Gospel Disproof #28: Conditional salvation

The Christian Gospel has many flaws that betray its origins as a man-made scheme for manipulating people, and one of the more obvious examples is the idea of conditional salvation. People will work harder for something they might achieve than they will for something that’s either guaranteed or impossible, so psychologically it’s a clever tactic to preach a salvation that’s not an automatic given.

Conditional salvation also appeals to a certain selfish vanity that wants to be able to say, “I’ve got it and you don’t, ha ha ha.” People like to feel that they’re part of some elite, exclusive inner circle with awesome special privileges. Granted, in the case of the Gospel, these special privileges don’t really kick in until after you die, but with typically perverse human psychology, that’s actually an advantage—there’s no risk of you finding out those “special privileges” aren’t all they’re hyped up to be.

What’s good as a gimmick for manipulating people, though, is really bad as a divine plan for Eternity, especially on the part of an actual, almighty, loving Father God. Making salvation conditional means making sure that You are going to fail to save at least some percentage of those You’re supposed to love. What would be the point of that? Offering some kind of universal salvation might make people a bit less motivated to try and earn their salvation, but (a) who cares as long as everyone gets saved? and (b) we’re not supposed to be earning our salvation anyway.

The typical response to this observation is to try and suggest that somehow God has no choice, and that some power higher than God is limiting His ability to succeed in saving His own beloved children. The problem with that excuse is that God is supposed to be the only self-existent being, which means that no powers that exist except those which are inherent in His own nature, and those He has created ex nihilo. There can be no power able to force God to fail unless He has created it Himself, or unless His failure to save us is inherent in Who He is.

If we look at the gospel, and the ways God is said to fail to save us, there’s a pattern of manipulation: God’s weaknesses, like conditional salvation, appear just where an unscrupulous charlatan would fine-tune his message in order to exert the maximum amount of influence over his subjects. What is inconsistent and counter-productive when viewed from the perspective of an almighty and loving Creator becomes straightforward and productive when assessed as a ploy to ensnare and exploit the credulous.

This is only a trivial example, but it’s the sort of thing we find consistently in the Gospel message. Theology is designed and improved according to what works best at persuading and motivating people, regardless of the implications. It’s not just that the Gospel has flaws, it’s that the kind of flaws are those that would show up in a manipulative myth fine-tuned by and for propaganda purposes. Some people claim fine tuning is evidence of intelligent design, and while that doesn’t work too well in physics, I have to admit, it’s certainly suggestive in the case of the Gospel itself.


  1. Crommunist says

    Your post sparked a thought: could heaven in fact be a reward that has strong cultural overtones? The writers of the Bible would certainly have thought that a place like Las Vegas was hell – prostitution, gambling, loud music. What if heaven, as conceived of, is in fact an incredibly dull place that most people would hate but would appeal to the stuffed shirts? How do believers know anything about what heaven is like?

    • had3 says

      Regardless of how heaven’s perceived, there’s an inherent flaw that causes all of heaven’s occupants to suffer eternal pain with the knowledge that there are those whom they and others love who are suffering in hell. Conversely, those in hell are forever comforted with the knowledge that there are those whom they love who are in heaven.

      • BKsea says

        I had been thinking along the lines of had3 lately and it occured to me: Why would a tru believer ever have children. I could not imagine anything worse than eternal life in heaven knowning my children are eternally burning in hell. Even if the chance is remote, it is not worth the risk.

    • Brian M says

      One of my favorite science fiction novels (a trilogy, actually) is the “Werewolves of London” trilogy from Brian Stableford (Note…this trilogy has nothing to do with sexy teen vamp movies or that awful song). The deus ex machina beings (transcendental, not even really consciouss entities that exist somehow in the interstices between the physical dimensions) actually show the main characters various alternative heavens…which the characters reject as utterly trivial or horrifying.

  2. ash says

    “Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it’s as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive.”

    Mark Twain

  3. davidct says

    If those of us who are atheists are wrong, we actually have two hells to look forward too. First there is that of eternity sucking up to a narcissistic sociopath with a bunch of boring people. Then there is the place with really good central heating.

  4. Hunt says

    This reminds me of the idea of universal imagined surveillance, a brilliant theory for the origins of religion as social control (which I can’t exactly remember where I first heard). Since tribal governance could never monitor every person all the time, how better to control them than to invent a pervasive omni-overseer?

  5. San Ban says

    What’s that you say? We can only escape the eternal torture this being has invented if we do what you say, which is to believe without question that what you say is true? Well, isn’t that conveeenient?

  6. Paul D. says

    After a few years of reading the Bible for myself instead of just reading the proof texts they use in church, I’m pretty sure that “salvation” as Jesus and Paul envision it isn’t an individualistic endeavour to secure a blissful disembodied afterlife. Sure, they both taught the Pharisaic doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, but that seems to have been a matter quite separate from what was meant by “salvation” (granted that the theologies of the gospels and Paul’s epistles aren’t exactly identical either).

    I think this adds an extra layer of irony to modern Christian beliefs (particularly in Protestantism). The paradoxes in describing eternity in heaven/hell and constructing dogma on who goes where is a result of trying to have something better and more fantastical (eternity in heaven) for one’s religious in-group than what the original religion ever offered.

  7. Kay says

    GOD isn’t bringing anyone into heaven kicking and screaming. those who love the world are enemies of GOD. if you want to cling to this world and/or anything in it, you will perish with it whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not is what the bible teaches. that is the condition whether you like it or not choose to accept it or not. get over yourself. you sound proud, ignorant, and defiant. hmmmmmm all the attributes of Satan…

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Hi Kay, thanks for stopping by.

      You speak as you have been taught, of course, but did you notice how well your comment demonstrates precisely the problem I’m discussing in the post above? Death threats and shaming aren’t really the best approach if one is trying to refute a charge of manipulative tactics. If God wanted to give us a good reason to believe in Him, the most direct approach is simply to show up in real life, like any ordinary, loving father.

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