Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The antichrist will be a utilitarian

My undergraduate degree was in philosophy, so I studied all the major philosophical topics you might expect: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and so on. More than that, I work at Grand Canyon University as an Instructional Assistant for professors of philosophy, so I get to revisit everything I learned at my work, as well. Though my real passion is in theology, and though I conceive of philosophy ultimately as a kind of handmaiden to theology (like any good Thomist) and a praeparatio evangelica, I still value philosophy for its own sake. My opinion is that thinking clearly and having a coherent basis of first principles is important for anyone who wants to live a thoughtful Christian life.

Towards the end of the semester, my students at GCU were studying different normative ethical theories, specifically utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. The thought occurred to me, as it had at previous points in my life but not with this profundity and detail, that utilitarianism is a deeply ungodly and immoral ethical theory. 'Utilitarianism,' as I am using the phrase here, is understood to be a consequentialist moral theory that defines good action in terms of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain for all agents affected by an act. In other words, the key to acting rightly, on the view as I am considering it here, is that you do what you can to make the most possible people feel the most possible pleasure and the least possible pain by what you do.

The problem with this moral theory is not necessarily its consequentialism (I don't want to get into that issue per se) but its insistence that pleasure and pain are the only moral absolutes of good and evil. Thinking like this will, sooner or later, turn you against all true religion and against the demand of Christ that you pick up your cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). If you think that only pleasure is worth pursuing for its own sake and only pain is ultimately to be avoided, you cannot be a perfected Christian and you cannot make considerable spiritual progress. Inevitably you will find yourself inclined to draw back when the going gets tough, and it's been promised that the going will get tough: It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). More than that, a person whose primary object in life is to enjoy herself cannot love God for his own sake. He only wants pleasure which he might get from God -- and as Catherine of Siena says, such a person is far from the truth and liable to fall away.

The alternative vision of the bible is Christ's own ethic. Its fundamentally anti-utilitarian, anti-hedonist essence is encapsulated nicely in this, my favorite verse from the whole bible:

For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Rom 15:3).

Christ did not seek his own pleasure! His own enjoyment was hardly on his mind as he went through Galilee and Judah, preaching the gospel and calling sinners to convert from their evils. The announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God, rather than bringing pleasure to Christ, instead brought him much suffering and opposition. The culminating point of all this was the crucifixion of Jesus, which it turns out was precisely the reason for which he came into the earth!

Christ did not seek his own pleasure. So what motivated him? What was able to give him the strength and the motivation and the impulse to seek the salvation of the world through his own immense suffering? The answer, of course, which has been given by all the saints and theologians of the history of the Church, is: his tremendous love for humankind. Consider what John says:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:7-10).

Look at what John is saying here. Christians are called to love one another (rather than to seek their own pleasure!) because love is from God. And all of the different aspects of becoming a Christian -- being born of God, being inwardly transformed and changed through the Holy Spirit, the ontological change that affects a person being converted; as well the epistemological change of coming to know who God is -- all these things are ordered towards the fundamental change of disposition: the Christian must be enabled and taught to love. The presence or lack of love in the life of a Christian is the primary evidence of whether that person has had real contact with God! Thus John says that whoever doesn't love, doesn't know God. And why is that? Because God is love!

Love, as it is being understood here, is far away from the pleasure-seeking utilitarianism of our day. This is because love must be in accordance with the truth (1 John 3:18). God, in his love, does not simply create for us a hedonistic paradise on earth so that we can enjoy ourselves without any pain or hurt. Neither does he approach the matter of our salvation in a way that doesn't cost him or hurt him. Rather, it is through the Cross of Christ and his suffering and death that redemption is accomplished for the whole world. Love lead God to suffering, not away from it.

John's lesson is that if we are not similarly willing to suffer for each other out of love, we are not yet there; we have not quite come to know God's love in our own lives. If I have extra food and you are starving, it's loving for me to share with you. But that hasn't cost me anything, since I have enough for myself as well. But if you are starving and I have  enough only for myself, and I decide to give it to you anyway, then my love is sacrificial. Then my love will be like Christ's love. Then I have matured past the immature hedonist utilitarianism of the day, and have decided that it is better to embrace suffering and pain for the good of the other person out of love.

