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This page has been created for two types of people: Christians who are struggling with their faith, and honest inquirers of any persuasion who are seeking spiritual truth. The articles below were selected for their outstanding quality. I have found them especially helpful in resolving difficulties for my own Christian belief. I hope you find them as useful as I did.

8. Hell: The Greatest Obstacle to Belief in Christianity

8.1 Is Belief in God's Goodness compatible with the existence of Hell? 8.2 What about the apokatastasis? 8.3 Dare we hope that all will be saved?

From C. S. Lewis to Pope John Paul II, Christian writers in the 20th century put a great deal of effort into answering sceptics' objections to the dogma of hell. The articles below make the following points very clear:
  • God does not send anyone to hell; the only people who go there are those who choose to. As C. S. Lewis put it, the gates of hell are bolted and barred from the inside.
  • God is a respecter of human choices; He will not impose salvation upon us against our wishes.
  • God's respect for human freedom also explains why He does not simply annihilate people in hell; anyone who is there is spiritually hardened to such an extent that he/she would prefer living eternally without God to any other fate (including annihilation).
  • In any case, we do not know how many people are in hell; the population of hell may be very small, and it is even permissible to hope that all human beings are in fact saved, although Scripture seems to suggest otherwise. The same cannot be said for the Devil and the fallen angels; Christ has explicitly told us that they are in hell forever.
  • "Fire" is not the dominant Biblical image of hell; rather, it is most often described as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth - in other words, bitter regrets.
  • The greatest pain of hell is the eternal spiritual desolation caused by an individual's self-imposed permanent separation from God.
Valid as these points are, they did not convince me during my sceptical anti-Christian phase. Four arguments against the existence of Hell weighed heavily with me. Two philosophical arguments suggested that God should be able to create a world where everyone would be saved, or at least could be saved. In addition, there were two ethical arguments against belief in Hell which I found compelling. I'll deal with the metaphysical arguments first.

Philosophical arguments against Hell

1. According to Christian revelation, God made Jesus perfect; He was not only sinless but incapable of sinning (impeccable). This is what Christians have traditionally believed, and it is what the Catholic Church teaches (see this article by Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong), as well as the Orthodox Church; and Protestants have traditionally believed the same, as these articles on the impeccability of Christ by Dr. John McCormick and Arthur W. Pink) both demonstrate. Despite being unable to sin, Jesus Christ is said to have possessed a fully human nature, with free will. If God could make one man both free and incapable of sinning, why not the rest of us too?

2. Even if people choose to go to hell, what's to stop them from changing their minds and repenting afterwards, and then going to Heaven? After all, there is no infernal equivalent of the Beatific Vision - a vision of God so splendid and beautiful that the blessed in Heaven are no longer free to turn their face away from God. As Augustine pointed out, evil is not a positive reality but a privation; thus it cannot possibly bind the will forever. The classic theological doctrine of final impenitence - that the will of the damned is fixed in evil - therefore seemed to make no sense at all.

All very well in theory; but introspection revealed a completely different picture. Looking within my innermost self, I sensed the existence of a "point of no return". I could at times feel myself moving towards it, as if I were being carried along an underground river of lava deep into the bowels of the earth, and disquietingly, I could often see the river of lava inside my soul. It lay just beneath the surface, so to speak. Intuitively, I knew that if I crossed the point of no return towards which I was being carried, I could no longer repent and find God's grace again. Why? In a word: habituation. While we are on earth, God has His own ways of reaching us: little miracles of everyday life that can awaken us from our spiritual apathy. We can, however, extinguish our sense of wonder. Studying science in a godless intellectual environment is spiritually hazardous for precisely that reason. Godless science can lead to disenchantment with the cosmos, as the mind becomes desensitized to wondrous things that it learns to take for granted: the fact that there are any laws of nature at all; the fact that the laws of nature work so reliably, day after day; the fact that life arose at all; the fact that even the tiniest cell is so staggeringly complex that no human mind can comprehend how it works; the fact that life goes on reproducing itself; the fact that we are conscious of anything at all; the fact that we can think about anything at all; the fact that we can think about our own thoughts (meta-cognition); and, above all, the fact that something as marvellous as a baby can arise from an event as insignificant as the union of a sperm and an egg. If none of these things penetrates your spiritual armour, then how can God possibly reach you? If you build enough intellectual and spiritual barriers, then in the end God's grace will be powerless to shatter your proud heart. And believe me, I know whereof I speak.

