The Keys of Hell

Russell 3 Passions

There is, it is true a Modernist form of theism, according to which God is not omnipotent, but is doing His best, in spite of great difficulties. This view, although it is new among Christians, is not new in the history of thought. It is, in fact, to be found in Plato. I do not think this view can be proved to be false. I think all that can be said is that there is no positive reason in its favour. Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

God omnipotent is the god of the ontological argument, a god defined by  human wisdom. A god that arose without reference to either scripture or empirical reality, from the mind of  Anselm, ( c. 1033 – 21 April 1109)  the first of the  scholastic philosophers.(3) It is a very big claim indeed to leap from that, to this is what all Christians have believed up until recently. One of Bertrand Russells’ alleged Modernists was the First World War army chaplain, preacher and poet, G.A. Studdert Kennedy. (1883 -1929) Studdert Kennedy saw the implications of an omnipotent god as clearly as any atheist and raged against this abomination as a notion born of human hubris.studdert-kennedy_gaGod, I hate this splendid vision – all its splendour is a lie,

Splendid fools see splendid folly, splendid mirage born to die
. . . .
And I hate the God of Power on His hellish heavenly throne,
Looking down on rape and murder,hearing little children moan.
Though a million angels hail Thee King of kings, yet cannot I.
There is nought can break the silence of my sorrow save the cry,
“Thou who rul’st this world of sinners with Thy heavy iron rod,
Was there ever any sinner who has sinned the sin of God? . . . 
Praise to God in Heaven’s highest and in all the depths be praise,
Who in all His works is brutal, like a beast in all His ways.”

G.A. Studdert Kennedy  from High and Lifted Up  in  Rhymes Published 1929

It is more common to see this honest realisation, of the nonsensical horror that omnipotence makes of Christianity, in the writings of atheists, than Christians.

It is widely believed that omnipotence is a biblical teaching, and it is certainly possible to use scripture to defend that notion.  But the necessary omnipotence of God, at the deep philosophical level is not derived from scripture but from philosophy and the ontological argument of Anselm, ( c. 1033 – 21 April 1109)  the first of the  scholastic philosophers.

The ontological argument

  • God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived .
  • A being that exists in reality is greater than one which only exists in the mind
  • Therefore God exists, to such a great extent, that he is a necessary being; one that cannot be conceived not to exist.

This god of Anselm’s argument was great in other ways than merely being maximally powerful. He was also maximally good.  And for the medieval monk Anselm, this meant maximally rational, and with none of those nasty sinful human emotions such as compassion.

How he is compassionate and passionless. God is compassionate, in terms of our experience, because we experience the effect of compassion. God is not compassionate, in terms of his own being, because he does not experience the feeling (affectus) of compassion.
The Proslogion  Anselm 1077-1078

This god, is not the God the apostle tells us of.  This is god as sounding gong, and tinkling cymbal. 1 Corinthians Chapter 13.

This is a god, for whom we are worthless subjects, of no intrinsic value. This is a god who can do no evil, because he is perfectly entitled to do whatever he wants to his worthless creation. This is vile, and its consequences were vile.

This is not the God at the centre of Christianity.

The ontological  argument was made at a time when the medieval church was in dispute with the crowned heads of Europe, over whether Church or Crown should have ultimate power. The crown had the armies, but this monstrous, omnipotent, unloving god of Anselm’s, handed to the medieval church the key of hell – the power to terrorise those who defied its power with eternal damnation.

This is the god in whose service, those who saw themselves as his chosen enforcers, of his truth and virtue, tortured and murdered their way through medieval Europe.

As I mentioned earlier it is more common to find atheists than Christians who recognise that god omnipotent is an abomination.  One such atheist is blogger Nathan Pratt, who became an atheist after the death of his brother.  He has at times been told  that he isn’t really an atheist just angry with God.  A claim that he responds to by saying that he can’t be angry at something that doesn’t exist.(1)

Richard Dawkins makes a similar claim about the existence of omnipotent god, comparing him to the tooth fairy and denying the existence of both.

Coming from the father of meme theory, I find Richard Dawkins claim that the  tooth fairy doesn’t exist surprising. There is clear empirical evidence that it does.

The tooth fairy is a meme with the power to affect human behaviour.  It causes one group of people to hide teeth under their pillow, and another set to discreetly replace the teeth with coins.  It is a meme driven by the human instincts of trust and love. It takes what can be an uncomfortable and emotionally distressing part of growing up, and makes it life affirming: something to be looked forward to rather than dreaded.

Omnipotent god is similarly a meme with the power to affect behaviour. It exists as a terror inducing piece of software in human brains. Like the tooth fairy it is driven by human instincts, but in this case they are fear and the will to power.

Anger and hate directed towards this abomination of all that is Good and Holy, are rationally justifiable emotions. 

And I hate the God of Power on His hellish heavenly throne

Hate of the meme, not the meme infected person.

G.A. Studdert Kennedy recognised the abomination for what it was and saw a different God.

God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sorrow on the Tree,
Broken bleeding but unconquered, very God of God to me
. . .
In the life of one an outcast and a vagabond on earth,
In the common things He valued, and proclaimed of priceless worth
And above all in the horror of the cruel death he died,
Thou hast bid us seek Thy glory, in a criminal crucified,
And we find it – for Thy glory is the glory of Love’s loss,
And thou hast no other splendour but the splendour of the cross . . .
On my knees I fall and worship that great Cross that shines above,
For the very God of Heaven is not Power, but Power of Love.

G.A. Studdert Kennedy  from High and Lifted Up  in  Rhymes Published 1929

In the prologue to his 1956 autobiography, Bertrand Russell listed the three passions which governed his life. One of those was the unbearable pity he felt for the suffering of mankind, and his powerlessness to solve it. (2) And he is right in this pity is a debilitating emotion, it drains the pitier and demeans the pitied.

It is not the worst emotion which the abused and degraded of humanity experience the effects of.  The other is contempt and blame.  We make yahoos of and dehumanize those whose suffering we cannot bear to empathise with:  An observation made by Jonathan Swift, a man who living in 18th Century Ireland had plenty of opportunity to witness the treatment meted out to brutalised and degraded humanity; and satirized in the widely misunderstood 4th journey of Gulliver’s Travels. (Where the word yahoo comes from.)(4)

The Suffering God, the Man upon the Cross, the God of Studdert Kennedy  is the Meme that gives Ultimate Worth to suffering humanity.

God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sorrow on the Tree,
Broken bleeding but unconquered, very God of God to me . . .

In place of contempt and rejection, or the humiliation of being pitied, it gives to all humanity the Ultimate Value that only Love can give.

This is the power of the Cross.  The Key that opens the gates of hell and sets the prisoners free.

To believe, as I think both Bertrand Russell and Studdert Kennedy did, that Love is the Ultimate Value is arational not irrational.

When Russell argues in, Is There a God? that there is no positive reason to believe that  God, is not omnipotent, he is of course wrong.  To be omnipotent in the philosophical sense is to be able to act without need of pain and process.  Studdert Kennedy saw for himself in the trenches of the First World War, that there is empirical evidence that if the Ultimate Power is the God of Love, then He is not omnipotent in the philosophical sense.

The necessary characteristic of the Christian God is not omnipotence but love.  1John Chapter 4 Verse 8.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians Chapter 13 Verses   4 -8

Related articles
  1. Nathan Pratt’s Blog (unpackthat thought .wordpress .com)
  2. Three Passions to Live For (
  3. A Corrupting Meme (
  4. The Three Faces of Cave Hill (


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