It is clear that living up to this example perfectly is far away from most of us. Surely I fall short in a million ways. But I don't help myself any by deluding myself into thinking my comfortable life is still good enough, that more is not demanded of me. I think utilitarianism is attractive to so many people because we have a natural bent towards the pleasant and pleasurable. But to make pleasure the be-all, end-all of morality is the height of impiety. No person who loves pleasure for its own sake and everything else only for the sake of pleasure can be godly. That kind of attitude and thinking will never give the strength voluntarily to undertake suffering for God's sake, and for the sake of your neighbor.

For this reason, I am all the more skeptical of moral philosophers and politicians whose platform and mindset is broadly utilitarian. Some philosophers justify even the crudest and most disgusting vices on utilitarian grounds. Peter Singer, for example, defends "consensual" bestiality on utilitarian grounds. When you think that the only thing worth pursuing is pleasure and the only thing to be avoided at all costs is pain, your thinking will be badly distorted and you will justify anything on the grounds that you're not harming anyone. Without getting into any eschatological debates and without affirming any position one way or the other, I will make this provocative statement: the antichrist will be a utilitarian. Concerned with minimizing pain and suffering, he'll get a reputation for being a "good guy," who just wants to "do good" in the world. But minimizing pain was not God's first concern, and it was not Christ's first concern, either. The utilitarian antichrist quickly sets himself up against God, then, as the "true" savior of man on this false premise.

It goes without saying that we should not cause others pain unnecessarily, but the primary good is not pleasure nor the primary evil pain; rather, the primary good is, as Augustine said, to cling to God in love, and the primary evil to live in sin apart from God. The pursuit of pleasure for its own sake and the avoidance of pain at any cost, being an intrinsically self-interested and self-oriented pursuit, is the quickest way to distort your moral sense and to make yourself into a child of the devil.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The threat of hell and the power of intercession

In Exodus 32, we find a very interesting series of events in the history of God's people. Moses is spending a long time on top of the mountain discussing with God, so the people grow restless and compel Aaron to form a god for them out of gold. They make a golden calf and begin to worship it and party, saying, These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! (Exod 32:4).

Of course, God knows about this, and tells Moses that he is going to destroy the Hebrews for their idolatry. However, he plans on building a great nation out of Moses, providing for him plenty of children and beginning a new people-group out of his line. He even explicitly forbids Moses from interceding on their behalf: Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them (v. 10).

Moses, however, will not accept this, and begins to plead with God against his wishes:

O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.' (vv. 11-13)

The response after this reasoned argument -- and notably not the repentance of the Hebrews -- is this: And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people (v. 14).

This is a fascinating little sequence of biblical events, and especially fruitful for theological reflection from the point of view of the classical theistic tradition. After all, God is omniscient and knows what will happen in the future even before it takes place. Likewise, he is immutable and impassible, and so is not affected by nor reacts to anything that happens within the created order. How, then, can we understand this peculiar affirmation that God changed his mind about what he was going to do to the Hebrews?

The classical theistic answer will be to interpret the idea about God's changing his mind as an athropomorphism. God does not literally change his mind about anything. Rather, it must be that this whole series of events was providentially ordered for our benefit, not because God was convinced to do something he was otherwise inclined to do. This means that God reveals to Moses, through the form of a prohibition, the fate which the Hebrews deserve as idolaters for their abandonment of the Lord. This revelation is ordered towards realizing the free intercession of Moses on their behalf, out of a concern as much for the good of the Hebrews as for the glory and renown of God himself. God subsequently uses Moses' intercession as a reason to be further merciful to the Hebrew people.

Catherine of Siena has the same experience as Moses. God reveals to her the horrible fate awaiting all those persons who live in mortal sin and who do not reconcile with God. He tells her:

How many charges I could bring against humankind! For they have received nothing but good from me, and they repay me with every sort of hateful evil. But I have told you that my wrath would be softened by the tears of my servants, and I say it again: You, my servants, come into my presence laden with your prayers, your eager longing, your sorrow over their offense against me as well as their own damnation, and so you will soften my divinely just wrath (The Dialogue, §17).

