punished for beliefs?


Below is a footnote for a book I’m writing, and I would very much appreciate some feedback.

if you want the context for my footnote, the body of the text can be found at the following url: xanga.com/desertraindrop86/6 … /item.html where I have posted two preliminary drafts as a single blog entry

  • Pat


As evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins has pointed out, specific religious beliefs are often “an accident of geography”, i.e. largely (though not entirely) influenced by environment and geographic location. People who grow up in the Middle East are more likely to have Islamic beliefs by no choice of their own; it is a matter of conditioning. They usually do not feel any pull towards Christianity, just as Christians usually do not feel any pull towards Islam. And although some Muslims convert to Christianity (and vice versa), they usually are not swayed by apologists on the other side. We do not choose what we believe, or at least most people do not. Instead, people can choose to perform an investigation, but the result of that investigation is not chosen – the mind involuntarily assents to a particular conclusion based on what strikes the investigator as most reasonable. Whether something appears more reasonable depends on several factors (including neurobiological and even para-natural). An agnostic may be “moved” into becoming a Christian, but similarly, a Christian may be reluctantly swayed by atheists. For example, Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman grew up Christian, but “painfully” became an agnostic during his scholarly education. He did not want to lose his Christian faith, but he had no choice. Many atheists are reluctant atheists in the sense that they truly yearn to have a belief in God, but simply cannot produce it (by no fault of their own). If beliefs are freely chosen, then I could will myself into believing that Bill Clinton is really an alien from Mars. But no matter how hard I try to force myself into believing that claim, I will never believe it apart from convincing evidence (or what I perceive to be convincing evidence).

So if God imposes retributive punishment onto people because of their beliefs, then God punishes them for something they cannot control, which means that God would hold them responsible for something they are not actually responsible for. This is still compatible with the idea that faith is a requirement for salvation because one could argue that atheists will have postmortem chances to acquire it. Some may argue that postmortem chances of acquiring faith render Earthly life pointless. This counterargument implies that the purpose of life is to know Jesus (or at least that is one of life’s purposes according to this counterargument). However, there are people who never get to hear of Jesus’ ministry (e.g. aborigines in remote locations), and these persons demonstrate that the purpose of earthly life is not to know Jesus. If it were, then everyone would be given an opportunity. This does not rule out the idea that Christians are still required to spread the gospel. Perhaps, one day, a time will come when everybody will have an opportunity to learn about Jesus’ ministry, the historical evidence for his resurrection, etc.

A few additional points should be made. It should be pointed out that disbelieving in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection is not the same as outright rejecting Jesus. Before going further, allow me to define my use of “reject”. I am using it in a social sense, e.g. “I asked a girl out to dinner, but she rejected me” (something that cannot occur if the girl does not believe in the existence of the person she is rejecting). Genuine atheists cannot reject Jesus in that sense of the word because they do not believe that Jesus exists to be rejected. People can reject something only if it exists to be rejected (or if they think that the thing exists). Likewise, Muslims do not reject Jesus (in the aforementioned sense of “reject”); they simply have a different set of beliefs about Jesus’ nature and ministry. However, if these same persons were to become convinced of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection, but turned Jesus away, then we could claim that they have rejected Jesus. One cannot knowingly reject a gift unless one believes that the gift exists in the first place. To clarify, I am not denying that some people will/do reject God, but instead I am attempting to demonstrate that Christians should not be so condemning towards those with non-Christian beliefs.

Hell for atheists?
Redemption from the lake of fire?

Excellent argument, but doesn’t this apply just as much to any form of sola fide? Faith alone is reward (salvation) for belief. It could be rephrased with a different understanding of faith I suppose. :slight_smile:

Faith alone used to comfort me, however great my sins were they were not what mattered because of what God had done. Now I see it in a new light. Faith alone lets Ted Haggard into God’s prescence but damns Gandhi.

I’m not quite sure whether or not I fall into your category of reluctant atheist or not, but I certainly did when I first left traditional Christian faith.


Yes, I would say that “pistis” is more about “convenantal trust” or loyalty (which presuppose cognitive assent), rather than cognitive assent.


