Reply to Keith Parsons

Keith Parsons has replied to my review of his chapter in The End of Christianity: “Hell: Christianity’s Most Damnable Doctrine.” He stresses that he is trying to critique the orthodox and traditional doctrine of hell. I am defending a position that he is not necessarily attacking (at least directly). Recall, from the earlier review, that I am actually a universalist merely trying to determine whether a belief in a just God who torments sinners for an eternity is morally defensible. The reader should keep these points in mind as it is possible that Parsons and I will be talking past each other to some extent. Nonetheless, I think a reply to some of his points might be beneficial.

The first point I want to respond to is Parsons’ statement that a finite amount of punishment given over an infinite amount of time would mean that the punishment the sinner deserved would never be fully carried out. He says that God’s justice would be eternally frustrated. But this depends on what you think God’s will is. God’s will is not being frustrated if it is His will that sinners be punished in the fashion that they are, in fact, punished. Also note the switch on Parsons’ part from being appalled at God punishing too harshly to being appalled that God is not punishing sinners enough.

Parsons also questions whether punishment can be given in the precise measurements used in my illustration. I used a mathematical illustration so the point would hopefully be obvious. The exact way in which an amount of punishment is measured is a secondary point.

The final point I want to address is whether the duration of the punishment adds to the total amount of punishment. He notes that he would prefer to spend ten days in a Supermax prison rather than spend ten years under house arrest. He is correct that the duration of punishment plays a role in the amount of punishment. I assume he would prefer the 10 days in the Supermax prison because he estimates that the total amount of punishment he would undergo over a ten-year period would be less in that scenario. But this fact does not require that a punishment of infinite duration is unjust merely because the sins took place over a finite period of time.

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