Note: These dialogues are contrived, obviously. I’m interested, not so much in writing a conversation as it would actually occur (real conversations about important topics are messy and almost never this brief), but one that demonstrates the superiority of the Christian position to atheistic ones (surprise!) Because of this, the Christian, Sarah, almost always comes off as cleverer and righter (an actual word that doesn’t work in this context). Given that this is a Catholic apologetics site, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. If it does, and you’re deeply offended, go here for three minutes before reading further.
Brad: You’re reading Thomas Nagel?
Sarah: Do you know who he is? Hi, by the way.
Brad: Hi. Ah, yeah, atheist philosopher dude who wrote, well, that. Why are you reading it?
Sarah: Because he’s brilliant. And honest. … And I have to for class.
Brad: Good for you. I Just finished chatting with some Mormon boys—can’t really call them men—who showed up on my door this morning. Love when that happens!
Sarah: Ah, me too!
Brad: It seems to me like Christians—and I apologize if this offends you—believe because it’s comforting. You like the idea of there being a Daddy up in the sky whose going to take care of you forever. They had no answers to any of my objections, just kept talking about how our families can be reunited in the afterlife.
Sarah: Technically Mormonism isn’t a Christian religion, but I’ll let that slide since you’re an infidel.
Brad: Wow! Haven’t had your coffee this morning, huh?
Sarah: I agree with you that we shouldn’t believe things that are false because they feel good or comforting, but you’re committing the genetic fallacy again, Brad. You’re saying, “Christians like the idea of there being a ‘dad up in the sky,” and you’re concluding from that that God doesn’t exist, or, at least, this in someway counts against belief in God.
Brad: All I’m saying is, we atheists can at least be acquitted for the charge of wishful thinking.
Sarah: Perhaps Atheists don’t like the idea of having to submit to an all holy God. Perhaps they detest the idea of Hell and that’s why they are atheists. If that is the case then you might not be so easily acquitted after all.
Brad: And now you’re committing the genetic fallacy.
Sarah: No, because I’m not saying, “Atheists have bad reasons for being atheists therefore atheism is false.” I’m saying that it might be the case that some atheists remain atheists, or become atheists, because they don’t like what theism entails. Take Nagel, for example. Check this out, he writes:
“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself.” He’s talking about fear of religion. He goes on: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
Brad: I agree with him.
Sarah: I know. And you wanting the world to be a certain way, namely, Godless, isn’t a good argument for the existence of God is it? If I were to say, “because you want there not to be a God, because you want there not to be a Hell, therefore God exists, that would be a hopelessly bad argument.”
Sarah: In the same way, Christians want there to be a God, and perhaps some of them want there to be a God solely because it brings them comfort, but this isn’t a good argument for atheism.
Sarah: Good! Then stop banging on about it like it is.
Brad: Seriously though, let me get you a coffee. I need one too.
Brad: There you are. I seriously find it hard to believe that an intelligent woman like yourself could believe in something like Hell.
Brad: Because it’s so ridiculous. I mean, if you were going to start a religion and wanted people to believe you, threatening them with eternal punishment in Hell if they don’t would be a great strategy.
Sarah: Maybe, but that wouldn’t disprove the existence of Hell, would it?
Brad: Do you mind if I call you infuriating?
Sarah: Not at all.
Brad: You’re infuriating.
Sarah: What exactly do you think Hell is?
Sarah: Good one. Let me rephrase the question. What exactly do you think Christians mean by Hell?
Brad: A cave deep in the earth where people go to burn, Reserved primarily for homosexuals and heretics.
Sarah: Okay, I’ll ignore the red herring about homosexuals and move on. It’s true that the Bible does use images such as fire and darkness to communicate what hell is like, but these images point to the suffering condition of those who have finally rejected God, who is the source of all happiness. Pope John Paul II, who I think they made a saint or something recently, I don’t know, I’m not Catholic. He had this great quote. He said that those images “show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”
Brad: Nothing but scare tactics, I’m sorry. Be a good little boy or else you’ll suffer forever! I thought this God of yours was supposed to be all-loving.
Sarah: Would you be more inclined to think Christianity was true if Hell was not one its doctrines?
Brad: Well, no, because I think Christianity is hocus-pocus bull crap.
Brad: But it would be more believable I guess, especially since, as I said, this God is suppose to be all loving.
Sarah: Do you believe in free-will?
Brad: If you’re about to tell me that people freely choose Hell then I’m afraid I’m going to find that unconvincing. Who in their right mind would choose eternal suffering forever.
Sarah: I don’t know, people like Thomas Nagel who don’t want there to be a God? People like the late Christopher Hitchens who said he’d be depressed if God existed? The point it this: If God is love, as Christians believe, and humans have free will, as Christians believe, then you have to have at least the possibility of Hell.
Brad: Wait, the possibility? Are you saying Hell may not exist? Or that no one is there?
Sarah: I didn’t say that. I believe Hell exists and that there are people there.
Sarah: I’m saying if you want to deny the possibility of Hell, then you first need to deny either God being love or humans having free will.
Sarah: God doesn’t wish that “any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” That’s from 2 Peter 3:9, in case you were wondering.
Brad: Oh great, I’ll look it up when I get home.
Sarah: Sarcasm. Well done.
As I was saying, if humans have free will, then there is the possibility of their rejecting God’s love. Thus you might say that God did not create hell. Rather, sin created hell. As Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell, choose it.”
I can see why you’re tempted to think that a loving God could never let people suffer for eternity in hell. But, far from being inconsistent with God’s loving nature, hell is a necessary consequence of it.
Because God is love, he respects our freedom—for love is never coercive. If God forced his love on us, he would not be perfectly loving and thus wouldn’t be God.
Brad: Can I show you a meme my friend sent me today?
Sarah: And this to you seems like a good objection to my argument for Hell based on God’s love and our freedom?
Brad: I was just hoping to see that vain on the side of your head come out again.
Sarah: Did it?
Brad: Take a look at the meme again.
Sarah: Send this to your friend, tell him that when thinking about important matters like God, free will, and judgement, it would be more productive for him to use his head, instead of his unbridled emotions.
Brad: I thought you weren’t Catholic.
Sarah: I’m not, but that doesn’t mean some of them don’t have some really good stuff to say.