So much for the second objection. What about the first? True, Jesus Christ was incapable of sinning, or impeccable, and yet He possessed a fully human nature; but there was a very good reason why He was impeccable: He was a Divine Person, with no human personality at all. God assumed (took over) the human nature of Jesus; that's why His human nature was perfectly submissive to God's will. In wishing to be impeccable like Christ, I was really wishing myself to be another person than the person I actually am. I was in effect wishing to be a Divine Person, without a human personality. That kind of wish makes no sense. I can wish my circumstances to be different, but I cannot coherently wish myself to be someone else, for then "I" would no longer be "me".

"Not so fast," counters the sceptic. "Aren't there saints whom many Christians believe to have been preserved from sin by God's grace, throughout their lives - for instance, Jesus' mother, Mary? And aren't there other saints whom many Christians believe were predestined by God's grace to be saved, even after a life of sin? What about St. Paul, or St. Mary Magdalene? They were preserved from final damnation, yet they didn't have to forego having a human personality. If God could guarantee them a place in Heaven without denying them an individual human personality of their own, then why couldn't He do the same for the rest of us?"

My reply: This objection assumes that God's act of predestining someone to eternal salvation does not in any way determine who that person is. If the Divine act of specially electing a saint to glory determines who he/she is as a person, then once again we are back to the old conundrum: I cannot wish myself to have been elected like that, without wishing myself to have been someone else, which is metaphysically incoherent.

A personal illustration might serve to clarify this point. Who am I? I am Vincent. That's who I am. If I had different parents, I would not be me. If I were not the eldest of four brothers, then I would not be me. My personal identity is determined by my place in the "Family of Man". With Jesus' mother Mary, it is different. Being the daughter of Joachim and Anne is not what constitutes her personal identity; what makes her who she is is the fact of her being the Mother of God. That is who she is. God planned it that way. God did not plan me that way, but I have no right to complain. I am who I am, and I am glad to be alive. God created me, and gave me a chance to enjoy life everlasting. I can only hope and pray that I will not blow this chance, and that I will persevere in grace.

Ethical arguments against Hell

We have already touched upon two common ethical objections to Hell, namely:

  • (a) Wouldn't a truly merciful God keep the gates of Heaven open forever, and allow sinners to repent and turn to Him at any time after their death, as well as before it? (If this objection is correct, then Hell could be indefinitely long, but not eternal.)
  • (b) Wouldn't a truly merciful God annihilate unrepentant sinners, rather than sending them to Hell forever?
As regards (a), the objection assumes that the human soul is infinitely elastic - that is, perpetually capable of repenting and turning back to God. I have already argued that this view is naive, as it overlooks the phenomenon of habituation. People can and do lose their sense of wonder, and with it the possibility of being moved by something that once moved them. There are transforming experiences (e.g. the birth of a child, a brush with death) that can lead us back to God, but a hardened soul might become utterly impervious to whatever graces God sent it.

As regards (b), a soul in Hell might well prefer existence to non-existence. I would suggest that in the afterlife, such a soul would still find the prospect of continuing to exist in a state of proud, self-imposed solitude without God preferable to not existing at all, and God keeps such a soul alive because He respects their choice. If Hell were a place of torture, then annihilation would indeed be a more merciful option, but few Christians now think of Hell in this way, as this article by Pope John Paul II on Hell demonstrates.

Another frequently voiced objection to the doctrine of Hell is that it is unjust that people who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel should be sent to Hell. And yet the Christian Church has continually taught that there is no salvation outside it (extra ecclesiam nulla salus), which appears to entail that the bulk of humanity is damned forever.

