Freedom, Just for the Hell of It?
Ross Douthat has an interesting column in the NY Times today on the importance of belief in hell for underwriting the possibility of meaningful human choice:
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.
I think that there’s something to this, and Douthat goes on to argue that Tony Soprano is perhaps one modern illustration of the freedom to choose damnation, so to speak, just for the hell of it. But, of course, if we have the radical freedom to be evil, God has the radical freedom to be merciful. So, in the final analysis, God may also save us, just for the hell of it. This is to say that the real divine punishment might just be in not finding the freedom from God that we so willfully sought. After all, what’s worse than being loved by someone who just can’t take the hint, no matter how nasty you are? So, instead of wondering whether Tony Soprano is in heaven or hell, it might be better to wonder if, for one who so clearly didn’t want to be there, heaven wouldn’t simply be hell. In which case, it would make sense to say that such a person, like Douthat, might prefer the libertarian freedom of hell to the loving community of heaven.