Thursday, December 10, 2009

Occupational Hazard: Eternal Damnation

I read a wide variety of commentary on religious topics so I can understand and empathize with those who have different beliefs than I do.

One of the Christian blogs I read frequently is Demian Farnworth's excellently written Fallen and Flawed.

He has recently returned from a one-month blogging sabbatical, and in his return he certainly has not failed to provoke much introspection and discussion, especially in his latest post From Believer to Unbeliever: The Lie We All Fall For.

Demian also has many thoughtful commenters, several of whom have even at times inspired me to rethink opinions that I have held about certain elements of Christianity.

Al is one of the commenters who has earned my respect. He never fails to express himself clearly, fervently, and above all respectfully in accordance with his beliefs.

For this entry, I'd like to post part of Al's response to my comment on Demian's latest article and share my reactions to it with all of you. Please forgive me, Al, for posting so much of your speech on my blog, but I hope you won't mind exposure to an audience of mostly non-believers?

Now, I’m not going to restate what Demian has said so wonderfully above, so I’ll close with this thought: If you don’t “get it,” it’s because you haven’t properly sought it!

By "it", I believe that Al is referring to an understanding of "genuine faith" in Christianity. Now, I know that 'understanding' is far too weak of a word for this context. A more appropriate word would encompass not only comprehension, but also a certain degree of attitude and receptivity. I believe that word may be 'attuned'.

That may be because you don’t want it, and that’s understandable– after all, the free gift of life will ultimately cost you everything if you receive it– If Jesus bought you with His precious blood, that means He must get what He paid for: You and everything that pertains to you: your independence, possessions, opinions, reputation, associations– everything!

Al, if you're right about this, I don't wish to be wrong. Now, what I am about to say in no way do I intend as insult or mockery, but as a sincere and fully non-judgmental observation, perhaps even a compliment: I can tell that you and Demian have given "your independence...opinions, reputation" over to your beliefs. They are secondary to your committment to Jesus. There is nothing I can say that can change that. I know - and that's not why I reply to Demian's articles.

We are in some sense stuck. You believe that I am blind to the spiritual Truth. I believe that there are people just as committed as you and Demian who have given their "independence...opinions, reputation" to Islam, to Judaism, that there is no discernible difference between you and the people who have "lost their faith". I don't list Ken Daniels or Charles Templeton because I believe they earned divine favor through the strength of their alleged works...I listed Daniels and Templeton because I see no difference between their early faith and yours presently. Lots of people have given their "independence...opinions, reputation" to Christianity only to no longer have the capacity to believe it. I know it seems unlikely to you, but it's where I am, and that boils down to why I am engaging you now: I'm not here to talk to you because I'm an agnostic atheist and you're a Christian - I'm here to listen to you and converse with you because I'm a human being who happens to be an agnostic atheist and wishes that people could understand where I've come from.

Or it may be that you DO want it, but just don’t realize it yet or don’t know how to ask for it. Your desire must be wholehearted– holding nothing back. No half-baked idea that you’ll try it out & see if you like it, then decide. Ask, beg, plead– persist; don’t take ‘no’ for an answer!

I do admire and highly respect your attitude: holding nothing back, not taking no for an answer. It's my approach, too. I refuse to hold back any doubts of my former religious beliefs, not taking any answers that are contradictory or fallacious.

As an agnostic atheist, these are a few of the things that I have accepted about Christianity and about religion:

1. I accept that morality has been derived as a product of naturalistic altruism and cooperation.

2. I accept that there are many flaws and contradictions in the Bible, which render much of it to be unreliable and untrustworthy.

3. I accept that evolution by natural selection is the best explanation of the diversity of life on planet Earth, that this scientific facts precludes any literal interpretation of the Biblical text, and that the process of natural selection displays no indication of divine guidance whatsoever, especially from the all-good, all-loving, all-knowing God embraced and proclaimed by most Christians.

4. I accept that there is no evidence for a physical soul which survives death.

5. I accept that there are a multitude of religions, several of which condemn me to eternal suffering or to annihilation for disbelief in their individual religious tenets.

6. I accept that faith reveals just as much to the Muslim and the Mormon as it does to the Christian, and that faith reveals just as much to the Baptist and to the Methodist and to the Roman Catholic as it does to the Lutheran - I accept that each new theological innovation is a product of fallible human beings.

