Christianity main criticisms

6 – Its exclusivity claim, its doctrine on hell

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From a general perspective

Christianity intolerance- its exclusivity claim and its doctrine on hell

1. Its exclusivity claim

Keith Parsons in his article ‘Why not Christian’ said: “Two doctrines of orthodox Christianity make sure that it will always be intolerant in spirit if not in practice: (a) exclusivism, and (b) the doctrine of hell.

Christianity claims to be the Truth, as in Truth with a capital ‘T’.  It claims to be the final, complete, exclusive revelation of God to humanity, both necessary and sufficient for salvation.

Furthermore, the consequence of willful non-belief is eternal punishment in hell. (…)

If orthodox Christianity is the only true doctrine and the consequences of not believing that doctrine are so dire, then Thomas Aquinas was entirely logical in demanding that heretics be ‘shut off from the world by death’. As Aquinas observed, murderers only destroy the body; heretics lead people away from the true doctrine and thus into eternal perdition. Heresy is therefore much more reprehensible than murder and much more deserving of death.

Most Grand Inquisitors were probably not sadistic brutes. Often they must have been educated, cultivated men who found their tasks distasteful if not repugnant. Yet they were convinced that the agonies they inflicted with the rack, strappado, or stake were nothing compared to the eternal pains of hell. So if torture could redeem even one sinner or eradicate one unregenerate heretic, the cost was worth it. Montaigne observed ‘We rate our conjectures too highly if we burn people alive for them.’ Christians have rated their conjectures highly indeed.

Logically, if there is one and only one True Doctrine and hell is the penalty for not believing it, tolerance of anything that leads towards unbelief cannot be a virtue. So Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, feminists, gay activists, atheists, evolutionists, humanists, and any others who teach things contrary to the One True Doctrine, must be opposed. Active intolerance is the only reasonable attitude towards such persons. Pluralistic and multicultural ideals must be energetically opposed.

Today’s Christians have no stomach for real persecution. The rack and the stake probably will not make a comeback. (You can never be sure, though.) Intolerance today takes more subtle forms.

Allow me to illustrate with a personal experience: In June 2000, at a public high school in the metropolitan Atlanta area, I attended a fundamentalist religious service disguised as a graduation ceremony. The service opened with prayer–not the ritual invocation of a generic deity, but a passionate, emphatically Christian prayer. The principal delivered a sermonette urging students to read the Bible and to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Each graduate was given a copy of the Ten Commandments with his or her diploma. The service ended with another prayer, again explicitly ‘in Jesus’ name’. I was amazed when the evening did not end with an altar call.

To disguise a fundamentalist religious service as a commencement ceremony and foist it on a captive audience is an exercise in intolerance (not to mention extreme rudeness). The whole purpose of such an in-your-face display is to flaunt the dominance of the majority’s creed and intimidate those otherwise persuaded. What better way to keep unbelievers ‘in their place’?

So no, Christianity has not gotten tolerant over the years; it has merely gotten smarter. You catch more flies with sugar than salt, and you get more converts with slick rhetoric and high-tech propaganda than you do with dungeon, fire, and sword. Who needs Grand Inquisitors when you have gone on-line and satellites broadcast your message worldwide? So Christian intolerance no longer wears the mask of the Inquisitor; it wears the “aw shucks” grin of Pat Robertson and the oleaginous simper of Jerry Falwell.”

(Source: Keith Parsons ‘Why not Christian’)


2. Its doctrine on hell

On the concept of hell, the same author added: “Of course, I am aware that many modern Christians have cooled the fires of hell, often interpreting hell as purgatorial or even as merely metaphorical. However, more orthodox thinkers argue that rejection of the traditional doctrine of hell is tantamount to the rejection of the entire Christian revelation. For instance, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, in their Handbook of Christian Apologetics, insist that the exact same grounds for believing that God is love, Biblical revelation, also teaches the reality of hell (Kreeft and Tacelli, 1994, p. 285). So Kreeft and Tacelli throw down the gauntlet to someone like me: either I accept Christianity and the doctrine of an eternal, punitive hell or I reject hell and Christianity, too. If that is my only choice, I reject hell and Christianity, too.

The problem is that when Kreeft and Tacelli come to defending the traditional doctrine, their arguments are woefully weak. They claim that God is not to blame for the pains of hell since hell is freely chosen by those who go there. The obvious rejoinder is that anyone who consciously chooses eternal punishment over eternal joy would have to be insane, and lunatics clearly need treatment, not punishment. The reply of Kreeft and Tacelli is astonishing: The Christian replies that that is precisely what sin is: insanity, the deliberate refusal of joy and truth…. Perhaps the most shocking teaching in all of Christianity is this: not so much the doctrine of hell as the doctrine of sin. It means the human race is spiritually insane (p. 290).

However, if an act is insane it is not a deliberate choice; this is entailed by the meaning of the words ‘deliberate’ and ‘insane’. Is the bizarre behavior of the schizophrenic deliberately chosen? Does the paranoiac freely opt to believe that the Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission, Jewish bankers, the CIA, and the Martians are persecuting him? Maybe Kreeft and Tacelli intend something different by ‘insane’ and ‘deliberate’ than what those words normally mean, but one hesitates to accuse two distinguished philosophers of such blatant humpty-dumptyism.

Even if sin is freely chosen, it is God who decides what the consequences of that choice are. It is God who decides that unrepentant sinfulness must bear the consequence of eternal pain. The obvious objection is that finite and temporal sin, no matter how gross, do not merit infinite and eternal punishment, and so hell contradicts divine justice.

Hell is also Christianity’s most powerful instrument of control. Religious instruction ensures that the fear of hell is implanted in the mind in early childhood. When that fear is planted deep enough, the adult cannot entertain honest doubts without catching a whiff of brimstone. Dr. Johnson said ‘knowledge that one is about to be hanged clears the mind marvelously’. Fear of hell has the opposite effect; rational thinking becomes impossible when that fear is strong.

Remember, you cannot escape hell by being good; for Christians, everybody is bad. No matter how hard you strive to live a virtuous life, if you lack certain beliefs, you go to hell. That is what makes hell such a pernicious doctrine. Hell is the penalty for disagreeing with Christians! It is hard to imagine a more potent tool for propaganda or one more subversive of rational thought. An appeal ad baculum is an attempt to persuade by intimidation or the threat of force. Hell is the ultimate ad baculum: Believe or suffer consequences too horrible to contemplate. In short, the doctrine of hell is Christianity’s campaign of psychological warfare against the human mind.”

(Reprinted by permission. Source: Keith Parsons ‘Why not Christian’, )