Certainly there have indeed been many Christian theologians who espoused the horrid view described above, that those who die outside the Church are damned. However, if we actually look at Church teaching, we find a different picture. There is a simultaneous insistence on two principles: God wants all humans to be saved; but there can be no salvation except through Christ and His Church. The reconciliation of these principles is that God has His own hidden ways of reaching those who are outside the Christian Church. Those who are ignorant of the Christian faith through no fault of their own are not damned to Hell, but may be saved, provided that they believed in God, sought the truth with an open heart, and tried to do God's will as best they understood it. Such people are not damned, because they were in a state of inculpable ignorance (also referred to as invincible ignorance). As Pope John Paul II put it in a General Audience on May 31, 1995:

For those too who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and are not recognized as Christians, the divine plan has provided a way of salvation. As we read in the Council's Decree Ad Gentes, we believe that "God in ways known to himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel" to the faith necessary for salvation (AG 7). Certainly, the condition "inculpably ignorant" cannot be verified nor weighed by human evaluation, but must be left to the divine judgment alone. For this reason, the Council states in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes that in the heart of every man of good will, "Grace works in an unseen way.... The Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery" (GS 22).

It is important to stress that the way of salvation taken by those who do not know the Gospel is not a way apart from Christ and the Church. The universal salvific will is linked to the one mediation of Christ. "God our Savior...wants all men to be saved and come to know the truth. And the truth is this: God is one. One also is the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:3-6). Peter proclaimed this when he said: "There is no salvation in anyone else" and called Jesus the "cornerstone" (Acts 4:11-12), emphasizing Christ's necessary role at the basis of the Church.

...Christ won universal salvation with the gift of his own life. No other mediator has been established by God as Savior. The unique value of the sacrifice of the cross must always be acknowledged in the destiny of every man.

Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom extra ecclesiam nulla salus" - "outside the Church there is no salvation" - stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73, 21; PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition. It was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351). The axiom means that for those who are not ignorant of the fact that the Church has been established as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, there is an obligation to enter the Church and remain in her in order to attain salvation (cf. LG 14). For those, however, who have not received the Gospel proclamation, as I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, salvation is accessible in mysterious ways, inasmuch as divine grace is granted to them by virtue of Christ's redeeming sacrifice, without external membership in the Church, but nonetheless always in relation to her (cf. RM 10). It is a mysterious relationship. It is mysterious for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her. It is also mysterious in itself, because it is linked to the saving mystery of grace, which includes an essential reference to the Church the Savior founded.

A more complete discussion of the Catholic understanding of the Latin phrase, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ("Outside the Church there is no salvation") can be found in this article in Wikipedia.

The Orthodox Church displays a similar charity in its interpretation of this phrase. Archimandite (Metropolitan) Philaret (d. 1985), in an article entitled "Will the Heterodox Be Saved?" in Orthodox Life, Vol. 34, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 1984), pp. 33-36, writes as follows:

[I]t is particularly instructive to recall the answer once given to an inquirer by the Blessed Theophan the Recluse. The blessed one replied more or less thus: "You ask, will the heterodox be saved... Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins..."

I submit that if even the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which are renowned among Christian denominations for their exclusivity, and which both claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Christ, now understand the phrase "Outside the Church there is no salvation" in a way which allows non-Christians to be saved, then it can no longer be justly urged by sceptics as an ethical argument against the existence of Hell.

However, it appears that the same cannot be said for the sin of apostasy (falling away from the Christian faith). The Christian Church has always taught that those people who have grown up in the Christian faith, but have subsequently chosen to reject it as adults, will most certainly be damned forever in Hell, unless they return to the Christian faith before they die. For instance, in the article I mentioned above by Archimandite (Metropolitan) Philaret (d. 1985), he cited Blessed Theophan the Recluse, who spoke compassionately regarding the fate of unbelievers. However, this holy man added, "I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a different faith, you will lose your soul forever." The Catholic Church teaches the same thing: apostasy is a mortal sin. This is a much more telling objection, and it weighed heavily with me before I came back to Christianity, as some of my family members are apostates, and yet I love them no less for that. I would like to put forward my own answer to this objection here. I believe my answer is consistent with the authentic voice of tradition, but at the same time compassionate.

