You're very welcome.
Does creation with foreknowlege not equal causation?...
I don't believe it does equal causation. If I invent a game and set the rules, I am not determining who wins. Now of course we didn't have any choice but to play this game of life, yet not even God could choose whether or not to exist, and how should he ask us this question before we exist? Yet at the same time, we can't expect God to not be allowed to create sentient beings, just because they might make poor choices. I view all this as something like children playing in a fenced-in playground. They are limited in that they cannot go beyond the fence, and there are rules against hitting, cuttin in line, etc. But the children are not told what to play; they are not micromanaged. Yet if some children choose to break the rules, or jump the fence, the adults are not to blame.
And I believe God created each person with the capacity, the free choice, to either accept or reject him.
1. Of course - if God is powerful, then He can do what He will. But should we call it good if it does not match what we normally mean by "good"?
Where did we get our sense of "good"? If we can judge God, then he is below us. Yet at the same time, since I believe we get our sense of morality from him, it stands to reason that he would not violate them. We can hardly think God would live on a lower level of justice that us fallible humans. So then the question is whether we have all knowledge, such that if justice does not happen in this life, we know it will never happen in the next either. That is, we can't say that God will not right every wrong eventually, even if it only happens in the next life. So there will be ultimate justice, and as I said, we have to trust God for this. That's what faith is all about; it proves that we are not "fair weather friends" to God. So when we ask what is good, we need to consider eternity as well as this life.
2… Wouldn't this be forcing them away? Once again, why shut the door forever?
Some argue that it's because God (and even human spirits) will go on forever. But I wouldn't be satisfied with that answer, and we don't have enough information upon which to answer that question. But here again we either trust God to be just, or we don't.
3. I do not think the freedom to forever damn yourself is a freedom that anyone would want to have...
Of course nobody wants that. But it has to be on God's terms. And what is he asking that's so hard? He pays the price and only asks us to trust him. How can this be unfair? To use your analogy, it would be like giving the child the scissors, then asking for them back because you can be trusted with them and handle them safely. Sometimes a good parent has to give a child a limited chance to fail, but if the child stubbornly refuses to give back the scissors, they can't rightly blame the parents for their pain. And remember, we are not as innocent as children. God only holds us responsible for what we can grasp.
I don't think a person, when confronted with choosing eternity with God or with "not God" would pick "not God" - unless they were mentally ill or did not understand the situation -
I disagree. Many choose "not God" out of pure pride. They knowingly choose out of hatred for God, regardless of what it may cost. These are the ones who defy God to his face. But many more reject God out of ignorance, and this is partly the fault of Christians who are unprepared to defend the faith and articulate these kinds of answers. Our "Christian education" is pathetic, a school where no one ever graduates. I rant about that often in my blog. Yet at the same time, I believe that God is not only just but compassionate and understanding of our weaknesses and failures, and will see to it that any who would choose him has the chance.
I doubt you think that non-Christians are wholly evil people. There is much good in everyone. Are you suggesting that when non-Christians die, then they lose all their good qualities?
Not at all. I said that the PLACE of not God is devoid of good. But many people, even Christians, do not know the difference between saved/lost and judgment. What I mean is that our fate is sealed the moment we die, so what is judgment for? Certainly not to decide whether we go to heaven or hell. Instead, judgment is for payback for how we lived. Those who go to heaven will possibly lose rewards, while those who go to hell will get a degree of suffering in line with how they lived. But we don't have much detail beyond what we can deduce from general principles. So this question cannot be answered completely, but yet again, I appeal to God's nature and choose to trust him.
Please define "holy"
Technically, it simply means "set apart for some purpose". What I mean by it here is that God is faultless and perfect. As for whether God loves the damned, scripture tells us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and that he loves the whole world. We have no detail on what that means for eternity for the lost.
This is not the opinion of the many, many atheists who volunteer their time and energy everyday to make the world a better place.
Why? Isn't this inconsistent with "nature red in tooth and claw"? If we are all a cosmic accident, there is no purpose, no altruism that matters. Who is to say that helping to make the world nicer is "good"? Some people think they should molest children; can we ask them? Why not? Where does morality come from, if it's accidental? Does the majority rule? What if the majority thinks cannibalism is a virtue? We have to remember that not everyone shares our opinions on morality.
Thanks again for the conversation! And please know, as a side note, that I do not reject Christianity or religion- rather just its evangelical, conservative incarnation.
You're quite welcome. :-) And while I don't especially like being broad-brushed (I am both evangelical and conservative), I agree that The Institution as I call it, or Churchianity, has a lot of faults. It might surprise you to know that I stopped "going to church" after 47 years of faithful attendance and active participation.
"we can't expect God to not be allowed to create sentient beings, just because they might make poor choices."
But if God has foreknowledge, then He knows which people will make poor choices.
"it would be like giving the child the scissors, then asking for them back because you can be trusted with them and handle them safely."
But it is completely irresponsible to give a child of 2 a pair of scissors - not matter what stipulations. It seems that to give a finite human being the capability to damn him/herself is even worse.
"God only holds us responsible for what we can grasp."
Then no one would go to hell. For we cannot grasp such things. And I still find it incoherent that a person would willingly choose an eternity of misery unless they cannot grasp the situation (as you mentioned) or unless they are mentally ill. Do people who choose to torture themselves seem right in the head to you? Or do they need help? And who can free a person from this condition except God's intervention?
"These are the ones who defy God to his face"
How can a person defy God to his face? Many people deny the idea of God as put forth by conservative religion. I could say that your belief in Hell is an act of defiance towards the true God of never-ending, persistent love who never fails and never gives up on anyone. Why not? You may not believe in this God, but you wouldn't say you were denying God because we are defining God differently. And many simply do not believe that God exists (at least the God of classical theism, or Yahweh in particular). Many people don't think unicorns exist. That doesn't mean they don't like unicorns or the idea of unicorns. I like unicorns.....
" I said that the PLACE of not God is devoid of good"
I am not sure I am understanding you here. If the place of "not God" is devoid of all good, and all people have some degree of goodness in them on earth, then wouldn't it make sense that the personalities of the damned would have to be changed and that all their good qualities would have to be either extinguished (or saved?). What of the Dalai Lama would be left if his good qualities were extinguished?
"Does the majority rule?"
Not necessarily. But if it did, why? Because it is powerful, right? So if God rules, and it is simply because He is powerful, then there is nothing inherently more just than if the majority ruled. We are getting into the Euthyphro Dilemma here, which I love to discuss, but it's a different offshoot. I will just say that Christians who claim that God grounds morality, still believe that right and wrong is written on our hearts (or else God's laws would seem completely arbitrary to us). This means we must rely on our ethical intuitions and our reasoning to ground morality, and this is no different than what non-Christians believe.
"We have to remember that not everyone shares our opinions on morality."
This is true. But I am not sure that threatening a person with after-life punishment really changes the morality of something. We have to ask if morality is real and consequential here and now or if it's not real and consequential and is only grounded in an afterlife punishment.
I sympathize with having difficulty attending church - when you think about these things as much as you obviously do, it can be difficult to find a community sometimes!