In both of these cases, the point of the revelation of the fate of the wicked is to provoke intercession on their behalf, so that such a fate might be avoided. Of course, God, because of his goodness and love, does not want the death of the sinner but rather her salvation. God tells Ezekiel: As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live (Ezek 33:11). He wants to be merciful to sinners regardless. But in his wisdom, he devises a way to include us in his mercy, making us a critical part of the way his mercy will be expressed to the world. He includes us in the economy of his mercy for our sake and for the sake of sinners and for the sake of his glory. And the revelation about the fate of sinners serves to motivate us to pray for them.

This is how I understand the rhetorical function of the threats, warnings, and predictions about hell and damnation in the New Testament. They serve primarily to motivate repentance on the part of sinners and intercession on the part of the people of God, ultimately so that no one may suffer the things described there. This, incidentally, is also how the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads them:

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." 

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance." (CCC §1036-7).

What, then, should be the proper attitude of the Christian? It seems to me one of continuous efforts for the salvation of others. The threat of hell is a real one: people who die unreconciled to God are lost forever. But neither do I know if any of the people around me are going to die unreconciled to God, nor am I forbidden from preaching the gospel to them and praying for them desperately, with tears and sighs and groans like Catherine of Siena says, that God might have mercy on them and on me.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Images of the Trinity

It is the practice of many theologians to attempt to find analogies for explaining the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe that God is triune: three hypostaseis in one ousia, three personae in one substantia, three persons in one nature. But this is impenetrable to the intellect, because it is difficult to distinguish between this polytheism. Does the doctrine of the trinity mean that there are three gods?

In order to explain to questioners how the doctrine of the trinity can be true, some theologians and philosophers give analogies from the created order. Consider the way the three leaves of a clover are one thing; or the way that the sun, its heat, and its light are all in some way united though distinct; or -- which is an even worse example, to my mind -- how Cerberus is a single dog but with three centers of consciousness. All of these examples, however, fall short in important ways. God is not composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the way that a clover is composed of its three leaves. Indeed, God is entirely immaterial, and so the analogies which play on the material composition of certain sorts of objects will all inevitably fall short.

Lately I have been reading from John of Damascus, and have found in him a kindred spirit in what concerns philosophy and theology. I quite like him. Consider what he says about the nature of God in a treatise On Heresies:

And so, let the faithful adore God with a mind that is not overcurious. And believe that He is God in three hypostases, although the manner in which He is so is beyond manner, for God is incomprehensible. Do not ask how the Trinity is Trinity, for the Trinity is inscrutable (§103).

And in his De Fide Orthodoxa, he makes a distinction between what has been revealed to us and what hasn't. It has been revealed to us that God is three in one, but the precise manner in which this can be has not been revealed. Because of God's own nature as utterly transcendent and unlike the things which he has created,

it is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments (I:2).

Indeed, it is clear that God exists, but what He is in essence and nature is unknown and beyond all understanding (I:4). Because of this, all of our terms and descriptions of God do not show what He is, but, rather, what he is not, since it is impossible to say what He is in His essence. This is because [God] does not belong to the number of beings, not because He does not exist, but because transcends all beings and being itself.

And later on, he emphasizes the radical distance between God and the created order in order to limit our confidence in any particular analogies for the trinitarian relations:

For it is impossible to find in creation any image which exactly portrays the manner of the Holy Trinity in Itself. For that which is created is also compounded, variable, changeable, circumscribed, having shape, and corruptible; so, how shall it show with any clarity the supersubstantial divine essence which is far removed from all such? (I:8).

Following the Damscene, then, I hold that it is better to limit ourselves to the language of the creeds regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, rather than trying to find an analogue in the created order for interpreting the theological statement itself. God in his divine nature is utterly unlike any of us. We bear some resemblance to him, of course, but it would be a mistake to work the other way around, from us to him, in order to come at a definitive understanding of his essence. So the doctrine of the trinity remains mysterious, even while it is necessary for maintaining the orthodox faith.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The obstacle to reconciliation is never with God

Last night at my bible study, we considered the following verses from 1 John 4:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (4:9-10).

