This is another post that is the outcome of a Twitter exchange, so I'm going to have to provide some background if anyone is reading this didn't follow said exchange.
After a Twitter discussion with Randal Rauser the other day, I had exclaimed that I would prefer it if my suffering happened for "no reason" rather than for a "redemptive reason". My justification for this view is that I'd prefer it if my life were not the plaything of some divine tyrant.
This lead to a further exchange. My justification for calling the Christian conception of god a divine tyrant is as follows:
1.) This god allows for suffering, and Christians believe he has morally justifiable reasons to allow this suffering.
2.) These Christians also believe that a hell of some sort exists.
3.) Therefore, these Christians believe that the suffering of those in hell has a morally justifiable reason for it being permitted.
Randal, being the progressive Christian that he is, rejects the idea of a purely retributive hell and so thinks that in doing so he avoids my objection that the Christian conception of god is a divine tyrant.
I replied that any kind of a hell, even a temporary or finite one, is going to be relevant for my objection that any conception of a god that includes a hell will be one where that god is a tyrant. Randal in turn wanted to know what my objections were against a "redemptive hell", and so we get to this post.
What is a Tyrant?
For my purposes here, I shall use the simple definition of a tyrant provided by the closest thing we actually have to an omniscient entity: Google.
Tyrant - A cruel and oppressive ruler.
My first question is to try and get at what Randal means by a "redemptive hell". Randal and I have had discussions on this topic before, so I have a bit of an idea of what I think he's getting at but there are some lingering questions.
An Eternity of Hell?
The first question is if anyone in the redemptive hell stays there for eternity.
If they do, then that hell isn't redemptive for them at all. They're stuck in perpetual torment for eternity, and I see no reason why they should be sustained in that state, especially if god knows they won't ever leave hell.
What's worse, what was the point of creating such people in the first place? The only possible answer I'm aware of is that their creation was necessary to bring about some number of the elect - ie. those in heaven. In which case their suffering was nothing more than a tool to bring about some end, they are a group that would be better off having never been created. Surely they'd wish they could simply cease to exist, especially once there in their eternal hell. Any being that creates other beings to condemn them to such a fate only in order to achieve other goals gets to qualify as a tyrant in my book.
So it seems we can eliminate an eternal hell with permanent inhabitants as "redemptive". I don't think Randal holds to this kind of view, but it's good to clear it up.
A Finite Hell?
What then of a temporary hell, where the damned are allowed to simply cease to exist after a finite duration in the place where there will be "wailing and gnashing of teeth"?
There seems to be a similar problem here that we see in the previous case. Why then create any such beings in the first place? If it is only so that other elect can get into heaven, then we have the same issue as before. These creatures are merely tools meant to suffer only so that god can have some kind of preferred outcome for others. This again puts god squarely in the tyrant category, albeit a bit more of a merciful one than our previous case.
A Universal Redemption of Hell's Temporary Population?
What of the most generous interpretation of what Randal can mean of a "redemptive hell"? One where people go to hell, but eventually all of them are redeemed at some point in the afterlife - with everyone going to heaven in the end.
It seems to be an odd kind of universalism, but it's universalism none the less. I think it is still quite abominable, and this conception of god still fits the definition of tyrant.
Because such suffering isn't necessary. God, as an omnipotent being who can do all things logically possible, could have just created all the beings in their redeemed state from the get go.
The only reason then for god to have put everyone through all the instances of suffering here on earth, not to mention whatever suffering goes on in hell, because god presumably prefers things that way.
Randal and I have tread this ground before on his blog. His replies then were that somehow it is greater to achieve this idealized state of "redeemed perfection" through some process of growth and hardship, compared to just having such a state innately.
The analogy used to justify this is to compare two A+ students, one who just always was that smart and gets their grades with a minimal of effort, and another who started as a mediocre student, but must put in hours upon hours of work in order to achieve a final A+ grade in a course.
When asked which student we should consider to be "greater", we would (presumably, for Randal's case) pick the latter student who has to put in more work.
I'd not agree with that assement, but that's immaterial to this objection. I think there are two problems with this view:
Assuming that god could create the perfectly redeemed from the get go, the only reason for us to have to go through the suffering is because that god simply wants it to be so. There's simply no other reason for this other than god's preference. To put it another way, we suffer only because god wants us to.
That to me seems to reduce us and our suffering to nothing more than playthings of a divine tyrant. Because I consider it extremely cruel to subject something to suffering when there is an alternative where the same outcome can be achieved without any suffering.
Consider two cures for a disease. The first involves a series of lengthy, painful injections, followed by the kind of trauma and side effects of modern chemotherapy. The other involves drinking a simple sweet tasting medicine which immediately removes the disease. Wouldn't we consider it cruel for a parent to chose the first treatment for their diseased child rather than the second? Especially if the costs were equivalent (assuming we had an infinitely wealthy parent).
There is of course another objection to be had here, assuming a god prefers his subjects to be in a redeemed state as a result of some painful process of redemption rather than having them be good from the get go.
If there is to be of any value to be found in the former case, one who suffered to be redeemed vs. one who was just created in the redeemed state - then such a value would not be found in god. This is because the god of classical theism did not go through some process of suffering to enter into a state of perfect goodness.
That seems to imply a defect in god, where he is by definition lacking some "good" or source of value that is found in the suffering-to-redeemed beings.
Perhaps the way out of this dilemma is to say that whatever quality is found in the redeemed-to-good beings isn't a "good", given that it is not in gods nature, which is the ontological ground of "goodness" on the Christian view Randal endorses (as far as I understand Randal's views).
This then seems to leave god's preference for this quality over the other as completely arbitrary, which leaves us back on the original issue that our suffering is merely there because god wants us to suffer for some arbitrary reason.
The only way out of this that I can see is if Randal or another apologist could provide an proof that shows that it is logically impossible for god to create beings in a perfectly redeemed state from the get go. But that is as tall an order as the requests from theists for atheists to prove that gods existence is logically impossible. No apologist has done this yet, and I don't think it can be done.