Friday, October 20, 2006


Robert T. Miller writing at First Things is made uneasy by word that the Roman Catholic International Theological Commission might abolish the doctrine of limbo, a "place" where children go if they die unbaptized.

The attempt to harmonize the standard theological doctrines of salvation with the perfectly understandable hope that children who die have eternal life has resulted over the centuries in a number of theological contortions, limbo being one of them.

Miller describes limbo as a state wherein, according to Thomas Aquinas:

...the souls of the unbaptized infants enjoy the complete fulfillment of human nature, including a natural knowledge of God, the greatest possible for unaided human reason. The only thing such souls lack is the supernatural vision of God that is possible only through grace, and, according to Aquinas, they do not even regret not having that supernatural vision because they understand that it is a gift over and above anything human nature could merit and so not something they could ever have reasonably hoped to attain. They no more regret not having the beatific vision, Aquinas says, than a peasant regrets not inheriting a kingdom.

In limbo the child neither suffers the torments of hell nor exults in the joys of heaven. It is neither heaven nor hell, which is certainly a better fate than awaits the unfortunate child according to those whose theology follows the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by by Christ....So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word (Chap. X, sec. III).

This suggests the inference that there are infants who die who are not among the elect and which therefore go to hell for eternity. This is difficult, to understate the matter, to reconcile with the notion of a perfectly good and loving God. That such a God would cause to be created persons who live for a few hours and are then consigned to suffer the agonies of hell forever simply because they are human and thus a descendent of Adam is not a proposition one would think to be easy to defend.

Other Christians, wishing to avoid treacherous apologetic terrain, simply assert that all children who die before the "age of accountability" are saved forever by God. This seems much more in keeping with the teaching of Jesus about the love, mercy and compassion of God, but it also presents difficulties of a different kind.

For example, what is the age at which one becomes spiritually accountable and is there Biblical warrant for such an idea? More significantly, if it is granted that children and mental incompetents are saved without having to make a decision for Christ because they simply can't, that seems to crack the door open for the conclusion that perhaps such a decision is not necessary for others as well. If children can't make a decision for Christ because of a lack of comprehension, then neither can those who were born both before and after Christ who never heard the gospel.

And if we allow the possibility that at least some of these might benefit from the work of Christ on the Cross though they know nothing about it, then why not those who have heard the gospel but who for reasons of psychology rather than spiritual hostility find themselves unable to believe it?

We have now wandered far from the reservation staked out by the Westminster Confession and into the regions of what is called Christian inclusivism. Inclusivism is the belief that Christ's death on the cross atones for the sins of all humanity, not just some as in the Reformed view, and that all people are born saved by God's grace until they themselves explicitly reject God and/or spurn His forgiveness and offer of salvation.

This notion may be completely wrong, although it's not easy to see that it is, but it has at least one advantage. It allows us to put aside notions like limbo and unelect children suffering forever for the sin of an ancestor over 10,000 years ago.

According to this view Jesus takes to his bosom every child who dies early. His sacrifice has covered whatever price must be paid for these little ones, so that they can enjoy the presence of God forever. No limbo, no eternal damnation, just unending joy and happiness in the presence of God.

This seems to me to be a much better fit with what the Bible tells us about God than the belief that God allows some infants to be born for no purpose other than to be dispatched to an eternity of misery. If this is wrong, though, and if the Westminster Confession accurately states the way things really stand then parents would actually be doing the moral thing by seeking to have their unwanted children aborted. If the aborted child is one of God's elect then the abortion would not succeed. If the child is not among the elect then the abortion spares them a completely meaningless eternal suffering. Unless, of course, the child is damned from the moment it is conceived in which case it becomes even more difficult to imagine why God would do such a thing.

For Miller's part, he holds fast to the doctrine of limbo:

So, in my view, the argument from the universal salvific will of God is inadequate to support the view that all unbaptized infants are saved....the view that all unbaptized infants are saved is decidedly a modern one, a view very much in the spirit of our times. Ours is a culture that can't bear the thought of anyone going to hell, even the people who, for all the world, seem to deserve it. Thus we have the near universal custom at Christian funerals of proclaiming that the decedent, no matter how morally dissolute his life, is now enjoying the banquet of heaven in the company of the saints, without even a short stay in Purgatory. The spirit of the age hates hell, and so hates limbo as well, which it cannot adequately distinguish from hell.

With due respect to Mr. Miller it seems to me that part of what it means to be a Christian is that one not be able to "bear the thought of anyone going to hell, even the people who, for all the world, seem to deserve it". Does Mr. Miller suggest that we should rejoice that our non-Christian loved ones are destined to everlasting suffering?

Indeed, the spirit of the age does hate hell. This may be the only point of agreement between the spirit of the age and Jesus Christ who Himself hated hell so much that He died so that men, and children, may be spared from it's terrifying maw.

The Possessed

This piece of cheery news comes to us by way of the Drudge Report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called Israel a "counterfeit and illegitimate regime that cannot survive", in a live broadcast on state television.

