saved - baptism, car accidents, whether you happened to go to confession after your last mortal sin but before your death, - but not one of those things is a sovereign and merciful God.

    It's a well-known Catholic teaching that those who die while intending to make a confession reasonably promptly may have their sins for given, if they have genuine contrition.

    Now, someone else might say, "Aha! I can go to confession and be cleansed of sin whenever I like. I'll wait a few decades." That person might die accidentally before going to confession and is rather guilty of the sin of presumption.

    In such cases, where someone gets killed before going to confession, the determining factor in whether or not they go to heaven is God's dispensation of sanctifying grace. The same, of course, goes for baptism.

    I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone could find God worthy of worship, but think He might send a baby to Limbo rather than Heaven because no human being sprinkled water on his head before he died.

    The medieval Church took very seriously the notion of original sin. Christians for whom baptism has become "a human being sprinkling water on a baby's head," do not.

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  75. @ Chad

    Most people are only going to learn about Catholicism from Catholics.

    I don't have a problem with people not knowing Catholicism, just with those people railing against it.

    Actually ... I said it seemed to lead to morally repugnant consequences (such as, possibly, that we should not oppose abortion.)

    I was working from this response you made to me:

    Okay, but generally, that a view generates such massively absurd and morally repugnant results is an indication that it has to be wrong.

    That's an enthymeme, and the other implied premise is that "this view generates massively absurd and morally repugnant results." However, it is fair to say that, before, you just asked a question about a possible implication and did not insist on it.

    And as I think it's possible to be a Catholic without agreeing with Aquinas on this particular point, I was not accusing Catholicism of being morally repugnant I was accusing this particular view of Thomism of being morally repugnant.

    Catholicism's views on the relationship between charity, original sin, baptism, mortal sin, and salvation are Aquinas's. Even if they aren't identical in all particulars, Catholicism holds that humans are born with original sin, which can only be removed through baptism. Those baptized have infused charity, which they cannot attain of their own merit; mortal sins are sins that lead to spiritual death in that they block charity. Only those who have charity are aimed at God and are saved. That is Catholicism and Aquinas. (Of course, many Catholics may disbelieve parts of this, but all of that is defined teaching.)

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  76. No, I suspect the possibility could be accommodated along the lines of baptism of desire. The infusion of charity would have to be prior to death.

    Skimming the linked article, it seems like it would be impossible for an infant, much less he unborn, to meet the qualifications.

    In such cases, where someone gets killed before going to confession, the determining factor in whether or not they go to heaven is God's dispensation of sanctifying grace.

    So, do Catholics believe that God can give this sanctifying grace to anyone he wants at any time he wants? At least, before death, if they have not solidly oriented their soul into a Not God state?

    The medieval Church took very seriously the notion of original sin. Christians for whom baptism has become "a human being sprinkling water on a baby's head," do not.

    As a modern Protestant, I also take original sin very seriously. I believe Jesus's work on the cross made it possible for God to remove the stain of original sin from anyone who asks Him to, regardless of whether anyone sprinkled water on their head when they were a baby.

    I do not believe baptism is the sprinkling of water on someone's head, I believe it is the immersion in water of someone of age who is making a public declaration of his faith in Christ.

    You know, kind of how the Bible CLEARLY records Jesus and his disciples practicing baptism.

    But where I definitely do part company with Catholicism is how necessary it takes its works to be for the salvation of man. It seems like many teachings imply that God needs a "by your leave" of an earthly priest before he can save someone. I'm sorry, the idea that God might change his mind on the eternal fate of an infant because a priest hasn't sprinkled water on him is absurd, and the only person who would come up with such an idea is the guy whose job it is to sprinkle water on the infant's head.

    I'd just rather believe in a God who is sovereign and can decide these things justly despite things like timing of death, human error, etc. What does it mean to have faith in God if you believe stupid little accidental human things like that can thwart His will? From the perspective of a Catholic on the outside looking in, Catholics might take original sin seriously but they don't seem to take the sovereignty of God very seriously. Seems like He'd be pretty helpless to save anybody without them.

    Catholicism's views on the relationship between charity, original sin, baptism, mortal sin, and salvation are Aquinas's. Even if they aren't identical in all particulars, Catholicism holds that humans are born with original sin, which can only be removed through baptism. Those baptized have infused charity, which they cannot attain of their own merit; mortal sins are sins that lead to spiritual death in that they block charity. Only those who have charity are aimed at God and are saved. That is Catholicism and Aquinas

    These were not the views to which I was objecting. I obviously don't agree that original sin can only be removed with baptism, but that view does not lead to anything morally repugnant on its own.

    What leads to the moral repugnance is the "locking on" view that death fixes the state of the soul irreparably and God is powerless to do anything about it. In that view God at least seems to be powerless to save people who died with their souls not oriented towards Him through no fault of their own. That's the view that seems to generate the possibility that it would be better for all of us to have died in our innocence, and which seems to lead to the possibility that mass abortions actually do incredible salvific work.

    I took this "locking on" view described in the "How to Go to Hell" article to be an essentially Thomistic not essentially Catholic teaching. Am I wrong?

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  77. I'm sorry for all of the usual typos; I'm having to post quickly between fits and starts of work.

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  78. My problem is that the Thomist position seems to indicate that many, perhaps most, through no fault of their own, will never get to make that free decision and because of that will end up in Hell.

    Chad, I don't know where you get this, but it isn't Thomism. He most explicitly denies this. He says that nobody ends up in the torments of Hell except through their own freely chosen moral faults. Of the children who die before the capacity to sin, his opinion was that they did NOT suffer, and were in a Limbo of the infants where they were able to have natural enjoyment, but not the Beatific Vision.

    The orientation of her soul undoubtedly had more to do with her abuse she endured at home than any free decision she made. She was very likely deeply involved in what Catholics would call mortal sin.

    This also does not compute properly with Catholicism. Precisely because of her abuse, it is virtually certain that her capacity for free choice was diminished, and possibly her recognition of right and wrong was diminished. Either or both may, and probably did, affect her capacity to commit mortal sin. Long term abuse (of many sorts) can so deflect a soul from freedom as to preclude the capacity to choose freely in the requisite sense for mortal sin. This is one of the reasons, for example, why "battered wife" syndrome is considered a REAL defense against murder in some jurisdictions.

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  79. Tony, I consider everything in your post good news, but I also find it hard to reconcile with the account given in "How to Go to Hell."

    If the soul's separation from the body at death automatically locks the soul into a God or Not God state, then how do the extenuating circumstances (abuse, youth, mental deficiency) get taken into account?

    The answer's clear if this was a matter of God deciding where to put the soul. He can take these matters into consideration in rendering judgment.

    But if it's a matter of what the soul of its own accord instantly and irrevocably "locks" onto, I don't see where there's room for God to operate.

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  80. Chad,
    "I don't see where there's room for God to operate."

    I think you are forgetting grace. It is only through grace a soul makes a choice for God.

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  81. DNW,
    I wonder if you have a few Protestant stories to share about afterlife and such.

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  82. @ Alexander Gieg,

    thank you for helping me proceed with this self-analysis. It was most enlightening”

    Since we are made in the image of God I suppose such exercise if done carefully and honestly makes good sense. By “carefully and honestly” I mean going to the very center of one's being. And since we are not alone in the quest of understanding God in the image of whom we are made, it helps a great lot to consider what other people have found, and indeed to consider what the church says. Perhaps hellism is false for all the reasons you describe (indeed I personally believe so too), but there is incredible light and wisdom to be found in the Christian tradition.

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  83. @ Chad

    What does it mean to have faith in God if you believe stupid little accidental human things like that can thwart His will?

    Two recurrent themes of your posts, encapsulated here, are the role of contingency in salvation and the power of God. Why should "stupid little accidental human things" determine whether one is saved? And if they did, wouldn't that thwart God's will?

    Catholics will make all of the usual qualifications in response to the first question. We don't know when people are culpable or not for overt grave sin, and on this side of eternity, we never state definitively that someone has not been saved.

    Besides that, though, it seems to me that God has just ordained that human beings, as neither angels nor mere animals, are those beings whose salvation is worked out here on earth. That is why Jesus insists that we be ever vigilant, for he will come like a thief in the night, when we least expect him: our salvation depends on being ready when he comes (or when we die). That is why scandal is so gravely wrong; it is really possible to lead others astray. That is why fraternal correction is really urgant.

    The difference between humans and angels, and one might say the point of humans, is that humans' salvation is at stake on earth, despite its contingency. For all corporeal contingency to be wiped away postmortem, so that each human could make the same decision that the angels made, would render humans as angels, and render earthly existence irrelevant to salvation. (One of the criticisms of fundamental option theory by Saint John Paul II was that you can't have it both ways. If our bad actions may not count because we still make a fundamental option for the good, then our good actions may not count because we still make a fundamental option for the bad. If salvation's ultimately worked out in a postmortem decision free of earthly contingency, then that doesn't just free the fifteen-year-old girl from contingency, but everyone else.)

    To say that human salvation is worked out on earth is not to say that it is worked out by humans. Salvation remains a matter of God's grace, since humans cannot save themselves by their own power. The sacraments are not human means of saving themselves; they are just the ways, Catholics believe, that God has decided to dispense grace to his people.

    Human beings can reject God's grace and make themselves unapt matter for it. Mortal sin is sin that leads to death, spiritual death; specifically, it does so because in defying God's will it is inconsistent with the love of God.

    In other cases, there isn't a metaphysical argument against the view that a person could receive grace. Catholics just believe that all grace is gratuitous, freely given. So Catholics do not presume God will dispense it, except where they think he has promised to.

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  84. "I'm having to post quickly between fits and starts of work."

    Dear Chad: I am glad you wrote this. It does help to explain why you seem to repeatedly misunderstand and mischaracterize virtually every response people seem to make to you. At any rate, I do appreciate your thoughtful questions. May you fare well.

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  85. @ Greg and Tony

    Greg: ”It requires the parents to lie, which they ought never to do, especially about the faith.”

    Given the goal of saving one's children from eternal suffering a parent may reason that the lie is justified. I agree the whole idea is absurd, but it's not the parents' lie that makes it absurd.

    Greg: ”It assumes that the only knowledge of the rightness and wrongness of actions that the children will ever possess is that which their parents give them.”

    Tony: ”One can have sufficient knowledge of the gravity of the act through the natural light of reason, which tells us quite readily that murder and rape are gravely evil acts.”a

    I get the point, but consider that given the infinity of the loss if one goes to hell any little ignorance one can give one's children becomes infinitely valuable. Incidentally, that it greatly matters whether the sinner knew or didn't know God's will is mentioned in the gospels in the parable where it is explained that the bad servant who knew her master's wishes will be beaten more than the bad servant who didn't. Thus, given the risk of going to hell, the less one knows of God and of God's will the better.

    Speaking of that parable I can readily see the wisdom in Luke 12:47-48. I have myself sensed that having heard the gospel is the greatest joy in this life but also greatly increases my personal responsibility. It is only when one tries to fit in the dogma of hell that absurdities issue.

    As a minor aside, not only murder and rape (crimes that said parents' children are unlikely to commit anyway) may be mortal sins. So according to the Catholic catechism is also stealing, which is a common sin. So, again, given the dogma of hell the less one knows about these matters the better for the eternal destiny of one's soul.

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  86. " Gyan said...

    DNW,
    I wonder if you have a few Protestant stories to share about afterlife and such.

    December 6, 2016 at 9:33 PM"


    Heh . I don't know if I have any stories at all to share about the afterlife, in the sense that the stories are assumed to be true, rather than psychologically revealing, conceptually clarifying, but phenomenally puzzling.

    As I have stated, I liked philosophy. I did the equivalent of a double major in it in college. But I'd rather drink a can of used motor oil than engage in "theology".

    But anyway, I only ran into this by accident looking at amusing things on YouTube, some of which were "afterlife" and NDE content related stories. Then, checking orthodox Catholic sites to see if any mention of "Fatima" or "Garabandal" appeared which approached these as legitimate phenomena. And of course there is old Bede.

    I am not a psychologist but some of the psychologically striking aspects of the less carnival freakish stories or performances are:

    1, the extreme and lasting emotional effect these "experiences" clearly have on the seemingly sincere and less crazy types; 2, certain commonalities which are not related to a "light in a tunnel", but rather, a, a confrontation with a no-excuses or room-for-lies reality which is understood as a person, b, for those headed for a good outcome, the heedless enthusiasm and headlong desire to be and remain there in the beauty and affirmation despite what we would think of as the attractions and pulls of this world, c. the hyper reality of the experience and the more real than real aspect of the "domain"; d. recognition of the verdict as just in cases of near condemnation, e. humility and peace afterwards; 3, a time limitation factor [as in 'make up your mind now' or a volte face return ] in some cases, which weirdly comports with the time needed for the brain to actually die.

    I have to admit that this is not real research on my part, but rather an exercise that began in laughing at the lunatics, and which somehow went astray and gave me pause to think.

    Type in "Dr. Mary Neal" for a Protestant's take.

    Go to YouTube and type in "Near Death Experience Told By My Grandfather" for what seems to be the recounting of an old German or Polish working class Catholic grandfather. This one is interesting primarily for the seemingly out of the blue notice he gets that he has only a couple minutes to make up his mind. Recall that this old guy could have known nothing of neuroscience. To paraphrase a scriptural passage, 'in this man there is no guile', whatever the objective truth.

    There is a ton of stuff there. I have no systematic way of judging what micro fraction are even sincere, much less true. The fact that a lot of it is flogged by people [excerpts say, from hyperbolic Evangelical TV, or book sellers] with an obvious commercial agenda makes it even more tedious to try and sift the psychologically valid phenomenal wheat, from the presentation chaff.

    I'm not really sure what critical canons one might come up with with regard to sorting things out, other than a consistent application of common sense and a sharp edged but under control skepticism.

    For my money, I would not even trust psychologists who claim to study this any more than I would those who claim to study clairvoyance or "poltergeists"; except where they were able to establish a diagnosable personality or mental disorder.

    For now, everyone is more or less on their own.

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  87. @ Dianelos

    Given the goal of saving one's children from eternal suffering a parent may reason that the lie is justified.

    Who cares what someone "may reason" is justified? People convince themselves of all kinds of things. What we need is an argument. As was the case last time this was brought up, there is never an attempt to look at how theological ethics is done and argue from the principles of, say, Thomism to the conclusion that parents have a good reason to murder their children.

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  88. @ Gyan,

    To save you some time, re. the guileless old man.

    https://youtu.be/ELeRMSmo2g0?t=1173

    Bracket any question of objective truth for a moment, and just listen to the striking naivete as he describes things that he clearly does not have an explanation for, and which do not meet his preconceived notions: "the beautiful trees and flowers " but he remarks he does not know where they get their water for them; how not nearly everybody is damned as he imagined but, seemingly large numbers (no pretense of mentioning proportions) are saved; how contrary to what he had heard, "people in heaven" are in fact wearing clothes in the form of some kind of robe; how he cannot tell the sex of the "angels" apart from the voice ...

    If there were a heaven, this old guy ought to be there, I reckon.

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  89. Oops. The word "robe" is not used. They run together after awhile

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  90. Loved the article on Becker and Fagan (Steely Dan).

    IMHO, The best guitar solo I have ever heard was on Kid Charlemagne, and that includes Jimi, Carlos, Jerry, Eric, Stevie, Coryell, Demiolla, Mcglaughlin, and maybe Django. Ironically, it was Carlton who played that solo. Regardless, Becker was a virtuoso in his own right. The second best guitar solo was on China Girl by Stevie Ray.

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  91. @ Greg,

    ”Who cares what someone "may reason" is justified? People convince themselves of all kinds of things. What we need is an argument.”

    The argument is that if Christian parents would take seriously the dogma about hell and mortal sin as described in the catechism of the CC then it would strike them as reasonable not to teach Christianity to their children because in this way the probability that they would end up suffering for ever in hell diminishes. But any dogma that if taken seriously has such an absurd effect on Christian parents must be wrong.

    Let me unpack this:

    1. To suffer for ever in hell is the worse possible thing that can happen to a person. (premise)
    2. It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that the worse possible thing happens to her child. (premise)
    3. Therefore, it is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that her child will suffer for ever in hell. (from 1 and 2)
    4. Only those who die being guilty of mortal sin will suffer for ever in hell. (premise)
    5. Therefore, nobody who dies without being guilty of mortal sin will suffer for ever in hell. (from 4)
    6. Nobody is guilty of mortal sin if they sinned without full knowledge. (premise)
    7. Therefore, nobody who has not full knowledge will die being guilty of mortal sin. (from 5 and 6)
    8. Therefore, nobody who has not full knowledge will suffer for ever in hell. (from 5 and 7)
    9. If the parent does not teach Christianity to her child it is more probable that her child will not have full knowledge. (premise)
    10. Therefore, if the parent does not teach her child Christianity then it is less probable that her child will suffer for ever in hell. (from 8 and 9)
    11. Therefore, it is reasonable for a parent not to teach Christianity to her child. (from 3 and 10)

    I take it the syllogism is syntactically valid. On Christianity the conclusion #11 is false, so some of the premises must be false. Premises #1 and #2 are self-evident. Premises #4 and #6 are entailed in the dogma of hell. So either the dogma of hell is false or else the remaining premise #9 is false.