Now, most of us have family members or friends whom we love dearly, but who firmly reject Christianity, despite having been raised in a Christian household. Arguments do not sway them, and they seem content to lead their own lives, outside the Christian faith. Often they are very good people, and in some cases, they seem to be better people than we Christians are. Instinctively, we love them unconditionally, as members of our own families, and we can discern an essential core of goodness in them, despite whatever personal flaws they may have. This brings us to four related objections concerning these apostates:

1. If we can love these family members unconditionally, then why can't God? Surely God is no less loving than we are. Can't He see the goodness in them too? In that case, why should they be lost forever?

2. We cannot imagine ever letting go of these dearly beloved members of our families, or ceasing to love them. And yet, if the doctrine of Hell is true, we must one day do just that. There will be a great parting of ways at the Last Judgement, and if these family members died rejecting Christ after having heard His message, we will have to let them go, say goodbye forever and stop loving them or even thinking about them. But the notion of my one day having to say to my own kith and kin, "Well, it was nice knowing you, and I really did love you, but now I'm going to have to forget all about you, as I behold the face of God forever", seems profoundly wrong. Put bluntly, it's cold and inhuman to even think like that.

3. There is also the familiar objection concerning how one could be happy knowing that one's own dearly beloved relatives and family members were in Hell. We realise that in some sense, our very identity is tied to theirs. We feel that we could not be completely whole or happy without them, and even if we could, we would not want to. It would seem morally abhorrent - a kind of psychic self-mutilation, like cutting off one's arm. Also, would not the very thought of their torment intrude upon our Beatific bliss? Some Christians answer this objection as follows: "Don't worry, God will wipe out all memory of them from your mind." My response to that argument is that I do not want to have my memory erased, thank you very much. Would not a permanent memory wipe of that sort make me less human, as it would constitute a permanent loss of my integrity? Ugh!

4. Late-life conversions are possible but rare. Leopards don't change their spots, as the saying goes. Deep down, we know that many of these family members won't budge in their opposition to Christianity (and, in many cases, to belief in God). If the Christian teaching on Hell is correct, then a Christian who has people in his/her own family who firmly reject Christianity could justly reason as follows: "I am bound to pray for these members of my family, but realistically, I should recognise that they are unlikely to convert and are thus probably going to be damned." Now, would not that very act of recognition lead to an emotional distancing between the Christian and those members of his/her family? In other words, wouldn't that very attitude ("They'll probably be damned") make him/her less loving towards his own family? And yet Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:13). Thus we have a paradox: the Christian teaching on Hell actually causes us to think and behave in ways that are un-Christian.

I think I have expressed the moral case against apostates going to Hell as well as it can be expressed, with all the outrage I can muster against the idea of Hell. So why am I in the Christian camp now?

My answer to the sceptic: try a bit of honest introspection!

Here's what I say to the anti-Christian sceptic. Try a little thought experiment. Imagine yourself in Hell. Imagine yourself deserving to be there, because of the kind of person you turned out to be, later in life: cold, hard, self-centered and uncharitable. (Think of Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.) Do this, and follow the thought experiment to its logical conclusion, as I did, and your ethical difficulties regarding the idea of apostates going to Hell will melt away. Read on, IF you dare.

You reckon you could never become the kind of heartless, selfish person I described? OK. THINK. 10 million children died last year, around the world. And this happened in the 21st century, the most affluent century in human history! How many of them did YOU save? None? Thought so. Want something closer to home? OK. How many homeless people did you help last year? (You know that thousands of them die on the streets from exposure every year in First World countries, don't you?) None? Thought so. Or try this. How much money did you spend last year on dining out, or on feeding your pets? And how much did you give to charity? Not as much? Thought so. Or try this. How much time did you spend surfing the Net last year, or watching your favourite TV shows? And how much time did you spend helping people around you who needed your help? Not as much? Thought so. You're on the road to Hell already. Join the club.