"The Zionist regime is counterfeit and illegitimate and cannot survive," he said in a speech to a crowd in the town of Islamshahr in southwestern Tehran.

"The big powers have created this fraud regime and allowed it to commit all kind of crimes to guarantee their interests," he added.

Ahmadinejad sounds for all the world like a psychopath bent upon plunging the world into nuclear war. He's striving strenuously to build a nuclear weapon and scarcely anyone in the world is interested in doing much to stop him except George Bush and the Israelis.

We have said this before, but it bears repeating: The only thing worse than going to war to disarm Iran would be to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

The Threat to Liberty Posed by Gay Rights

We have several times throughout our two and a half years of existence at Viewpoint argued that legalizing gay marriage would have the almost inevitable consequence of opening the door to the legalization of any union which any combination of persons wished to form. Marriage is currently the union of one man and one woman, but once the gender of the persons in the union no longer matters neither will the number. There would be no logical reason why the number of people entering into marriage should be limited to two. Once the Rubicon of gay marriage is crossed courts would eventually and ineluctably compel legislatures to legalize polyamorous unions.

Now comes an article by Maggie Gallagher in the Weekly Standard which claims that another consequence of legalizing gay marriage, or at least legitimizing the arguments which culminate in legalized gay marriage, will be the erosion of both religious liberty and our freedom of speech. As one lawyer puts it in the article "when religious liberty and sexual liberty conflict sexual liberty should almost always prevail because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner". Despite the fact that the First Amendment of the constituition guarantees freedom of religion and despite the fact that there is no corresponding constitutional guarantee of sexual liberty, this lawyer asserts that the latter should nevertheless trump the former. This is more than a little disturbing.

A prelude to the coming storm occured last March when Catholic Charities in Boston decided it was getting out of the adoption business because the courts decreed that they had to allow gay couples to adopt children. This violated the teaching of the Catholic church, and so, rather than accede to what they saw as immoral and unbiblical policy, they simply stopped serviung as an adoption agency.

The consequences will not be limited, however, to adoption. Read this excerpt from Gallagher's very informative column:

Consider education. Same-sex marriage will affect religious educational at least four ways: admissions, employment, housing, and regulation of clubs. One of (general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, Marc) Stern's big worries right now is a case in California where a private Christian high school expelled two girls who (the school says) announced they were in a lesbian relationship. Stern is not optimistic. And if the high school loses, he tells me, "then religious schools are out of business." Or at least the government will force religious schools to tolerate both conduct and proclamations by students they believe to be sinful.

Stern agrees...that public accommodation laws can and should force truly commercial enterprises to serve all comers. But, he asks, what of other places, such as religious camps, retreats, and homeless shelters? Will they be considered by courts to be places of public accommodation, too? Could a religious summer camp operated in strict conformity with religious principles refuse to accept children coming from same-sex marriages? What of a church-affiliated community center, with a gym and a Little League, that offers family programs? Must a religious-affiliated family services provider offer marriage counseling to same-sex couples designed to facilitate or preserve their relationships?

"Future conflict with the law in regard to licensing is certain with regard to psychological clinics, social workers, marital counselors, and the like," Stern wrote last December--well before the Boston Catholic Charities story broke.

Will speech against gay marriage be allowed to continue unfettered? "Under the American regime of freedom of speech, the answer ought to be easy," according to Stern. But it is not entirely certain, he writes, "because sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace principles will likely migrate to suppress any expression of anti-same-sex-marriage views." Stern suggests how that might work.

In the corporate world the expression of opposition to gay marriage will be suppressed not by gay ideologues but by corporate lawyers who will draw the lines least likely to entangle the company in litigation. Stern likens this to "a paroxysm of prophylaxis--banning 'Jesus saves' because someone might take offense."

Or consider a recent case at William Paterson University, a state school in New Jersey. A senior faculty member sent out a mass email inviting people to attend movies with a gay theme. A student employee, a 63-year-old Muslim named Jihad Daniel, replied to the professor in a private email asking not to receive messages "about 'Connie and Sally' and 'Adam and Steve.'" He went on, "These are perversions. The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned." The result: Daniel received a letter of reprimand for using the "derogatory and demeaning" word "perversions" in violation of state discrimination and harassment regulations.

Precisely because support for marriage is public policy, once marriage includes gay couples, groups who oppose gay marriage are likely to be judged in violation of public policy, triggering a host of negative consequences, including the loss of tax-exempt status. Because marriage is not a private act, but a protected public status, the legalization of gay marriage sends a strong signal that orientation is now on a par with race in the nondiscrimination game. And when we get gay marriage because courts have declared it a constitutional right, the signal is stronger still.

The culture war against religion that the secular state has been waging at relatively low intensity for the last three decades is soon about to erupt into a very bitter battle. If gay marriage is codified it may well be unconstitutional to preach against it from the pulpit or to do anything which puts teeth into one's belief that it is incompatible with God's will for men and women.

This is why it's crucial that the next Supreme Court justice be an originalist, which is why it's crucial that the president who nominates this justice and the senators which confirm him or her be themselves constitutional conservatives.

Which is why your vote in November is so very crucial.