    Now unfortunately the catechism does not explicitly define what “full knowledge” about sinning is, but presumably it entails knowing that sin is an offense and revolt against God and knowing the consequences of sin. So not teaching Christianity to the child, indeed taking care to convince the child that God does not exist, makes it less probable that the child will grow to have that full knowledge. So at the very least we have quite bit of warrant to believe that #9 is true, and thus to believe that the dogma of hell as described in the catechism is false.

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  92. @ Dianelos

    Premises #1 and #2 are self-evident.

    No, they are not. (2) contradicts one of the well-known tenets of Aquinas's moral science, namely that there are no universally applicable positive secondary moral precepts.

    (4), I think, is not correct. Those who die with charity go to Heaven or to Purgatory. Those who die without charity either have or have not committed a mortal sin. Those who have not committed a mortal sin either have or have not committed a venial sin. It seems that someone who committed a venial but not a mortal sin and lacks charity would go to Hell.

    The argument also is not valid. Specifically, the inference from (8) and (9) to (10) is invalid, because it assumes that teaching your child Christianity only affects the probability of your child going to Hell by increasing the probability that your child has full knowledge for some materially grave sin.

    Reliance on such an assumption especially undermines the argument because the result one would be counting on is, basically, that one's child never becomes a real, responsible moral agent--that a parent can guarantee this. Given that Aquinas thinks everyone knows the first principles of the natural law, and that virtually everyone can recognize some of the secondary precepts (like the Ten Commandments) that follow from them, that is an extremely tendentious assumption.

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  93. (4), I think, is not correct.

    To be fair, (4) at least can easily be repaired for your purposes:

    (4') Of those baptized, only those who die being guilty of mortal sin will suffer for ever in hell.

    Corresponding qualifications could be added to the remaining premises and conclusions.

    I don't see a fix for the other problems the argument faces, though, which are artifacts of the problem I observed before, namely, that "there is never an attempt to look at how theological ethics is done and argue from the principles of, say, Thomism to the conclusion that parents have a good reason to murder their children."

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  94. ”If that’s what the truth is, then I want no part of it!"

    I’ve noticed various people making such a claim about this topic. No doubt, Hell is populated by people who take exactly that attitude: that they do not want Truth, they have made up their minds that they know better. They know better than God, indeed they just are better than God; it’s a matter of personal pride not to give in to Him… So perhaps it’s not so unfathomable after all that someone could choose to reject God perpetually.

    The funny thing is that there is a correlation between people who talk that way and those who claim to find Hell so nasty and monstrous and impossible to believe in. Of course, while wringing their hands and lamenting over the intolerable fate of Hitler and Stalin, they never seem to notice that if Hell is such a nasty, monstrous concept then I (and the millions of orthodox Christians throughout the ages) who accept Church teaching must in fact be nasty monsters to accept such a doctrine. Or maybe they merely think we are stupid oafs for not seeing the obvious monstrosity. Apparently calling us all moronic reprobates doesn’t bother their tender consciences in the least.

    Oh, well. Naturally, all that is only if one takes their words at face value. I don’t suppose that any of the posters here actually see it that way, of course. Their views exhibit more the nature of emotional outbursts than serious, reflective reasoning.

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  95. Dianelos Georgoudis: 2. It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that the worse possible thing happens to her child.
    Premises #1 and #2 are self-evident.


    #2 is not just false, but braindead-obviously false. You may never do evil that good may come of it. And if Hell is so bad, then why would you buy yourself a one-way ticket when you could just raise your children properly and all go to heaven? The problem here isn't just that you made a mistake; you are so caught up in playing "gotcha" against a position you don't care for, that you have neglected to take your own little scenario seriously and think it through.

    Which of course reminds me of my latest reply to you in the other thread: if you don't even take your own arguments seriously, why should we? Why should anyone care what you have to say rather than what Aquinas (or Augustine, or the Church) says?

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  96. Tony: thanks for recommending Fr. William Most's book, Grace and Free Will. I'll see if I can find out more about what Fr. Most says.

    Tony writes: "Faith is more certain than what is available to the natural light of reason."

    Seriously? You're more certain of the truths of faith than of the fact that there is a keyboard in front of you right now, or the fact that you have two parents?

    Greg writes: "But anyone who holds that universalism is not true holds that his family could be damned while he is saved."

    True. There are rare cases when a person might, unknowingly, be married to a serial killer, for instance. Our knowledge of other human beings is not infallible. Nevertheless, it is reliable. Hence my argument that I can be more certain that my wife loves me (or that my parents love me) than that the faith is true.

    Tony argues that proper love for one's neighbor - that is, the kind that can be called charity - is an outflow of one's love of God. He also argues that this is
    how we should love our neighbor: only as a (finite) reflection of God. With respect, I think this idea is psychologically disastrous. We are meant to love people in and of themselves. God made us that way. True love is unconditional. If you love someone only insofar as their souls reflect God, then you don't really love them at all.

    I would like to close by getting back to what I see as the central absurdity of the Thomist position on damnation. According to Thomism, to be in a state of mortal sin is to have chosen an ungodly way of life as one's summum bonum. Someone who has made such a choice, according to Ed's exposition of St. Thomas, is no better than a soul in Hell, and therefore deserving of not even the slightest sympathy. Thus the only appropriate response to such a person in their present state (as it is to a soul in Hell) is: "Whatever, dude." Such a person is, while in a state of mortal sin, utterly devoid of supernatural virtue. Even if they lay down their life to save someone, their sacrifice merits nothing. Of course, St. Thomas (and Ed) would add that we may (and should) pray for the salvation of a family member in a state of mortal sin, and love them insofar as they are capable of repentance - but only for that reason, and not for what they are in themselves, now.

    While I can excuse St. Thomas for believing such things in the 13th century, I am frankly incredulous that people are prepared to cast their moral intuitions aside and endorse such beliefs in the 21st century, simply in order to maintain what they regard as intellectual inconsistency. It should be clear from ordinary experience
    that people in a state of mortal sin have not chosen their favorite vice as their summum bonum, and that they remain capable of selfless acts. Christ himself tells us: "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." St. Paul adds that charity covers a multitude of sins. People who are in a state of mortal sin have sundered their relationship with God; but they have not sundered their relationships with others. To say that their love for other people is in no way pleasing to God is an absurdity.

    I shall sign off here.

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  97. 2. It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that the worse possible thing happens to her child. (premise)

    To add to Greg's point, this also clearly requires that we be assuming some kind of consequentialism; it will be false on almost any deontological or virtue-theoretical moral theory. If you aren't a consequentialist, whether it's reasonable to do depends on what it actually is, not just on consequences that can be had or avoided. It's an extremely controvertible claim.

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  98. Tony argues that proper love for one's neighbor - that is, the kind that can be called charity - is an outflow of one's love of God. He also argues that this is
    how we should love our neighbor: only as a (finite) reflection of God. With respect, I think this idea is psychologically disastrous. We are meant to love people in and of themselves. God made us that way. True love is unconditional. If you love someone only insofar as their souls reflect God, then you don't really love them at all.


    (1) This is not what he argued. He explicitly said that true love of neighbor should be loving them for what they actually are, as they actually are in God's sight. And doing this can only flow from the love of God.

    (2) There is no love that is genuinely unconditional if it is not God's love, and God's love in us does not admit of separable parts, but is a love of God and neighbor both, as they truly are.

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  99. I also should note that although death means someone will not have any [more] chances to perform sinful acts, it also means he will not have any chances to perform virtuous acts. It seems to be taken for granted that you're either in heaven or you're not, and that's all there is to it; but the Church clearly indicates that there are degrees of glory.

    Also, I don't think anyone mentioned the idea that although the inhabitants of Hell will never be annihilated, they might waste away — continually diminishing in some ontological sense, though never quite reaching non-existence. There are suggestive passages in everything from Scripture to C.S. Lewis, but I haven't read anything that tackles the idea in depth. The other side of the coin is that idea that the saints in Heaven would continue to increase without end, as a way of partaking of God's infinity while still remaining human creatures. It's an intriguing concept (although I'm not sure how far it can be pushed literally).

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  100. @ Dianelos Georgoudis:

    Thank you for your kind words. Indeed, while not a Christian myself, I find Christian thought, which I take as a set of carefully developed intellectual opinions, extremely interesting and informative. My own personal intellectual sympathy goes more towards Eastern Orthodoxy (IMHO a better Nominalism than Duns Scotus') and Augustinianism than towards Thomism, but I try to learn from all of them. At the end of the day I disagree with most if not all of it, but Feser's blog, with it's unending stream of food for thought, continues being a favorite of mine.

    Besides, when it comes to doing actual good deeds towards the needy, there's no denying Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, despite a few blind spots here and there, is second to none. That I admire even more than its many intellectual achievements.

    Therefore, I listen. I might not accept much, but I listen. :-)

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  101. @ Mr. Green:

    The funny thing is that there is a correlation between people who talk that way and those who claim to find Hell so nasty and monstrous and impossible to believe in.

    Actually, it shouldn't be surprising (I take it you're using funny as synonymous of surprising). If one's moral sensibility is such that, for them, Hell is immoral, it follows that, for them, a God that causes Hell to exist is immoral. Therefore, not giving in to such a God means not giving in to immorality.

    Evidently, when one takes that position one assumes there is an objective morality that is above that of the Christian God, and that the Christian God opts to not adhere to it. How that's framed can vary wildly, ranging from assuming the Christian God exists but doesn't correspond to the actual supreme Good, to full on Nihilistic Atheism predicated on Neokantian premises, and everything in between and to the sides.

    But be as it may, surprising it isn't.

    if Hell is such a nasty, monstrous concept then I (and the millions of orthodox Christians throughout the ages) who accept Church teaching must in fact be nasty monsters to accept such a doctrine.

    That'd be an invalid reductio ad absurdum. I've seen Christians do many morally meritorious things based on the belief of Hell, and I've also seen Christian do some quite horrible things based on the belief of Hell. As such then, I think belief in Hell can be, and seems to be, morally ambiguous tending to positive, at least for a wide class of persons. It just isn't, from my perspective, an absolute positive.

    Or maybe they merely think we are stupid oafs for not seeing the obvious monstrosity. Apparently calling us all moronic reprobates doesn’t bother their tender consciences in the least.

    Well, that's also mixed, in a way. When reading Christian thinkers on moral and ethical matters, I usually find myself nodding at the premises, then following the argument as it unfolds quite engaged, and then, at a point that seems to me to be evidently going in a certain direction, the thinker finds a twist of sorts and arrives at a conclusion that sometimes is at a full 180° of where he "should" have gone.

    Therefore, for me, Christian ethics is neither good nor bad, but in a kind of in-between state which, for all of the faults I perceive in it, remains clever, engaging, full of potential, and enlightening.

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  102. It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that the worse possible thing happens to her child. (premise)

    So, it is reasonable for a parent to kill every child immediately after baptizing them. For this guarantees that the child go to heaven.

    Or, (since there is some incredibly remote chance that they might die before they can carry out the murder): it is reasonable for a parent to do everything possible not to conceive a child, EVER, so that such child cannot go to hell. Thus, not only never have sex, but indeed, to procure a full castration or hysterectomy.

    So, to be a good Christian is to be a Jansenist? Who knew?

    Or, perhaps, premise 2 is not valid?

    A parent should do everything appropriate to ensure that their child will not go to hell, including everything that lies within God's law. And refusing to teach them right and wrong is NOT within God's law. It is, rather, contrary to His word.

    And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

    Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai, where he told me, Summon the people before me, and I will personally instruct them. Then they will learn to fear me as long as they live, and they will teach their children to fear me also.

    Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

    For the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
    As a father the son in whom he delights.

    Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.

    This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers. Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them.

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  103. With respect, I think this idea is psychologically disastrous. We are meant to love people in and of themselves. God made us that way. True love is unconditional. If you love someone only insofar as their souls reflect God, then you don't really love them at all.

    Vincent, I was merely relying on the text of 1 John 4 for the meaning of "love". That's all.

    Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

    As far as I understand it, this implies that a love that is in a person who rejects God is, at best, only "love" in some qualified manner of speaking, not love properly speaking. How can a person reject God and still love their neighbor, since "love is of God". Only by meaning "love" in some equivocal sense.

    The Thomistic account, which is also the account of MANY other saints and not just Thomas, just puts a little technical details on these defining statements of John.

    If you love someone only insofar as their souls reflect God, then you don't really love them at all.

    You are ascribing to me what I did not say or mean. What I said was that you love someone on the same basis as you love yourself: you are (and he is) from God and directed to God. This is true of all. These truths are true unconditionally, and therefore the basis of love without condition. Further: you are to love each according as he is good. Each person has the good of existence, and has a rational nature. These goods are goods unconditionally, a person does not lose them by sin. Each person is a PERSON, an unrepeatable irreducible good, to be loved.

    To extend: you are to love someone IN your love of God, for God loves him. Jesus calls us "friend": "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends..." But if you have a true friend, you love those whom he loves, on account of your friendship with him. Hence to love God as a friend is to love those whom God loves.

    None of this conditions love of your neighbor on the state of his soul, whether in sin or not.

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  104. Tony,
    Perhaps it is having a single word "love" in English where Bible uses many--agape, eros, philia, storge --is causing confusion.
    We have affection (storge) for our parents and our children. That affection is a love alright, not merely an equivocal form of love, but is certainly not agape and would not help with mortal sin. All natural loves die out with death.

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  105. Jesus says the way is hard and that few find it. If we don't play around with the plain meaning of his words he's clearly saying that few people will make it to heaven.

    If that's the case, then having a kid is not a great thing to do b/c you're probably just increasing the population of hell, the worst absolute state of existence for any sentient being.

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  106. Mr Green,
    This idea of the damned wasting away is a form of annihilation-ism but Catholic theology was not the one to take imaginative leaps. Indeed, the theologians, despite knowing well the difference between eternity and time, still emphasize (infinite) time-duration of punishments in hell.

    I am also hoping that the discussion could revert to the OP.
    Why is annihilation not a punishment itself? Is there a metaphysical principle that forbids an unrepentant soul to be annihilated?

    "In refraining from annihilating the person who is damned, then, God is precisely letting that person have what he wants."
    True but why God should do so? And supposing an unrepentant sinner actually wishes for annihilation, would God grant him that?

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  107. Gyan,
    Is there a metaphysical principle that forbids an unrepentant soul to be annihilated?

    No, Judaism allows for it and in nearly all cases limits the time of suffering to one year. Although to be fair, they are typically much less obsessed about the afterlife than Christians seem to be.

    True but why God should do so?

    Eternally giving you something you mistakenly desire which is plainly harmful is analogous to providing an alcoholic with an unlimited supply of alcohol, which doesn't seem particularly merciful. While I support Chad's disputation of the necessity of Purgatory if Dr. Feser's "locked in" theory is correct, my own inclination is to attack the premise of infinite malice. How can a finite creature have an infinite amount or degree of anything? Without such an absurd premise there isn't any "getting away with it" since you could be justly punished with a finite amount of suffering.

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  108. Step2,
    I agree that the word "infinite" is too loosely thrown about in theology. For instance, omniscience should be translated all-knowing rather than infinitely knowing.

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  109. some leftist fellow-traveller: "... to do whatever she can ..."

    When someone uses 'she' where English calls for 'he', that's a good tell that you can ignore that person.

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  110. Dear Vincent Torley: You wrote, "While I can excuse St. Thomas for believing such things in the 13th century, I am frankly incredulous that people are prepared to cast their moral intuitions aside and endorse such beliefs in the 21st century, simply in order to maintain what they regard as intellectual inconsistency."

    I am frankly incredulous that you have such faith in the moral intuitions of the 21st century.

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  111. Dear Ilion: Yeah. The "she" usage, however, seems to be the practice almost 100% of the time in modern philosophical writing. I don't really know why, unless modern philosophers think they are striking a liberating blow against the restrictive and demeaning grammar of every single Indo-European language.

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  112. @ Vincent

    There are rare cases when a person might, unknowingly, be married to a serial killer, for instance. Our knowledge of other human beings is not infallible. Nevertheless, it is reliable. Hence my argument that I can be more certain that my wife loves me (or that my parents love me) than that the faith is true.

    This is of course not what I meant. It doesn't matter how good we think our friends and family are. If we are not universalists, then we acknowledge the possibility that they--like us--may not go to heaven.

    I don't understand why this is horrifying. Since I've returned to the Catholic Church, there have been times when I have not been in a state of grace, and that is in spite of the fact that my friends and family would speak rather highly of my character (far more highly than I deserve).

    It should be clear from ordinary experience that people in a state of mortal sin have not chosen their favorite vice as their summum bonum, and that they remain capable of selfless acts.

    I think you've a rather sanguine view of human nature. The idea, though, is that the sort of life one wants and aims at is articulated through one's choices, and, anecdotally, I actually find this view pretty plausible. My disordered attachments often correspond with a desire of a kind of life in which I pursue those attachments sedulously, even when it comes to things like going on vacations or watching inane television shows.

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  113. To say that their love for other people is in no way pleasing to God is an absurdity.

    And no one said that.

