Challenge: Jesus Wasn’t Moral

Posted: September 21, 2010 by Amy Hall in Jesus Changes Everything, Weekly Challenge

For this week’s challenge, here’s a quote from Bertrand Russell’s essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian“:

There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation…. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty.

This quote comes down to two main objections. What are they? Which would you tackle first? What would your response be to a friend who said this to you? In what direction would you try to move the conversation? Answer any or all of these questions below, and check back later this week to hear Brett’s response to this challenge.

Comments
  1. Sam Harper says:

    Objection 1: Jesus is immoral because he believed in everlasting punishment.

    This is an odd thing to say–that merely thinking something is true makes one immoral. If there really is a hell, and Jesus has good reason to think so, he isn’t immoral for believing it; rather, he’s just being rational. Even if there wasn’t a hell, and Jesus believed it, that wouldn’t make him immoral; rather, that would just mean he was mistaken.

    There are plenty of disturbing things in the world, but we aren’t moral or immoral based on whether we believe them. If I believed somebody got raped and murdered, that wouldn’t make me immoral. If it happened, it happened.

    Objection 2: Jesus is immoral because he expressed indignation toward those who didn’t listen to him.

    I would have to see specific examples. I’m aware of several examples of Jesus expressing indignation towards people who are immoral in some way. I don’t see how that makes Jesus immoral. Sometimes, indignation is called for. Apathy toward rapists, for example, is a vice, not a virtue. Indifference toward suicide bombers is also a vice.

  2. Jesus, being the maker of all things, has a divine prerogative that Socrates did not.

    And if we think that’s unfair, then we are placing our ourselves (and our feelings) above God.

  3. graffightx says:

    The first objection is that Hell is immoral or unjust in some way. The second is that was a litte more difficult for me to see, but I think it’s that a good moral philosopher like say Socrates does shouldn’t need a threat of hell in order to get people to believe it.
    My first question would be what about everlasting punishment is inhumane? Is it the fact they are being punished at all; or is it that he punishment does not end? Or is it some other reason that I’m not seeing? Next I would ask, what exactly do you think hell is?
    I have a few problems with both problems proposed. On the one hand hell is not inhumane given what it actually is. Hell as it is commonly described by fire and torture is not necessarily an accurate depiction of what hell is really like when you get there. The term fire is used as a metaphor more or less to convey the idea that you don’t want to go to hell. What hell is, is a complete separation from God, it’s like finding out what life would be like if there really is no God…I have no idea what that looks like, but I can’t imagine that it will be pleasant.
    Given the fact that God offers us one of two options hell really seems like a natural thing that would happen. You either choose a) I want to be with God for eternity or b) I don’t, and I’ll live with all that that entails. But think about what the first option means, if you decide to love God, and you respond to his love for you properly, you should be rewarded for that.
    Imagine a father who has two children. The father says one day, children clean up your rooms, if you do a good job I will take you to have ice cream later on. One of the children does as he is told and cleans up his room the best he can, while the other does not, instead he plays video games the entire time. When the father comes to check and sees one child listened and the other did not, what would be the proper response? What would the child who cleaned his room think if the Father still took both of them to get ice cream. I think it’s obvious, that if the child who cleaned his room saw his brother getting the same reward as him it would make the work he did meaningless…he may even doubt that doing it in the future is a good idea, if the reward will be given either way.
    When we apply this to the idea of heaven, we can see clearly that if God just let everyone in, what good reason would there be to love him? What meaning would the phrase “God loves you” have. Why would it not be ok to just say, I’m getting eternal paradise anyway…why not rape this lady?
    As far as your second objection that Jesus is like other philosophers, I would ask who do you think Jesus is? Is he just a good man or is he something more? Is he just trying to give you a good moral philosophy, or does he actually have authority to say what he is saying? From here if they don’t understand who Jesus is, I would begin to explain.

