I enjoyed reading a recent book review in Christianity Today (starting on p.69) of Existential Reasons For Belief In God by Michael McGowan (Michael is the author of the review, not the book which is authored by Clifford Williams).
Michael said something in his review which caught my attention. People are seldom won over to the Christian faith through argument. Most of the time they are won over because something about the Christian story resonates deep within them and connects their most basic emotional (i.e. “existential”) needs. Then he adds:
“The key difference is that reason-based arguments attempt to prove that Christianity is true, while existential arguments justify Christian belief on the basis of the satisfaction of needs.”
Now this is an interesting observation in light of the recent discussions on hell that has been airing around in books and on blogs as of late. Christianity has always (generally) accepted hell as something of an eternal nature. They read the scriptures and see that almost everywhere it is discussed it is depicted in terms of unending, either explicitly or implicitly. This seems to be the bare bones of the evidence.
But what has caused people to question this seemingly obvious depiction of hell (however the details are conceptualized) is that it lacks existential evidence. That is, those who defend the traditional view are having a difficult time justifying it on the grounds of humanities basic emotional needs.
This is why those who commonly reject hell as a place of eternal punishment often ascribe a callous heart to those who accept it. Yet not everyone feels emotions to the same extent as everyone else. For these people emotions play little or no part in accepting arguments when the straightforward evidence seems so clear. But for others, that evidence needs to be “justified” on an existential level, and if the arguments put forth cannot do that the evidence must be skewed in some way and requires re-evaluation.
The flip side of that coin however is that reasoning that seeks to primarily satisfy the emotional needs of humans does not guarantee truth.
But then if we flip that coin over again we may be reminded that in the Christian faith “believing” is not about accepting and defending facts, but about “believing” on a deeper, more emotional level that works itself out in actions.
But where does that leave us in terms of truth? Can we not get all hyped up and emotional over nonsense? “Nonsense” being “no sense” as in lacking sufficient intellectual evidence. Satisfying the emotional needs of the person but not standing up to the available evidence?
I think this discussion has a big role to play in the other discussion on the nature of hell. It is my hope that this discussion would continue and that somehow it would make the other discussion less hostile.