  • Pat



And punishment, if any punishment must be done, is for our sins–not for our beliefs per se, which (as noted) need not be ethically sinful even if erroneous. There are, after all, occasions in the NT where people are punished by Jesus/God for being ‘doers of iniquity’ even though they clearly believe strongly in some kind of correct theological notion about Jesus. As the famous Jacobin quip goes, “So, you believe that God is a unity, do you? (i.e. the Shema, YHWH your God YHWH is AeCHaD.) Good for you!–the demons believe that, too! And shudder.”

That having been said: I believe people have more control over their beliefs, including in regard to truly sinful activities, then you seem to believe. There is such a thing as dishonest ignorance, as well as honest ignorance; and dishonest error as well as honest error. Honest error is set to be healed, and does not need to be forgiven–God overlooks it in the meanwhile. (Or ‘winks at it’, as St. Paul says in his address to the philosophers of the Mars Hill forum.) But dishonest error is very much another matter, and is connected in the Gospels to the damnable sin, including the sin against the Holy Spirit.


Hi Jason, thanks for adding your input to my thread

That is an excellent point that I should start using! :slight_smile:

Please pardon the silliness of the following question, but do you believe that Bill Clinton is an alien that was born on Mars? I assume the answer is “no” or, since you’re an open minded guy, something like “no, but if I saw sufficient evidence then I would”. My point is that you cannot use free will in order to* will *yourself into believing something apart from evidence (in this case, the idea that Clinton is from Mars).

Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that belief in God or Jesus’ resurrection is somehow analogous to belief in Clinton’s alien nature (except for the observation that neither belief can be chosen). But my point is that lots of non-Christians cannot simply “will away” their non-christian beliefs

Some people have profound spiritual/mystical experiences (including NDEs), and they may form theology (at least “simple” beliefs) based on those experiences. But a lot of people do not have those experiences.

Some people “feel” or “sense” the presence of God, and the idea that they’re feeling the Christian God “just seems/feels right” to them. Fair enough. But a lot of non-Christians have never had that experience (or they may have at one point, but subsequently lost feeling/ went spiritually numb)

Some people are very well read on Christian apologetics (e.g. Greg Boyd) and are swayed to Christianity for that reason. But a lot of people are genuinely ignorant of the arguments favoring Christianity. Others are familiar with the arguments but are genuinely unconvinced.

These people are not willfully ignoring their own impulses and beliefs. And these are the people I’m talking about.

What do you mean? Will you please give me an example to help me understand? Are you referring to people who have the following sort of attitude: “blah blah blah, no, I don’t want to hear what you have to say. God may be there, but I don’t care”??

looking forward to reading your reply


  • Pat


On the contrary, I often (maybe always) do exactly that when I am sinning. And as I noted before, there are strong biblical injunctions against so doing.

Nor would God want them to, against the best light that they can see (so far). Honest error of belief is not what I’m talking about. (Relatedly, St. Paul notes that even though he believes and teaches that eating meat sacrificed to idols is not a sin, and even though he would certainly prefer for other people to come to the freedom of that knowledge, nevertheless until such time as those people can come to see their error, they should not be seduced or coerced into doing what they still believe to be a sin–because then it would be a sin against God for them to be doing that! And the people whose beliefs on the matter are factually correct would be themselves even more guilty for having led the other people into sin.)

I understand you’re trying to protect against the heresy of gnosticism; and I’m not trying to argue against that protection. But I think it’s important to counterbalance that protection with the acknowledgment that there is such a thing as dishonest error of belief, too; which is as deadly a sin as anything.

Among other things, yes. A more scriptural example would be some of the Pharisees being willing to contradict their own principles about how to tell true healing from God apart from demonic counterfeit, in order to claim that Jesus was in league with Satan rather than accept His authority/identity claims. Jesus condemns them in the strongest possible language for dishonest error; whereas He expects the Father to forgive the men who are wrongly crucifying Him as a malefactor, because they do not know what it is they are doing.

But my point is (and was) only that your footnote, as given, treats the topic in terms that would seem to preclude anyone ever being condemned for any beliefs they may be holding. Also, your footnote currently seems to present all conclusions to belief as though they are reached involuntarily and automatically without any personal action by the thinker. I do however have a choice about whether I’m going to accept the evidence that Bill Clinton is not an alien or whether I’m going to assert otherwise against the best light that I can see.