  4. Doug Keller says:

    “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”

    I’d like to know what Russell means by “profoundly humane.” What is his mind thinking of when he uses this phrase? I assume he is thinking that Jesus ought to be whatever this means, by nature? I can think of some attributes of Christ that might fall into that profoundly humane bucket, but I can also think of some other attributes that would definitely all outside of it. I’d also like to find out how he came to the conclusion that “hell-fire a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty.” What does he think makes any punishment for sin, particularly “hell-fire”, “cruel”?

  5. Aaron Mattingly says:

    Just taking a stab at this…

    The grounds of Russells accusation are;

    1. That Jesus believed in eternal punishment (Hell) a doctrine which, in Russells words, is immoral, cruel and profoundly inhumane, therefore Jesus sullied himself by holding to and preaching this doctrine.

    The assertion that Jesus believed in and preached an eternal punishment in hell is correct. The evaluation that this doctrine is immoral, cruel and profoundly inhumane should be clarified and challenged. ie. How did you come to that conclusion? Or upon what basis do you judge something as being immoral, cruel and inhumane other than “what you think” or “your feelings”. This needs clarification before you can really discuss this further.

    2. That it is unbecoming of a sage that he should respond with indignation to those who disagree with him.

    The primary assumption here, and which is elucidated by his reference to “preachers” and “Socrates” is that Jesus was nothing more than a wise teacher, a philosopher or sage. The secondary assumption is that it is immoral to respond with indignation to those who disagree with you.

    I would want to explore Jesus claims of divinity. If Jesus is who he claimed to be (God) then he is the epitomy of what it means to be a great teacher, a wise sage or profound philosopher. In other words he sets the bar by which all else are evaluated, not the other way around. Jesus is THE example of superlative excellence, in the flesh. Moreover, if this be true, we ought to take what he says VERY seriously.

  6. Aaron Mattingly says:

    Just ruminating a bit….

    It is not the degree of the offence that counts so much as the diginity of the one who is offended when it comes to the doctrine of eternal punishment. Hell exists for those who rebel against an INFINITELY PERFECT and HOLY GOD and who persistently refuse his offer of pardon through the means which he has established, namely faith in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. In their refusal to accept Gods terms for reconciliation they heap sin upon sin and show that their condemnation is deserved and that GOD is just. Does God delight in this? No! Of course not!

    What punishment would correspond to such rebellion against God’s sovereignty? Who is wise enough to know the depth of the offence to be able to prescribe a punishment? Should pardon be extended on the sinners own terms? That would most certainly be immoral in that Christ would be made to have suffered the worst of all punishments for nothing. Doubly so in that he was punished, not for his own sins, but for the sins of others.

    Clearly the penalty of sin required the sacrifice of the Eternal Son of God in his perfect humanity and divinity. For those reprobates who refuse God’s chosen manner of satisfying his justice, Hell , and eternal punishment is a lesser judgement than that which Christ suffered. It could be argued that while hell is an uncomfortable doctrine, and a terrifying experience, it could also be seen as merciful by comparison to what Christ himself suffered. For it follows that, if their punishment be the same as his and their sacrifice be the same also then their sins would be atoned for by their own merit through the torments of hell fire and they would find themselves eventually in heaven.

  7. Cameron Bartholomew says:

    I am a Christian, but I too have some issues with the doctrine of eternal punishment as it is traditionally conceived. I would ask…

    Did not Christ suffer the “second death” on the cross? Was his suffering “eternal”? I would agree we could call it “infinite”… but eternal in the temporal sense? I tend to think that what the scriptures call “eternal punishment” refers more to the infinity, finality and irreversability of hell than to its temporal duration. I would argue that scripturally, the wages of sin is eternal death… not eternal life in a place called “hell”. There is no eternal life for the wicked.

    Interpreting hell in this fashion completely undoes Russell’s argument.

