A curious moral dilemna was raised some time ago on the site True Freethinker. The article is here:
Sorry: still haven't figured out how to make a link that works without cut and paste.
The question was one that has sometimes reared it's ugly head on forums and in the back of my head. It is this:
Suppose Adolf Hitler had repented?
It is generally supposed that Hitler did NOT repent, that he committed suicide with the full knowledge that his glorious Thousand Year Reich would never come to pass--a fitting end to one of history's greatest villains.
But suppose he had? Doesn't Christian theology maintain that, no matter HOW dire one's sins are, one can always repent before the end of one's earthly existence? And if he did repent, wouldn't that represent a breech in God's justice?
The author of the article (and owner of True Freethinker) does not quite stop there however; he adds an even greater moral problem, one in fact, that I would argue is the true moral issue here:
The rub comes in the form of the conclusion that, according to Christian theology, if Adolf Hitler, the Jew hating mass murdering racist maniac, would have repented then today he would be enjoying the glories of heaven whilst innocent Jewish children whom he murdered would be suffering the torments of hell.
What is truely disturbing here is the final, enboldened phrase. Never mind where Hitler went: what about those innocent Jewish children? Their fate remains the same, whether the man responsible escaped justice or not.
And further, the author does not even attempt to resolve the issue. Instead, he concentrates on the problem of Hitler repenting. In doing so, he merely turns the tables on the atheists who are attempting to besmirch God, by saying:
According to Atheism, Hitler got away with it.
On the Atheist view Hitler struggled to survive as the fittest: mein kampf—my struggle.
What Hitler did was evolutionarily beneficial since he rid the gene pool of the less fit.
On Atheism, Adolf Hitler lived a wonderful life (from his own perspective) as he gained and enjoyed his power, he had thousands of faithful adherents, he did as he pleased and when he decided it was over—it was actually over. Metaphorically speaking, Hitler is now enjoying, as it where, a sort of perfect peace of annihilation whereby there is no such thing as Hitler anymore.
Thus, on the Christian view there is ultimate judgment and accountability and on the atheist view there is not. Therefore, since Atheist offers no ultimate justice Atheism itself is unjust.
Granted, two of Atheism’s consoling delusions are the consoling delusion of absolute autonomy and the consoling delusion of lack of ultimate accountability.
On their view evil is for the benefit of the evildoer who gets to enjoy it and, ultimately, gets away with it.
Thus, the fact of evil and suffering in the world is one of the very best reasons for rejecting Atheism.
Lastly, when we consider the reality of the matter the issue of Adolf Hitler has Christianity having him pay for his crimes and Atheism has him enjoying them and getting away with it.
I've seen these same essential arguments surface on episodes of The Atheist Experience. A theist will call in arguing that if there is no hell, as atheists beleive, then there's no justice for the wicked. The problem is, that this is completely false-at least when it comes to Hitler. He was cut down in his relative prime, and did not live to comfortable, ripe old age. Hitler experienced crushing defeat by the Allies, and killed himself unable to bear the knowledge that all his glorious dreams had come crashing down. Not every evil person meets so deserving a fate, but I would argue that Hitler most certainly did.
Does this really sound like he "got away with it"?
The auhor evades the real question of a repentent Hitler, however, by sticking to the almost certain fact that he did not. The thing is, for this particular problem, we don't even need Hitler. There are, in fact, other spectacularly evil men, who do appear to have repented before dying. Randy Alcorn, the pastor of Eternal Perspective ministries argues that notorious serial killer Westely Dodd may be in heaven:
Who is arguing for injustice here, Alcorn, a fundementalist Christian pastor, or the atheists, who don't beleive in any god at all?
Undertand: I am not disagreeing, essentially, with Alcorn's point that even the most monstrous human beings can experiece repentance and salvation. I do not beleive that there are indeed sins had are simply so dire that they are beyond God's mercy to forgive. If God truly is infinitely more merciful than ourselves, then shouldn't He be able to do so? This is what we would expect from a God who really is merciful. The desire for revenge among humans, even if partially fueled by the desire to see justice done, is fed by the emotion of anger and untempered by mercy and willingness to forgive. God is thus capable of doing what we humans are so often terribly and tragically inept at doing.
Here is what I beleive, however.
A truely wicked man who preys on the innocent but then sincerely repents will not be enjoying bliss for all eternity. Such a person if truly repentent, and thus a candidate for heaven, would desire first of all achance to redeem himself of his past crimes. He would also need, and desire spiritual growth. There may indeed be possibilies present in the afterlife as part of God's plan of redemption. I am not certain that person's suffering would even end, as repentence might include some very grueling tests. Who knows? This is all mere speculation of course. But our common perception of the Christian afterlife as (seemingly pointless) eternal bliss and one hand and eternal torment on the other, is far too simplistic to be accurate.
But the truely disturbing thing here is not that a wicked man who truly repents in his heart may be saved; let us return to the matter of the innocent Jewish children. "According to Christian theology" is very misleading as there is much disagreement even among Christians who who does and doesn't get into heaven.
Would they be saved? Depends on who you ask.
Most Christians nowadays, it seems, hold that the need for personal faith in the Savior is waived in the case of children who are not yet old enough to truely understand the need for a committment to Christ. But not all. I had a recent pastor who beleived that even infants who die in infancy are doomed to hell because of their inability to beleive and therefore to accept Christ.
Such beleifs as these, are, I beleive, nothing less than Satanic, becuase they envitably, whether consiously or by design, paint God as hideously unjust. Would that not be precisely what Satan would desire? Why else would atheists deliberately use such argmuents to draw people away from the Christian faith?
Why, then, do Christians themselves use them? The reason, it seems, as I'll explore in a future post, is that without fear of God's wrath, how are we suppose to scare people into following the Lord? As though most people come to know Christ out of fear.
But I'll deal now with the actual question: what about the innocents who died in the holcaust--and I'm talking here about innocent victims in general, not just children, but the adults as well. The unfortunate response by far too many Christians is that those people were not truly "innocent." Not because they were Jewish per se, but becuase they didn't have Christ's blood atonement necessary to enter heaven. Now, though there are such thing as Jewish Christians, who have accepted Jesus and retained their Jewish heritage (the author of True Freethinker, in fact, claims to be one), they ould not have been spared in Nazi Germany. And many would argue that child victims of Hitler's evil would not have reached the age of accountibility yet.
But I would go even further than this. Inclucivism, the position held by C. S. Lewis, holds that a person may be saved if s/he is seeking Truth. This would hold no matter what society they had been raised, no matter what beleifs others had attempted to impose upon thier impressionble minds while children.
Next time, I'll review two books written by Christians that expose (unintentionally) what is largely wrong the state of Christianity nowadays.