Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The most difficult doctrine

In his account of returning to the faith, Peter Hitchens described his fear of Hell as a factor:
No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion, specifically a painting: Rogier van der Weyden's 15th Century Last Judgement, which I saw in Burgundy while on holiday.


Click on the picture to enlarge.
I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of Hell.

These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions.

On the contrary, their hair and the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me, and people I knew.

I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head.

I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death. ....
Michael Patton, while noting that "...[T]here are many more things I love about Christianity than what I hate," lists "Eight Things I Hate About Christianity." Counting down, the number one thing he "hates":
Hell. This is hands down the most difficult doctrine in the Christian faith. We believe in a loving God who sees fit to allow his creation (his children) to suffer in a place we call hell—a place, by the way, that affords more suffering than anything imaginable. A place, by the way, that is never-ending. It is not as though I don’t believe it. I do. It is not as though I look at God in judgment. I don’t. It is simply something that confuses me. While I completely disagree with any form of “Christian” universalism (i.e. all people are going to make it to heaven), second-chance theories (i.e. unbelievers will experience a second chance to escape hell in the after life), or the idea of annihilationalism (i.e. the belief that hell, along with all its inhabitants, will eventually be annihilated forever), I understand and sympathize with the reason why they go in this direction. If I could find some sort of loop-hole to get out of believing in the doctrine of an eternal hell, I would. If there was such a thing as a Christianity that did not necessitate a belief in hell, I would submit my resume. (And believe me, I have tried). Oh, closely connected to this are the cliché answers Christians give about hell. Many Christians I have encountered act as if hell does not bother them in the least. Of all the things you can be cliché about, don’t be so here.
One of the responses to this unattractive doctrine is [as Patton notes] universalism. This morning Mike Pohlman at the Gospel Coalition's blog, responding to a request, posted a collection of resources about universalism, and, of course, Hell.

Parchment and Pen » Eight Things I Hate About Christianity, Responding to “Christian Universalism” – The Gospel Coalition Blog, How I found God and peace with my atheist brother: PETER HITCHENS traces his journey back to Christianity | Mail Online