So here comes the big question:

If you don’t get it, God has not yet opened your eyes and, unless you strive with Him to do so, He may never, in which case you will go to your grave still guilty of sin against Him and will be judged and condemned to eternal hell. That’s because you will have embraced the LIE that Demian wrote of in this post, and God will have given you the desire of your heart, allowing you to be absorbed in strong deception, to your undoing forever.

Will I allow myself the chance to "be judged and condemned to eternal hell"?

As I've said before, if you're right about this, then I certainly don't want to be wrong.

But that's a risk I'm willing to take.

It's the occupational hazard of being a skeptic.

And that's something I accept. I accept the possibility that I am "absorbed in strong deception", that I have "embraced [a] LIE". However, I cannot accept the possibility, that there exists some kind of God out there who leads not only atheists and agnostics in deception, not only Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Mormons in deception, but also Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Calvinists, Arminians, the non-denominational, the prosperity gospel crowd, and the Pentecostals and the Seventh-Day Adventists in deception.

If your God exists, then the history of civilization must be a deception, the history of the Christian churches must be a deception, the history of human religious practice must be a deception.

If you don’t see, it is because you are blind in the grasp of spiritual death. Looking at the first comment on this thread I see our old friend, Teleprompter (and I mean that, Tele)– someone whose intellect I greatly respect, even though it is his worst enemy. I read your comment, Tele, and right smack-dab in the middle of it you state your problem: “…but I definitely don’t see…” I love you, my Friend, as Christ loved me when I was His enemy (if you wonder why, I have no answer), but your eyes are sightless in spiritual death– that’s why you don’t see. The god of this world has blinded your eyes.

As a skeptic, spiritual death is an occupational hazard I'm willing to risk. I hope my previous statements in this response explain adequately why I have such a strong willingness to take this risk. I am not trying to be cavalier about this enterprise, but to candidly state my beliefs and why I continue to maintain them even against such high potential stakes as the possible damnation or annihilation of my eternal soul.

We will each and all spend eternity in someone’s service. Pray God it may be His who loves you, and not one who hates you.

I am genuinely grateful that you are concerned for my welfare - I mean this wholeheartedly. If you sincerely believe that my intellect is indeed my worst enemy, then it is only love that could move you to subvert its machinations. However, I believe that this is not the case.

Al, if your God exists, then why would He give me an intellect that He knew would destroy my faith in Him? Perhaps I am misusing the intellect that I have been given. But I do not believe that I am misusing my intellect by applying it in the manner in which it has been entrusted.


Web Voyage said...

There is no risk. The last time a Christian threatened me with eternal damnation in hell, I couldn't help but burst out laughing.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, just maybe God is using your intellect, and He/She is bigger than all of the so-called religions put together.

Demian Farnworth said...

Hey Tele,

Thanks for the compliment on the blog. By the way, love the thrust of this post: the occupational hazard of being a skeptic.

That's good.

I just want to touch upon one part of your post. The observation that we all look pretty much alike in our intensity--whether skeptic, Muslim or aerobics teacher.

I couldn't agree more.

Furthermore, I know skeptics who look like Mother Teresa and believers who behave like Hitler.

What gives? Basically, it comes down to the condition of the heart.

Was Daniels or Templeton truly in love with Christ? Did they grieve over moral lapses? Or was it an appealing intellectual pursuit that satisfied some private ambition?

Recently William Lane Craig spoke about this issue in two podcasts on ex-Christians and Skeptics.

You can find them here:

Both are only 20 minutes, so what eat up most of your time.

Once you listen to them, let me know what you think.

Nice talking to you.

Teleprompter said...


Thanks for replying to my response! I really appreciate your feedback.

I will check out those podcasts later today, if possible. I'll let you know my take.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Laura said...

I always found those "not a real Christian" arguments ridiculous. And the way he phrased it on his blog, MORE scary. Because you could have FALSELY converted and just not know it. Geez, I would be scared every day that there was a time bomb in my heart just waiting to go off if I ascribed to that logic. I think they rationalize because they're scared it could happen to them, and well, atheism is just the absolute worse thing that could happen, isn't it? ;)