The power of the damned

Bruce Charlton argues that the “self-damned” have the power to hurt God. In other words, people sometimes try to lash out at God by rebelling against him and doing evil things, even to the point of damning themselves eternally. And, Bruce says, it works: They do manage to hurt God, emotionally. Because if God couldn’t be hurt, then he would not be a loving father.

You can see Bruce’s post for his argument in detail. Here are just some random thoughts of my own, stimulated by the post and some of the comments:

* You say that when you love someone, you must feel sorrow when they suffer. But that’s not always the case. There have been times when my kids were suffering, yet I could barely stifle a laugh because they were being so ridiculous. Their ridiculousness arose from their ignorance and inability to see the larger context. I wasn’t sad over their suffering because I knew they would get over it in short order and be fine.

In this life we may suffer for a lifetime, but what is a lifetime to God? Who’s to say he doesn’t find our whining and complaining ridiculous, and see us as inflating our troubles because of our inability to see the bigger picture? What else could Paul mean when he says that our present sufferings are “nothing” compared to the glory that is to be? Why can’t God see them as “nothing”, being present, as he is, in the glory that is to be? Certainly he can understand why we see them as a big deal, from our limited perspective, but that doesn’t mean he must see them that way.

If, as some suppose, people in hell choose to be there, and if you pulled them out by force they would resist tooth and nail, because they can’t stand God’s presence, will they not seem ridiculous to God, and to the blessed, for choosing such obvious evil over such obvious good, due to self-inflicted blindness?

* If God is vulnerable to emotional attacks, why is he not vulnerable to physical attacks? Is it only because he is physically far away? If he came close enough that people could attack him physically, would he let himself be vulnerable to knife and bullet wounds, or would he defend himself against physical harm? If he defended himself, would it be through physical barriers like armor, or would he utilize supernatural means of shielding himself from harm? Are there no such means available to shield himself from emotional harm? [Obviously this assumes for the sake of argument that he is capable of feeling physical and emotional pain.]

* Certainly I would agree that God can know what the experience of physical and emotional pain are like, since nothing is beyond his knowledge or understanding.

* Saying that if God can’t feel sorrow then he also can’t love, seems to assume that love is ultimately a feeling.

Emotions are fleeting physical phenomena, arising from the fact that we experience life one moment at a time. As we go through a process we might feel one way at the beginning, another way in the middle and another way at the end. But if we could see the process as a whole instead of being limited to experiencing it in tiny segments, we would not experience it through a range of rising and falling emotions.

Also, we might feel differently in viewing a sorrowful scene, if we knew how it would turn out in the end.

* Emotions and physical pain in us seem to serve the purpose of warning us of danger, as well as deterring us from certain behaviors and encouraging us to others. God, not being susceptible to physical harm, has no need of pain to warn him of danger. He has no need of feelings to encourage him to do certain things and avoid others. For example he has no need of guilt as a punishment and a deterrent for sin, because he can’t sin; nor has he need of feelings of gratification and satisfaction as a reward for good deeds, for he does nothing but good by his very nature. Likewise if suffering in us serves the purpose of building character, God has no need of character-building.

7 thoughts on “The power of the damned

  1. It is telling that Charlton rests most of his arguments with an appeal to the emotional. He simply cannot be reasoned with. I view the way he approaches religion as being very problematic and this was manifest even before he turned to Mormonism. I take great issue with his terms like “church-shopping.” In this consumerist society of sentimentalism, and shallow fad-chasing, I can’t help but view Charlton as manifesting many of the worst and most problematic ideas of modernity. So many of his ideas just sort of beg the question. I truly admire your attempts to engage him and defend the Faith. I wish more of the so-called “traditional-Catholics” at the Orthosphere would engage as his arguments do not strike me as particularly strong. Do you agree with me that he seems to be motivated by a strong anti-Catholic animus?


  2. I don’t think I would say that he’s anti-Catholic as a prejudice. As far as I can tell, insofar as he is anti-Catholic, he arrives at that position as a conclusion from his reasoning. I do think he tends to be utilitarian or pragmatical in his arguments. His arguments concerning religion, specifically why Mormonism is better than traditional Christianity, seem to revolve around practical considerations like how many kids Mormons have, and why it’s easier to “relate” to the Mormon idea of God than the traditional Christian one.

    The fact that he remains a “convinced Mormon” but not a baptized one, seems to indicate that he doesn’t have an actual faith in Mormonism, but merely believes that Mormonism “works” better from a practical standpoint.


    • He was quite critical of Catholicism even prior to this conversion to Mormonism. Historically the English, but especially their intellectual elite seem to been reflexively anti-Catholic. It was the simply the milieu they were raised in. I got that sense with him.

