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Why would God condemn all and only those that don't believe in God? I am not saying God, if there is such a thing, could not condemn or forgive anyone. But is there anything but scriptural support for the claim that faith in God is the essence of eternal salvation or similar? It might be that the damned make a free choice to "separate" themselves from God, but do we truly choose our ontological beliefs?

There are various arguments that are advanced to motivate religious belief. One of the most interesting and popular is a wager argument often associated with Pascal (1623–1662). It is designed to offer practical reasons to cultivate a belief in God. Imagine that you are unsure whether there is or is not a God. You have it within your power to live on either assumption and perhaps, through various practices, to get yourself to believe one or the other. There would be good consequences of believing in God even if your belief were false, and if the belief were true you would receive even greater good. There would also be good consequences of believing that there is no God, but in this case the consequences would not alter if you were correct. If, however, you believe that there is no God and you are wrong, then you would risk losing the many goods which follow from the belief that God exists and from actual Divine existence. On this basis, it may seem reasonable to believe there is a God.

In different forms the argument may be given a rough edge (for example, imagine that if you do not believe in God and there is a God, hell is waiting).

Where does the bit in bold actually come from if not just the bible? As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone believes in some form of Sola Fide, Catholics too, it just takes different forms, e.g. "good works" as an essential function of proper faith.

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    See Sola fide, aka: justification by faith alone : is a specific Reformed doctrine, not accepted by e.g. Catholics. Jul 24, 2023 at 12:29
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    This is a religion question, not a philosophy question. Jul 24, 2023 at 12:37
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    Theological questions are okay here (I think... at least there's a 'theology' tag), but if you don't want answers rooted in the Bible or other sacred texts, the question comes across as asking for answers based on imagination/supposition. Generally questions here need to be answerable by resort to existing literature or via the use of logic/reason. Jul 24, 2023 at 12:50
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    There are certain, how shall I say this?, associations ... obviously ... that need ta be examined closely. To get the party started, how about answering these questions: 1) What is God? 2) What is belief? and, last but not the least, 3) What does it mean to be damned/condemned? Jul 24, 2023 at 14:06
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    I’m voting to close this question because it is much better suited on christianity.stackexchange.com
    – J D
    Jul 24, 2023 at 15:17

3 Answers 3

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Adam and Eve had the first fiat with god, don't eat the fruit and get to live in Eden. The Noahide laws if kept were meant to avoid another Great Flood. The Mosaic laws were meant to keep the people free from enslavement. Jesus made a sacrifice of himself as the 'lamb of god', to get followers eternal life, for keeping his teaching, and absolving those who do from Adam's 'original sin'. This is grown from the structure of Jewish theology: keep the rules, get the rewards.

The 'righteous pagans' were always a problem, Dante put Aristotle and Plato in only the first circle of Hell for instance as resolution. The destiny of unbaptised children was a permanent source of anguish for many who lost babies, and Catholicism developed the idea of 'The Limbo of the Infants', as well as the 'Limbo of the Fathers and Patriarchs' for Biblical stars unlucky enough to have been born too soon to hear Jesus. Limbo meant Hell just for a bit, and then Resurrection with the Righteous.

I argue here that Hell cannot be eternal, as it means going to destruction: Which philosophical ethics frameworks are compatible/incompatible with a literal, eternal Hell?

It should be understood that religion as Durkheim noted, us about the binding together of a community through shared adherence to what is held sacred, like temples, and laws. That is at the centre, not the speculative cosmology parts, which are more like decoration or ornamentation - not, salvation (see Lemaitre on why the Bible isn't about cosmology). Festivals, and participtory enactments of things like rituals or historical events, bind people to their identity as part of a community far more than any abstract statements. So I'd argue a gamble about cosmology is exactly the wrong place to look to maje sense if Christianity. The salvation is about being part of the story, and kept alive by that, into The World To Come.

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  • Having survived sepsis and many bouts of unremitting pain I recently told a relative, "Hellfire doesn't burn me anymore!" She is a professor of literature. She says, "Dante invented hell to intimidate people!" Heaven and hell are states of mind that suspend the experience of time with intense feelings of pleasure or pain. These states are as real as any philosophical concept. Moral judgments are one of the most effective defenses against pain. Sigmund Freud did not identify this ego defense mechanism. Some atheists are moralistic. God is associated with heaven, hell, and our moral judgments. Jul 25, 2023 at 1:00
  • @SystemTheory: For me it's about the shift from the individual, to stories & narrative which are intrinsically communal. Tartarus is interesting, the place for exiled deities, whose rites & stories were ended. Christianity is Hellenic as well as Jewish. Monster Theory (philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/19805/…) helps us catch narrative reframings at work, & similarly comparing ideas about the afterlife, being retold, reframed, & reinvented, to serve the community of an era.
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 25, 2023 at 8:05
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    I appreciate it when you share knowledge of how Jewish culture dovetails with other cultures. Monsters are an external enemy that must be internalized to either make friends with the enemy or eliminate the enemy via action. This is the human character of the "killer of enemies". Joe Cambell retells a myth wherein the killer of enemies and the child of the water travel the four directions. As I recall they search for their god-like father. In this clip youtu.be/gIoQGs8lvxk each Otter in the group (including the slain pups) is the killer of enemies and the child of the water. Jul 25, 2023 at 16:11
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This notion that God damns only those who lack faith in him reveals the provincialism and sheer implausibility of traditional religious dogma. Are we really to believe that the eternal fate of conscious beings hinges entirely on believing in the correct supernatural deity, irrespective of their conduct or character? What kind of petty and insecure God consigns souls to eternal torture merely for not affirming his existence?

