Friday, July 5, 2024

From theism to something like Christianity

The Gospel message—the account of the infinite and perfect God becoming one of us in order to suffer and die in atonement of our sins—is immensely beautiful. Even abstracting from the truth of the message, it is more beautiful than the beauties of nature around us. Suppose, now, that God exists and the Gospel message is false. Then a human (or demonic) falsehood has exceeded the beauty of God’s created nature around us. That does not seem plausible. Thus, it is likely that:

  1. If God exists, the Gospel message is true.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that God would allow us to come up with a falsehood about what he has done where the content of that falsehood exceeds in beauty and goodness what God has in fact done. If so, then:

  1. If God exists, something at least as beautiful and good as the Gospel message is true.


Michael Birdwell said...

I like this argument

Maximillian said...

Hello Dr. Pruss . What do you mean by the beauty of the expression and being more beautiful than natural beauties ?

Ben Stowell said...

I want to agree that the Gospel is the most beautiful story ever told. God shows our love by creating an entire universe for us, and validates humanity by becoming human, and professes his love for us through the drama of atonement, suffering, and sacrifice. What could be more beautiful than that?

But there are aspects of the standard Christian story which could be thought of as profoundly ugly.

First, it can seem repugnant to us, a violation of justice, for an innocent person to be tried and found guilty of someone else's wrongdoing, which is what the penal substitution theory of atonement says. (I don't know if Catholics go with penal substitution or some other theory.)

Second, it's not obvious why violence is necessary for the atonement of sins. Wouldn't a less violent option be more beautiful?

Third, the story depends on an incredibly strong view of blameworthiness for sin. This view gets human nature wrong on my view. Arguments against free will become highly threatening. If God creates the universe knowing ahead of time that the large majority of humans would burn in hell forever, it's hard to see how this is a wise and loving God.

Fourth, the penalty is eternity in hell, but Jesus doesn't pay that penalty, so it's hard to see how it's the case that God actually takes on the punishment meant for us.

Fifth, it's hard to see how an infinite punishment fits a finite crime, and again it's hard to see how a perfect being would see torture as a morally appropriate form of punishment (regardless of how long the torture lasts).

And so on and so on.

Just today I encountered the verses Exodus 22:22-24 and found them very disturbing, as they make God sound like a hypocrite.

"You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless."

Of course, there are many verses even more troubling than these.

I can imagine a perfect being coming to earth and wanting nothing to do with the Bible.

Alexander R Pruss said...

A few very selective comments.

"it can seem repugnant to us, a violation of justice, for an innocent person to be tried and found guilty of someone else's wrongdoing, which is what the penal substitution theory of atonement says."

There is a variety of penal substitution theories. One version is that Christ is *punished* by God for our sins in place of our punishment. I think this is incoherent: punishment is a declaration of guilt, and God cannot declare anything false. But another version is that Christ suffers a harsh treatment we deserve for our sins, but that harsh treatment is not a punishment *of* Christ.

"the penalty is eternity in hell, but Jesus doesn't pay that penalty": I think that the central thing in Christ's punishment is not the physical pain of the Cross, but Christ's uniting himself to our alienation from God. If a sin deserves hell, then to truly feel the wickedness of the sin, "from the inside as it were", is to feel something as bad as or worse than hell. Imagine that someone very close to you turned out to have committed a horrible crime, say murder. Normally in that case we would block some of the pain of betrayal by some combination of two moves: "I never actually knew them" and "They were probably not fully responsible for their actions." But suppose we know them from the inside, continue to deeply love them, and neither move is available to us. The more virtuous we are, the more we understand the evil in the crime, and the greater our suffering on behalf of the person we love. Christ is perfectly virtuous, understands our sinfulness better than we ourselves do, and the physical pain of the Cross provides a kind of focus for understanding our sinfulness.

"it's hard to see how an infinite punishment fits a finite crime": The standard move here is Anselm's: a sin against the dignity of God is an infinite crime. Another move is to deny that hell is an infinite punishment. (Imagine that hell involves asymptotic moral improvement, but never quite reaching goodness, and the punishment decreases with the improvement, so that on each day the punishment is half of the punishment on the previous day. The total punishment is finite.) Yet another move that just occurred to me is to say that not all of the suffering in hell is punishment. Some of it could be self-chosen rather than at all punitive, with God's respect for our autonomy allowing it. One could imagine a story on which the punishment part of the suffering is finite, and the self-chosen non-punitive part is infinite.

All that said, I agree that a prerequisite for seeing things the way I do is a deep sense of one's own sinfulness, including of one's own responsibility for the sinfulness.

Walter Van den Acker said...

But, Alex, maybe you can be responsible for your sins, but your creator, if there is one, is responsible for your sinfulness.
Anyway, the beauty of the gospel message is a subjective feeling.
I personally think it is a very ugly message, but that is, of course, also subjective.

James Reilly said...

Professor Pruss:

Another move concerning the infinite punishment of hell is Aquinas's: the damned will continue to sin in perpetuity (e.g. by reviling and rejecting God), thus meriting continued punishment. I don't know whether you'd be willing to accept such a view; it might not square so well with libertarianism (since Aquinas takes posthumous repentance to be *impossible*, and so one might question whether the damned would be responsible for their continued rejection of God, as they couldn't do otherwise).