I recently purchased Timothy Kellner's book The Reasons for God- Belief in An Age of Skepticism and although he outlines a lot of unbiased attitudes in his opening chapters, it is the chapter 'How can a loving God send people to hell?' that I am going to be talking about in the next few posts, mostly because it falls flat of any sort of answer at all and rather exposes some strange ad hominem arguments.
I will say firstly though that I am enjoying Timothy Kellner's book and find most of it interesting and it has some great points and will probably do a full review of it at some point. But this post addresses something I read in his book and was taken a back by the short sightedness of his explanation.
A judging god offends me...
The most shocking argument the Kellner unleashes in this chapter is in response to a woman who stated that a god who judges people offends her. To which Kellner replies "I respectfully urge you to consider your cultural location when you find the Christian teaching about hell offensive.' He then goes on to tell her that the aspects of Christianity that Westerners like, i.e. forgiving your enemies other societies find 'repulsive'. 'Traditional societies the teaching about turning the other cheek makes absolutely no sense. It offends peoples instincts about what is right' He then leaps from this argument to a subtle attack on the questioner, claiming that because she favours the god of love and is offended by a god of judgement this must mean she holds her world view over that of other cultures in short finding a Western world view to be superior to that of non-Western ones. He states 'Why, I concluded, should Western cultural sensibilities be the final court in which to judge wether Christianity is valid? I asked the woman gently whether she thought her culture superior to non-Western ones. She immediately answered 'no'. 'Well then,' I asked, 'why should you cultures objections to Christianity trump theirs?'
I find his argument flawed in several ways
1) Westerners do not conclusively uphold and endorse the ideas about forgiving their enemies. Take America as an example, one of the largest Christian countries, also one of the few Western countries to still practise the death penalty, arguably not an act that forgives your enemies. Also a country that attacks invades and bombs countries regularly is also not an act that could be classed as forgiveness quite clearly an act of judgement. The idea that the West loves forgiveness and traditional cultures don't is an idea he implies himself and not the questioner. Where are these countries that are so repulsed by forgiveness?
2) Every time you disagree with someones way of thinking it does not transpose into finding a whole culture inferior to yours. This is an ad-hominem attack that is making the woman feel as though she is feeling superior to another cultures.
3) Isn't forgiveness and love a way that we are all trying to live? Didn't the West once live in a way of judgement, looking back several centuries in England there were witch trials, public executions, torture, lack of religious or political freedom. Aren't we all in agreement that forgiveness is the better way to live. That judging others for the colour of the skin, sexuality or gender is counterintuitive to living harmoniously? That is whether you like it or not , the way the world is evolving, and countries that do not practice this are viewed in a negative light by Christians and none Christians, by the secular world as well as religious. It is not by feeling superior that we feel things ought to change but by seeing how badly practising this form of judgement impacts on peoples lives and freedoms that means we fight for human rights and for equality. These are the characteristics by which the world changes for the better, so it is completely acceptable to feel that Christianity and by proxy the god of Christianity would have these characteristics as well.
He then goes on to say that we should imagine 'Christianity is not the product of anyone culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God. If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgement.'
Yes human cultures are ever changing but most are evolving into more tolerant countries which aim to improve the lives of those in it, that give equality and freedom to its people that don't judge others that act upon leniency. Will it not be soon that a god of judgement will not only contradict some human thought but all human thought. I also don't see why 'If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place.' Surely if Christianity were the truth, which we are always reminded is absolute, there would be no room for throwing out its passages and accepting others which is what anyone would have to do to make Christianity seem reasonable to the modern world.
Yes you can be offended by a judging god because it is always contradictory to love, forgiveness and understanding which we deem to be high qualities in people all around the world. So it is no stretch to be offended by a god that doesn't embellish these qualities that we find so perfect in humans that god should easily see how futile judgement is.