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  114. @ Greg,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    ”No, they are not. (2) contradicts one of the well-known tenets of Aquinas's moral science, namely that there are no universally applicable positive secondary moral precepts.”

    (2): “It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that the worse possible thing happens to her child.”

    The claim “P is self-evident” means that it does not require any further justification because one is convinced of the truth of P just by considering it. Indeed should one show (2) to 100 normal parents the 100 would readily agree and say they are absolutely certain it is true. If there is some proposition in Aquinas that contradicts (2) – I take your word on it – then the burden is on you to explain why that proposition contradicts what is self-evident. I mean it's not like everything Aquinas has written must be accepted as axiomatically true, not even in this blog.

    Now could it be that the 100 normal parents are all wrong about what they find self-evidently reasonable? It is possible, but very unlikely. Especially on theism which entails that all people are made in the image of God and thus have an intrinsic capacity to be rational and see basic truths, especially in the context of ethics. Thus if a philosopher – any philosopher no matter how important – claims propositions that fly against our most basic moral insights then this counts as evidence against that philosopher.

    In any case this issue is not really significant to the point I want to make. Theology is not an abstract science but refers to the real world. As a matter of fact (virtually) all parents will immediately accept (2) as obviously true. Which means that should they take the dogma of hell seriously they will be moved by reason towards behavior we all agree is wrong. But then this dogma bears bad fruit. That we don't observe Christian parents consider such behavior reasonable only proves that they don't in fact take the dogma of hell seriously. Clearly deep down they believe there is no way whatsoever that their children will end up suffering for ever and ever in hell. I am pretty certain they don't even consider the idea as an actual possibility.[1]

    ”the inference from (8) and (9) to (10) is invalid, because it assumes that teaching your child Christianity only affects the probability of your child going to Hell by increasing the probability that your child has full knowledge for some materially grave sin.”

    (8) Nobody who has not full knowledge will suffer for ever in hell.
    (9) If the parent does not teach Christianity to her child it is more probable that her child will not have full knowledge.
    (10) Therefore, if the parent does not teach her child Christianity then it is less probable that her child will suffer for ever in hell.

    I don't understand the problem you see. (8) has the form “The lack of X solves the problem”. (9) has the form “If parents do Y then it is more probable that the lack of X obtains”. Therefore, (10) “If parents do Y it is more probable that the problem is solved”. I can try to put this in symbolic predicate logic if you like.

    [1] As I have stated before I find I am made in such a way that my mind recoils from an idea of such natural evil: “That a sentient being would suffer first for a thousand years, and then would suffer for thousand times more than that namely a million years, and then for a billion years and then for a thousand times a billion years. All of it without the benefit of the least hope whatsoever, without even any hope of annihilation after a billion times a billion years of continuous *suffering*.” I very seriously doubt that anybody is capable of considering this idea as an actual possibility. Can you? I am not implying that those who speak of hell are hypocrites, but I suspect that they are using the concept as referring to an abstract model, or perhaps as referring to an incredibly bad thing that may visit a sentient being but not really to somebody suffering without end.

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  115. @ Mr Green

    You respond to ”If that’s what the truth is, then I want no part of it!" writing this:

    ”I’ve noticed various people making such a claim about this topic. No doubt, Hell is populated by people who take exactly that attitude: that they do not want Truth, they have made up their minds that they know better. They know better than God, indeed they just are better than God; it’s a matter of personal pride not to give in to Him”

    I think you completely misunderstood what these people mean. They mean that God can't be like you are claiming God is, because if you were right then they wouldn't want anything to do with such a being. That being – the being you describe – strikes them as horrendously evil. In other words they are saying that in their judgment if you are right then there is no God, and we have been created by some kind of an all-evil all-powerful monster.

    As for your “no doubt hell is populated by people who take exactly that attitude” - who knows? If we are in fact created by an all-evil all-powerful monster then hell surely exists, but maybe it is populated with people who offended that being by believing it was a good creator.

    I am trying to be funny here, but this is really not funny at all. It is a very awkward situation in which one finds an official Christian dogma bearing such poisonous fruit that it moves some people to openly reject the gospel. And not do it because they wish to have a free meal, but because they really feel that their most basic sense of morality is brutally wounded by that dogma.

    ”You may never do evil that good may come of it.”

    Is this always true? To lie is evil, but if you are living in 1944, you are hiding your Jewish neighbor in the cellar, and the Nazis knock on your door asking – it is not true that you should lie?

    ”And if Hell is so bad, then why would you buy yourself a one-way ticket when you could just raise your children properly and all go to heaven?”

    Right, I think I see your point: Even if I am right that raising one's children to be good atheists makes it less probable that they will go to hell, you observe that raising them to be good Christians makes it even less probable. As a Christian parent I fully agree of course that the best thing we can do is raise our children to know Christ (even though this is ultimately not in our power to do). But in the context of the dogma of hell if they lack “full knowledge” they are guaranteed not to go hell; whereas possessing a good Christian education doesn't. So it seems the best strategy is to raise them as good atheists. (Even the fact that a Christian parent who takes the dogma seriously might wonder about such questions is quite a bad thing.)

    ”you are so caught up in playing "gotcha" against a position you don't care for”

    I care very much about it. I believe the dogma of hell is false, I believe it produces much gratuitous misery in peoples' lives in this world, what is even worse I believe it hinders them from loving God and following Christ and may diminish their charity and may push them towards hypocrisy, and I believe it hinders the spreading of the gospel. So, indeed, I am kind of trying to find an intellectual argument against this dogma, responding to intellectual arguments I see defending it.

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  116. @ Dianelos

    The claim “P is self-evident” means that it does not require any further justification because one is convinced of the truth of P just by considering it.

    Of course. That's the idea. Since people disagree over which truths are self-evident, though, it's best not to start your argument with a purportedly self-evident principle that contradicts both Thomistic moral science and, as Brandon pointed out, Kantianism. Especially if your aim is to address a tu quoque argument against Thomism. It has nothing to do with taking Thomism as "axiomatically true".

    I don't understand the problem you see. (8) has the form “The lack of X solves the problem”. (9) has the form “If parents do Y then it is more probable that the lack of X obtains”. Therefore, (10) “If parents do Y it is more probable that the problem is solved”.

    Let us consider a few hypotheses to construct a model in which the inference is statistically invalid. (By "have full knowledge," I mean "have full knowledge of the moral law," that is, "can be culpable for materially grave sins, whether or not they commit them or, more specifically, whether or not the child dies with unrepentant mortal sin".)
    (a) 100% of children who are taught Christianity have full knowledge.
    (b) 50% of children who have full knowledge do not go to Hell.
    (c) 10% of children who are not taught Christianity do not have full knowledge.
    (d) 100% of children who do not have full knowledge does not go to Hell.

    If these facts are true, then what else holds? Well, it is true that by not teaching your children Christianity, you lower the chance that they have full knowledge, from 100% to 50%. So (9) is true. It is also true that 100% of children who do not have full knowledge do not go to Hell. So (8) is true on this model.

    But (10) is false. 10% of children who are not taught Christianity do not go to hell, compared with 50% of children who are taught Christianity. So the statistical inference is invalid.

    tl;dr your argument ignores conditional probability, or, as I put it the first time around, "assumes that teaching your child Christianity only affects the probability of your child going to Hell by increasing the probability that your child has full knowledge for some materially grave sin."

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  117. @ Dianelos

    Indeed should one show (2) to 100 normal parents the 100 would readily agree and say they are absolutely certain it is true.

    That may be so. Anyway, let's concede it. Observe, though, that (2) implies something rather implausible.

    (2) It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that the worse possible thing happens to her child.

    Suppose Karen has two children, Alice and Bob. By A-ing, Karen can make it 1% less probable that the worst possible thing happens to Alice. By B-ing, Karen can make it 99% less probable that the worst possible thing happens to Alice. We can, of course, stipulate that these two figures are arbitrarily close to 0 and 1, respectively.

    (2) implies that it is reasonable for Karen to A. But, at least if you're the sort of person who thinks you must do whatever possible to prevent the worst possible thing from happening to your child, that is an odd result. We can make it virtually impossible that A-ing will help Alice, while we can make it virtually certain that B-ing will help Bob. Is is reasonable for Karen to A, as (2) says it is?

    The principle could be revised. I don't suggest that this undermines your argument in itself, although the modified principle will be far uglier, and that ugliness will spill over into some of the subsequent premises.

    Notice, though, that even a principle which 100% of normal parents would zealously affirm (by your account) will be rejected by those same parents once they think about some of its consequences.

    This should make us hesitate to pick out self-evident principles by reference to polls, much less thought experiments.

    However, notice another fact. Suppose that lots of parents affirm some modified principle (2'), and they also believe in the doctrine of hell. And let's suppose, falsely, that you have a valid argument for the conclusion that it is reasonable for those parents not to teach their children Christianity.

    Probably, they won't do so. But as we have seen, people may reject principles that they earlier accepted when they see their consequences. So these parents, who probably won't decide not to teach their children Christianity or (we suppose) reject one of the argument's other premises, will give up the conjunction of (2') and the doctrine of hell.

    And who says they won't give up (2')? That is probably the more likely result, armchair-anthropologically speaking (and if you can engage in armchair anthropology, then so can I). Your goal is to show that such parents don't really believe the doctrine of hell, but you can't assume that in the course of trying to argue that that is what they would choose to give up.

    (Note this is a common feature of consequentialist principles. Lots of people will affirm consequentialist principles in the abstract--"always pursue the greatest good"--until they realize what those might require of them concretely. In light of that fact, it's odd for Dianelos to chide me about making theology too abstract.)

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  118. @ Dianelos Georgoudis:

    It is a very awkward situation in which one finds an official Christian dogma bearing such poisonous fruit that it moves some people to openly reject the gospel. And not do it because they wish to have a free meal, but because they really feel that their most basic sense of morality is brutally wounded by that dogma.

    If it helps, I can offer myself as an example. Whether I'm a typical example or not, I don't know.

    In my case, after having studied under some quite good Catholic teachers both in college and outside it, I began considering myself Catholic. That was circa 2002 and lasted for a period of about three years, giver or take. And I did so under the understanding of Hell and Heaven as metaphors and analogical constructs that referred to ontological realities beyond our cognition, hence the strong language associated with it.

    Afterwards however, in reading more of the classics of Christian thought, and even a few contemporaneous ones, I finally understood that although it might be that, it was also to be understood in quite a literal way. At that, my admiration for Christian doctrine and theology crashed. I felt I was worshiping a demon, and thus gave my back to Christianity.

    Afterwards I went back into studying other paths (I studied a lot of of comparative religion), then after a few years became disillusioned with everything with the death of a very dearly family member and went for a period of strict Atheism, and then other things happened that helped me finally find a way that didn't seem monstrous.

    Therefore, the doctrines surrounding the concept Hell in fact caused at least one person, me, to move away.

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  119. @ vincent torley

    Tony wrote: “Faith is more certain than what is available to the natural light of reason.”

    To which you respond: “Seriously? You're more certain of the truths of faith than of the fact that there is a keyboard in front of you right now, or the fact that you have two parents?

    There is a sense in which faith is more certain than reason, namely that reason if based on premises one accepts on faith.

    Please observe that “faith” is used in different senses. In the gospels it is used as meaning “trust” - what makes as behave in a way that is consistent with the belief. In medieval philosophy I suspect it is used in a sense closer to what modern epistemologists call “basic belief”. These are beliefs we are often pretty certain of without any actual evidence for them. It seems our mind is built in a way that entails these beliefs. Examples of basic beliefs would be the belief in an external world, in the past, in other minds, in the basic reliability of our cognitive powers including our senses, and so on. On this understanding that there is a keyboard in front of you is a deliverance of faith not reason. Plantinga claims that theism itself is a basic belief. Since on theism we are build in the image of God Plantinga is obviously right and theism is a basic belief, albeit a belief which is clearly not experienced as certain. Indeed I think our condition is such that one can never escape having some not insignificant doubts about theism.

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  120. @ Brandon

    ”If you aren't a consequentialist, whether it's reasonable to do depends on what it actually is, not just on consequences that can be had or avoided.”

    Consequentialism fails as an ethical theory. In fact all ethical theories fail and I think theism can explain why. But the fact that consequentialism is false does not imply that it is not reasonable for a parent to teach her children to look carefully before crossing a street lest they are hit by a car.

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  121. But the fact that consequentialism is false does not imply that it is not reasonable for a parent to teach her children to look carefully before crossing a street lest they are hit by a car.

    But your argument depends on consequentialism, not on non-consequentialist reasoning about consequences. This is required because of the premise involved:

    2. It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to make it less probable that the worse possible thing happens to her child.

    The 'whatever she can' logically implies that it is reasonable to maximize the means to a certain consequence (reduction of the probability of the worst possible thing), regardless of any other considerations. This is precisely a consequentialist principle -- not a generic principle about consequences that even an anti-consequentialist might accept, but a consequentialist account of reasonableness in which maximizing a particular consequence in and of itself makes something reasonable, no matter what other factors may be involved. This would include, for instance, the implication that doing very evil things to one's children in order to reduce the probability of the very worst thing happening to them would be reasonable.

    And since reasonableness in this particular argument can't imply that it is reasonable to do very evil things to one's own children (if it did, it would make the parents in question morally depraved psychopaths, which would entirely suffice to address your question), this is in fact an ethical argument, the consequentialism is ethical in character. It's a nonstandard ethical consequentialism, but it is very definitely required here.

    Contrast this with a reasonable principle:

    (X) It is reasonable for a parent to do reasonable and morally licit things to make it less probable that the worst thing will happen to their children.

    This covers your streetcrossing example just fine, and it gums up your argument completely for reasons other commentators note. And, of course, there's no consequentialism in sight.

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  122. Sorry, that should be

    (X) It is reasonable for a parent to REASONED and morally licit things to make it less probable that the worst thing will happened to their children.

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  123. Dianelos,
    The talk about "probability of going to hell" is false. It is false because it neglects the notions of predestination and election. A parent or anybody else can not increase or decrease anyone's probability of going to hell. Such a talk is not thinking with the Church and thus misinterprets the Scripture.

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  124. Dianelos,

    ''Given the goal of saving one's children from eternal suffering''

    Let me just adress one thing here...



    I think that one of the things that makes people think the doctrine of Hell is unjust or cruel is the idea that there will be some sort of ''suffering'' in Hell.

    That's certainly an element of Hell that many people find cruel and it is one of the major reasons why Hell is a cruel and unnaceptable doctrine to a lot of people.

    It is also one of the biggest objections people of the Universalist persuasion level against the doctrine of Hell and use it against the traditional belief in Hell.

    Even in this very blog post, we can find examples of people objecting to Hell because of unimaginable eternal suffering and etc.

    But I would personally suggest that this doesn't have to be the case.

    The ''suffering in/of Hell'' people imagine may not be an accurate description of Hell.

    One of the very arguments and objections people have against the idea of Hell, the eternal suffering, may be null and void because it simply isn't the case.

    What I am refering to is this:

    There is already a belief out there that the ''fires of Hell'' may be metaphorical.

    That there isn't literal fire or torture or whatever we modern people think of when he hear the word ''torment''.

    I myself think it is far more likely that the ''torments'' of Hell as described in Scripture and other places, isn't a description of torture, but of something else.

    One of these beliefs states that the torment of Hell is shame.No torture, no pitchforks, no torment as modern day people think of it.

    Now if we grant that Hell is simply shame, then I think a lot of the objections and problems people have with Hell start to melt.

    We reconeptualise Hell and see it differently.

    Instead, Hell starts looking much more, shall we say, ''acceptable''. Hell is no longer a place, but a state.

    In fact, some even say it is the same place as Heaven.That God's presence is a joy and happiness for those who are saved, while it is a source of shame for those who are damned.

    Another view could be taken that Hell is a sinful person's unwillingness to part with this sin and him ending up suffering in this way because of his own hardheadedness.

    Another view is that it is the sinner realising what he did and feeling perpetually guilty because of it.


    Either way, one of the bigger objections to Hell is done away with.


    It seems that if we accept a non-torture non-suffering version of Hell, then the remaining problems are the ones about any form of eternal seperation or an idea of an eternal-bad-state-of-affairs being unjust or cruel.

    If we can solve these problems, the problems of eternal seperation even in principle, and the problems of an eternal bad state of affairs, then we can finally stop worrying about the difficulty of Hell, and also stop debating whether or not we should accept the traditional teaching or universalism/annihilationism.








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  125. @ Greg

    ”Observe, though, that (2) implies something rather implausible.” [snip explanation]

    In short, I agree. As I have already conceded responding to Mr. Green, premise (2) is ambiguous. What's reasonable is not to do something that decreases the probability of the greatest possible evil obtaining but to do what decreases that probability to the greatest degree. So a better premise would be:

    (2') It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to decrease as much as possible the probability that the worse possible thing happens to her child.

    ”The principle could be revised. I don't suggest that this undermines your argument in itself”

    Well it does make it more complicated to produce a good argument. Perhaps it's worth my effort. I don't enjoy trying to create defeaters for an official church dogma. Actually I am hurting; I find that thinking about God brightens the soul, but thinking about hell darkens it.

