Friday, March 4, 2016

The Nihilism Of The “Age Of Accountability”


I've written previously on the so-called "Age of Accountability" here. It's been a big deal to me over the past few years. 

I left the following series of thoughts over in the comment section of one of Fr Kimel's posts at Eclectic Orthodoxy.  Thought I'd reproduce them here.

I'm of the opinion that the mere presence of the question of an "Age of Accountability", an impossible question that arises inevitably from infernalist (or annihilationist) formulations of Christian eschatology, finally either deconstructs that eschatology or forces us to choose existential nihilism - to irrevocably move on from the concept of God's universal salvific will and love as a divine attribute.

I feel the strain of this tension.  I teeter on the edge of an abyss.

I don't wish to say a whole lot on the Calvinist (double) predestination scheme in regards to the age of accountability.  A brief story:

A few months ago I started writing a satirical piece framed as an interview with a "guardian" angel divinely chosen to "guard" a child divinely "elected to perdition for the glory of God" & chosen for lifelong illness and a painful death at the age of 3.  As the story goes, this angel (always present before the Lord per Matthew 18:10) was also present both at the moment of the child's conception and at the moment that the child entered the world and fell into the loving arms of her parents. "A thousand kisses wasted" - words of reflection that I placed in the mouth of this guardian angel in observation of that scene.  That line haunted me and I ultimately lost the ability to continue writing.  Theological language becomes equivocal in this universe.

Sticking with the free will model of perdition (and it's pillars of both universal divine love and irrevocable eternal torment), I've observed that many of the most ardent infernalists believe in (and actually have a soft spot for) an age of accountability whereby babies and other young children who die young enough are sort of automatically given eternal life (though I'm assured that the appearances of it being "automatic" or a "loophole" are false).

But whether one believes in it or not, I'd argue that the very question of an "age of accountability" is a necessity and an inevitability arising inexorably from an underlying hermeneutic of perdition.

And the implications of an "age of accountability" are so clear, so problematic (I think) and so inextricably tied to the assumptions that generate it in the first place that I think there is no choice but to examine the assumptions themselves - either divine love and pascha and/or irrevocable torment.  It's starkness creates theological problems with enough clarity that they can't be so easily dismissed as "philosophical speculations" or the "faulty reasoning of men".  You're damned if you do and damned if you don't (pun intended).

Without this "age", hell is thoroughly populated with babies but "a span long" (Calvin).  No doctrine of love as divine attribute can tolerate this, not without rendering "love" as virtually meaningless.

Could the heart that sustains such a created order really be one that wills the salvation of all?

So suppose there IS an age of accountability.  What are the implications?  This could be it's own book.

William Lane Craig has stated in regards to OT genocide, for example:

“If we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.”

You die young, you go to heaven. Period.  I wonder why there haven't been more "crusaders" like Andrea Yates, determined to save children from the flames.  Thank God there haven't been.

Again, please understand how much I dislike talking about this.

I don't have the nerve to say much because the implications are so dark.  But essentially, from the moment of birth, each subsequent moment of existence is characterized by infinite eschatological risk with no additional reward.

Die as a child?  Eternal bliss.  Live long?  Eh.  50/50 at best. Probably far lower.  Lower mortality rates, better health care, etc, actually have a negative correlation to "going to heaven".

Few things could make life more meaningless.

Furthermore, an earthly "free-will" choice (it's lack of development being the whole reason for this so-called age of accountability in the first place) apparently ceases to be a metaphysically inviolable obstacle for God in redeeming people if they're young enough.

Perhaps one can keep this at arms length or reason through this on paper or in a classroom. But start looking at actual babies or children (whom the Lord calls us to become like) or the mentally disabled (and incidentally I have a 2.5 year old daughter and a brother with Down syndrome), and one realizes that this isn't an abstract theological problem to be solved.

Rather than go through the hermeneutical gymnastics to justify an age of accountability, look instead at the system that necessitates such insanity in the first place.

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