Author’s introduction (Start)
- A certain conception of Hell is inconsistent with God’s traditional attributes, or so I will argue. My argument is novel in focusing on considerations involving vagueness.
- The target doctrine of Hell is part of a “binary” conception of the afterlife, by which I mean one with the properties of dichotomy, badness, non-universality, and divine control.
- Dichotomy: there are exactly two states in the afterlife, Heaven and Hell. After death each person will come to be, determinately, in exactly one of these states. (The doctrine of Purgatory does not violate dichotomy provided everyone in Purgatory eventually ends up in Heaven.) My argument does not apply to a continuous conception of the afterlife, which to my mind is more defensible than the usual binary doctrine.
- Badness: Hell is very, very bad. Or at least, Hell is much worse than Heaven; for most of the argument this weaker premise will suffice. More carefully, the premise is that everyone in Heaven is much, much better off than everyone in Hell.
- Non-universality: some people go to Heaven, and some people go to Hell. I have no objection to Universalists, according to whom everyone goes to Heaven. Nor does my argument apply to those who uphold universal damnation.
- Divine control: God is in control of the institution of divine judgment, in control of the mechanism or criterion that determines who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. This is not to say that God is solely responsible for the fate of created beings, for the divinely mandated criterion might contain a role for free choices. Nor is it to say that God is vindictive. The requirement makes no assumptions about the nature of the criterion, beyond that it is in God’s control.
- The argument proceeds as follows. Given dichotomy, the only possibilities in the afterlife are determinate membership in either Heaven or Hell; given badness, the second is far worse the first; and given non-universality, each is populated. Divine control requires that God be in control of the criterion determining these populations, and thus that God’s choice of a criterion be consistent with his attributes. The criterion of judgment must therefore cohere with his perfect justice. This much is straightforward; the rest of the paper will be devoted to filling in the rest. Here is a sketch: any just criterion must judge created beings according to a standard that comes in degrees, or admits of borderline cases; but no such criterion can remain simultaneously just — or at least non-arbitrary — and consistent with the nature of the afterlife just described.
- First, however, I should set aside the Calvinist doctrine of the elect, just as I have set aside Universalism. But I set aside Calvinism in a different sense, for unlike Universalism, the conclusion of my argument is inconsistent with Calvinism. I set it aside for dialectical reasons, for my argument fairly directly begs the question against Calvinism. I assume throughout that God’s justice is not utterly divorced from our human notion of justice, and I will assume that any human notion of justice precludes the criterion of selection being pre-natal divine decree. Calvinists will disagree, and I have nothing further to say against their position1.
- What might the criterion for the afterlife look like? Any just criterion of selection, whether for the afterlife or pay raises in the workplace, must make its selection depending on certain factors. Moreover, justice requires its judgments to be proportional to the factors. If Sally’s performance is better than Jimmy’s then, other things being equal, it would of course be unjust to pay Jimmy more; but if Sally’s performance is only minutely better than Jimmy’s, it would be unjust to pay Sally far more. Of course, human criteria usually fall short of complete justice. College admissions offices must sometimes make arbitrary decisions (“the cut-off must fall somewhere”), for admissions officers lack complete information and colleges have a limited number of available slots. But God is omniscient, and the holding capacities of Heaven and Hell are presumably boundless.
- What I am calling the proportionality of justice prohibits very unequal treatment of persons who are very similar in relevant respects. Whatever one thinks generally about the nature of justice, its proportionality should be acknowledged.
- Given the proportionality of justice and the binary conception of the afterlife, it can be argued that the divine criterion cannot be based on a moral matter of degree. By this I mean some factor that comes in degrees, and whose significance in the divine judgment is proportional to its presence. …
Footnote 1: This is interesting. Sider ignores the strict Calvinist position whereby the election is not based on foreknowledge of who would believe (so that election is a reward for belief), but is apparently arbitrary. But does he also ignore the more mainstream evangelical case thereby God rewards those whom he foreknows will believe with eternal life, secured by election? I don’t think so, because even if salvation is by faith and not works, faith also comes in degrees, and that of some “believers” is decidedly weak. So, again, there would be borderline cases.
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