I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand. – Linus Van Pelt
The argument goes like this:
Believer says: “God loves everyone, because He’s good and loving! Isn’t that nice?”
Unbeliever says: “If God loves everyone, why is there so much evil in the world? Oh, and… why should there be a Hell?”
Let’s be fair. The unbeliever has a point here. Just not as much of a point as he thinks he has. I have an opinion on this, and it’s going to upset a lot of people. But you can’t please everyone.
One day, I was pondering the lamentable state of the world. It seemed pretty clear to me that people were to blame for most of it. If you believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, then you can literally blame the weather on people. But regardless, most of the awful things that go on are done by awful people to other people. And I think to myself: if I were in God’s place, would I love everyone? Would I even try?
So I decided to go look at what the Bible actually says, having learned from experience that most Christians and skeptics don’t actually understand the Bible as well as they think they do.
This page summarizes it nicely:
First thing I notice: the verses against are longer than the verses for.
Second thing I notice: the verses for are all very general and open to interpretation, while the verses against are very clear and specific. In fact, there’s not a single verse here that says, in as many words, that God loves every single person without exception.
Which leads me to a thing called the division fallacy:
Suppose a child walks up to you and starts a conversation along these lines:
“I love jellybeans!”
You may have all of my black jellybeans.
“Ew! I hate black jellybeans!”
That’s racist. Just kidding. Are you sure you love jellybeans as such?
“Huh? Just give me the ones that aren’t black!”
So… you love jellybeans conditionally?
“Yeah. Give me the conditionally ones!”
Let’s take another example:
“I love mankind. I think everyone should be happy.”
Do you think Hitler should be happy?
“Ew! Not him! He sucks!”
So you love mankind in the abstract, not comprehensively?
“Uh… yeah. What you just said.”
This is how love works in the real world. The division fallacy is when you think loving X means you must love each and every example of X. Loving X does not mean that. In my leading exchange, both the believer and the unbeliever are making this error. They’re both wrong, because they’re both being silly. But the believer is being silly first.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the unbeliever is committing a straw man fallacy. I say he gets off on a technicality. Also, it doesn’t matter.
Conclusion: The Bible does not say that God loves everyone. That’s just some sentimental nonsense that people read into it. Which means the skeptic’s rejoinder is valid in a way that misses the real point. But the believer missed the point first.
Here’s another question: ought God to love everyone? Do we want God to love everyone? Even the people we hate? Do you really want to hang out with Hitler in Heaven? Pal around with Pol Pot? Sing psalms with Stalin?
Because bad people make a place bad. You can’t have it both ways. If Hitler gets in, then it is no longer Heaven. There goes the neighborhood. What you want is a gated community. No mass murderers allowed. Got to have standards.
Or maybe what you want is to be nonjudgmental. How do you know Hitler didn’t repent his sins sincerely as the bullet went through his brain? If you object, you could be kicked out yourself for being unforgiving. Because the point is to co-exist. Forever. And play harps.
Does this seem grossly unfair to you? I agree. It is grossly unfair. That’s what mercy is. Mercy is a variety of unfairness. It’s to believers’ credit that I don’t often hear them claiming that God is fair.
Let’s face it. Nobody wants to suffer an eternity of torment in burning sulfur, but there are a lot of people we would not want to see in Heaven. If Hitler gets a halo, most of us are going to be miffed. Even Godwin would agree on this one. But there’s a third possibility. I call it the trash incinerator hypothesis…
If you’re God, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a whole lot of souls on your hands that it just won’t do to let into Heaven. But people are calling you a meany for roasting the evil in hellfire forever. They all think that’s a bit much. So… what to do with them all?
The whole problem is the afterlife. Eliminate the afterlife, and you eliminate the problem. But then you’ve got another bunch of people who are aggrieved at the horror of personal extinction. It’s true that most people, personally, don’t want to cease being. But there are exceptions. Even atheists commit suicide.
Here’s what I’d do: have an eternal afterlife, but not for everyone. The good go to Heaven. The not-so-good go to… nowhere. Oblivion. Extinction.
“But that’s not what the Bible says!”
Look closely at the Bible passages about the fires of Hell. Do they say eternal suffering? No, they say eternal perdition. You interpret that as eternal suffering because everyone else does. All it says is there’s a fire and eternal destruction. That sounds to me a lot like… a trash incinerator.
Hitler isn’t in heaven. He’s not in Hell either. He was in Hell, briefly. Now his soul does not exist.
“Oh, but I wanted him to suffer more!”
Not your call. Metaphysical thermodynamics set a limit on his torment. You could call it a kind of mercy. Which, again, is not justice.
By the way, I didn’t invent this. It’s called annihilationism. Check it out:
This should please most people. Maybe not those who want to see Hitler suffer for a zillion years. You can’t please everyone.
But here’s a variant that I’ve come with myself…
For those who think winking out of existence forever is just too horrible, imagine a God who gives every damned soul a choice: eternal suffering or eternal nonexistence. This way you can’t blame God for Hell or for annihilation. It was their choice. A dilemma choice, yes. But if they’d wanted Heaven, that ship has already sailed. They’ve only themselves to blame for missing it.
I suppose we could throw in limbo as a third option. How low can you go?
But this is all speculation. I don’t know how it actually works, and neither do you. And I’m not God. But it wasn’t me who brought all this up. It was the believer and the unbeliever. Blame those two nerds.
Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go hang out with the agnostics.