Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Why do I do what I do?" or, "What motivates my decisions?"

The recent discussion in the comments section of a previous post has me wanting to further explore why exactly it is we make the decisions we do and incorporate these thoughts into the universalism debate.

As far as rational humans are concerned, I believe the motives an individual has for choosing x are quite limited. Taking ice cream as an example, an individual will choose or not choose a flavor depending on the foreseen consequences of such a choice. In scenario A, an individual chooses mint chocolate chip because he sees it as a good or desirable choice. Perhaps it is his favorite flavor, or perhaps he chooses it because he has never tried it before and wants to expand his horizons. Regardless of his motives, what we can almost certainly say is that he will not make a choice that he sees as harmful. If our subject knows mint chocolate ice cream causes him to break out in a painful rash, if it tastes like bile, or any other of a number of unpleasant possibilities, it is very probable, if not guaranteed, that he will not select that specific flavor.

Rational human beings do not typically choose things that are undesirable simply because they are undesirable, and as the level of undesirability increases, the likelihood that it will be chosen decreases. Our very nature and biological make-up screams out at us to avoid such decisions. As you read this you may think to yourself "I could go make an undesirable choice right now if I so wished." Perhaps you have in mind touching a hot stove and you think this would prove my case wrong, but keep in mind that, while burning your hand in and of itself is undesirable, the further satisfaction of winning an argument turns this action into one that is desirable. I am confident that you would not intentionally hold your hand to a hot stove if not for some sort of satisfaction. Our motives cannot be separated from the berceived outcomes and subsequent benefits that arise from such a decision.

Let us now incorporate the above into the question of who goes to hell and why they go to hell. Within what may be called the high church circle, comprised of (but not limited to) Anglicans, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians is an idea that God does not forcefully send souls to hell against their own will. Instead, those who find themselves in that most horrendous of states are there by their own choosing. As C.S. Lewis states in The Great Divorce, the gates of hell are locked from the inside, by those who choose by their own volition to remain in their suffering.

This view is a lot more easy to swallow than the idea that God forces us into the abyss against our own will, but upon closer examination I believe it may make less sense. If we hold that to really choose something, in a "you are responsible for your decisions" sort of way, is to understand what you are choosing, it becomes difficult to imagine how choosing eternal damnation could even be a possibility. If we say that hell isn't actually that bad, perhaps akin to Mormonism's Telestial kingdom where souls can still be happy, then the choice seems much more plausible, but most Christians want to maintain that hell consists only of suffering, perhaps the worst sufferings imaginable. Could an individual in possession of their faculties really choose endless suffering?

Perhaps one could fall into eternal suffering as a result of insanity, but would a good God allow such insanity to persist? Perhaps an individual could initially reject God but eventually regret his decision. Does God's mercy and willingness to forgive cease after death? Perhaps we lose our ability to choose after death. Without free will, can we still be considered human?

We make our choices based on perceived desires. Seeing that the characteristics of hell make it less desirable than eternal joy or peace it necessarily follows that a rational human being will not make a decision that will leave them without satisfaction.

I would like to note that my inclination towards Christian Universalism is not rooted in its being easy. I have altered my opinion of difficult things before after considering the arguments for and against (abortion, homosexuality, pornography, masturbation). I am a universalist for the same reason I am pro life. I considered the arguments both for and against and found universalism more compelling, both intellectually and emotionally. That being said, I strive to be open to changing my perspectives if they are false and for this reason I welcome any comments on this matter.