    ”Notice, though, that even a principle which 100% of normal parents would zealously affirm (by your account) will be rejected by those same parents once they think about some of its consequences.”

    This is undoubtedly true. My argument if successful will not move Christian parents to teach atheism to her children, of course not. But will move them to doubt the dogma of hell and perhaps consider universalism. Which, I insist, is not about any free meals and on the contrary guarantees that in all cases justice will be done. Just not the kind of justice hellists (I suspect ad-hoc) think is God's.

    ”So these parents, who probably won't decide not to teach their children Christianity or (we suppose) reject one of the argument's other premises, will give up the conjunction of (2') and the doctrine of hell.”

    Right.

    ”And who says they won't give up (2')?”

    I think it's rare for people to abruptly change beliefs because of arguments. Even when confronted with an argument that appears to disprove a belief of theirs they will rather assume the argument has some error they can't see. Good arguments are still useful in the sense that they make people doubt and thus reconsider and open their eyes to different directions. And they are useful countering arguments that appear to support false beliefs.

    I believe that the most effective way to help somebody see a truth is not by argument but:

    1) By simply describing the truth; we are made in such a way that if somebody helps us look in the right direction then we shall actually see it, and *seeing* the truth is what convinces us. That's the reason why theology rather than philosophy changes the minds of people.

    2) By example: by living ourselves in a way which is consistent to the truth we claim.

    I think the first glorious days of Christianity in which the flow of history was changed were driven both by (1) and (2), and perhaps primarily by (2).

    Still going back to your specific question, my bet is that Christian parents who would consider this argument would rather choose to doubt any other premise (1), (4) or (6) rather then (2') which is rather existentially evident to them. My guess is that many would doubt (6) and argue that a mortal sin is a mortal sin even if one does not have “full knowledge”.

    [continues below]

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  126. [continues from above]

    ”That is probably the more likely result, armchair-anthropologically speaking (and if you can engage in armchair anthropology, then so can I)”

    Interestingly enough I don't see why some of these questions cannot be settled empirically. If theology is about the real world then empirical tests should be possible at least to some degree. Here is a suggestion which pertains to our discussion: I think it is possible to make a psychological study which will measure how much charity (in the religious sense) people have and so so with sufficient precision – and also measure how seriously they believe in hellism. Then using the standard statistical tools one could study what kind of correlation exists between the two. I predict the correlation will be negative. A second prediction I'd like to make is that in the future the church will move away from the dogma of hell, for revelation is an ongoing process and Christ is a living presence in the church.

    ”it's odd for Dianelos to chide me about making theology too abstract”

    I wasn't aware I was doing that, but I do think that theology is by nature about concrete matters that affect us and are important in our everyday lives. Philosophy on the other hand may become quite abstract. Theology is more a matter of one's actual experience of life; philosophy more about careful thought including of course thinking about that experience. I suppose there is not a sharp division between the two, but they are distinct enough.

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  127. (2') It is reasonable for a parent to do whatever she can to decrease as much as possible the probability that the worse possible thing happens to her child.

    This is again a consequentialist principle, and again a principle that implies that it is reasonable to do evil things to one's own child if it will decrease the probability of the worst possible thing.

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  128. @ Dianelos

    In short, I agree. As I have already conceded responding to Mr. Green, premise (2) is ambiguous. What's reasonable is not to do something that decreases the probability of the greatest possible evil obtaining but to do what decreases that probability to the greatest degree.

    That (2) was ambiguous, though, is not what I was arguing, nor is it true. The case I described was not a gray area; we are not perplexed about how to apply (2) to it. We know how to apply (2) to it. We just do not care much for the result.

    And yet you still might find that a large number of parents will affirm (2), if they haven't thought about it too carefully. What that tells us is that the suggestion--or empirical result, if you can get that--that 100% of parents would affirm (2), is not a terribly reliable indicator of its truth. Nor is it a terribly reliable indicator of the truth of (2').

    Still going back to your specific question, my bet is that Christian parents who would consider this argument would rather choose to doubt any other premise (1), (4) or (6) rather then (2') which is rather existentially evident to them. My guess is that many would doubt (6) and argue that a mortal sin is a mortal sin even if one does not have “full knowledge”.

    Well, as I have shown, your argument is invalid, so someone who wants to deny its conclusion is under no rational obligation to reject any of its premises.

    Even if it were valid, I personally would be under no rational obligation to reject any of (1), (4), or (6), because I have independent grounds for rejecting (2) and (2'): to wit, those principles' incompatibility with Aquinas's moral science, and their consequentialism.

    The suggestion that it is (6) that Christian parents would reject is bizarre. The reason for including full knowledge in the definition of mortal sin is that, unless that condition is met, a sin does not amount to a contradiction of God's law, and thus is not incompatible with the love of God, and thus does not lead to death, and thus is not a mortal sin. It would be much wiser for Christian parents to give up (2'), which lacks motivation from within the Christian tradition.

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  129. @ Dianelos

    I don't enjoy trying to create defeaters for an official church dogma.

    Oddly enough, you've devoted considerable effort to arguing that "Christian parents [do not] take seriously the dogma about hell and mortal sin as described in the catechism of the CC" and "the dogma of hell as described in the catechism is false".

    It is also difficult to reconcile this remark with your recently expressed hunch, unsupported by argument, that Christian parents would give up (1), (4), or (6)--each official Church doctrines, or close to it--rather than (2'), the one material assumption in your argument that has no obvious antecedent in the Church's tradition.

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  130. @ Dianelos

    I think it's rare for people to abruptly change beliefs because of arguments.

    Yes, it is.

    Even when confronted with an argument that appears to disprove a belief of theirs they will rather assume the argument has some error they can't see.

    This is a rational behavior. For some people, there are arguments for contradictory positions, neither of which they are capable of adequately answering. The existence of an argument that one cannot answer is not a good reason to give up a belief, in itself, though it is a consideration.

    Then there are cases like your own argument. The invalidity of the inference from (8) and (9) to (10) is subtle and, by non-philosophers, easily missed. And (2) and (2'), like other consequentialist principles, may seem plausible before their application to concrete cases has been considered.

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  131. @ Alexander Gieg,

    Well, I must say my own spiritual life has been much simpler. My own church's official dogma is also hellism in a more or less literal sense, and even though I think that dogma is false (I am a universalist) it never occurred to me to think that my church believes in a monster. Obviously my church believes in Christ – who is there for the taking as it were – but in my view happens to be very mistaken about the dogma of hell. Anyway beliefs are not an end in themselves; following Christ is. I consider my church great in that in its community I feel empowered to follow Christ; not for its dogmatic beliefs. And I am pretty certain the same holds for all the great churches within Christianity.

    In general, feeling secure in my knowledge in Christ, I find I can profit much from the other traditions within Christianity and also from the other great religions. I think truth is a living presence that cannot be made to fit into a box, and thus have no problem with the idea of there being much wisdom outside of my own church or of Christianity, indeed wisdom that helps me understand Christianity better. So, as it happens the Buddhist concept of nirvana helped me solve a problem I had about heaven and indeed led me to consider that theosis (a central tenet in my tradition) is meant literally. In Sufi poetry I found one of the clearest expositions of love the way Christ loves us – and found it within the context of Islam. I am not troubled by dogmatic considerations; I suppose I am rather lucky in this respect. What troubles me is my missing the real thing: to actually follow Christ. How hard it is to become a better person.

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  132. @Dianelos Georgoudis

    I predict the correlation will be negative.

    I wonder why you would think this. Do you think that most people think the same way that you do? Or would if only they knew what you knew?

    The reason I ask is because when I was much younger, I thought that way.

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  133. Dianelos,

    1. Here's a Henny Youngman joke (for the self-torturer):

    The patient says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." The doctor replies, "Then don't do that!"

    2. Here's another Henny Youngman joke (for the universalist):

    A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn't pay his bill, so the doctor gave him another six months.

    3. Ever hear of a guy named Origen? I'll bet you have. Here he is:

    "Of things in the Divine Scripture which seem to come near to being a stumbling-block and rock of offence... If at anytime in reading the Scripture you stumble at something which is a fair stone of stumbling, and rock of offence, blame yourself... First believe, and thou shalt find beneath what is deemed a stumbling-stone much gain in godliness. For if we really received a commandment to speak no idle word, because we shall give account of it in the day of judgment; and if we must with all our might endeavour to make every word proceeding out of our mouths a working word both in ourselves who speak and in those who hear, must we not conclude that every word spoken through the Prophets was fit for work? and it is no wonder if every word spoken by the Prophets had a work adapted to it. Nay, I suppose that every letter, no matter how strange, which is written in the oracles of God, does its work. And there is not one jot or tittle written in the Scripture, which, when men know how to extract the virtue does not work its own work.

    "As every herb has its own virtue whether for the healing of the body, or some other purpose, and it is not given to everybody to know the use of every herb, but certain persons have acquired the knowledge by the systematic study of botany, so that they may understand when a particular herb is to be used, and to what part it is to be applied, and how it is to be prepared, if it is to do the patient good; just so it is in things spiritual; the saint is a sort of spiritual herbalist, who culls from the sacred Scriptures every jot and every common letter, discovers the value of what is written and its use, and finds that there is nothing in the Scriptures superfluous... Just so, you may regard the Scriptures as a collection of herbs...; but if you are n[ot] a scriptural botanist..., you must not suppose that anything written is superfluous, but blame yourself and not the sacred Scriptures when you fail to find the point of what is written."

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  134. @ Brandon,

    I understand consequentialism as the idea that what makes a deed good is its consequences in the world. Even though we do in fact in our moral reasoning always consider the consequences, on theism the idea is false on its face since it's like putting the creation before the creator. By caring about the creation one honors the creator, and this is why we are made to consider the consequences, but morality is not about the consequences in the world. Indeed moral philosophers have discovered many counterexamples where consequentialism clearly fails (and it is interesting to consider how it is we know that it fails in these cases – here we have an example that one knows the truth by looking at it, i.e. by faith, and this elucidates the meaning of the claim that faith is more certain than reason). Now on Christianity all that is, is because of Christ – as we very beautifully read in the beginning of John. So the ontological basis of all truths, all truths without exception, is Christ Himself. In some cases, for example in the physical sciences, Christ's truth is of mathematical nature and thus it is possible by combinatorial work to discover more truths, a fact that many atheists as particularly impressive and remarkable. But even in the physical sciences the fundamentals of rationality and of the reality of the scientific insight are directly based on Christ. Morality is a context of truth where there is a much more direct dependence on Christ, indeed so direct that “rules of morality” are always approximate artifacts and should be used as such. It is always the spirit of Christ that breathes truth into a moral belief.

    Now coming back to our discussion, I take it your argument is that it is moral for a parent to do something to protect her child from the worse possible evil *only* when what she does is moral itself. Of course I agree with this, actually it looks like a tautology. And I am *not* suggesting that it is reasonable for a Christian parent to teach atheism to her child, that's about the epitome of absurdity – that's exactly my point.

    But I will insist that there are cases where the consequences are such that the means are justified. I've already mentioned the case of the Christian in WWII who lies in order to protect the Jew she is hiding in her home. Another trivial example: In the Greek church's baptism the baby is immersed three times in water (at least care is taken to use lukewarm water), which makes this a minor case of baby torture. But no parent worries about this miniscule evil, considering the good consequence.

    So, in conclusion, even though I agree that the anti-hell argument needs improving, I don't think it suffers from entailing consequentialism.

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  135. Alexander Gieg: Actually, it shouldn't be surprising (I take it you're using funny as synonymous of surprising).

    Mostly I'm using it as a synonym for "funny". It's not surprising to see people being silly on the Internet, but it was marginally amusing to see the juxtaposition in vowing to reject God because one doesn't believe anyone could reject God, or calling folks monstrous for daring to say that some men are monsters.

    one assumes there is an objective morality that is above that of the Christian God, and that the Christian God opts to not adhere to it. How that's framed can vary wildly

    Sure, but none of those wild variations are Christianity, and since the objectors weren't arguing against Christianity (as indeed that was the context of the original article), they were letting their rhetoric get away from them.

    Therefore, for me, Christian ethics is neither good nor bad, but in a kind of in-between state which, for all of the faults I perceive in it, remains clever, engaging, full of potential, and enlightening.

    That's fine as far as it goes. Now, I would argue that when you find the argument has ended up 180° off-course, it's because you were headed on the wrong course to begin with (or because the argument isn't a good one); but that's something we can discuss reasonably. Likewise, I do not object to the actual objections people were raising, only the way in which they raised them. (Why can't anyone just say, "I don't understand this, can someone explain it to me?" instead of talking in sarcastic one-liners like a second-rate sitcom?)

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  136. Gyan: This idea of the damned wasting away is a form of annihilation-ism but Catholic theology was not the one to take imaginative leaps.

    Well, it can be a gradual approach to annihilation, but it doesn’t have to be. The fading away can asymptotically approach zero without ever quite reaching it.

    Why is annihilation not a punishment itself? Is there a metaphysical principle that forbids an unrepentant soul to be annihilated?

    It surely is possible for God to un-create anything that He created, at least in the sense that everything exists only according to His will in the first place. But in a way it would amount to a contradiction on God’s part: to create an everlasting being, such as man, with an immortal soul, and then to annihilate it wouldn’t make sense — it would be a bit like creating water that wasn’t wet, or something. Even those in Hell are good qua beings; it is their wills that are bad, and so the appropriate punishment is one directed at their bad actions, not their being per se.

    "God is precisely letting that person have what he wants.” True but why God should do so? And supposing an unrepentant sinner actually wishes for annihilation, would God grant him that?

    Presumably not, according to the previous line of thought. You’re right that there is tension between the damned getting what they want, and being punished which they don’t want; but as I always say, you can't be consistent if you’re wrong. Only the truth is completely consistent, so there is a sense in which they do get what they want, and also in which they don’t. Insofar as they are free beings, they get to exercise their freedom as they want, even though they may not want the consequences, or not in the way they get them. They get to reject God as their summum bonum but they also get the effects of that, displeasing though they may be.

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  137. Craig Payne: >”While I can excuse St. Thomas for believing such things in the 13th century…”
    I am frankly incredulous that you have such faith in the moral intuitions of the 21st century.

    It’s Green’s Law in action: a sentence that begins by excusing Aquinas for what he did or didn’t know “in the thirteenth century” is bound to end poorly. (I’d say so far I’ve never been disappointed, but actually it is pretty disappointing. Even for the twenty-first century.)

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  138. But I will insist that there are cases where the consequences are such that the means are justified.

    This means that consequences simply of themselves can override all other considerations. That is consequentialism.

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  139. @ Dianelos Georgoudis:

    it never occurred to me to think that my church believes in a monster.

    Consider it from this perspective. Widely agreed moral intuitions include, among others, that one shouldn't genocide, promote mass rape, cause planetary extinctions, practice mass torture and similar big scale moral failings, and even less so if there are other means available to solve an issue. But even if there aren't, one still shouldn't do any of those things all the same.

    Now, so far this thread as well as the article above it are positions pro and against one such practice. But, that's one practice within a reasonably long list, and one, mind, that doesn't depart too much from the general outlook of that same list.

    Therefore, when my moral intuition became scandalized by the realization of how Christian doctrine in fact does defend the torture item, it also became scandalized by all the remaining items, including by promises that similar things weren't limited to the past, but were promised to happen again, and in an even grander scale.

    Hence that, in rejecting one item, I ended up rejecting all the items, and together with them, the one (supra-)being who, reportedly at least, indulged, indulges, and plans on indulging once again, in the willful practice of all of them.

    But as you, I still find wisdom in paths that aren't mine, hence my continued reading of Christian scholars. In that I more or less do what Paul suggested, but in reverse: I keep from Christian thinkers and from Christianity itself what's good, and reject what's bad. And there's much good in them, and in it.

    @ Mr. Green:

    Now, I would argue that when you find the argument has ended up 180° off-course, it's because you were headed on the wrong course to begin with (or because the argument isn't a good one); but that's something we can discuss reasonably.

    Indeed, and I agree wholeheartedly.

    Why can't anyone just say, "I don't understand this, can someone explain it to me?" instead of talking in sarcastic one-liners like a second-rate sitcom?

    That's usually because they think they've already understood. When that happens, the best one can do, if one's so inclined, is to switch into Socratic mode and ask questions that may lead the person to notice by herself that she doesn't understand that which she thought she understood, and hence to actually open up to being educated. I've had more success taking this approach than when I directly provide the correct information, but it certainly involves a lot of effort.

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  140. One of the serious problems with the author's conception of Hell is a moral one. All the suffering in this universe comes to an end, so never-ending suffering entails that each and every one of the damned will suffer infinitely more than all the suffering that has ever or will ever occur in this universe. The suffering caused by all the natural disasters, natural predation, disease, accidents, wars, cruel despots, violent crime, mental anguish etc. is finite and so it is infinitesimally small compared to the suffering of each and every one of the damned. An all powerful God who creates such a reality is capable of creating another one. To suggest that someone who is suffering an infinity of punishment would prefer this torment to annihilation is deeply implausible, and to worship a God who permits such evil is evil in itself. For the saved to look upon those suffering eternal torment and think, "Whatever. Knock yourselves out, guys" is unconscionable. For someone who is clear headed to retain such a belief is unconscionable too. Fortunately those who think this way have an excuse. They are not clear headed.

