Must Hitler burn forever?

Posted on 06/09/11 22 Comments

In case you’ve been thinking about hell a lot lately, or even if you haven’t, have I got a rather sobering treat for you. Today I am making available for you free of charge a thirty-three page chapter I wrote on the doctrine of hell for a book manuscript called The Crazy Things We Believe. Thus far I’ve written three of an anticipated seven chapters but my literary agent was unable to find this fine manuscript a home so I figure I’ll give at least this chapter a new life on the internet. So here it is available for pondering: Must Hitler burn forever?

By the way, to set the proper mood I recommend that before opening the chapter you click here to hear the creepy “Tubular Bells” from “The Exorcist” to serve as the background music into this most disturbing of Christian doctrines.

And now dear reader, listen, read, and ponder…

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  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    [I just put the paper clips back]

    Randal, thank-you very much for posting this. It’s a shame that chapter won’t be included in your book.

    The first Bible I received as a child depicted a radiant, grinning Jesus framed with the faces of adoring children. That is the picture of Jesus that I recall from my youth. We sang “Jesus loves me” with vigor and prayed “in Jesus? name” before every meal. That’s an interesting peek into your upbringing. I can’t help but wonder where you would be today and what you’d be doing if you hadn’t been so thoroughly indoctrinated with Christianity as a child.

    If a fate as horrible as hell potentially awaits every human being, then why are we Christians not more diligent about warning our children of the danger? Because (as you point out later) none of them seriously believe it. In the words of Alan Watts: “I return to the point that clergy and people of the church do not really believe at all in God in the old-fashioned sense of the word. If they did seriously believe the Christian religion in its orthodox form, they would be screaming in the street. But even the Jehovah’s witnesses are more or less polite when they come and call at your house. If they really believed that you were going to hell, they would make a bigger fuss about you than if you had the bubonic plague. But nobody really takes Christianity that seriously anymore, because they do not believe in it. They know they ought to believe in it. In fact many sermons are exhortations to have more faith, which means that we all recognize that we do not really believe it, but we ought to. We feel very guilty about it, but we do not have the moral strength to believe in this. However, it is not only a matter of moral strength. It is a matter of being asked to believe in something that most people feel is nonsense, which is the world is run on the lines of a state. How can you be a citizen of the United States, having taken an oath that a republican form of government is the best form of government, and believe that the universe is a monarchy?”</i? [my emphasis – from Watts' Myth and Religion, chapter entitled Democracy in the Kingdom of Heaven]

    Thus one can always rebuild on the notion that we simply lack an adequate understanding of the holiness of God and the horror of human sin to understand the logic, indeed necessity, of the doctrine of hell. This is where I object. If God is beyond comprehension, why do we bother to rely on theology to try to understand him/her/it? If we can’t comprehend something, how can we belkieve in it’s existence? We’re not talking about string theory (which I believe exists but which I don’t even begin to understand). We’re talking about a concept which becomes incoherent once you start trying to pin it down.

    This is the money line: the problem is not that we can’t see how hell can be consistent with God?s love but rather that we can see that it can’t be. Why can’t more Christians admit this?

    I’ll end with this gem: “Personally, I remain unconvinced by the universalist?s convictions as I find that the weight of the texts, and the formidable traditions that have read those texts, seem to point toward the eternal damnation of some as the most likely outcome.” Randal, you are so close. Just toss away the texts.

    • randal

      Thanks TAM … I think.

  • Andrew EC

    Randal,

    Not sure you want this kind of accolade from an atheist, but this is a terrific bit of writing, and I wish you’d share it with more of your co-religionists!

    Seriously: nice work and a great read.

    • randal

      I’ll take compliments from just about anybody (except a select group including unrepentant genocidaires and neo-nazis). So thanks. Too bad nobody wanted to publish it…

  • Kevin Jud

    Randal,
    Thought-provoking work.
    The idea of eternal punishment is horrifying to us and yet that is the clear reading of scripture. While this is God’s revelation to us in scripture there is a great temptation to want to soften it or reinterpret it because we don’t want to understand God in that way. We have the constant temptation to mold God in our image.
    Eternity is so beyond our ability to comprehend and eternal torment is unimaginable. And yet this is what Jesus has come to free us from. He drank the cup of God’s wrath for us.
    Jesus as Savior is Savior from something.

    To TAM,”just toss away the texts”. Is this how you operate in court? “Forget the evidence and the documents, your honor. Just go with your gut.”
    Kevin

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    Yes. Don’t ask me why. I am a particularist on this. :)

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Pastor Jud, my approach in Court is to rely on reliable evidence. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable – ask any judge. 2000 year old second-hand and third-hand accounts of eyewitness testimony aren’t worth the papyrus they written on, especially when they purport to recount miraculous events. JMHO.

    • chris

      TAM,

      Is that a personal or professional opinion?

      I ask because as was pointed out earlier, that was NOT the opinion of co-founder of Harvard Law School and author of Treatise on the Law of Evidence (the standard on which evidence is considered in a court of law in the US) Simon Greenleaf.

      So I cant help but wonder if you are as qualified to discredit the evidence as you claim to be? But you mention that you discredit it because of your a priori….

  • Kevin Jud

    TAM,
    The texts in question (those that bring you the words of eternal life) were not recently discovered so that they have endureed for 2,000 years is not relevant to their truth. They have been copied, but they are not second hand.

    Do you reject accounts of Julius Caesar because they are old and second hand accounts? Or do you reject accounts of Jesus because you presuppose there are no miracles?

    The article is interesting because so many Christians have watered down the teachings of the Church as to make Jesus irrelevant to their form of Christianity.

