Ross Douthat decided to use his Easter column to say how badly he wants hell to exist -- perhaps not the choice of topics you or I would make, dear reader, but we must always recall that Douthat is occupying the chair at the New York Times formerly held by warmongering serial liar Bill Kristol, so he carries an exceptionally depraved banner:
In part, hell's weakening grip on the religious imagination is a consequence of growing pluralism. Bell's book begins with a provocative question: Are Christians required to believe that Gandhi is in hell for being Hindu? The mahatma is a distinctive case, but swap in "my Hindu/Jewish/Buddhist neighbor" for Gandhi, and you can see why many religious Americans find the idea of eternal punishment for wrong belief increasingly unpalatable.I don't wish to prolong the suspense, so let's get right to it -- is Ghandi burning in hell this very minute and for every minute hereafter, Ross Douthat? Will all the Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, wrong-denominational Christians, and non-believers soon and forever be joining him? Douthat concludes:
Is Gandhi in hell? It’s a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there's a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven?I will not sketch in the path by which Douthat got from Ghandi's damnation to Tony Soprano -- you're welcome to read the whole thing if you wish to inhabit the chain of argument, such as it is. The interesting thing is in how Douthat's conclusion blithely dismisses the question that he began by raising with such apparent urgency, evidently considering the answer to be too obvious to spell out. Of a piece with this, it is interesting how Douthat can't be bothered to forthrightly address the fate of an actual human being except to cast it in terms of a made-up character.
Does Douthat realize that consequential moral differences separate Ghandi and Tony Soprano? That one existed -- and on his account, still exists somewhere -- and was capable of the whole range of human experiences, while the other was a mildly interesting fabrication on cable tee-vee? Are we sure Douthat knows this?
Given this, it's strange, to say the least, that Douthat should write this in the very same column:
The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.Or how about this: the trivializer of human lives can crawl so far up the ass of his mythology that he can't be bothered to separate reality from fiction. I think Douthat is showing what happens when a person spends so much of his life gawking at statues of men hanging on crosses that he forgets, or never got the chance to realize in the first place because the indoctrination began before he could even speak, what it means to distress, torture, and demean a human being.
The infliction of pain is not pretty, nor is it ennobling. The prospect of it extended forever is unbearably monstrous and deeply, unimaginably evil. It is nothing to hide inside decorative eggs, or coat in chocolate, and it shouldn't be allowed to darken the onset of Spring. It is witheringly, profoundly vile.
Addendum: It's probably worth noting that I am not making an argument that "hell is troubling, therefore it doesn't exist," or anything of the sort. This would be an emotive fallacy that would mirror Douthat's. I am saying, simply, that hell is incompatible with a loving god that Christians and other theists typically want to insist on; and that belief in hell -- belief in the sense of favoring it or apologizing for it -- requires a level of moral blindness that's appalling and shocking.
(via Amanda Marcotte)