Recently I summarized an article by Buckareff and Plug defending escapism, the doctrine that God allows people to “escape hell” if they choose to convert after they are dead. In my last post, I summarized one critique of escapism, by Russell Jones. Today I discuss another crituque: Hell and divine reasons for action (2009) by Kyle Swan.
Buckareff and Plug argued that:
…if God longs for reunion with us this side of the [afterlife], then it would be arbitrary and out of character for God to cut oﬀ any opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness at the time of death… God never gives up on the unsaved after death.
The most common response to arguments like those given by Buckareff and Plug is the “Job objection,” the claim that “our limited, mortal perspective does not allow us to make judgments about what God can or should do.” But, Buckareff and Plug argue:
Given that we do not have any other standards of moral goodness apart from those we apply in human situations, we should apply those standards to God… Why should anyone desire to worship or… respect the concept of a being who appears not to be obligated to act as morally as some humans? And if we believe that a parent is morally obligated always to be willing to receive her estranged child, and forgive him if he asks for forgiveness, then why shouldn’t we expect the same from God?
God is Mysterious
Swan replies that God’s seemingly unfair choice to not let people reconcile with him after they die “could be responsive to other normative reasons that God has, but which are anything but obvious to us.”
This is what I call the “God is mysterious” defense. Why would an all-loving God allow so much pointless suffering of innocent people? “God is mysterious; he must have reasons that our puny human brains could never understand.” Why would God allow life to evolve for billions of years in meaningless waste and violence, only to intervene a few thousand years ago by backing one Semitic tribe against the others, and then change his mind about everything a few thousand years later? “God is mysterious; he must have reasons that our puny human brains could never understand.” Why would an all-loving God come to earth and do magical party tricks instead of imparting basic medical knowledge that would save billions of lives from easily avoidable suffering and death? “God is mysterious…”
Here, Buckareff and Plug ask, “Why would a just and loving God yearn for reconciliation with us while we’re alive, but then slam the door on us forever when we die?” Swan’s defense is, “God is mysterious; perhaps he has reasons that our puny human brains could never understand.”
Swan delivers the “God is mysterious” defense with all kinds of philosophical jargon about “reasons internalism” and such, but his purpose is only to show that the analogy from human reasons for action to divine reasons for action is weak. That is, “God is mysterious. He may have motivations or purposes that we just can’t understand, so perhaps it is just and loving for God to lock people in hell forever and never let them be reconciled with him, even if they want to be reconciled.”
I have not yet said how Buckareff and Plug have responded to the criticisms of Jones and Swan. I will discuss that in my next post.