There are few ways to go with this. CA’s original statements stands well on its. Also, in any current form of religions I know, there is no preferable universalism that I know of. My problem with Randal is, he doesn’t go far enough with interpreting hell out of Christianity. I think that can be done, although it strips Christianity down to its Jewish roots, even into some type of Reformed Judaism, so it probably is not a popular route. My problem with the Counter Apologist is the use of assuming beliefs by the gospel writers when it’s convenient while claiming we don’t know what they meant most of the time. I think this hinders the very reforms we want to see in religion.
Starting with the reforms; I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the arc of the Biblical narrative is that history has a goal, that there is some inherent reason for our existence, and it’s something good, and we need to discover our part in making it happen. This is the MLK thesis on justice and even if you take the atheist view of meaning created by the individual, it is compatible with a goal oriented form of utilitarianism as a theory for morality. To have this discussion across cultures, we need to be reasonable and accept that neither modern philosophers nor the Bible have a clear sense of what “justice” and “good” are. Modern philosophy accepts that, practically as a premise. The Bible has its moments, like Job arguing with God, but for the most part modern day practitioners of Abrahamic religion believe a supernatural force is the source of “good” and don’t care if they can’t prove it with scripture.
The above point is somewhat proven in the way Randal backtracks on his own religion when confronted with a rather straightforward problem like eternal or long lasting punishment. So let’s look at how CA supports the argument.
If atheists want to make the point that the Christian version of hell is wrong, I don’t think they need to stray deep into what the Bible says hell is. The Bible is not clear on that, that’s clear. Atheists don’t need to quote Jesus to prove Jesus was saying something. This degrades their own arguments since they begin with the understanding that the gospels are a poor reflection of any actual Jesus. This is the consensus of scholars, including religious scholars, but it seems to get forgotten when atheists start looking for proof texts. We are always quoting unknown authors and worse we might be quoting many authors in the course of just one passage.
For example, “torments” and “flame” in Luke 16 might be an allegory of justice for the rich man who neglected to care for the poor man at his gate. The thrust of the parable up to that point is about upending the power structure, and rewarding goodness for goodness sake instead of rewarding the powerful just because they do their rituals. This passage looks like a Greek version of hell getting tacked on to an earlier tale. Whether that was for better marketing of the book or because that belief was creeping into Jewish culture is debatable and barely relevant to a debate on the reality of hell.
What I think is important here is to recognize the opening Randal gives us. Christian scholars are quick to say things like Hellenism had crept into and corrupted Judaism at the time the gospels were being written, but they are slow to say exactly how. Christian scholars probably won’t lead those discussions because they suspect or fear they will result in less believers. This is exactly why atheists should be pushing in that direction. Two passages from Revelation were included in CA’s list. Maybe Randal is open to eliminating Revelations from the canon. It has been debated since it was first proposed and is not in some Bibles. If it is an inaccurate depiction of hell that is incompatible with 1st century teaching, then let’s settle that and then move on to the next misinterpretation, redaction or mistranslation.
This might sound daunting, but I don’t think every line of scripture will need to be addressed before Christian culture begins to change. This approach to the Bible has been happening for a long time and has altered many denominations and led to reforms like women and gays being accepted. Atheists would do well to understand it.