I’d like to come back to my critique of Blanchette and Walls’ essay on hell in God and Evil. Let’s begin with a little indulgent self-quotation to set the stage:
First Blanchette and Walls note that God could override human freedom that opts for hell, but he chooses not to because “Without genuine moral freedom, this experience, and all of the goods connected to it–such as genuine love and morally significant relationships–would be impossible.” (253) This is a common claim, but I’m not persuaded by it. To begin with, if you look up classic definitions of love (agape and phileo) you will not find those definitions including the requirement that the agent who loves another not be determined to love the other. So there is no reason to think that God cannot override an individual’s rebellious will such that the individual loves God as a result. Further, such a free-will override would not be constant (as is often assumed). Let’s say I’m on a diet and I ask God to override my will when necessary to ensure that I stay on the diet. I may have my libertarian freedom unimpeded 23 hours every day. It is only in those patches of ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there when God would have to intervene to override my free will so I wouldn’t choose the mocha cheesecake or take a handful of potato chips.
I’d like to expand on this critique here because I think this kind of appeal to free will is ripe for critical reflection.
Imagine that you’re visiting a mental hospital and you see a patient in the hallway carving his bloody arm with a pen knife while a couple burly orderlies stand placidly to the side. You’d surely protest: “Stop that man. He’s reducing his arm to a bloodly pulp!”
Now imagine if one of the orderlies replied: “Yes, but he wants to do it. If we intervene we would be overriding his free will.”
I know how I would respond: “I don’t care about his free will. He’s killing himself!”
The Arminians who appeal to free will to explain a hell of eternal conscious torment remind me of those orderlies.
Think about it like this. While you recognize that the man shredding his arm is freely choosing to do so, you also recognize that he is not in his right mind because no man in his right mind would carve up his arm.
Now hold that thought. What about a man who freely chooses to reject relationship with that than which none greater can be conceived. Could he possibly be in his right mind?
(1) A man who freely wills to engage in self-destructive behavior while not being in his right mind should be prevented from doing so.
(2) Freely willing to carve up one’s arm with a pen knife is self-destructive behavior that indicates one is not in their right mind.
(3) Therefore, a man who freely wills to carve up his arm with a pen knife should be prevented from doing so.
(4) If freely willing to carve up one’s arm with a pen knife is self-destructive behavior that indicates one is not in their right mind, then freely choosing to reject relationship with that than which none greater can be conceived is self-destructive behavior that indicates one is not in their right mind.
(5) Therefore, a man who freely wills to reject relationship with that than which none greater can be conceived should be prevented from doing so.
An argument like this would place the onus on folks like Blanchette and Walls who believe that appeals to free will can solve all the conceptual problems with freely chosen eternal conscious torment.