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  141. All the suffering in this universe comes to an end, so never-ending suffering entails that each and every one of the damned will suffer infinitely more than all the suffering that has ever or will ever occur in this universe. The suffering caused by all the natural disasters, natural predation, disease, accidents, wars, cruel despots, violent crime, mental anguish etc. is finite and so it is infinitesimally small compared to the suffering of each and every one of the damned.

    "The suffering of the damned will be infinite duration" is not equivalent to "There will be a point at which the damned will have suffered for infinite duration"; the former, which is the only thing you can have in mind, implies that the suffering at every point is always finite, just as every integer in the infinite integers is finite. One would have thought that getting the logical implications of claims correctly would be part of being clear-headed.

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  142. "Of things in the Divine Scripture which seem to come near to being a stumbling-block and rock of offence... If at anytime in reading the Scripture you stumble at something which is a fair stone of stumbling, and rock of offence, blame yourself... First believe,

    Glenn: Beautiful. Thanks.

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  143. Brandon, my argument does not depend on there being "a point at which the damned will have suffered for infinite duration". We can stop at a cosmological decade to the power of a googolplex if you like. This would still be infinitely far away from an infinite duration, but would be more than enough time for one of the damned to have suffered more than all the suffering this universe will see by many orders of magnitude. It's all very silly when you think about it.

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  144. @ Brandon,

    What I try to say is really simple: What makes a person's deed good is *not* what consequences it produces. These are sometimes beyond a person's control anyway. So consequentialism is false, notwithstanding its initial plausibility. We agree so far.

    On Christianity what makes a person's deed good is Christ. After all, the ontological basis of all there is, including the goodness of a person's deed, is Christ. More specifically what makes a person's deed good is that it comports with God's will and thus makes the person's soul more similar to Christ's. How does a person in everyday life know God's will? The gospels reveal a beautiful and practical overall sense, but in life there are people in many different conditions facing many different circumstances. I say everyone can moreover know what is good passively by considering the image of God in which one is made, and actively by asking Christ's help in prayer. “I didn't know what was good” is a poor justification, especially for Christians.

    Having said that, Christ makes it so that there are many cases in real life where doing something that is good will also produce good consequences. This should be obvious, and has nothing to do with consequentialism. To put it plainly, God is good and thus values the realization of good things in creation. So it's no wonder that many (indeed virtually all) of good deeds have good consequences, even perhaps good consequences one doesn't immediately see. And it is no wonder that we are made by nature to always consider the consequences. To not consider the consequences would be the result of one's moral cognitive faculties suffering from some kind of illness.

    And now to our point of possible disagreement: There are some cases where given the circumstances Christ makes good a deed that in other circumstances would be bad (such as saying a lie to a Nazi, or submerging a crying baby three times in water at baptism). There are many such cases where everybody with normal cognitive faculties plainly sees that a deed is a good one, even if it entails lying or hurting others. And to put it in the metaphysical sense I used before: The Christian lying to the Nazi about the Jew hidden in her cellar becomes more like Christ.

    There is a fine story in the gospels that elucidates this principle, and which is particularly useful because it is not an obvious case. There, the sinful woman known as Mary uses precious perfume to wash Christ's feet with it – so is this a good or a bad deed? Not only on consequentialism, but also say on Kant's theory, and on just plain common sense, it is a bad deed. And in many similar circumstances this is right, since waste is usually a bad thing. For example, if wishing to show my wife how much I love her I were to make a fire in the fireplace using money bills, I'd be doing a bad thing. But in the gospel we read that the sinful woman was doing a good thing. So why was that deed good? Well, there is no “why” for us to answer. In her case and in her circumstances that deed moved her soul closer to Christ. (One corollary here is that we should never judge others also because it's impossible to do so, since we don't know them. It's only ourselves we know and it's only ourselves it is possible to judge.) So in Mary's story we have a case where the deed contravened a general rule and moreover had bad consequences (the poor who could profit went hungry), but it was a good deed.

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  145. Brandon, my argument does not depend on there being "a point at which the damned will have suffered for infinite duration".

    Your argument explicitly depended on there being a point at which there was infinite suffering; you stated, "never-ending suffering entails that each and every one of the damned will suffer infinitely more than all the suffering that has ever or will ever occur in this universe" and "The suffering caused by all the natural disasters...is finite and so it is infinitesimally small compared to the suffering of each and every one of the damned" and "someone who is suffering an infinity of punishment". If you want to change your argument, feel free; but you are significantly changing your argument.

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  146. Danielos,

    You seem to have lost the thread of your own argument. The point at hand is whether your (2), or your alternative (2') is a self-evident truth that reasonable Christian parents would recognize; nothing in your vague and controvertible comment establishes this.

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  147. Alexander Gieg: That's usually because they think they've already understood. When that happens, the best one can do, if one's so inclined, is to switch into Socratic mode

    I agree (I'm certainly not immune to the temptation myself), and the Socratic approach can be invaluable. Of course, it requires patience on both sides; there's a limit to what Socrates can accomplish if someone insists on sticking to an emotional reaction.

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  148. Dianelos Georgoudis: I think you completely misunderstood what these people mean. They mean that God can't be like you are claiming God is,

    Since my point was based on that interpretation, I guess I understood what they said just fine. Whether they mean it depends on how seriously they value their idea of what God should be like versus God’s idea of what He should be like. If people can mean it, then that explains how there really could be people in Hell as a result of their own free will.

    Christian dogma bearing such poisonous fruit that it moves some people to openly reject the gospel.

    Yet many people rejected the Gospel because of Christ’s own words (and not only His words about hellfire and eternal damnation). Are Christ’s words poisonous fruit? Or are some of us perhaps not infallible when it comes to deciding what’s poisonous or not?

    ”You may never do evil that good may come of it.” Is this always true?

    Yes, this is absolutely always true (Romans 3:8). Yes, that includes not lying. (And deceiving Nazis is typically claimed not to be evil by those who wish to defend it; but Aquinas acknowledges that such cases truly involve lying and therefore are wrong — Prof. Feser has written many articles on this.) ((Also, baptising a baby is not “baby-torture”, even if the baby doesn’t like it. It in no way qualifies as “doing evil that good may come of it”.))

    Indeed should one show (2) to 100 normal parents the 100 would readily agree and say they are absolutely certain it is true.

    Actually, I doubt you could ever find 100 parents who would claim to do “anything” for their children. If you ask them with no context, I admit they will likely agree, but it’s something you’d find on a bumper-sticker — nobody means it literally. People simply assume you mean “anything that is not itself wicked”. Go ahead and ask some parents who say they’d do “anything” for their children if they would actually commit murder. They will all most certainly deny it. And if you further explain that you mean murdering their own children, they will surely give you a worried look and sidle away.

    I don't enjoy trying to create defeaters for an official church dogma. Actually I am hurting; I find that thinking about God brightens the soul, but thinking about hell darkens it.

    I imagine that you find eating junk-food “brightens” your taste buds and taking medicine the opposite. Is that because junk-food is better for you than medicine? Or is it because, especially in our fallen state, our tastes are not always reliable guides? What makes you think that when it comes to these difficult matters, your feelings are so dependable? How can you evaluate your own instincts without recourse to the Church, and the Fathers, and saints and theologians?

    Now could it be that the 100 normal parents are all wrong about what they find self-evidently reasonable? It is possible, but very unlikely. Especially on theism which entails that all people are made in the image of God and thus have an intrinsic capacity to be rational and see basic truths, especially in the context of ethics.

    There is much truth to that. And given how many normal Christians have accepted Church teaching about Hell, we must conclude that it is very unlikely to be wrong. Universalists are just much rarer, so the best-case scenario is that Hell is real, or that the issue is very subtle and not at all self-evident. So in either case, you yourself are most likely wrong about the matter.

    …And we are back again at the question I’ve been asking you: why should anyone accept your arguments over those of an expert like Prof. Feser, or a saint like Aquinas, or the centuries-old doctrines of the Church herself? Even if they could be all wrong, it is, in your words, “very unlikely”.

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  149. John G Thomas: so never-ending suffering entails that each and every one of the damned will suffer infinitely

    Brandon pointed out the problem with this; but even the limit "at infinity" of an infinite sum is not necessarily infinite. That's just bad mathematics. So not only is the suffering not infinite at any point, it need not even ever exceed some finite limit at any point. (Cf. the above comments about the damned wasting away.)


    to worship a God who permits such evil is evil in itself.

    ...here we go again! [cue laugh-track]

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  150. Dianelos,

    One corollary here is that we should never judge others also because it's impossible to do so, since we don't know them. It's only ourselves we know and it's only ourselves it is possible to judge.

    You say it's only possible to judge oneself, and impossible to judge others. But is this correct? Here are two reasons for thinking that it may not be correct:

    1. It doesn't make sense that we should have been told not to judge and that we should have been told what the consequence will be were we to judge -- "Judge not, that ye be not judged" -- were it not possible to do so.

    2. Though God is not a creature, He also is not oneself. Still, you are prepared to judge Him. That is, you are ready, willing and able to judge God. (Indeed, you have already conditionally judged God to be a monster, should it turn out that -- as you have acknowledged more than once to be possible -- you are wrong, and what you disparagingly refer to as 'hellism' is indeed true.)

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  151. (Oops; I'm the Anonymous @ December 11, 2016 at 6:59 AM.)

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  152. @ Greg,

    ”it's best not to start your argument with a purportedly self-evident principle that contradicts both Thomistic moral science and Kantianism”

    Suppose you encounter a parent who says she is prepared to do her best to help her child avoid go to hell (i.e. basically claims the second premise). Would you really tell her that she is being unreasonable because what she intends to do contradicts Thomistic moral science and Kantianism?

    ”Let us consider a few hypotheses to construct a model in which the inference is statistically invalid. (By "have full knowledge," I mean "have full knowledge of the moral law," that is, "can be culpable for materially grave sins, whether or not they commit them or, more specifically, whether or not the child dies with unrepentant mortal sin"

    Even though the catechism does not explicitly say what “full knowledge” entails, it does explain that sin is “an offense against reason”, “an offense against God”, a “disobedience”, “a revolt against God”, and so on. So “full knowledge” entails at least these beliefs. For how can one possibly have “full knowledge” if one ignores the facts that the catechism considers the most important ones? But then it follows that no atheist or agnostic has “full knowledge” (which incidentally strikes me as clearly true). You suggest that “full knowledge” means “full knowledge of the moral law”, but again how can an atheist or agnostic who does not believe in God and has not heard the gospel have full knowledge of the moral law?

    ”(a) 100% of children who are taught Christianity have full knowledge.
    (b) 50% of children who have full knowledge do not go to Hell.
    (c) 10% of children who are not taught Christianity do not have full knowledge.
    (d) 100% of children who do not have full knowledge does not go to Hell.”


    Let me grand your probability estimates (even though I particularly object to (c) which strikes me as too low).

    ”10% of children who are not taught Christianity do not go to hell, compared with 50% of children who are taught Christianity.”

    According to your estimates, out of 100 children who are not taught Christianity the 10 will not have full knowledge and will therefore not go to hell (as per d). But of the other 90 who do have full knowledge the 45 (as per b) will also not go to hell, so in total 55% of the untaught children will not go to hell, which is better than than the 50% who are taught Christianity by their parents. So, the parent who accepts your estimates will reason that by not teaching her child Christianity she increases the probability of her child not going to hell from 50% to 55%.

    Anyway perhaps I see what you are trying to do. You want to argue that those who are not taught Christianity from their parents will more probably commit grave sins, and thus among the 90 who despite their parents not teaching them Christianity will have full knowledge, many more than 45 will go to hell. But I don't see how this can work. If these 90 arrived to full knowledge it means that they believe in God as well in the catechism's dogma, so they are learned Christians. Which means that they have chosen to become Christians despite not having been taught Christianity by their parents, so if anything one would expect them to be less likely to commit grave sins.

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  153. @ Gyan

    ”The talk about "probability of going to hell" is false. It is false because it neglects the notions of predestination and election. A parent or anybody else can not increase or decrease anyone's probability of going to hell.”

    So to teach the gospel is an exercise with no real point?

    I wonder, according to the notions of predestination and election does it at least make some sense to try to follow Christ's commands?

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  154. @ Mr. Green:

    there's a limit to what Socrates can accomplish if someone insists on sticking to an emotional reaction.

    That depends. If we assume emotional reactions are contingent rather than essential, and thus at a lower level of importance compared to rationality and will, then sure, any reliance one might have on one's own emotional response can be considered a basic error.

    However, it seems clear, from considering pathological psychological cases, that emotional reactions are so central to humans' integrity that their absence cannot be seen as an improved state. Nor, necessarily, their submission to pure rationality. Rather, a healthy human mind seems to be one in which emotions play a central role, "sharing command", so to speak, with their rational counterpart, the whole bigger than the sum of its parts.

    Therefore, rather than dismissing emotional reactions as obstacles to a proper understanding, I think it's appropriate to recognized there's something of value in there that gets lost when such dismissal happens, including when we ourselves force them out of our own considerations.

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  155. @ Dianelos

    You're right. My initial model does not show your argument invalid. But the argument is still invalid, and the following modified model being a counterexample to the inference from (8) and (9) to (10):

    (a) 100% of children who are taught Christianity have full knowledge.
    (b1) 50% of children who have full knowledge and were taught Christianity do not go to Hell.
    (b2) x% (x% < 4/9) of children who have full knowledge and were not taught Christianity do not go to Hell.
    (c) 10% of children who are not taught Christianity do not have full knowledge.
    (d) 100% of children who do not have full knowledge does not go to Hell.

    If these are true, then 50% of children taught Christianity do not go to Hell.

    Of those not taught Christianity, 10% lack full knowledge of any gravely material sin, and thus do not go to Hell, and of the remaining 90%, fewer than 4/9 do not go to Hell, so that less than 50% of children who are not taught Christianity do not go to Hell.

    You misunderstand the point of the example. I'm not claiming that these statistics are true. I'm showing why the inference from (8) and (9) to (10) is invalid.

    ...

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  156. ...

    You are also confused about my use of the term "full knowledge". Here is how my definition was introduced:

    (By "have full knowledge," I mean "have full knowledge of the moral law," that is, "can be culpable for materially grave sins, whether or not they commit them or, more specifically, whether or not the child dies with unrepentant mortal sin".)

    Usually, one only speaks of "full knowledge" where mortal sin is concerned, since full knowledge is a criterion for mortal sin. As the second gloss of my special use of the term makes clear, though, I am using the term to refer to people who both have and have not mortally sinned. The point of the phrase "full knowledge of the moral law" was only to extend the notion of "full knowledge" to those who don't sin mortally; those who have full knowledge (as I'm using it) are those who would have full knowledge (as the Catechism uses it) if they were to commit a materially grave sinful act. Unfortunately, it seems that the use has confused you.

    In any case, my use of the phrase "full knowledge of the moral law" was not an attempt to provide a reading for the term "full knowledge" in the Catechism. And the invalidity of your argument is, of course, independent of any definition of mortal sin.

    That said, it is incorrect to suppose that knowledge of a sin's wrongfulness is necessary for full knowledge. Willing is an intentional state; "X wills that _____" is an intensional context, which means that you cannot necessarily substitute coreferential terms salva veritate. (That is, you can will to punch your assailant without willing to punch a man who is 6'2", even if your assailant is 6'2".) A sin might be an offense against God even if it is not an intentional offense against God.

    More positively, what the full knowledge condition is about is <a href="http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2088.htm#article2>the object of your action</a>. You need to have full knowledge of what you are doing (at least as far as your action is gravely materially wrong) for your action to be a mortal sin. If you shoot a man in a deer costume while hunting, and had no reason to think that there was a man in a deer costume about, then you have not murdered. The qualification is not about whether or not someone in the mafia, say, agrees that murder is contrary to God's law.

    Modern Catholics are tempted by the latter reading, because it makes fewer sins mortal, and allows one to back out of critiquing a person's actions or calling that person to repentance, which activities are uncomfortable. However, the latter reading isn't consistent with the view expressed in the <i>Catechism</i> and common sense that ignorance concerning an action's wrongfulness in fact <i>aggravate</i> one's culpability.

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  157. @ Dianelos

    My reply to this got eaten by a blogger failure and I forgot to repost.

    Suppose you encounter a parent who says she is prepared to do her best to help her child avoid go to hell (i.e. basically claims the second premise). Would you really tell her that she is being unreasonable because what she intends to do contradicts Thomistic moral science and Kantianism?

    As I've already pointed out a couple times, it is a common feature of consequentialist principles that they seem plausible in the abstract. I can understand why a non-philosopher would readily accept (2) or (2').

    To the extent that a parent would be willing to do anything to prevent one of her children from going to Hell: absolutely, she is being unreasonable. There are various kinds of actions that should never be done, regardless of what is to be gained.

    Of course, parents who affirm that they'd do anything to prevent one of their children from going to Hell generally don't mean that; there are some actions that they wouldn't do, and would admit as much if you asked them then and there.