    Peace, my friend,
    Kevin

    • Josh

      No, I don’t reject 2nd, 3rd, or 4th person accounts of Julius Ceasar because Ceasar’s story is not the basis for a religion.

      The story of Jesus attempts to answer the ultimate question: the meaning of life.

      The story of Ceasar is a biography that does not answer the ultimate question.

      As simple as your mind!

  • http://www.bryceashlinmayo.com Bryce Ashlin-Mayo

    Thanks for the link…it seems weird that in the current evangelical culture that is ripe with books on Hell, this chapter has not found a home somewhere…thanks for sharing my friend.

    • randal

      “it seems weird that in the current evangelical culture that is ripe with books on Hell, this chapter has not found a home somewhere”.

      The answer, I fear, is that loser is spelled R-A-N-D-A-L. But that’s just me feeling sorry for myself.

  • Josh

    Hitler believed that Jesus died for his sins, therefore Hitler is in Heaven.

    Hell is not for people who accept the gift, regardless of their sins.

    But, it is nice to ignore the fact that Christianity was the cause of the Holocaust.

    • chris

      Josh says:

      Hitler believed that Jesus died for his sins, therefore Hitler is in Heaven.

      Hell is not for people who accept the gift, regardless of their sins.

      But, it is nice to ignore the fact that Christianity was the cause of the Holocaust.

      That comment wins so many awards I’m not sure where to start the count.

      Most uneducated post of the day/week/month – we’ll leave it at that.

  • Walter

    Good chapter.

    Thanks for sharing that with us.

  • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

    At the risk of over-simplifying your position, are you basically saying that though the traditional doctrine of Hell may not make sense to us now, it is nevertheless correct and will ultimately be revealed to us as fully consistent with God’s justice, goodness and love? That even though an understanding of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment appears to be incoherent and offends our (fallen) sense of justice, it is nevertheless what Scripture teaches and is the position of orthodox Christianity, so therefore you can’t actually accept evangelical universalism despite its emotional and intellectual appeal? That at least in this case, tradition and the Bible trump logic and reason?

    • randal

      The ending of the chapter has more to do with the concerns of various editors who considered the manuscript for publication. So while you could try to exegete my position from the chapter, I’m not sure you shall have much success.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    The answer, I fear, is that loser is spelled R-A-N-D-A-L. But that’s just me feeling sorry for myself.

    Well, R-A-N-D-A-L, here’s something for you to read and become a winner:

    I’m going to do a running commentary on Randal Rauser’s tirade against hell.

    Excerpt:

    “Before commenting on the specifics, I’d like to make a general observation. For someone who waxes indignant over the “torments” of the damned, Rauser exhibits an unhealthy fascination with imagining the torments of the damned. It’s as if he’s an avid fan of slasher films. His outrage over hell would be a bit more convincing if his voyeuristic depiction of the damned didn’t give the lie to his pious protestations.”

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    I know this is dredging up an old post, so my apologies to everyone who will get an email on this. Sorry.

    I didn’t weigh on on this at all because I wanted to think a little more about the subject. Since you posted this, I’ve started to wonder a bit about my whole position on things, and I’m not so certain of the whole “eternal hellfire and brimstone for Hitler” thing anymore. So thanks for bringing up the topic the way you did.

    I don’t mean to start a new discussion or anything — again, this is an old thread — but I would be interested to see you write a little more on this. I don’t question eternal conscious torment because it’s unjust….no finite time period would be sufficient to absolve me of my sins, much less Hitler….but because I find it to be woefully incomplete. It doesn’t make sense that God declares all things new yet has millions of souls whose judgment is still incomplete.

    There is no reason to think that God cannot destroy the souls of the damned. I daresay that facing one’s imminent destruction at the final judgment before the holiness of God would be a horror unimaginable. Consider what Jesus said in Matthew: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

    Anyway, those were just a few thoughts I had.

    • randal

      Thanks for that. Sometimes it is kind of frustrating when you post something you’ve worked rather hard on and people post dismissive half-baked comments (indeed, some of them are little more than warmed over batter) which show they haven’t begun to grapple with the issue you’ve carefully identified. So I welcome any comments (including those long after the fact) which demonstrate thoughtful reflection and engagement. Your muffins are definitely ready.

  • Shirley Sloan

    I smiled as I read….but I’m kinda glad you’ve not published it yet. I think you can find a lot more scripture to support universal restoration than to support eternal torment. (i’m not a theologian…but I can help you with that) Some of us have been brought up in a tradition that says ” if you don’t believe in the lake of fire…you’re going there!”. But really, that is a slander against our loving Father. If God is a personal God….then it doesn’t seem likely that He thinks of humanity as just so much fodder, that he will pick out a few nice specimens and then …not just destroy…but torment forever the rest. You have made the idea of ET rediculous…as well you should…but you need to work on the ending. Hello people….it’s His MERCY that endures forever. I’m a believer in UR. (universal restoration) For some reason the ambiguous term “universalist” is mostly used in a pejorative way.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Thanks Shirley. You’re right. There is a lot of scripture that can be marshalled to support universal reconcilation in addition to some powerful philosophical and theological considerations. A friend of mine, Robin Parry, wrote a great book on the topic (now in a second edition) called “The Evangelical Universalist”. (He wrote it under the pseudonym “Gregory MacDonald”.) I also recommend a recent documentary “Hellbound?” by another friend of mine, the director Kevin Miller. It’s an intriguing pro-universalist presentation. While I may not agree with Parry and Miller, I appreciate the strength of their case.