The Absurdity of Hell

by Ben Ryding

The problem of evil (or suffering, if you’d like) is considered by many to be the most damning piece of evidence against traditional theism and as such, is often a primary focus in various works in apologetics and philosophy of religion.  However, I find responses by Alvin Plantinga on the issue at least somewhat satisfying insofar as I agree that the existence of suffering does not present a defeater for the Christian and it is even plausible in my mind that suffering is indeed a requirement for bringing about the best possible world.  The issue I find more damning than the problem of suffering is the problem of hell, which I don’t believe is addressed in any suitable way.

Various contemporary responses to the problem of hell include:

-Western sensibilities with regards to justice are skewed and incapable of understanding the necessity of the sort of justice hell brings about (other cultures are perfectly fine with eternal condemnation, for example!).

-Hell is necessary for allowing us to understand the significance of Jesus Christ and the cross (a la Tim Keller).

-Hell is not a place of literal fire where people are tortured, it is a spiritual separation from God (this one is meant to ‘soften the blow’ of the problem).

-Hell allows people to freely reject God and live apart from Him.  It is the ultimate form of respect for human freedom. (I find this sort of response particularly laughable and will deal with it at length.)

There are others, but it will suffice to list these as a sampling of the sort of strategies philosophers and apologists use to defend the doctrine of hell. Needless to say, I find all of these strategies utterly intellectually, and dare I say morally, bankrupt.

But just what is the problem of hell?  What follows is my own formulation of the problem of hell, and perhaps when this formulation is completed, we shall see some of the strategies employed above crumble.

The Problem of Hell

First, one must presuppose all of the traditional characteristics of God – perfect goodness, omnipotence, omniscience, etc.  I will forgo a lengthy discussion on God’s attributes in favor of getting straight to the point, as most philosophers and theologians agree on this issue. Let’s call the set of all of these attributes P. The following is the argument from the problem of hell in deductive form:

  1. If a God possesses P then he is able to save all imperfect beings through reconciliation.
  2. All imperfect beings are not saved by the Christian God.
  3. Therefore the Christian God does not possess P.
  4. Christianity fundamentally asserts that God possesses P.
  5. Therefore Christianity is fundamentally incorrect.

The obvious premise under fire here is going to be premise one.  In the next post in this series I will build a case for the soundness of this premise.  Once this case is established, the strategies employed to defend the doctrine of hell collapse and the rest of the argument flows deductively as stated.