    However, on top of that, you're deliberately lowering the bar. To be "prepared to do her best to help her child avoid go[ing] to hell" is not "basically" your second premise (and if it were, would it be the first version, or the second?). Her claim is ambiguous between lots of different principles. It's an unobjectionable remark, from the perspective of Thomism, if the actions that constitute "one's best" are always also consistent with the moral law, don't violate any commandments, etc. To understand such remarks as confirming one and only one moral principle is the essence of confirmation bias.

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  158. @Mr Green, as I pointed out to Brandon, if you would prefer me to avoid the admittedly puzzling concept of infinity, we can. Never ending suffering entails that within a googalplex to the power of a googalplex supereons, whilst we'd still be infinitely far away from that puzzling infinite amount of time, God would have permitted each one of the damned to have suffered many orders of magnitude more than all the suffering of all the conscious beings this universe will ever see. I agree with you on cuing the laugh track. The idea of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God permitting such evil is ridiculous.

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  159. God would have permitted each one of the damned to have suffered many orders of magnitude more than all the suffering of all the conscious beings this universe will ever see.

    Nobody normally takes suffering to be additive in this way; for one thing, nobody thinks suffering can be compared solely by looking at duration alone. This was less of an issue with the infinite, because the infinite swamps any finite whatsoever, but it becomes an issue when we are comparing finites because the method of measurement and comparison matters. (As I already pointed out, drop the infinite and you have an entirely different argument, not a slight modification, as you seem to think.) How are you doing such a comparison using only assumptions any clear-minded person can accept?

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  160. @ JoeD

    ”I think that one of the things that makes people think the doctrine of Hell is unjust or cruel is the idea that there will be some sort of ''suffering'' in Hell.”

    Never ending suffering, yes. You seem to argue that if there is no suffering, say, if hell is an eternal condition like living in the present word albeit without growing old or dying – then the problem goes away.

    Well, speaking for myself, the theological problem I have with hellism is that it diminishes God. I can't conceive of a diminished God and therefore I am a universalist. Hellism diminishes God in many ways. One way is by having sentient beings suffering in hell for ever. Now suppose we modify hellism to avoid that suffering. Even on this weaker form God is diminished. Why? Because the idea that God is the greatest conceivable being entails that creation will not stay for ever in the current imperfect state, but will in the end achieve the greatest conceivable end. Indeed the current imperfect (or fallen) state is justified by the fact that only it leads to the greatest conceivable end.

    I see you also recognize that an “eternal bad state of affairs” is a problem by itself. The only possible solution here is to consider that some appropriate notion of hell does not in fact present an eternal bad state of affairs, and on the contrary the best conceivable end is realized. Here one must either assume that one's cognitive faculties are not sufficient for understanding why the notion of hell is in fact the best conceivable end, or else trust that God has given us the power to understand this matter. Since we are discussing this issue I assume we are walking the latter path of theological speculation.

    So, for example, one idea might be that God loves creatures so much that God will respect their free wish to live in the world (or personal reality) they choose for themselves which is certainly not going to be one of suffering. So probably there are descriptions of hell that would not immediately diminish God. I think they will fail fail for the following reasons:

    First, universalism strikes me as so coherent and beautiful that I don't see how any other eschatology might comport better with a creator who is the greatest conceivable being. But suppose this is a matter of uncertain subjective judgment about esthetics, or perhaps a failure of imagination.

    Secondly, since we are made with God as our end and since we are not totally stupid, it seems any view of hell would entail that God must diminish those creatures not in heaven to make certain they stay out of it. But to diminish one's creatures diminishes the creator.

    I have two more reasons for believing that any kind of eternal separation from God is unlikely to be true. I'd like to warn you that these reasons are far from the beaten path.

    [continues below]

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  161. [continues from above]

    My third reason concerns a matter that has troubled me some, namely the concept of infinity: I find that in theology the word “infinite” is used carelessly. So for example, the greatest being I can conceive is not one who has infinite knowledge (or who knows everything that can be known), but rather a being that knows what it wants to know and as any rational being will not want to know what is not good to know (for example the infinite expansion of pi). Similarly I hold that the question of what the all-powerful God can or cannot do is meaningless; God does what God wills. In general I think it is best to think of God as limitless and not as infinite. Now in contrast we creatures are by definition limited in all particulars. Except, according to the traditional view, we shall nevertheless have limitless life, a never-ending personal experience. This to me makes no sense. I don't see how limitless life span can be a good thing for a by nature intrinsically limited being. The Christian dogma of theosis when taken literally allows for a very beautiful solution: Theosis can be understood as an event where a perfected creature desires God to the point of asking to merge with God. From the outside such an event would look like the limited creature dissolving within the limitless creator, and indeed that creature's individual life would cease to be. But from the inside one would experience one's life becoming God's life and one's subjective identity open up into God. The personal experience of theosis would then be the exact opposite of death, for in death one becomes nothing whereas in theosis one becomes all. So the problem of a limited creature having limitless life admits a natural solution in heaven. How does his affect our ruminations about hell? Well, if *all* limited creatures are going to have limitless life experience then the above idea solves the general problem if universalism is true. One can still visualize an alternative solution consistent with weak hellism, namely that all creatures outside heaven would at some point get so bored that they would wish for and be granted personal annihilation (which, again, requires that God has diminished them).

    There is finally a fourth reason, also speculative, but for me the strongest. It would take a lot of space to make a proper description but in short: I think that the problem from evil is not so much a “problem” for theology, but rather a gift, a window through which the theologian sees the character of God. So one version of the problem of evil concerns what one may call the injustice of fortune. A solution that works beautifully here and that is entirely coherent is to consider that we all – all of humanity – is in a fundamental metaphysical sense a single individual; or perhaps a single soul expressed through a great number of individuals. If this is true then in the eschaton no separation of humanity is possible. But then if one person goes to heaven we all will, and thus universalism is true. I am not properly describing the idea but like to point out that if such fundamental unity exists then some of the most “unnatural” ethical commands of Christ become trivially and obviously true. Also the idea strongly resonates with the final worlds of Christ to the disciples as written in John.

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  162. @ Greg,

    ”The suggestion that it is (6) that Christian parents would reject is bizarre. The reason for including full knowledge in the definition of mortal sin is that, unless that condition is met, a sin does not amount to a contradiction of God's law, and thus is not incompatible with the love of God, and thus does not lead to death, and thus is not a mortal sin.”

    I completely agree. My position is that since hellism is false, and since (perhaps a worked over version of) the anti-hell argument works, a Christian parent of an intellectual bend would need to find a premise to deny. And it is quite common to make bizarre choices when one tries to defend a false belief. (I laugh thinking how comical it can get when one tries to make naturalistic metaphysics work.)

    ”It would be much wiser for Christian parents to give up (2'), which lacks motivation from within the Christian tradition.”

    Well, for me (2') is pre-theoretical. Indeed (2') does not refer to any theological matter, but just to the actual condition of being a parent – a condition that on theism is God-given. So I suppose we disagree on our sense of what the “wiser” (in the sense of “more successful”) reaction would be. Perhaps this too can be put to test.

    To my I don't enjoy trying to create defeaters for an official church dogma. you respond:

    ”Oddly enough, you've devoted considerable effort to arguing that "Christian parents [do not] take seriously the dogma about hell and mortal sin as described in the catechism of the CC" and "the dogma of hell as described in the catechism is false".”

    Why is this odd? I do believe that the dogma of hell is wrong and damaging to the soul and to the gospel. And I do believe that most Christian parents do not take hell seriously, otherwise they would be driven mad and choose to do some bizarre things indeed. Incidentally there is a difference between “believing” and “taking a belief seriously”. The latter is what faith (in the sense used in the gospels) is about. Many Christian parents believe in hellism (in the sense that if asked they would honestly respond in the affirmative), but I don't think they have faith in it. As, incidentally, most Christians don't have faith in God either. Don't get me wrong – to have faith in God entails to live like a saint.

    When I say I don't enjoy thinking about hell I really mean it. I'd much rather Christian dogma did not suffer from what I see as such a deep flaw. Christ is the standard, but I hugely value Christian tradition and churches, and I am particularly impressed with the Catholic Church's intellectual prowess (as I am by my own church's mystical bent). But I particularly dislike thinking about the official dogma of hell because it feels like taking my eyes off the light of Christ and pushing myself to look into darkness. I know that the spirits of deception are real, and I find that if one takes one's eyes from Christ they become more bothersome.

    In any case I think I understand the dangers of stepping off the beaten path of theology. But I figure if the church managed to overcome so many false theological ideas in the past it will survive them in the future. I do believe Christ guides the church – I just don't believe the official dogma is right in all particulars. To put it plainly I wonder sometimes if the leaders of the church let Christ guide them, or perhaps fear and resist the call of Christ clutching at idols. Now I understand the weight of responsibility they must feel, so perhaps those doing theology outside the official churches play a positive role. As for me personally I am not at all worried, since I know that what counts is to follow Christ and nothing else. If I am wrong in my theological speculations then at least I know that God knows that they follow from my wish to see God more clearly.

    As for Christian dogma, the rock bottom is simple and clear enough: Christ is the way and the truth and the light. Follow Christ and you'll be alright.

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  163. @ bmiller,

    ”I wonder why you would think this. Do you think that most people think the same way that you do? Or would if only they knew what you knew?”

    I believe this because I find that in my case the same cognitive faculty that pulls me towards Christ pushes me away from the dogma of hell. Since I believe that that faculty – the sense of the divine or the “sensus divinitatis” as Calvin put it – is a fundamental part of what we mean when we say that “we are made in God's image”, I take it the same holds for everybody else. On the other hand I fully recognize that this is a quiet sense and that perhaps many people do not listen to it.

    Now I realize I may be mistaken in all of this. Perhaps what I see so clearly is in fact wrong. But the seeing is so clear, in fact feels so close to the effect I had when I first read the gospels, that I am very confident I am not mistaken. And in any case what choice do I have? I can't believe in it, and only considering that it may be true makes it more difficult for me to try to follow Christ, indeed makes it next to impossible when it is hard enough already. I'd rather invest in following Christ than in worrying about a belief that I find necessary for doing so. To paraphrase Pascal´s wager: Even on hellism what is the better bet: To assume universalism, do my best to follow Christ, and later find out that hellism is true. Or to my best to understand why hellism is true which entails doing less trying to follow Christ.

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  164. @Brandon if punishment wasn't "additive" then why do judges sentence people guilty of serious crimes to longer sentences than people guilty of minor crimes? Would it make no difference to you whether you were sentence to one year or twenty five years!?

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  165. @ bmiller and everybody

    I think it is evident that Christianity has a serious problem with the dogma of hell. It's not only that in the NT one finds many passages which on a plain reading point to universalism. It's not only that from the beginning of the tradition great theologians (Origin, Gregory of Nissa) felt moved to expound universalism. It's not only that great theologians continue to do so: John Hick's soul-making theodicy is by far the best answer to the problem of evil but entails universalism – which is probably the main reason why that theodicy has not yet found favor in the church.

    But consider only the evidence in this thread. There are people here who in strong terms describe how the dogma of hell either pushes them away from Christianity or at least from Thomism and thus probably from Catholicism. Others try to find a way to fix things suggesting alternatives such as annihilationism, or some weak hellism where people are kind of not unhappy away from God, or smooth annihilationism where people in hell are not annihilated but become lesser and lesser “alive” and thus suffer less and less in a way that conserves the idea of never-ending suffering but escapes the idea of infinite suffering. (One might use math and point out that the sum of an infinite series of numbers can be bounded – for example if every successive year in hell one should suffer half the pain of the year before, then in all infinity of time one would never have suffer twice the amount of pain contained in the first year).

    So the dogma of hell presents a serious problem and an unusual one. I'd like to suggest a meta-argument from history: Consider how difficult it was in the first centuries of our tradition to get right the dogma of the Trinity (and thus of the nature of Christ). But it was done, and no matter how difficult it is to wrap one's head around it virtually nobody considers the dogma of Trinity to be a problem, indeed many find it illuminating. There are other big problems in Christian theology, for example the problem of evil, but here I suggest many satisfying if partial answers are being found and we have the sense of steady advancement towards the truth. Now compare to this healthy tradition of dealing with the theological problems, the history of the problem of hell: it's a real mess. I think this is one more reason to suspect that the problem is not being solved simply because it does not admit of a solution – it is false to start with; it simply doesn't fit to ask why God would create hell.

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  166. @ Alexander Gieg,

    ”Hence that, in rejecting one item, I ended up rejecting all the items, and together with them, the one (supra-)being who, reportedly at least, indulged, indulges, and plans on indulging once again, in the willful practice of all of them.”

    I see. I find it interesting to consider the following question: First consider that you and I are certain that the dogma of hell is false, indeed we find it abhorrent. Why then did we react so differently? Why did I find it completely natural and easy to remain in my church (indeed the thought of leaving never even passed my mind), while you felt you couldn't possibly remain in yours?

    I have the impression that you consider that the dogma is a fundamental part of the church, and moreover that the dogma is like a mathematical theorem; if a part is wrong the whole is also wrong (even though this or that part may be wise).

    Now the “church”, strictly speaking, refers to Christ's continuous work in humanity. Some speak of Christ's “mystical body”; a body you can't point at but is there to be experienced in the *community* of Christians. I find that view very plausible. For me the value of the church is that in its community I get spiritually empowered. We are made by God in such a way that the natural manner to follow Christ is doing it together. That's the essence of the church – not the organization, or the dogma, or the buildings, or the ceremonies – but the community of the believers.

    As for the dogma itself, I think the main thing to realize is that it is not *about* God. The divine in itself cannot be spoken of. The dogma is really about our own relationship with God. And our relationship with God is nothing like a mathematical theorem, but is rather like a natural garden: Orderly and chaotic at the same time, very beautiful in its whole, and first and foremost not a frozen thing but alive and growing. I suppose “exuberant” is the word that might best describe the nature of Christian dogma. [1]

    From the intellectual point of view the church's dogma serves as a big road-sign pointing towards God. That it does point towards God is evident by the testimony and fruits of so many Christians who followed it. As for the dogma of hell, it's like a rather ugly big scratch on that road-sign. I say, so what? In the gospels somebody put a question to Christ starting with “Good teacher”. And Christ – Christ mind you – started His answer with “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Contrast this with our current custom to characterize everything but the furniture in our churches “holy”. I say this custom reveals a lack of faith indeed the tendency to make idols. So, indeed, nothing is holy but God, and nothing is certain but God. As for Christianity the bedrock is “Christ is the way, the truth, and the light” - everything else that Christianity says or does is good to the degree it is grounded on that bedrock.

    [1] Still I wonder, and wish I had the time to study more, why people in the early church did not build on those bits in scripture and in early theology that pointed towards universalism and preferred those that pointed towards hellism. Perhaps they really thought that the latter is more according to what was already given. Or perhaps they thought that as far as our relationship with God goes it's better to fear more than to fear less, especially if it helps keep people close to the church. Or perhaps they thought that being mistaken about hell is the lesser evil. What I am saying is that perhaps they were not really considering God but considering the task of the church. Whatever. If hellism is false than in some way or other a plant bearing bad fruit, a poisonous mushroom if you like, took root in the garden of church dogma.

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  167. @ Dianelos

    since (perhaps a worked over version of) the anti-hell argument works, a Christian parent of an intellectual bend would need to find a premise to deny.

    You haven't shown this, nor is it plausible in light of what you've said so far. The argument you've presented is invalid, but it is a commonplace that every argument can be made valid by the addition of premises. There's no reason to suspect that the modified argument, merely because it is valid, is probative, especially since a Christian can already comfortably reject a premise of the present version. The argument puts no pressure on orthodox Christian belief regarding hell.

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  168. @ Dianelos

    Well, for me (2') is pre-theoretical. Indeed (2') does not refer to any theological matter, but just to the actual condition of being a parent – a condition that on theism is God-given. So I suppose we disagree on our sense of what the “wiser” (in the sense of “more successful”) reaction would be.

    It doesn't matter really how you regard (2'). You are making an argument against orthodox Christian belief in hell. If your argument contains premises that believers in the orthodox doctrine of hell have little reason to believe, then it is not a good argument against their position.

    It is odd for you to regard (2') as "pre-theoretical", the mere "condition of being a parent", since you originally were not inclined to employ (2') but rather (2). You only affirmed (2') after I showed that (2) is especially implausible, and if I hadn't done that, you would have claimed the same credentials for (2).

    So you'll understand, I hope, if I remain unmoved by the probity you claim for (2').

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  169. @ Dianelos

    Why is this odd? I do believe that the dogma of hell is wrong and damaging to the soul and to the gospel. And I do believe that most Christian parents do not take hell seriously, otherwise they would be driven mad and choose to do some bizarre things indeed.

    It's odd for the reasons I said that it is odd. You made your argument and you insist that what Christians would give up in response to it is belief in hell, or mortal sin, or at least some orthodox Christian belief, rather than (2) or (2'), which have recognizably been your argument's weak points, as far as orthodox Christianity is concerned.