I asked the question: what do these verses imply about humanity? Humans are called two wonderful things: dead and sinful. As the philosopher Plotinus once said in another context, nothing is ever so ugly as something dead. Even the ugliest living person is handsomer than a dead body. And of course, there is a certain ugliness that accompanies sin, as well. The sinful person has a kind of inner ugliness, which is sufficient to undo any sort of outer beauty that a person might have.

Humanity is described in terms that are utterly degrading and humbling. The mass of human persons, apart from the intervention of God in Jesus Christ, is properly defined as dead and sinful. These are not the sorts of qualities we find in the persons we love! On the contrary, we like people who are alive and who are righteous. But this is what sets the love of God apart from our own love: God loves the dead and the sinful, and he wants to give them life and make atonement for their sin.

Of course, God loves the living and righteous, as well. Certainly God the Father loves Christ, who is the Life and who is perfectly righteous in every way. But God's love is not limited to those who are alive and righteous. It also extends to those who are dead and who are sinful! Consequently, God's love is all-embracing, comprehensive, and even unconditional. This is what John communicates when he says that God loved us before we loved him!

Now what is the import of this? Understanding God to be this way ought to motivate us always to seek mercy from him, whenever we might sin in whatever way. Yet oftentimes, if we sin in a bad way, we might feel a certain difficulty in approaching God. We feel like we ought not draw too close; perhaps there's even a voice inside us that says: "Don't you draw too near to God -- he'll strike you with lightning if you approach him!" That voice is from the devil, and we ought not regard it! God's love for us is the same whether we are righteous or sinful, dead or alive. And if we happen to be dead and sinful, his love always invites us, so long as we are in this life, to confess and to repent and to be restored to him!

There is nothing I can do to make God stop loving me. That is because God's very nature is love, and his love knows no limits (1 John 4:8). But if I am not careful, if I do not keep close watch over myself, I can find myself drifting away from God's love into a life of self-exclusion and self-imposed exile. If I die unreconciled to God, there can be no hope for me. So I have constantly to remind myself that God is love, that he always calls me to draw near to him, and to seek his mercy in the face of all my sins, however many they may be. If I sin, the obstacle to reconciliation with God is never with him, but with me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Whoever does not love does not know God

First John 4:8 says, Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Of course, everyone loves to some extent or other. More or less all parents love their children, people in sexual maturity generally fall in love at least once, kids love their pets, and so on. Insofar as love is from God (1 Jn 4:7), we might say that these sentiments of love are really from God. They are gift of God which, if we pursue them and try to cultivate them, will lead us to communion with God in a genuine sense. But John here is talking about love in a deeper, more profound sense.

It seems to me that John is referring to love as a fundamental way of being, as the basic orientation we have towards the world.

Think about the most basic way you choose to relate to the world, to other people, and to God. If you think of the world as governed by the law of the jungle, where only the strong will survive, and your primary concern is basically to look out for number one, then your basic orientation towards life might be self-preservation. Alternatively it might be suspicion: perhaps you are fundamentally unwilling to trust people, either out of fear of being hurt, or else because you are suspicious that people are trying to get something out of you.

John says that a person who knows God and who has been born of God will have love as his fundamental orientation towards the world. That person is first and foremost open to the world in love: in a genuine and committed concern for the good of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice when the cause is worthy.

Now, how can you live in this way, when the world is such an unfriendly and hostile environment? Notice what kind of a knowledge is implicit in this attitude! People who are fundamentally suspicious of others, or concerned for self-preservation above everything else, have a certain way of thinking about the world and their place within it. They probably think that death is the end of life tout court, that consciousness ceases and there is no hope of return from the abyss of nothingness. In that light, they are suspicious of any notion of cosmic justice, any hope that things are right in the world and that there is a moral order. Rather, they are deep down convinced that they have to look out for themselves above everything else, and everyone is in a fight to the death for the life-preserving use of limited resources. It is impossible to open yourself up in the way that John demands in a world like this! It's positively irrational!