The idea is morally bankrupt. If such a being existed, we could not call it a loving God or even a just one. Damnation based solely on belief is the height of cruelty and absurdity. Worse still, we do not "choose" our beliefs - we become convinced or unconvinced of ideas based on experience, evidence, and reasoning. So this supposed cosmic punishment is administered on an inherently unfair basis.

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    Well, the main and obvious reason - social unity. If you believe, you are one of us. And to unite big groups of homo sapiens - is the main function of religion. Have you read Yuval Harari?
    – user66933
    Jul 24, 2023 at 14:00
  • I said to my father that the point of religion is to bring people together. He said that there are other and better results from it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 25, 2023 at 1:53
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    Sorry, but I find it hard to believe that this is the top-voted answer in a question about philosophy :/ The criticism raised is highly subjective and appeals to emotions, and doesn't even attempt to answer the asked question. You're not negating the statement that a God with such a criteria could exist, but only affirming that it would be cruel. Under what moral framework are you operating? And where does it stem from? If we do not "choose" our beliefs, then how is one able to assert whether the actions of God are cruel and unfair?
    – Prid
    Jul 25, 2023 at 5:15
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Pascal's Wager is a very flawed argument for "belief". It contains several flawed presuppositions:

  • It presumes that only two possibilities exist. Belief in one specific theology, or atheism. Expand the argument to N=large theologies, and if Pascal's Wager is correct, then one should adhere to the most jealous and condemnatory of those theologies -- IE the morally worst deity hypothesis among N=large.
  • The argument also presumes that the deity involved is not omniscient, and does not know nor care what one actually thinks, only what one says about one's beliefs. IE it presumes that what a deity cares about is nominal and apparent "religiosity" as opposed to actual "faith".

The commentaries that say this doctrine only applied to Calvinist theology has not understood Calvinism, which holds that God does not condemn nor offer grace due to our acts, but our character -- and all of our characters are deficient. Hence none of us can achieve grace by anything we do or say. Striving is still required, but despite that one will fail on one's own. Note that Pascal was responding to Catholic theology, not Calvinist.

The history of condemnation of non-doctrinal beliefs has a very long history in Christianity. The religicide of neo-Plationists, of Arians, of Gnostics, etc. was initiated back in the first few centuries of Christianity.

It followed on the similar treatment of Christians by the Jewish authorities, and this is traceable to multiple condemnations by OT prophets of Israel departing from monotheistic purity, then God engaging in group punishment of Israel for failure to purge their own community of "non-believers". This doctrine then is a simple extrapolation from the mass murders/punishments meted out by Yahweh in the OT.

Applying moral evaluations to these religious doctrines leads to multiple moral failings attributed to God in these theologies. And the OT has an answer to that, spelled out in the Book of Job -- Omnibenevolence does not apply to Yahweh. Those with power have the right to do whatever they will to those without power such as ourselves, and we have no "standing" to morally question the powerful.

ps -- useful commentary has noted that Pascal's argument relied upon the moral practices and life practices advocated by a religion corresponding fairly closely with our intrinsic moral sense, and our pragmatic living skills, such that we do not then engage in gross immorality in this life, nor grossly non-pragmatic behavior such that we do not thrive, should one adopt a faith-based morality. These points are rarely made in contemporary usage of the Wager.

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    This post would be better if it noted (perhaps after reading the 80 pages of Pensees that are necessary to understand what Pascal was getting at) that the Wager in its original formulation has nothing to do with Hell; makes no claim to be definitive; and concludes as an ultimately pragmatic argument for this life: "[W]hat harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others?"
    – g s
    Jul 24, 2023 at 16:16
  • I agree that the Wager qua modern pro- and anti-theistic polemics is as the anti-theistic polemics depict it. And I would agree also that even the Wager qua Pascal is fatally flawed. However, conflating the two (as I did also before I had read Pascal for myself) does unjustified disservice to a good and honest man.
    – g s
    Jul 24, 2023 at 16:32
  • @gs I appreciate the tip on Pascal. However, the OP asked about arguments based on the Wager, and I have not seen any contemporary usage that avoids the faults I noted. I am also not convinced from your summary that Pascal avoided them either. The Wager intrinsically assumes Divine Command Theory, which is Job's model of God and morality. That Pascal identified DCT as mostly promoting "virtue" as he understood it, is accidental to DCT. Meanwhile his endorsement of the religious virtues, is based on his having a valid and operational moral sense, contrary to DCT.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 24, 2023 at 17:08
  • THAT we have a valid moral sense, one can use to develop a justified morality. That some of religious morality corresponded with this moral sense, is GOOD, but does not justify his wager. One can be moral without professing faith, and generally MORE moral, as one can then improve on the moral failings of religious doctrine. This approach-- rely upon one's innate moral sense, can also be defended biblically. In Genesis, we humans acquire as valid a moral sense as God, upon eating the apple. That this point is contradicted in Job, is just what one gets in a non-coherent document.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 24, 2023 at 17:12
  • [I am also not convinced from your summary that Pascal avoided them either.] He does not, but not in the way to which you responded in your post. Since you can't meaningfully add and subtract infinities, you'd want to change your first bullet point to "...if Pascal's Wager is correct, then one can only choose at random between any theology which promises infinite reward and/or infinite posthumous punishment and which seems likely to provide a guide to desirable character traits in this life."
    – g s
    Jul 24, 2023 at 17:26