My own conversion to Christianity required an epistemic switch on my part, when I stopped thinking up moral and intellectual arguments against Hell, and took as a starting point the undeniable fact that I was already on the road to Hell. From introspection, I recognised the real possibility of damnation within myself. Taking stock of myself, I saw that after more than fifteen years of rejecting Christianity, I was colder, meaner, much more self-centred, less idealistic and far less charitable than when I was a Christian. Apostasy had not made me a better person, but a worse one. I could see that I was suffering from a progressive hardening of my spiritual arteries as well as a hardening of my heart. I sensed that this hardening could become permanent and incurable, if I did nothing to stop it. I decided to take this fact (ascertained from introspection) as an epistemic "given": on moral grounds alone (leaving my religious beliefs aside for the moment), I knew that I could well be damned in the future, simply for my hard-heartedness and selfishness. I then reasoned as follows: if I am damned for my hardness of heart, have I not cut myself off from those members of my own family who go to Heaven? If they are saved and I am damned, then they have not cut themselves off from me, but I from them. How can I possibly blame them for wanting to see God, the Source of all Love and Life? Wouldn't they want to meet their Maker? And how could I rationally expect them to turn away from this God after they died, because they loved me more, and could not bear to be parted from me? That would be egomaniacal.

Why the four ethical objections to Hell don't work against people who are damned because of their hard-heartedness

Before we address the ethical objections to Hell, insofar as they apply to family members who have fallen away from the Christian faith, let's first see how these ethical arguments stack up for those who have gone to Hell for their selfishness and hardness of heart, while other members of their families have gone to Heaven. I aim to show that once we can see why the arguments DON'T work in the case of people who go to Hell for their hardness of heart, we can see that they also fail in the case of people who are guilty of culpable loss of faith.

Objection 1 doesn't work. God cannot see the essential core of goodness inside these hard-hearted individuals, because it is no longer there. Whatever goodness they had while they were young has completely withered away. Even if other people living around them on Earth think that they are nice enough people and love them for what they think they see in them, God, who sees the innermost recesses of the human heart, knows otherwise. You can't fool God.

Objections 2 and 3 don't work either. There is no reason to suppose that the blessed in Heaven stop loving family members who cannot enter Heaven because of their hardness of heart. Presumably they still love, even as they realise that their love will not change anything. And God, who is able to heal all wounds by His never-ending love, is capable of ensuring that they feel no grief on that account.

For instance, supposing I were damned, I see no compelling reason why those members of my family who were saved would necessarily stop remembering me or loving me. It seems logically consistent to suppose that they might still say to themselves: "We love Vincent, and we know he's where he has chosen to be, in his own state of separation from God." God could then remove any emotional pain that might accompany this realisation on their part, by making them see how He did everything He could to save me.

What about objection 4? If a member of your family is utterly self-centred and hard-hearted, should you mentally cut yourself off from them, in anticipation of their probable damnation? NO! You might not want to spend your holidays with them, but the door of your heart should always be open, should they change their ways. After all, they are part of your family. On that account alone, you should love them. If you decide to love them less, you will only succeed in diminishing yourself as a person, and thereby run the risk of damning yourself. You will also become the very thing you do not want to be: selfish and hard-hearted.

Do the four ethical objections to Hell work for people who fall away from the Christian faith?

So, the four ethical objections to Hell don't work against family members who are utterly selfish and hard-hearted. But do they work in the case of family members who have chosen to reject Christianity? I shall argue that they do not. Why not? In a nutshell, only unbelief which is caused by spiritual vice (selfishness, pride and hardness of heart) is morally culpable. However, giving up the Christian faith because one has never received the intellectual preparation required to sustain one's faith in a hostile world, is not in itself morally blameworthy. Nor is loss of faith caused by emotional abuse suffered as a child. God sees into each and every human heart. He knows why we do what we do, and he knows that when we fail to do the right thing, it is sometimes because we lack the inner mental or emotional strength to do so. God, being fair, takes that into account.