  8. Cameron Bartholomew says:

    I would also like to reply to Graffightx’s post, in particular the following paragraph:

    “Imagine a father who has two children. The father says one day, children clean up your rooms, if you do a good job I will take you to have ice cream later on. One of the children does as he is told and cleans up his room the best he can, while the other does not, instead he plays video games the entire time. When the father comes to check and sees one child listened and the other did not, what would be the proper response? What would the child who cleaned his room think if the Father still took both of them to get ice cream. I think it’s obvious, that if the child who cleaned his room saw his brother getting the same reward as him it would make the work he did meaningless…he may even doubt that doing it in the future is a good idea, if the reward will be given either way.”

    I do not mean to be too argumentative or critical, but I find this example to be deeply scripturally and spiritually flawed. It is clearly based on a legalistic “merit” approach to salvation rather than a grace approach. I do not find getting into heaven to be analogous to a child being taken for an ice cream as a reward for cleaning his room. Certainly Paul did not view salvation that way.

    Graffightx goes on to say, “When we apply this to the idea of heaven, we can see clearly that if God just let everyone in, what good reason would there be to love him?” This is quite a statement to make. Consider what Graffightx’s love for God is based on under this approach — it is based on the idea of God drawing a distinction between him and everyone else, judging that his is somehow superior or more meritorious, and thus letting him into heaven while denying others. Because of that, he loves God. In other words, I love you because you have affirmed my spiritual superiority. To me this seems rather twisted.

    Such an approach is, by the way, exactly the opposite of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers, who were all paid exactly the same no matter how many hours they worked in the vineyard. So I would imagine that Graffightx, if he were in that parable, would have been asking the land owner, “If you pay us all the same, what good reason is there to love you?” This seems to completely miss the point of loving and serving God.

  9. Adrian Urias says:

    What are the two objections? Um, ok, the first I would say is that the doctrine of hell is immoral. The second one is harder to pinpoint but i would say the attitude that is being had towards those who do not listen to Jesus’ teachings.

    I would tackle the latter first. I would ask for an example where Jesus has a bad attitude towards those who refused to listen. That’s a foreign idea to me, but I’m sure if one such example is cited, it could easily be removed by looking at context or some other method, so I’m not so much worried about that. But then I would move on to when Jesus was being nailed to the cross and he prayed for those actually nailing him. That would seem like a good counter example of his attitude towards those who don’t believe in him. Even when they are killing him, he still loves them. And he died for them while they were still in their sins so that maybe they could one day repent and give their lives to him. Sounds a bit preachy, but the point remains.

    Then I would move onto the doctrine of hell. Yes, hell is a terrible thing. But this is to enact God’s justice. God must be perfectly just. Would you condemn a country as immoral for having prisons? No, because prisons are to quarantine the dangerous from everyone else. They don’t deserve to be in society. In the same way, God, being just, must send people away from him. And this is hell. Eternal separation from Him. So for one to say that God being just and giving people what they deserve is immoral, is well, perhaps a contradiction. Then there is the subtle issue of eternal punishment for finite crimes. To that I would give the following analogy. Imagine you punch me. What would happen? I might call the cops, and you might get a ticket, a fine, a slap on the wrist. Not really that big of a deal. But imagine that you punch Obama. What would happen then? A lot more, right? You got secret service on you, on you got felony, and you might find yourself in Gitmo. Why the big difference? Because you broke the law of a higher authority. The more important the person, the more severe the consequences. God, being the infinite authority, can justly give you an infinite punishment.

    From here, I will try to mesh the two together with something like:

    And you know, Mr. Russellfriend, we all deserve to be punished. We all deserve to go to hell. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. God will be just and will give us our just desserts. But God is also loving. God sent his only Son to die for you so that you could avoid that judgment. The penalty has already been paid for you. God justice has been enacted on the person of Jesus so that you could have eternal life, so you could be in heaven with him. So not only is God just, but he loves you as well. He dies for you even as a sinner, just like he died for those who personally nailed him to the cross. So will you please read the Gospels and consider giving your life to God?