Someone named James D. Zimmerman has reviewed the volume The End of Christianity, edited by John Loftus (Prometheus; 2011) on Amazon. I found this paragraph especially interesting:
So, “many Christian denominations have long since dispensed with hell?” I wonder which ones these are. Catholics? The Greek Orthodox? Southern Baptists? Here is what the Greek Orthodox Catechism says awaits people following the final judgment:
The condition of each individual will no more be changed, but those, who have gone into Paradise will live in Heaven eternally happy, and those who have gone into Punishment will live in Hades eternally unhappy (page 39).
The Roman Catholic Catechism says the following:
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs (section 1035).
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the following on May 9, 1963, as part of a statement of Baptist Faith and Message:
God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will he raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.
(Each of these sources is available online.)
Have these doctrines been officially renounced? When and where? By whom? Catholics and Baptists no longer believe in an eternal punitive hell? I am afraid I will need more than Mr. Zimmerman’s assurance on that point.
Mr. Zimmerman complains that I offer accounts of hell from non-biblical sources. My critique is aimed at the traditional doctrine of hell as expressed by the most orthodox, learned, and influential philosophers, theologians, preachers, and teachers of mainstream Christian traditions, and this is why I cited the views of such persons. In short, my critique is aimed at the opinions of Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, et al. Now Mr. Zimmerman might prefer that I address only the Biblical sources on the afterlife, but, alas, my essay was not written with his preferences in mind. Mr. Zimmerman, of course, has the right to focus on whatever sources he pleases, but then I have the right to have my essay judged on its on terms.
Now what really seems to be getting to Mr. Zimmerman, the real basis of his ire, seems to be that I could not resist some snide remarks at the expense of Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. Zimmerman huffs that “any honest Christian” is sure to be put off by such remarks. Gee, I know a number of honest Christians who dislike Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin even more than I do. I can only conclude that Mr. Zimmerman has tacitly defined “honest Christian” as those who share his political predilections. And he thinks that I am arrogant?
Maybe I am expecting too much from a review posted on Amazon, since, apparently, anybody can post pretty much anything there. Still, it would be nice to get a response that exhibited a modicum of intelligence. Or at least spelled my name right.
“The weakest links in the book are Dr. Keith Parson’s “Hell” and Dr. David Eller’s “Is Religion Compatible with Science?” (chapters 10 and 11). Since this is specifically a book focusing on Christianity, it’s unclear why Eller spends over four pages defining religion in general (258-262). And since many Christian denominations have long since dispensed with hell, Parson’s chapter will be entirely irrelevant to them. For those stalwart bible-literalists, Parson [Sic. Actually, it is “Parsons.” I
f you criticize someone you should at least get his name right.] wastes three pages offering descriptions of hell from extra-biblical sources (such as Dante, Jonathan Edward [Sic. Actually it is “Edwards.”], and James Joyce). Any honest Christian – and they are the target audience (20) – who sloughs through those pages, is sure to be put off by Parson comparing former Vice President Dick Cheney to Hitler and Stalin (238) and calling Sarah Palin a fool (246). Such mud-slinging is needless, even hypocritical; Parson’s later decries apologist Jerry Walls as “insufferably arrogant” for saying “only the irremediably wicked” reject Christ (253).”