Some Christians have brought the Christian faith into ridicule in sceptical circles, by roundly asserting that those who die outside the faith are damned. What rubbish. There is such a thing as refusing or rejecting the gift of faith, and that act, if final, is worthy of damnation (Mark 16:16). Anyone who can see the beauty of the Christian account of how much God loved us and what God did for us out of love, but then refuses to acknowledge this God, has indeed separated himself/herself from God. But that's not what most people do when they give up the faith.

People who give up the faith because of intellectual obstacles

Often, when people give up the Christian faith they face formidable, unanswered intellectual obstacles which make Christian beliefs seem absurd, like the notion of a square circle. Their minds are deceived by a tangle of clever arguments against the Christian faith, so that they grow up believing the gift to be intellectual and spiritual poison. As these obstacles to faith mount up, there comes a point when they can cope with the absurdity no longer: the dam bursts, so to speak. The result is that these people give up the faith, because they were not properly schooled in it.

The purpose of this Web site has been to expose these lies against the Christian faith, and undeceive those who were duped by them.

Are people who give up the faith on account of intellectual obstacles, and who later die outside the Christian Church, damned for their unbelief? No. There was something which they needed to keep their faith in a hostile world: an adequate intellectual grounding in the faith. However, they were not given the answers, or if they were exposed to them at all, they were not thoroughly explained. It takes time to address arguments against the faith, after all. So does God judge these people for falling away from Christianity? I think not. We can be sure that God gives Christians the gift of faith, and that He carefully nurtures that gift in His children, as a loving Father would. However, I can find no Scriptural verse which says that God would expect people to go on believing in Him, even in the face of what appear to be knock-down arguments against the Christian faith, which appear cogent and intellectually unassailable.

Think of it this way. If you're a parent, then you expect your children to love you. But what if some malicious individual turned them away from you by presenting them with seemingly incontrovertible evidence that you were not really their father (or mother), and they then refused to speak to you or even see you? You would feel hurt. You might even be tempted to say to yourself: "But I AM their father (or mother). We've spent years together. They should know that I love them dearly, and that I'm their parent. How could they believe otherwise?" However, if you found out later how your children had been cruelly and cunningly deceived, to the point that they honestly believed they had compelling evidence that you were not who you said you were, could you still blame them for rejecting you? Wouldn't you forgive them? Of course you would. Now ask yourself: if you, as a parent, would forgive your children this way, then would not God do the same when His children are deceived by duplicitous errors?

I hear some Christians object: "But couldn't God give all baptised Christians sufficient grace to ensure that they never had an excuse to fall away, even when presented with cogent-sounding arguments against the Christian Faith? However convincing the arguments might seem, God's grace could always make sure that the arguments would somehow fail to persuade someone living a godly Christian life."

My reply: "Where do you claim to find THAT idea in Scripture? And how do you know grace works in the way you have described? To be sure, God gives us the gift of faith at our baptism, but it would be presumptuous to maintain that in doing so, He gives us an iron-clad life-long guarantee that we shall always be protected from the ravages of scepticism. And what do you envisage the godly Christian saying to the clever sceptic, in this scenario? 'I find your argument intellectually compelling; nevertheless, I reject it.' That would be an absurd, irrational thing to say, unless the Christian had an equally compelling argument for the Christian Faith. However, arguments for the Faith are suasive but NOT compelling, in this life. If you have a compelling argument that X is false and only a suasive argument that X is true, then it's rational to reject X. 'But surely, grace can tip the balance.' No. Grace is not like some feel-good drug that's supposed to dull your reason. Saying that the Christian ought to reject the unbeliever's bad but cogent-sounding argument is tantamount to saying that it is sometimes morally obligatory for a Christian to act contrary to reason. But we are by nature rational animals; we cannot do that without violating our very nature. God does not and could not expect that of us. We can only trust that God is good and just, and that He does not condemn those who are deceived by sophistical arguments into abandoning their Christian Faith."

