Christian apologists are accustomed to dealing with the “straw man” fallacy. The one who engages in this type of argument paints a false picture of his opponent’s position, one that is easy to ridicule or defeat, and then concludes, triumphantly, that his view has prevailed. But not every challenge that misstates our views is necessarily intentional. At times, the challenger has simply failed to grasp what it is that Christianity holds.
Take for instance the doctrine of Hell – the concept of eternal punishment. Many atheists take this doctrine as evidence that primitive men “invented” Christianity, because they believe that any God who would punish someone for failing to worship him would be unworthy of worship.
Consider this challenge:
“According to christian beliefs, their god requires extensive ego-stroking, and will throw anyone who does not provide it into hell. Everyone can see that this is wicked. Some openly call it ‘just’ for the purpose of stroking their god’s ego…. Now, you could try to challenge my assessment. You could try to show there are people (according to christian beliefs) who don’t stroke your god’s ego but are not sent to hell. If there are people who refuse to call your god ‘good,’ ‘holy,’ ‘just,’ and ‘righteous’ throughout their entire lives and still are not sent to hell (again, according to christian belief) then you will have shown my assessment to be incorrect.”
Looking past the mocking tone of the challenge can be difficult, but since the challenger’s position may be based simply on ignorance, it may be worth the trouble. Let’s take a closer look at the challenge.
It is simply mistaken to assert that God “requires ego stroking.” This is more an expression of emotion than an argument, as it completely misses God’s true nature. As a perfect being, God requires nothing. As used by the writer, “ego” refers to self-esteem, and can be defined as “somebody’s idea of his or her own importance or worth, usually of an appropriate level” or it can mean something more pejorative, as in: “an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a feeling of superiority to other people.” Either way, the term cannot be applied logically to God. God lacks no knowledge, including self knowledge. He doesn’t have an “idea” of his worth; quite the contrary, he “knows” with certainty that he has infinite worth. He can’t have an “exaggerated” sense of self-importance because one cannot add to infinity. He literally is the most important thing possible. To the extent that he feels superior to his creation, it is because, well, He is. His knowledge of that fact is not arrogance, because it is factual.
What is “wicked” is for a created being to demand what he does not deserve. God, on the other hand, deserves recognition of what he is, for such recognition is an accurate reflection of the way reality is. I naturally recognize when someone or something is “superior” to me; I naturally feel awe and a desire to praise something excellent, outstanding, virtuous, awesome. If I am honest about it, I will not refuse to acknowledge such recognition. Moreover, for something truly amazing, one will feel the response that is due in such settings – awe. Getting one’s mind around what God entails would result in a recognition that praise and worship of this being is indeed appropriate, not because he needs it but because our refusal to correctly assess him hurts us. In other words, knowing but rejecting God means we are living a lie, that we are living outside the natural order of things. This harms us, not God.
Yes, recognizing God’s perfection is “just,” but not because we wish to “stroke” his ego. It is just because it is fitting and due, a proper response to the fact of his perfection.
Are there people who “don’t stroke god’s ego but are not sent to hell?” Yes, of course. Those who place their trust in Jesus and accept the gift he offers avoid separation from God. Christian’s refer to this as the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Jesus takes our place, accepting the punishment we rightly deserve, while we share in his divinity and receive the grace we need to be reunited with the God against whom we have rebelled.
Will you find people who refused to call “your god “good,” “holy,” “just,” and “righteous” throughout their entire lives” in heaven? Probably not. Such a person is refusing to recognize reality. Beholding perfection, he refuses to see it for what it is and instead persists in his rebellion.
Which of course leads us right back to the doctrine of hell. We live in a free society, one that at least in principle provides for justice. A person who spends his life rebelling against authority, and insisting on doing whatever he pleases, following no rules other than what he wishes to do, will eventually find himself in jail. He will have identified himself as someone who cannot handle freedom, who cannot live in society, for he does not respect what it entails. He will find himself alone and separated. But this separation will have been his own fault, based on his insistence in doing things his way. It will not be because he failed to say the right things, but because the just response to rebellion is punishment and separation.
We see this as human beings, though our sight is far from perfect. A perfect God sees this with perfect clarity. And this indeed is the kind of “bad news” that should prompt one in rebellion to give a closer look to the long term consequences of his choices.
Posted by Al Serrato