Douthat Column on Existence of Hell Makes Readers Wonder if They're There

It's hardly a worthwhile occupation to debunk every single inane or offensive Ross Douthat column in the New York Times, but this one really takes some sort of cake. In making an argument for hell, he essentially makes a good case for just giving up on the whole concept of an afterlife. His essential argument is, hell may seem unpleasant, but do we really want bad guys going to heaven? To illustrate this, he bizarrely uses the fictional case of Tony Soprano against the fairly saintly real-life case of Gandhi.  

He also complains that a world without "good" and "bad" afterlives is like a children's game without an umpire:

Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

It's a mess of contradictions. PZ Myers explains why Douthat's logic--that hell should exist because it makes things simpler--is so twisted;


This is so backwards. That he wishes something to be so does not mean it must exist; it is so primitively theological to argue that "X exists because it should" rather than "X exists because there is evidence for it". But worse, there it is again, the diminution of the real for the fantasies of his poor imagination.

And Amanda Marcotte takes downthe glaring contrast between Douthat's lofty ideals and his actual policy preferences here: 

Douthat is arguing something that is demonstrably untrue, which is that people who believe in hell behave better than people who don't.  Even Douthat doesn't believe this lie.  If he did, he wouldn't demand that there be legal restrictions to force women to comply with his religious dogma on sexuality.  If he actually believed that there was a heaven and hell that made life choices meaningful, he wouldn't want the law stepping in to take those life choices away in cases where allowing people those choices improves life in the here and now.  He doesn't actually think choice is meaningful; he wants to deprive people of it.


AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at April 25, 2011, 7:17am

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