Here’s Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and evangelicalism’s leading “intellectual” (at least according to Time magazine), lamenting at his blog the fact that literal hell belief no long terrorizes the psyches of most people living in western countries:
The vast majority of men and women throughout the centuries of western civilization have awakened in the morning and gone to sleep at night with the fear of hell never far from consciousness — until now.
And what has led to this sorry state of affairs? According to Mohler, one thing is the spread of utilitarian sensibilities:
The transformations of legal practice and culture have redefined justice for many modern persons. Retribution is out, and rehabilitation is put in its place.
And the Enlightenment, exemplified by the rejection of torture in the U.S. Constitution, also gets some blame from Mohler for the contemporary rejection of hell belief:
The utilitarian concept of justice and deterrence has also given way to justice by popular opinion and cultural custom. The U.S. Constitution disallows “cruel and unusual punishment,” and the courts have offered evolving and conflicting rulings on what kind of punishment is thus excluded.
So, by Mohler’s lights, could God, say, waterboard a person while hanging the board she lies on over a fire—and do this for a thousand years—and still be considered good?
It appears so.
Indeed, Mohler thinks that torture could be conducted on a person forever, and God would still be good in doing so:
The temptation to revise the doctrine of hell — to remove the sting and scandal of everlasting conscious punishment — is understandable. But it is also a major test of evangelical conviction.
This test of evangelical conviction, in other words, is whether you will embrace torture if the Bible says God tortures. This swallow-hard-and-just-believe move is akin to that other test of evangelical conviction that Albert Mohler endorses: can you disregard the scientific consensus and affirm Genesis’s apparent claims that the earth is young, that plants and animals don’t change over time, and the diversity of human languages derives from the scattering of people by God from the Tower of Babel?
If you can answer yes to such questions, you meet the threshold of Mohler’s understanding of positive “evangelical conviction.” But others would call such psychologically insular moves cultish. And I’m one of them.