      I am not sure I even buy his utilitarian arguments either. Do you? I know there are statistics but like most issues the statistics are all over the place. Speaking from my own experiences and acquaintances, I am not that impressed.


  3. No, I don’t buy his utilitarian arguments, at least not at face value.

    The argument about the birth rate seems to be something like, Western civilization is suffering from declining birth rates, which could spell the end of our civilization. But Mormons, among all Christian sects, are still reproducing at above-replacement rates. Therefore other Christian sects should emulate the teachings of the Mormons which lead to higher birth rates.

    Thus I don’t see him arguing that Mormon teachings which lead to higher birth rates are for that reason *true*, but only that they “work”.

    Which may be true, although I don’t attribute it to the teachings alone, but to the teachings combined with the strong central control and relatively tightknit culture of Mormonism. (See comments to this post: )

    You have a valid point about the statistics. One problem with comparing Mormon statistical outcomes with Catholic outcomes, is identifying who you will count as a “Mormon” and who as a “Catholic”. I suspect that far more non-practicing Catholics continue to identify as Catholics, than non-practicing Mormons continue to identify as Mormons. So the marginal Catholics will tend to drag the Catholic numbers down. (See

    Plus the obvious problems with comparing the statistics of a 180-year-old group of approximately 14 million members, the vast majority of whom live in the United States (and the majority of those within a single state), with those of a 2000-year-old group of over a billion members, that is far more spread out in time and in territory, and has tons more historical and cultural baggage to take into consideration.

    There are things we can learn from the Mormons, in my view. What their tighter organizational structure enables them to do is attain a higher degree of compliance from their members. They are much more entwined in their members’ lives than the Catholic Church is in modern liberal democracies, and this, combined with the requirements for the Temple recommend, helps them to keep a closer eye on people. This also causes there to be more peer pressure and example to do things like get married and have larger families. The Catholic Church used to have this level of involvement in its members’ lives, or at least more so than now. It has been diluted somewhat by the solvent of cultural secularism. The Mormons’ involvement has not been diluted as much. Why not?

    Well, it grew up within the context of liberal democracy, and has had to grow and thrive within that context from the time of its birth. Whereas to the Catholic Church, liberal democracy is as a foreign land, almost contrary to its nature. It’s still trying to figure out how to relate to its members within that context. And it’s doing so within a structure which is not as centrally controlled as that of the Mormon Church. It may sound strange to say that the Church is not strongly centrally controlled; compared to the Protestant churches, it certainly is. But it’s not nearly as strongly centrally controlled as the LDS Church. Catholic bishops have far more autonomy than Mormon bishops (or stake presidents, etc.). When the pope makes a pronouncement, there is not nearly the same level of certainty that it will be carried out promptly and entirely in accord with his intent, as there is when the First Presidency issues some churchwide directive.

    On its face, I wish we were more like the Mormons in this respect. But on the other hand, our form of government has developed over millennia. I would not advocate overthrowing it in favor of stronger central control, without first pondering it for a century or two.

    That being said, we’ll see how Mormonism’s structures and statistics hold up once it has a millennium or two of history under its belt, and about a hundred times more members than it has at present. : )


  4. Here is a comment that I posted to Bruce’s original post (linked to above), which he apparently didn’t approve for some reason. This was in response to his of Oct 4, 06:23:


    I agree with you. The God of mainstream Christianity does not “come
    from scripture”. If I were to simply “read the Bible” and try to form
    my religion from it alone, God only knows what kind of thing I would
    come up with. I have very little confidence that it would look like
    that of either Mormonism or Catholicism. I don’t believe the Bible was
    ever intended to be used that way. It arose and attained to the
    position it holds among Christians, within a particular context, a
    living body, and I’m comfortable placing myself squarely within that
    body as the best way of discovering its true meaning.


    • Here is a comment that I posted to Bruce’s original post (linked to above), which he apparently didn’t approve for some reason.

      That’s too bad. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to comment there but I could see why he wouldn’t want my comments on his blog. But Agellius is polite and very fair to his opponents. Perhaps you struck a nerve?

      If you don’t mind me asking Agellius are you familiar with Brad S. Gregory’s work The Unintended Reformation? Gregory traces the history of this notion of the “univocal conception of God” wherein God is seen as in a sense a part of creation, as opposed to the classical conception where God is seen as wholly outside and wholly other. This philosophy had its origins in late Medieval thought. Gregory does mention how Mormonism is a manifestation of this conception of God taken to the extreme. I find that somewhat ironic, that when Bruce claims that Christianity shouldn’t “be a philosophy” that his very own position may be traced to the very Scholastics he so detests.

      It is also interesting that many “new atheists” critique not so much the classical God but a univocal god. Perhaps you could bring this up the next time Charlton pushes the Mormon conception of god as somehow superior when confronting modern problems.


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