    And, of course, you continue to suggest that "most Christians" do not take hell seriously, even though it has been shown that they can reject arguments like yours without having to take hell unseriously. On the one hand, because your argument invokes a premise that Christians will not feel at all compelled to believe, and on the other, because your argument is not even valid. What is odd is that even after it has been shown that there is no straightforward connection between the doctrine of hell and the permissibility of "bizarre" actions, you insist on suggesting that the orthodox doctrine of hell is not believed sincerely. Forgive me, but that behavior does seem to indicate that it is the doctrine you enjoy targeting.

    Many Christian parents believe in hellism (in the sense that if asked they would honestly respond in the affirmative), but I don't think they have faith in it.

    When I say I don't enjoy thinking about hell I really mean it.

    All I am asking is that, so long as you are unable to provide a valid argument with premises to which Christians are plausibly committed, you extend them the same presumption of sincerity that you'd like for yourself.

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  170. if punishment wasn't "additive" then why do judges sentence people guilty of serious crimes to longer sentences than people guilty of minor crimes? Would it make no difference to you whether you were sentence to one year or twenty five years!?

    (1) They don't always sentence people guilty of serious crimes to longer sentences; the only difference between life without parole and death is that the latter is intended to be shorter. This is because duration is not the sole consideration in punishment -- or, indeed, even the most important. If paying a large fine were to take more of a person's time than a stay in jail, it's still not obvious that the fine would be the worse punishment.

    Further, nobody takes court sentences to be additive across different people; we don't add the sentence of one person with twenty years and the sentence of another person with twenty years and say

    (2) The question at hand is not whether assigned numbers of years for punishment can be additive but whether suffering itself can be additive. These are distinct questions, and it is the latter your argument requires. Utilitarians take suffering to be additive, usually, but it's not so clear how one determines this without simply assuming utilitarianism.

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  171. Sorry, a part accidentally got erased. That should say: "we don't add the sentence of one person with twenty years and the sentence of another person with twenty years and say the punishment is twice as severe."

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  172. William L. LaBre, J.D., M.A., P.C.December 12, 2016 at 9:29 AM

    The discussion of intellect and will objectifies what are mere powers of the soul. Humans have many powers, whether those be corporeal or incorporeal. But we are not a mere conglomerate of powers; we are, first and foremost, and always, persons.

    Persons, not "intellect" or "will", commit sins. The human person is the individuation of his/her collection of corporeal and spiritual powers. God Himself, three Persons in one God, not an infinite Power, is our judge.

    A Scriptural example may serve as a better example. When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to the Lord, he freed her, but admonished her to sin no more. Had the woman died of a heart attack when being brought before Him, would the good God have done differently than the Lord while she was alive?

    Because we're dealing with a discussion of hell, however, let me continue with a discussion of those who are steeped in evil.

    Though many of the readers may not have gone to prisons or visited death row, most have at least read about it, or seen movies about it.

    A close friend and law school classmate of mine, Dale Recinella, spent over 15 years as the (unpaid) lay Catholic chaplain on Florida's death row. He has told me about those who seem steeped in evil, but, by God's grace (and through Dale's kindness and non-proselytizing evangelization), repented and were baptized prior to execution. Others hated, and hating, were executed. Dale has written three books, all available on Amazon. I'd recommend them.

    If you've ever met someone totally caught upon in narcissism, or hate, you'll come to the conclusion that the person is isolated, regardless of the number of persons with whom he/she associates. Recognizing the personal isolation is recognizing hell on earth.

    As lawyers frequently observe, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. But the possibility of repentance and the ever-present reality of God's mercy, is equally always available. God never condemns; but God respects the freedom which He gave us. The real definition of Hell is the person's irrevocable choice to reject Him and reject all others. Purgatory is the person's choice to avail one's self of God's mercy. Heaven is the ratification of the person's choice to choose goodness.

    Who will, then, experience the isolation of hell, or the purging of selfishness so as to see God face to face, or be immediately welcomed home by Him? We'll never know until we, ourselves, face Him, the just judge. But we can, and must, hope.

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  173. @Mr. Green
    But in a way it would amount to a contradiction on God’s part: to create an everlasting being, such as man, with an immortal soul, and then to annihilate it wouldn’t make sense — it would be a bit like creating water that wasn’t wet, or something. Even those in Hell are good qua beings; it is their wills that are bad, and so the appropriate punishment is one directed at their bad actions, not their being per se.

    If the reason to keep the damned in existence is to administer retributive punishment (after being stripped away of anything soft, kind, merciful or wanting mercy, or anything that could generate the slightest sympathy) then that punishment should be aimed at their finite evil actions and imperfect wills, not extended forever to implicate their "good qua being" immortal soul.

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  174. You know, so many here (especially those in the "God is a moral monster if Hell is real" crowd) are assuming that it is even possible for God to annihilate a soul he has created.

    Maybe it is possible for God to annihilate a soul he has created, but how would that work? We exist because God knows that we are; this is as true of our "immortal souls" as of our present biological lives. How can God not-know what he knows? Is that even logically possible? For, that is what is required for God to annihilate a soul he has created: that he cease to know that that soul is.

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  175. @ Ilion

    We exist because God knows that we are; this is as true of our "immortal souls" as of our present biological lives. How can God not-know what he knows? Is that even logically possible? For, that is what is required for God to annihilate a soul he has created: that he cease to know that that soul is.

    This argument seems to prove too much: that no contingent thing could cease to exist. God's knowledge of the clock on my wall is his causing that clock to exist. How can God not-know what he knows?

    My sense is that this argument equivocates on 'know'. God knows that the clock exists, but later the clock will not exist. But God is eternal, and his causing of the universe is from his eternal now. In general, his knowing the clock at one time is distinct from his knowing the clock at another time; that is what happens when the clock changes over time. But that doesn't mean that his knowledge--that is, he--changes over time, for we have to distinguish between what we might call the formal and material objects of his knowledge and action:

    [W]e say that God sees Himself in Himself, because He sees Himself through His essence; and He sees other things not in themselves, but in Himself; inasmuch as His essence contains the similitude of things other than Himself. (ST I, 14, 5)

    He is the only formal object of his knowledge and action, whereas his knowledge and action have many material objects, on the one hand because he creates a multitude of things, and on the other hand because he creates, from his eternal now, a universe in which there are temporal distinctions that are not in eternity. Only the formal object of his knowledge and action specifies and individuates his knowledge and action; that is why his knowledge and power remain simple, and that is what provides us with transworld identity conditions for God: God's act of knowing can be the same in possible worlds in which he "knows different things" if those acts of knowing differ only with respect to their material objects.

    So in short: God knows himself eternally, and he knows each thing he creates from eternity. But to know something that will later pass away, his knowledge does not have to change.

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  176. Greg: "This argument seems to prove too much: that no contingent thing could cease to exist."

    You didn't really read what I wrote (even though it was written in clear and simple English), did you?

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  177. @ Ilion

    Of course I read what you wrote. If you think it's possible for God to annihilate the clock on my wall but not beings with immortal souls, then your argument for that view is going to have to call attention to some relevant distinction between clocks and beings with immortal souls.

    As far as I can tell, it does not do so. Rather, the proposed logical barrier to the annihilation of the soul is that "[w]e exist because God knows that we are" so that "for God to annihilate a soul he has created [would be for him to] cease to know that that soul is". Since the relationship between our existence and God's knowledge of us seems not to be relevantly different from the relationship between a clock's existence and God's knowledge of a clock (there's no distinction made where Aquinas provides his account of contingent things), the argument (as I said) seems to prove to much.

    The qualification "seems" is, of course, an invitation to clarification and an admission of possible misunderstanding. So if you're now convinced that I did, indeed, read your post, I'd appreciate if you'd please clarify where I've gone wrong in reading you.

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  178. where Aquinas provides his account of contingent things

    Oops: where Aquinas provides his account of God's knowledge of contingent things

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  179. @ Ilion,

    I don't think it is even possible for God to annihilate a soul he has created, precisely because he has created an "immortal soul". I get that he holds us in existence by knowing that we are, but also because he knows what we are.

    God is immortal. Could God annihilate Himself?

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  180. bmiller: "I don't think it is even possible for God to annihilate a soul he has created ..."

    I suspect that may be correct, despite that I hope that Hell *is* annihilation of the damned. But I don't know whether it is logically possible for God to "forget" that someone *is*, and I (personally) have seen no argument even attempting to establish that it is logically possible for God to do so.

    And, here is this huge thread on the matter ... and, so far, just about everyone is simply *assuming* that God can annihilate his creatures.

    "Could God annihilate Himself?"

    Among other things, an important purpose of the Incarnation was to put that question to the test.

    The Incarnation, and Creation as a whole, isn't primarily about *us*, it is about God.

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  181. “They don't always sentence people guilty of serious crimes to longer sentences …”_ @Brandon

    The point is that they usually do, and the reason is that a longer sentence is harsher than a shorter one.

    “... duration is not the sole consideration in punishment …”

    Agreed. The intensity of the pain also helps determine the degree of suffering involved.

    “If paying a large fine were to take more of a person's time than a stay in jail, it's still not obvious that the fine would be the worse punishment.

    Other things being equal, such as the intensity of the pain or the mental anguish involved, the duration of that suffering will determine its severity.

    The question at hand is not whether assigned numbers of years for punishment can be additive but whether suffering itself can be additive.

    Assuming that other things are equal, two people experiencing equivalent pain for one day and one person experiencing equivalent pain for two days results in the first two people each experiencing half the amount of pain as the latter person.

    ”... it's not so clear how one determines this without simply assuming utilitarianism.

    Other ethical theories also accept that, other things being equal, happiness is better than misery and pleasure is better than pain. Our lives go better for us when we feel happy than when we feel miserable and, in normal circumstances, they go better for us when we feel pleasure than when we feel pain. In following the Golden Rule ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ we understand that, since we don’t like pain inflicted on us, we should not inflict pain on others without good reason.

    It is nonsensical to believe that a good God would inflict on each and every one of the damned many orders of magnitude greater suffering than all the suffering this universe will ever see.

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  182. The point is that they usually do, and the reason is that a longer sentence is harsher than a shorter one.

    No, this is simply not true. Harshness is primarily a matter of the penalty itself, not of its duration. Duration tells us nothing unless we are dealing with commensurable punishments, and even then it does not tell us about harshness, but only about quantity. You cannot conclude that being caned is a lighter punishment than a night in jail from the fact that the latter is longer.

    Other things being equal, such as the intensity of the pain or the mental anguish involved, the duration of that suffering will determine its severity.

    All the other things being equal, severity is not even on the table any more; we're simply talking about how long you have to deal with it, not how severely you are suffering.

    Other ethical theories also accept that, other things being equal, happiness is better than misery and pleasure is better than pain.

    You seem not to grasp that in a comparison involving principles with 'other things being equal' clauses, your argument actually has to establish that other things are at least more or less equal. You can't apply ceteris paribus principles while ignoring the ceteris paribus. None of your arguments so far have done anything to establish the possibility of comparison using only ceteris paribus principles.

    It is nonsensical to believe that a good God would inflict on each and every one of the damned many orders of magnitude greater suffering than all the suffering this universe will ever see.

    You keep saying this, and yet remarkably when you try to establish that this is in fact the result of the position you are criticizing, your argument keeps changing -- first from infinite to finite, despite the fact that this changes how the comparison has to be done, and then from unqualified principles to ceteris paribus principles, despite the fact that this changes how the comparison has to be done.

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    1. No, this is simply not true. @Brandon

      Longer sentences are harsher sentences. If you were sentenced to one month in prison you would not suffer as much as if you were sentenced to 25 years in prison.

      “Harshness is primarily a matter of the penalty itself, not of its duration …”

      I’m not arguing that other factors aren’t important. I’m arguing that duration is important too.

      ”Duration tells us nothing unless we are dealing with commensurable punishments”

      The degree of pain suffered is important, but so is the duration. People prefer a short sharp pain of a few seconds to lower level pain over an extended period of time.

      ”You cannot conclude that being caned is a lighter punishment than a night in jail from the fact that the latter is longer.”

      If a person knew the degree of caning and the conditions of confinement they might easily decide which experience would be more likely to involve the greater suffering. It depends on the amount of information they have. Sometimes the choice would be difficult. Other times it would be easy.

      ”All the other things being equal, severity is not even on the table any more; we're simply talking about how long you have to deal with it, not how severely you are suffering.”

      Severity is important in determining the degree of suffering, but so is duration.

      ”You seem not to grasp that in a comparison involving principles with 'other things being equal' clauses, your argument actually has to establish that other things are at least more or less equal.”

      The qualification established that duration is relevant to degree of suffering because, other things being equal, duration is the fundamental determinant of the degree of suffering involved. But, given that people prefer sharp pain for a short period of time to dull pain for an extended period of time, duration can override intensity.

      ”You keep saying this, and yet remarkably when you try to establish that this is in fact the result of the position you are criticizing, your argument keeps changing -- first from infinite to finite, despite the fact that this changes how the comparison has to be done...”

      In removing references to infinity I pulled the rug from underneath your dodge that, since there will never be a point at which God has punished someone for an infinite period of time, God can’t be accused of inflicting infinite punishment. I replaced an “infinite period of time” with the infinitely shorter period of a googalplex to the power of a googalplex supereons. Someone who continually experienced the “pain of loss” and the “pain of sense” for that period of time would have suffered many orders of magnitude more than all the suffering of all the conscious beings this universe will ever see. A loving God would not do that to people. Only an evil God would do that.

      ”... and then from unqualified principles to ceteris paribus principles, despite the fact that this changes how the comparison has to be done.”

      I used the qualifier “other things being equal” twice; firstly, to point out that duration is the fundamental determinant of the degree of suffering when other things are equal, and secondly, in explaining that non-utilitarian ethical theories also accept that happiness is better than misery and pleasure is better than pain. The qualifier “other things being equal” is a useful clarification because, in non-utilitarian ethical theories, other ethical principles can be more important than promoting happiness in some situations.

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  183. Mr Green,

    ”how seriously they value their idea of what God should be like versus God’s idea of what He should be like.”

    When people tell you that God can't be like the way you say, because your description of God strikes them as morally abhorrent, to answer that they say this only because they don't value the truth about God, really makes no sense. Surely you see that. I mean if that answer made sense then anything goes: Suppose (to use an argument that some atheists find clever) I were to claim that God is a flying spaghetti monster. To which you would reasonably answer that God can't be like that because it is obvious to you that the greatest conceivable being is not a flying spaghetti monster. And I would counter that you, Mr Green, do not value the truth about God but only value your idea of what God should be like. - See? It makes no sense. If people say that God is not like you say because it is obvious to them that the greatest conceivable being would not permit creatures to suffer for ever – then you must give some more substantial answer than questioning their desire for the truth.

    ” If people can mean it, then that explains how there really could be people in Hell as a result of their own free will.”

    Do you really want to say that those who find your description of God to be morally abhorrent thereby choose to suffer for ever in hell? If so I must say this is a very ugly response. To respond to a neighbor “if hellism strikes you as an evil idea then you've chosen to burn in hell” does no justice to our faith.

    [continues below]

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  184. [continues from above]

    ”Yet many people rejected the Gospel because of Christ’s own words (and not only His words about hellfire and eternal damnation). Are Christ’s words poisonous fruit? “

    I see your point. Please observe that “to reject a good message” has two very distinct senses. One is to deny it is a good message, and the second is to not act on it. For example suppose a smoker hears the following good message “If you stop smoking then the chances that you will die young will decrease significantly”. No rational person who hears this message can possibly reject it in the first sense; everybody understands this is indeed a good message. But we know that some smokers are so weak of will that they reject it in the second sense, namely they continue to smoke even knowing they risk early death.

    I submit that similarly no rational person who hears Christ's good message can possibly reject it in the first sense, namely as being a good message - *unless* she thinks that the dogma of hell is part and parcel, or thinks that say the inferiority of women is part and parcel, and so on. Of course if one interprets Christ's words in the wrong way then indeed the whole message may be seen by a rational person as being not good, or even as monstrously evil (as evidenced by some who wrote in this very thread). So, I say: false dogmas are recognized by the bad fruit they produce. Either of making it more difficult for the Christian to follow Christ, or by pushing people away from the gospel. It would be a great pity if one should teach the gospel in a way that causes people to miss its blessing. And I would like to invite all who actively teach the dogma of hell to consider how the charity in their souls is affected by it.

    Coming now to the second sense of rejecting the gospel. It is obvious and indeed very common among Christians that we reject the gospel in the sense of not acting on it because our spirit is weak. We hear the great message of the gospel, the most beautiful message there is – and yet we continue to sin (in the same way many a smoker continues to smoke because she can't give up the short term pleasure of her vice). Christ knows of that weakness and this is why He so often exhorts us to have faith. And does this sometimes with really moving words, as when He calls on us to consider the lilies and the birds.

    Now I understand that a hellist reading the above will object arguing that Christ Himself teaches about hell and therefore to reject the gospel because of hellism is to reject Christ. I believe this understanding of the gospel is in error, and have argued against it as have many universalists. The fact of the matter is that damage is being done and that some people really miss the blessing of the gospel because of the hellistic message. Moreover I have suggested that the fact of the matter can be put to the test: Should one implement a statistical study which measures belief in hellism and charity of the soul (in the catechism's fundamental sense), I predict that the correlation will be negative, namely the more one believes in hell the less charity in one's soul. I wonder: Should such a study be done and should it prove beyond reasonable doubt that belief in hell is detrimental to the salvation of our soul – would you then see that you are in error and change your mind?

