Ross Douthat commemorates the Resurrection

by reflecting that his life would be meaningless if he couldn’t imagine people whose conduct or opinions he finds distasteful enduring an eternity of torment.

… by reflecting that his life would be meaningless if he couldn’t imagine people whose conduct or opinions he finds distasteful enduring an eternity of torment.

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.

In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

Now it turns out that Douthat is actually of two minds on this. He writes, “if it’s hard for the modern mind to understand why a good God would allow such misery on a temporal scale, imagining one who allows eternal suffering seems not only offensive but absurd.” And Douthat’s mind is, in this regard, modern: or perhaps he just thinks that his readers couldn’t relate to the real old-time Hellfire and brimstone. So he skirts any endorsement of, y’know, Hell, and merely asks whether Tony Soprano is really in Heaven.

Me? I’d rather meet Tony Soprano in Heaven than Dick Cheney, for example, or Isabella of Castile, Servant of God. But when I reflect on whether I really want to see Ross Douthat go to Hell, I realize that I’m on the Catholic rather than the Protestant side of the question. What that boy needs is a good dose of Purgatory to rid him of his heartless arrogance.

Footnote “All Israel has a share in the world to come, as it is said: And your people shall all be righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of my planting, the work of My hands, to be proud of.” Make that “all mankind,” and I’d buy it, as the policy of a loving God. I don’t find much to admire in watered-down Christianity, but its virtual universalism is among its better traits.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

57 thoughts on “Ross Douthat commemorates the Resurrection”

  1. And so when you write “I don’t have the choice not to play.” that’s like saying “I have no choice not to have received this incredible gift that I didn’t require.”

    Gee, you know what? I’d think of it as more of a gift if God hadn’t given me a brain that is incapable of really understanding the nonverbal parts of human interaction, or if he hadn’t given me that brain which also has screwed up chemistry that has given me lifelong chronic depression. It’s a pathetic God that makes me unhappy all the time and then turns around and accuses me of not appreciating the amazing gift He gave me.

  2. Lincoln Allison (in the U.K.) is an interesting and firmly grounded conservative thinker. Of course, over here, he’d be pilloried by the American Right as a socialist.

  3. Betsy:
    Googling Lincoln Allison leads to, but I get a warning that this site may harm my computer. Is there another site to find his works, or is that warning an overreaction by the security software? Do you happen to know?

  4. Here — an extract:


    The whole point about conservatives is that they believe in reality: what we have works because it has had some practice in working and you shouldn’t try to change it too much or too quickly because you’ll only mess it up.

    American “conservatives” believe in one or both of two unrealities. Economically, there is the “free market”; of course, I’m in favour of this too, but in real free markets created by strong, if restrained, states. They believe in the Lockean nonsense that you will have a free market if you have a weak state and they find it difficult when what they get is shysterism and gangsterism.

    And then there is “social” conservatism, which seeks to conserve a world in which there are no homosexuals, in which people stay with the same partner for life and voluntarily take responsibility for their actions. Etc. A place of complete fantasy, not reality. I don’t know which society ever got closest to this unattractive vision, but it certainly wasn’t the Good Ole flipping USA.

    The good thing about America is that they believe in freedom. And the bad thing about America is that they don’t believe in freedom: they have even more repressive laws than other states and a substantial minority of the population would be more at home in Iran if they could surmount their prejudice against Islam.

    In short, American “conservatives” are dangerous idealists and progressives who give real conservatives a bad name.


  5. “… they find it difficult when what they get is shysterism and gangsterism.” Well, no. Flaws resulting from their policies are simply ignored, or better yet, defined as unavoidable byproducts rather than flaws.

    This Allison person sounds almost … sane. He’s what, English? How nice it must be to live somewhere where he counts as a rightwinger.

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