That is why it is necessary to know God in order to love. First, you must know that God exists -- that he is really there, behind all of our experiences and everything that happens to us and to the world at large. Next, you have to know what God is like. He is made known through his Son, Jesus Christ. And what does Jesus Christ teach us about the Father? That he is love! As John says, Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn 2:2). Not Christ's death in isolation from his life, but Christ himself is the atonement for our sins -- as if the very definition of Christ, the very essence of his identity, the job description on his business card, is to make atonement for sinners and to advocate on their behalf to God the Father. And this shows us what God is like! He is fundamentally, essentially, and immutably for us, pro-humanity, in our favor, a philanthropos.

When you come to realize that God, who is Love, is behind everything that happens to you in the world, that nothing happens outside of the permission of his will and his providence, then and only then can you live in love. At that point, there's nothing to fear! Who or what could ever separate you from the Love of God? What could stand in his way, when he keeps everything in existence from every passing moment?

Now when I think about myself and when I notice the stream of thoughts that goes through my head on a daily basis, I realize how far away I am from this. Love is not yet my fundamental and primary orientation towards life, towards others, towards God. I am yet suspicious, I am yet insecure, I am yet afraid, I am yet resentful, I am yet angry, I fall short in a number of ways. But I want love to be my fundamental orientation; and I think all Christians who have come to see what God is truly like can agree that they at least want to love -- the sign that God has really entered their lives.

The little love that I do feel, I have to cultivate and work at. I have to devote my energies and efforts to strengthening this muscle, rather than the muscles of anger or resentment or self-preservation or whatever else might stand in the way. And to help me, I have to come to know God deeper and deeper: I have to reflect and meditate on the passion of Christ, which teaches me (as T.F. Torrance once said) that God loves us more than he loves himself. Like John of Damascus says, obedience to Christ's commands is only possible with prayer and patience.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

You have become my salvation

It seems obvious enough that, after witnessing the resurrection of Christ, the earliest Christians began to find a great number of parallels in their scriptures (namely, the Old Testament) to the experiences of Jesus himself. They saw that Christ's life in some way fulfilled the things discussed, mentioned, and predicted in the Law and the Prophets. In light of this, we can read the Old Testament as in some way offering an insight into the mind of Christ himself, who certainly would have interpreted his own experiences in its light.

Consider these wonderful verses from Ps 118:

I shall not die, but I shall live,
  and recount the deeds of the Lord. 
The Lord has punished me severely,
  but he did not give me over to death. 
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
  that I may enter through them,
  and give thanks to the Lord. 
This is the gate of the Lord;
  the righteous shall enter through it. 
I thank you that you have answered me, 
  and have become my salvation (vv. 17-21).

This is the mentality of Christ, who has overcome the world and every obstacle which was set in his way. Conquering temptations and opposition on the part of the religious leaders of Israel, and even suffering the pangs of death on behalf of the whole world, at the resurrection he experiences joy and thankfulness for God the Father's unending love towards him. He provides for us a model for Christian life: unconditional trust in God, even in the face of pains and suffering and death itself.

These verses describe the "salvation" of Christ, or better said, they express the sentiments which Christ felt in his human nature throughout his life and especially after his resurrection. But they also speak to us, who have come to know God's love and mercy for all and each in the good news about Jesus. What else can you say, knowing that your many sins are forgiven you, except this: I thank you ... that you have become my salvation?

Christ could not keep quiet but showed himself to his apostles after his resurrection. Neither could they keep quiet about so great a revelation, for they soon after began to pray and to preach the gospel to all who would hear them. So also neither can you and I keep quiet, if we have truly come to know about the forgiveness of our sins and our restoration to friendship with God. Such a tremendous and expected gift is worth sharing with others! As the psalmist said: I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. That is what a grateful heart does!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mother Teresa, Divine Hiddenness, and Social Justice (Guest Post)

The following posting is a draft of a short essay written by one of my best friends, Jack Sanchez. I enjoyed his essay very much and offered him the opportunity to publish it here on my blog, which he graciously accepted. He gladly welcomes any and all comments which you might have to offer him.




Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Julian of Norwich as hopeful, non-dogmatic universalist

Here's a paper I wrote last quarter in which I argue that Julian of Norwich's position on the question of hell is the same as my own. I had a page limit so I could not go into tremendous detail, but I also compare her to Isaac the Syrian to show the universalist thrust of her theology.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sin is trying to avoid responsibility

Sin is a kind of irrational force that leads a person to her demise while convincing her that she is doing the right thing. For example, Jesus tells the religious authorities the parable of the tenants, which ends with the warning that the vineyard owner will kill the tenants and give the vineyard to someone else. They perceive that he was telling the parable about them, which means that they understand his threat: if they kill him, they will suffer punishment from God. Yet when they are confronted with the truth and the danger of their own situation, what do they do? Rather than repent and ask for guidance, they are hardened in their sinfulness and determine that they are going to kill Jesus! Sin made them to throw themselves headlong into the destruction about which Christ warned them.

This irrational force of sin is devastating, however, because it convinces us that there's nothing wrong with what we're doing. On the contrary, we are doing the right thing! The religious authorities were convinced that they were doing the right thing by killing Jesus, even if he showed them through the parable that they were opposing God himself. This is why we ought to have a healthy skepticism of ourselves and constantly check ourselves by the teaching of Christ and the apostles, lest we be deceiving ourselves.

Beyond irrationality, however, though perhaps in some way related to it, sin is characterized by a kind of childish desire to escape consequences for our actions. Sinful persons want to enjoy themselves and get pleasure out of life, but without suffering any consequences for their actions and without exercising actual responsible agency. For example, consider people who want the pleasures of sexual activity without the responsibility of parenthood that naturally accompanies this. These persons either use contraceptives or force an abortion to escape the burden of caring for a child, but they still want to engage in sex despite its natural result. In this manner, they want to escape responsible agency: they want the benefits without any of the costs.

Consider another example: a person who commits serious crimes, seemingly feels no remorse over what he has done so long as he is free, but as soon as he is caught and is faced with inevitable punishment, cries and wails and laments his fate pathetically—not out of remorse or conscience, but only because he was caught and will now suffer. Such a person is overwhelmed by the power of sin and wants to escape responsible agency out of his slavery to the pursuit of pleasure.

There are ordinary cases, too. How many people do I know who swear they will turn their lives around, but only later, after their youth has passed! No, they tell me, now they want to enjoy themselves, so long as they are young and able to do so easily; repentance is for later in life, when circumstances will constrain them to be more responsible. This, too, is an evasion of agency: their actions merit punishment and in some sense they recognize this, but they defer repentance till later in life, when the consequences will be minimal and continuing their pursuit of pleasure would prove too burdensome or impossible. These persons refuse to exercise real agency and instead leave themselves at the mercy of their desires, impulses, and circumstances, holding out an irrational hope fortuitously to avoid all negative consequences they deserve.

There is no avoiding the consequences of our actions, however. Catherine of Siena makes the point that no one can escape from God's hands, and at the end of the day, we will all have to give an account for the life we lived. Either we will be found by God repentant, in which case we meet with his mercy, or we will be found in sin, and so meet with justice. But there is no avoiding God, and so there is no avoiding responsibility and accountability for our actions. God has made us free, such that we have the responsibility of developing our characters either towards good or evil. Sin tries to make us lazy and to abdicate this responsibility, which will only make our characters vicious and ungodly in the end. Thus a person can be damned effectively by refusing to exercise responsible agency and taking control of her actions.

There may be an interesting eschatological argument here. Annihilationism might be considered a weak doctrine on the grounds that a sinful person does not have to live with the consequences of her actions, if she is eventually annihilated. Actual suffering for sin is limited, even though annihilation lasts forever, whereas her offense in turning her back against goodness itself (God) is infinite in gravity. If sinners are therefore eventually annihilated, their abdication of their agency turns out not to be a particularly grave thing; the offense is relatively small. Rather it is as if they have merely opted out of playing a game that was avoidable. What's to stop a sinner from deciding to go on in sin and eventually be annihilated, since all actual suffering is limited in duration and nothingness offers no pains or discomforts?