    I know this is a difficult question. Indeed I am not sure how I myself would react should that test produce the opposite result than the one I expect. But I am prepared to say that if the study was made professionally and were confirmed independently by others – then at the very least I would seriously doubt my belief that hellism is false. For I can't believe that a false belief can add charity to our soul. So I would be very troubled indeed.

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  185. Dianelos,

    I say: false dogmas are recognized by the bad fruit they produce.

    If so, then what shall we infer from the easily verified fact that you frequently distort what other people say (just like you did above with something said by Mr. Green)?

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  186. John G Thomas: if you would prefer me to avoid the admittedly puzzling concept of infinity, we can.

    Infinity is not the problem. If for the sake of argument we assume that there is some way to make intelligible the quantification of suffering, and that it can be summed in the way you need, your argument still doesn't add up, literally: it's possible to undergo a finite amount of suffering every day for as long as you like and never exceed a cumulative total of, say, 1 unit, however that's measured. (This is something covered in high-school calculus; if you're not familiar with it, look up "convergent series", I'm sure you'll find it interesting.)


    Step2: that punishment should be aimed at their finite evil actions and imperfect wills, not extended forever to implicate their "good qua being" immortal soul.

    Sorry, I don't follow.

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  187. Longer sentences are harsher sentences. If you were sentenced to one month in prison you would not suffer as much as if you were sentenced to 25 years in prison.

    Again, this is simply nonsense. A day in solitary confinement can be harsher than many days in general population; a day in maximum security can be harsher than many days in minimum security; duration is irrelevant to harshness. Increasing the sentence does not increase the harshness of the punishment; it increases the quantity of it.

    Severity is important in determining the degree of suffering, but so is duration.

    No, duration just means, if severity is constant, that you are at that degree of suffering longer. Your claim is as absurd as claiming that having 100-degree days are hotter if they last for a month than if they last for a week, or that a color of red is redder if it is on two walls rather than just one. Severity just is degree of suffering. Duration is an extensive measure; degrees are intensive measures; extensive measures do not simply of themselves affect intensive measures because they are not the same kind of thing in the first place.

    No length of time suffering a mild headache will ever make suffering a minor headache into a greater degree of suffering than an hour of debilitating migraine. If I have that minor headache for a thousand years, I have still not experienced the degree of suffering the migraine-suffering experienced in that hour.

    I replaced an “infinite period of time” with the infinitely shorter period of a googalplex to the power of a googalplex supereons.

    As I already pointed out to you, moving from infinite to a large finite changes the structure of the argument completely. An infinite can swamp any finite whatsoever, but this is not true of large finites, because this is one of the features that distinguishes infinites and finites. Thus by going to the finite number, now you have to prove that it actually swamps it, since it is no longer a natural implication of the number itself. And remember your claim: each damned soul would suffer more in such a time than the entire universe would suffer by many orders of magnitude. And you still have not answered my question: how are you measuring this? What is the logical argument establishing that such-and-such amount of suffering follows for a single soul that time period from the doctrine of hell, and what is the measurement by which you determine how much suffering there is in the entire universe so you can compare the two? Once you go to finites, you can't rely on the difference between infinite and finite (your first argument) anymore. Comparison between two finites is a very different argument, and you need to establish your claims about it.

    Likewise, once you add ceteris paribus clauses, you have changed the argument again. And now with this third argument, you are holding constant things that you have not established are in fact constant in the case you are describing. Ceteris paribus clauses cannot be dropped at convenience; they must be taken into account at every step.

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  188. “If for the sake of argument we assume that there is some way to make intelligible the quantification of suffering, and that it can be summed in the way you need …” @MrGreen

    Summing and quantifying suffering isn’t as difficult as you seem to think. If two similar people receive an equivalent electric shock for one minute and two minutes respectively, then the second person will suffer twice as much as the first person. We can also ask them to rate the intensity of their pain on a scale such as that used in emergency departments. The fact that their report will be imprecise does not make it meaningless. Such information is important to emergency departments in prioritizing treatment order.

    If, instead, we subject the first person to a short five second electric shock that is extremely painful and the second person to a still painful but milder electric shock that lasts all day, the second person will suffer more despite the lower intensity of their pain. It may be difficult to put a precise number on the difference, but that doesn’t stop the difference being real and being obvious.

    ”... your argument still doesn't add up, literally: it's possible to undergo a finite amount of suffering every day for as long as you like and never exceed a cumulative total of, say, 1 unit, however that's measured. (This is something covered in high-school calculus; if you're not familiar with it, look up "convergent series", I'm sure you'll find it interesting.)”

    You'd be amazed at the implausibility of many logical possibilities, so logical possibilities won't make your position plausible. It is logically possible that one sentient being could suffer in one second more pain than all the pain suffered by all other sentient beings throughout the multi-billion year lifespan of this universe. But a quick look around the world we live in suggests that such differentials in the capacity to suffer pain don’t exist in reality.

    “... that punishment should be aimed at their finite evil actions and imperfect wills, not extended forever to implicate their "good qua being" immortal soul.”

    The punishment of Hell, traditionally understood, extends forever. That’s the problem.

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  189. @ Glenn,

    ”If so, then what shall we infer from the easily verified fact that you frequently distort what other people say (just like you did above with something said by Mr. Green)?”

    Since as it happens (and perhaps contrary to how it may seem) I don't try to distort what other people say, the first thing to infer is that I am pigheaded – which I am.

    The second is to recognize how common it is for people to misunderstand each other, and consider how one should speak in a way that even the pigheaded neighbor doesn't misunderstand.

    As it happens I once taught in a university at the school of computer science. My students were the smartest in the whole university since in my time to enter that school one had to have the highest qualifications (higher even than those who got to the school of medicine). So in that job I used the following trick which I think helped me be a good teacher: Even while knowing that my students were smart I built my teaching around the assumption that they were stupid. The reason this style of teaching works well is because if you don't assume the student is stupid then you are apt to explain things in a way that is appropriate only to one who already knows what you are talking about. So I say don't assume your neighbor is at your level but assume you neighbor is an ignoramus and that you must make your point completely foolproof for them to get it.

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  190. @ John G Thomas

    ”The punishment of Hell, traditionally understood, extends forever. That’s the problem.”

    Right. Here is what I think is the heart of the problem: A punishment that extends for ever is a punishment that robs one of all hope, and experiencing the absolute absence of hope is a condition that lies beyond our mind's capacity to conceive. The intensity of the punishment is entirely irrelevant. So should I find myself boiling in oil and knowing that this punishment will last for a billion times a billion years I would still have some hope. Such a condition is within my capacity of conceiving. But being prickled by a needle knowing that this diminutive evil will last for ever – really for ever – is a condition beyond hope, and that condition I find impossible to conceive. That I am made by God in a way that the absence of hope is a state I can't even conceive is one of the big reasons why I hold that the dogma of hell (traditionally understood) is false.

    Now some people above have suggested the idea that hell is not really a never-ending punishment but a never-ending state we actually choose for ourselves, the condition we actually prefer to be in. It's like finding ourselves in a country where Christ invites us to stay with Him in the house He has prepared for us, but we instead choose to stay in, say, Mammon's house. We choose this because we simply don't like Christ and we'd rather not live in the same house He lives. On the contrary we find Mammon much better company and Mammon's house much more to our liking. So God respects our choice and allows us to enter to the house we prefer and live exactly like we wish. In this theory, staying far from Christ is a hellish state of tragic loss and suffering only from the point of view of the saints living with Christ. - Now I think that theory is also false, for all the reasons I described above, but at the very least it's a theory I can conceive. At the very least it makes some sense.

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  191. If, instead, we subject the first person to a short five second electric shock that is extremely painful and the second person to a still painful but milder electric shock that lasts all day, the second person will suffer more despite the lower intensity of their pain.

    Again, this is blatant nonsense, and based on an equivocation about what it means to 'suffer more'. The person receiving the extremely painful shock obviously suffers more (that's what 'extremely painful' means); the person receiving the shock for long just suffers longer. These measurements are not commensurable measurements; they don't even have the same units. This is, again, as ridiculous as saying that a days with high temperature are hotter if there are more of them, or that a car moving slowly for a day is faster than a car moving quickly for an hour. It's not how rational comparisons work. Suffering mild discomfort for a long time, however long, does not equal the pain of a crucifixion; they are not even the right kinds of things to be compared.

    Even utilitarians don't generally make the error you are making, since utilities are usually understood solely in terms of contribution to an alleged impartial aggregate happiness, and this contribution has to be empirically discovered.

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  192. People in this discussion about hellism may have heard of Pope Francis's exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” and how it has caused a strong adverse reaction among some Catholics. Indeed Feser's latest post is about this issue.

    Now I wasn't aware of it, but it appears a misgiving concerns the dogma of hell, and the claim is made that Pope Francis does not believe in hellism but in annihilationism. This much I read in a recent 37 pages long letter addressed to the Pope and the Catholic Church in general that two philosophers wrote and published, and of which a significant part (pages 26-35) concerns hellism. I found their argumentation quite interesting as a testimony of thought, but I wish to say this: I can understand a philosopher mainly arguing from reason or a theologian mainly arguing from the spirit, and I can understand both quoting scripture and other writings to support their position. But I don't understand an argument that appears to be based exclusively on quoting. Such a manner of thinking bothers me, indeed to put it plainly strikes me as a kind of idolatry. I mean the church is *not* a structure of interlocking texts. The church is Christ being present in the community of Christians, and Christian knowledge comes both by reason and by faith on all available grounds, including scripture and tradition on the one hand and the living presence of Christ and the pull of the Holy Spirit on the other.

    Interestingly enough, in their argumentation the two philosophers also quote St Faustina, a recent saint of the CC who has already been mentioned recently in this blog. Here's the quote they used on page 33 of their letter:

    ”I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. I, sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; [snip] What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell”

    To which the two philosophers approvingly comment: ”Indeed, divine mercy requires testimony to the reality of hell in order that people will believe in and fear it, accept God’s mercy, and avoid ending in hell.”

    This in my judgment sorry saga reminded me of the theory of memes, which is a scientific intent to study how ideas propagate, and indeed why some ideas appear to be much more successful, resilient and long-living than others. One feature that adds success to an idea is to have a content that drives people to internalize it themselves and to spread it around. I figure a good example would be the idea “You'd better believe in hell for if you don't you'll burn in it”. Once that idea has entered a person's mind a version of Pascal's wager takes hold producing the following response: “I should indeed believe in that idea, for if I believe it and it is false then I lose little (some more anxiety in this short life perhaps) whereas if it is true and I reject it I risk burning in hell for ever. For the same reason I should try to convince all my loved ones to believe in that idea too.” I seriously think that some such dynamic may explain why through the centuries such a poisonous idea took root in the beautiful garden of church dogma.

    [continues below]

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  193. [continues above]

    Trying to learn more about who St Faustina was I discovered that her fame rests not so much on her eyewitness account of hell (and of purgatory, of which she says that the Mother of God regularly comes visiting bringing refreshments and whom the thankful souls there call “Star of the Sea”). She is more famous for an image of Jesus known as the image of “Divine Mercy”. Here what's St Faustina testifies Christ told her: ”Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: 'Jesus, I trust in You'. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish.”

    Now this is another excellent example of a resilient meme. Once one hears that idea one will think “Let me indeed venerate that image; I have nothing to lose and perhaps a lot to win. Only imagine - a promise by Christ that I will not perish just because I venerate it” And sure enough it seems that today over 100 million Catholics venerate that image.

    I say, what is an idol but a human construct people believe possesses supernatural powers? This is a general problem in Christianity. In my own church (Greek Orthodox) there are uncounted many remains of saints (or objects they used; for example the belt that Mother of God used to wear) which are supposed to have supernatural powers. My church is quick to teach that the supernatural powers do not come from the object itself but from the respective saint – but common folk believe the power depends on them coming near or even touching the actual thing. A few years back I visited the Holy Land and I remember witnessing this: In the famous church of the Holy Sepulchre,there is near the entrance a large slab of stone on which it is said the body of Christ was laid down after the crucifixion to be prepared for burial. So there I saw an older woman kneeling by it and clutching a bag from which she took T-shirts which she rubbed one after the other on the stone.

    I can imagine the situation of the church hierarchy considering the spiritual needs of their simpler flock and noticing how some means are not theologically sound but appear to help and give them strength – and so allowing them. I don't judge them for it. But the church, like any fruitful tree, should grow, and I feel it is high time the church outgrew all these vestiges of primitive religion.

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  194. @ Dianelos

    Now I wasn't aware of it, but it appears a misgiving concerns the dogma of hell, and the claim is made that Pope Francis does not believe in hellism but in annihilationism. This much I read in a recent 37 pages long letter addressed to the Pope and the Catholic Church in general that two philosophers wrote and published, and of which a significant part (pages 26-35) concerns hellism.

    Finnis and Grisez are not claiming that Pope Francis does not believe in the doctrine of hell. They do not take a position on the interpretation of the document. Instead, they observe that one might want to deny the Church's doctrine of hell on the basis of the document, but they claim the document should not be read that way because it does not cohere with scripture or tradition. (That is their general strategy. They do not attribute any of the eight positions they argue against to Pope Francis.)

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  195. @ Greg,

    ”Finnis and Grisez are not claiming that Pope Francis does not believe in the doctrine of hell.”

    On page 27 they quote a journalist who had interviewed the Pope:

    ”The answer of Francis is distinct and clear: there is not punishment but the annihilation of that soul. All the others participate in the beatitude that is to live in the presence of the Father. Annihilated souls do not take part in that feast; with the death of the body their journey is finished. And this is the motivation of the missionary Church: to save the lost.”

    Now I understand these words were written by a journalist and not by the Pope. But how probable is it that the journalist is lying in this matter? I mean given the context it can hardly be a misunderstanding. And the journalist in question, Eugenio Scalfari is by all accounts a very serious person, and the “La Republica” newspaper that published the account is the second largest in Italy. And the account was never denied by the Vatican.

    So it is very probable that Francis does not believe in hell (which for me is happy fact – above I predicted that slowly but surely Christianity will move away from the unfruitful and therefore false dogma of hell). On the other hand I think it is also clear that Francis is expressing his own belief and not the official Church position.

    Now I admire Francis who valiantly speaks his mind, but I am bothered by the behavior of Finnis and Grisez. Christianity is about the truth as indeed is all philosophy - and I am bothered that these two Catholic philosophers instead of speaking plainly write in a diplomatic and hypocritical language. After all the Amoris Laititia is plainly Francis's word, so if they disagree and feel it's their duty to speak up then they should speak like Feser does and say it clearly. In brotherly love, in obedience and humility, but say clearly what they want to say.

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  196. “The person receiving the extremely painful shock obviously suffers more (that's what 'extremely painful' means); the person receiving the shock for long just suffers longer.” @Brandon

    Which would you prefer, a short one second jolt of electricity resulting in sharp pain that took your breath away or a jolt at 90% of the power of the first jolt that lasted all day? To borrow your words, it would be “blatant nonsense” to claim that the first jolt would cause you more suffering than the second. The duration of pain directly affects the extent of suffering and, if the time frame is long enough, mild pain will eventually surpass intense pain in the extent of suffering it causes.

    “Suffering mild discomfort for a long time, however long, does not equal the pain of a crucifixion …”

    If you knew that the mild pain was never going to end, then it would be far worse to suffer it than the pain of a crucifixion which does come to an end. Any sane person would choose the latter suffering in preference to the former.

    “Even utilitarians don’t make the error you’re making….

    I’m not the one making the error.

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  197. "A punishment that extends for ever is a punishment that robs one of all hope, and experiencing the absolute absence of hope is a condition that lies beyond our mind's capacity to conceive." @Dianelos Georgoudis

    Agreed. We can't imagine the scale of mental suffering that would be involved in the absolute absence of hope and the knowledge that our suffering will never end.

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  198. To borrow your words, it would be “blatant nonsense” to claim that the first jolt would cause you more suffering than the second.

    No, this is blatant nonsense as well; it doesn't follow from recognizing your claims are absurd that anyone's preferences would lie in any particular direction at all. Preferences emerge from a large number of factors, not single considerations. In this example, of course, you've rigged it so that there is very little difference between the cases and very little information otherwise, so the most salient thing is "Do you want more or less time with almost the same pain?" But whether or not one wants to suffer longer has nothing to do with whether suffering longer means a greater degree of suffering.

    And very notably you have not addressed a single one of my points. The things you are comparing do not even have the same units of measurement; how are you directly comparing them? You are supposed to be comparing the suffering for a single soul, as required by the doctrine of hell, to the suffering of the entire universe; how are you establishing either term of your comparison?

    The duration of pain directly affects the extent of suffering and, if the time frame is long enough, mild pain will eventually surpass intense pain in the extent of suffering it causes.

    Again, no; light achiness will never surpass in suffering crucifixion or being impaled alive, no matter how long it lasts, unless you simply mean that it will last longer.

    I’m not the one making the error.

    Again, even utilitarians, who make arguments closest in character to the one you are making, generally regard what you are doing as an error.

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