People who give up the Christian faith because of emotional abuse suffered in childhood

Other people give up the Christian faith because of emotional abuse they have suffered as a child. They may have been terrorised at an early age by a graphic, Dante-esque picture of hell, or presented with a hideously distorted picture of God, which turns Him into a moral monster. Emotional damage can take a terible toll on young and impressionable children, and they may eventually come to regard the very idea of God with utter horror.

Are these children morally culpable? Of course not. Once again, put yourself in a parent's shoes. Imagine that unbeknownst to you, your child is savagely beaten every day, while you are out at work, by a person to whom you have entrusted the care of your child. To make matters worse, this cruel, twisted individual deceives your child by saying: "I am beating you now, but that is because your father (or mother) ordered me to give you this beating. He/She doesn't want to do it personally; he's/she's too busy, and only wants to see you if you look happy. That's why I am beating you, instead. What's more, if you complain about the beatings when your father/mother comes home, you'll get beaten twice as hard, every day, from now on. While you are around your father/mother, you are to pretend that you are perfectly happy. You have to show gratitude and say thank you for even the tiniest little thing your father/mother does for you. Otherwise, you'll get it from me, I can tell you!"

Who would blame a child raised in such a schizophrenic environment for coming to hate his own father/mother? No-one. Very well, then; how could God, the perfect Father of us all, blame his children for turning away from Him if their parents, teachers and/or guardians (to whom God has entrusted the care of these children), either deliberately or inadvertently, present the child with a false picture of God, which makes Him seem horrid and unloving?

People who give up the Christain faith because of spiritual hard-heartedness

I have answered objections relating to people who give up the Christian faith because of lack of adequate intellectual preparation, or because of emotional abuse suffered as a child. However, there remains a third and final category: people who give up the faith because of their own pride, selfishness or hardness of heart (e.g. because they cannot stomach the idea of a Being greater than themselves, whom they are morally obliged to thank for the fact that they are alive). These people are in a very different position. Left unchecked, their egomania could eventually reach a stage where it is all-encompassing, suffusing their entire personality. In such a state, they simply cannot tolerate the idea of a Deity. They hate the very idea of God, because they see Him as ethically limiting their (so-called) freedom to do as they please. In their outward dealings with others, they may cloak their self-centredness beneath a veneer of courtesy and respectability, but in their own personal lives, they put themselves first, and others second. Such people are then damned for their hard-heartedness. We saw above that the four ethical objections to going to Hell turn out to be invalid, in the case of totally self-centred, hard-hearted people.

What about spiritually hard-hearted people who are kind and loving to others?

What I am maintaining is that there are no people whose minds and hearts are totally closed to God as a result of pride, self-centredness or hardness of heart, but who are at the same time, loving spouses and/or parents. The reason why I maintain this is that if there were such people, they would still possess an essential core of goodness, which would mean that they could not go to Hell. It follows that people whose hearts are totally closed to God are also spiritually closed to others.

We should always beware of judging from appearances. Some people may appear to be totally closed to God, yet there may be some small corner of their hearts that is still open to God's grace. On the other side, some people who are in fact totally closed to God's grace may appear to be loving spouses or parents, but their seemingly virtuous actions may in fact be performed for all the wrong reasons. For instance, one could imagine a father who is kind to his child, solely because he sees that child as a tool for perpetuating his DNA in the human gene pool. The father's kindness appears genuine, but it is motivated by a false, selfish and pernicious idea of human nature.

What about people who give up the Christian faith for a complex mish-mash of reasons - intellectual, emotional AND spiritual?

