Dare to Ask: A burning religious question
By Phillip Milano
If God is better than us in every way, why does he have no moral problem
sending billions of his children to burn in eternal pain?
Allen, 19, atheist, New York
God made us in His image to love and serve Him. He gave us free will to
pursue Him or to pursue worldly gains. God wants us to choose Him but does not
force Himself on us.
S.D., 38, Episcopalian female, Tampa
Someone with Judeo-Christian beliefs might say because He also gave us free
will to sin or be righteous. Given that religion is a man-made construct, I
would say this is simply one of the many inconsistencies. This is why it's
difficult for rational people to believe in God, or hell or heaven, for that
D., female, California
The Bible is very clear that He desires all to be saved. However, for those
who don't believe or reject Him, they will go to hell. To reject God is to
embrace the opposite: Satan. That means hell.
Paul, Appleton, Minn.
If God exists, he has all the faults of an average human. The Bible calls God
a "jealous" God, proving that God is somewhat flawed. As for the question about
hell, I guess he has no real problem sending people and unbaptized babies to
Norbert, 17, atheist, Minnesota
The whole "God sending people to endless torture" nitpick - it often sends
questioning people over the edge (to where is the debate).
Julie Ingersoll, associate professor of religious studies at the University
of North Florida, said the question gained steam for Christians in the 19th
century, and people have been wondering about it ever since.
"Some people now might feel that hell isn't a lake of fire, but is aloneness
or meaninglessness ... that life on earth is made meaningful by God, and that
hell is a life of no purpose."
Enough to set you spinning, right? Hopefully not on a rotisserie. A lot of
this pondering falls in the category of theodicy, which looks at the problem of
"It's usually framed as, 'If there's an all-powerful and all-loving God, how
do we explain evil?' Some answer that God wants us to love him so much, but we
have the freedom to choose, and this creates the opportunity for suffering,"
God provides the guidance, according to traditional Protestantism, not the
"Because of the fall of man, the teaching is that all humans deserve hell in
eternity," Ingersoll said.
"So it's not 'How can God let there be hell,' it's 'How can this loving God
rescue people from hell instead of giving them what they deserve.' "
But there's always that other, pesky view ...
"Atheists would say ... the concepts of heaven and hell keep people almost
infantile in their ethics. Is it more sophisticated morally when a 2-year-old
shares his toy because he recognizes others want to play with it, or because
Mom's going to hit him if he doesn't?"
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his