Paul Gowder is discussing a recent case in which a man by the name of Elwin Wilson who used to be a violent racist and KKK member has changed his ways and gone around apologizing to the people he harmed or otherwise offended. Paul wants to know how we ought to respond to Wilson's repentance, given that Wilson states that he changed his ways out of fear of hell. Brandon's comments on that post are insightful (he notes, among other things, that the article gives another reason for Wilson's repentance: Wilson evidently believes that there will be blacks in heaven). What I want to do here is to note a very simple entailment.
Wilson presumably believes:
(1) God always does what is right.
(2) God sends unrepentant racists to hell.
(3) It is right for God to send unrepentant racists to hell.
(3*) Unrepentant racists deserve to burn in hell.
It is probable, then, that Wilson would affirm something like (3*).
Now, I haven't been able to find anything in Paul's blog archive that would tell me whether he would accept (3*). (Note that the claim that certain people deserve hell needn't imply that hell actually exists.) However, a great many people (perhaps most of them) believe that nobody could possibly do so much bad as to deserve eternity in hell. (Incidentally, I seem to recall reading about a survey, which I am too lazy to go googling for now, which said that the majority of Americans believe that hell exists and Hitler will go there, but that no one they know personally - friends or enemies - is going to hell.) We can claim at least, then, that Wilson (probably) offers a stronger moral condemnation of racism than most atheists.
His beliefs in God and in the possibility of punishment in an afterlife do not, therefore, interfere with his moral condemnation of racism. Rather, as both Richard and Brandon pointed out in the comments to Paul's post, these beliefs are tools by which he expresses an extremely strong form of moral condemnation.
There is still the possibility that Wilson, although he understands the wrongness of racism, would not abandon it without the threat of punishment. However, I think this is unlikely: it is difficult for me to imagine a moral agent with any significant degree of rationality offering a self-condemnation this strong and still having no desire to change. (Of course, failing to change, or even despairing of one's ability to change, is a different matter.)Posted by Kenny at April 7, 2009 10:21 PM
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