I suspect that most people who have apostasised (myself included) fall into this category. The short answer to the question is: some of these reasons for giving up the faith are culpable (spiritual reasons for unbelief, such as pride or a desire to free oneself from Christian moral strictures), while others are not (intellectual obstacles and emotional abuse). God will judge you for the culpable reasons, but not the inculpable ones. Few people have totally rejected God in their hearts, just as very few people are completely open to God in their hearts. That's why God spends a life-time chasing after each of us. Some people die prematurely, before they might have returned to the Faith, but God, who watches over everyone, does not abandon them. It is reasonable to suppose that He reaches out in a special and hidden way to these people. God has His own way of reaching them; leave Him to worry about that.

8.1 Is Belief in God's Goodness compatible with the existence of Hell?

What is Hell, anyway?

Hell by Professor Peter Kreeft.

Pope John Paul II on Hell. Sermon from a General Audience (Wednesday, 28 July, 1999).

The Biblical View of Hell by Glenn Miller. Scroll down to the section on "the traditional view".
This article is well worth reading, as it will change the way you think about hell. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not depict hell as a torture chamber. According to one Biblical scholar, "In contrast with later Christian writings and ideas, the torments of hell are not described in the NT."

Hell: a difficult doctrine we dare not ignore by Dr. Christopher Townsend.
"Uncomfortable though the process will be, we need to reverse the perceptible loss of interest in hell in both popular and more academic Christian circles. Hell is simply too important to neglect. It is a doctrine which interacts with more central theological issues. Neglect, or inappropriate changes, may result in a subtle reshaping of the whole body of theological belief. Indeed, the meaning of salvation turns on beliefs about the fate of the lost: if we overlook the eschatological consequences of refusing Christ, salvation can increasingly focus on personal fulfilment in this life. Finally, this doctrine is integral to the vitality of the church, promoting holiness and faithfulness, and reinforcing the motives for mission to a needy world."

Is the existence of Hell incompatible with a loving God?

The Craig-Bradley Debate: Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Talbott's Universalism by William Lane Craig.

Talbott's Universalism Once More by William Lane Craig.

Does the Balance Between Saved and Lost Depend on Our Obedience to Christ's Great Commission? by William Lane Craig.

Is Heaven too exclusive?

What about those who have never heard the gospel? by Glenn Miller.
A very thoughtful and compassionate article.

Are all the past great non-Christian religious leaders who REJECTED Christ languishing in Hell right now? by Glenn Miller.

Will the Heterodox be Saved? by Archimandrite (Metropolitan) Philaret (1984).
This article answers the questions: "If the Orthodox faith is the only true faith, can Christians of other confessions be saved? May a person who has led a perfectly righteous life on earth be saved on the strength of his ancestry, while not being baptized as Christian?"

A Letter about Pain in Heaven over Lost Loved Ones by Glenn Miller.
Glenn Miller responds compassionately to a letter by a reader concerned about not meeting their parents in the hereafter.

Why doesn't God just show Himself and put a stop to the spiritual confusion people undergo, so that nobody ends up in Hell?

Divine Hiddenness and the Nature of Belief by Ted Poston and Trent Dougherty.
J. L. Schellenberg presents an argument for atheism from the phenomenon of divine hiddenness. In short, a loving God would give those individuals willing to believe enough evidence to believe, yet there exist persons willing to believe who lack the crucial evidence. In this essay the authors explain why Schellenberg's argument does not work. The authors propose that the kind of relationship God most desires is one in which the agent longs for God in a way that is best accomplished in many individuals via a period of doubt.

8.2 What About the Apokatastasis?

Apocatastasis. Entry in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

In Defense of Naive Universalism by Daniel Howard-Snyder.
Although the author rejects universalism on Biblical grounds and also because the Church has constantly taught against it, he contends here that the philosophical arguments advanced by Michael Murray against naive universalism (the thesis that upon death all persons are instantly transformed by God in such a way that they fully desire communion with God and are thus fit for enjoying the beatific vision forever) are seriously flawed and have no merit whatsoever. It may well be that we can only know that hell is eternal on the basis of divine revelation.

8.3 Dare we hope that all will be saved?

The Population of Hell by Avery Cardinal Dulles.