Thursday, September 26, 2013

Heaven vs. Hell, Forgiveness vs. Justice

In my post, The False Illusion of Free Will, I talked about the concept of free will in Christianity, more from a fundamentalist perspective, and how it was a horrible illusion. The can not truly be any free will, any free choice to accept or reject god, if the threat of hell is hanging over our heads as the consequence of rejecting Christianity.

It’s a false illusion of a choice, how does it make god any better than an abusive spouse? God can not possibly be a loving and just god, if you believe god is like that, that he would send people to hell not just for what they have done wrong to other people in their lifetime, but also because they chose to reject Christianity for whatever reason they chose to do so.

In that post, I put up a disclaimer that I was talking about the concept of god strictly from a fundamentalist Christian perspective and that some more liberal Christians, especially Christian universalists, who believe that god’s grace covers all wrongdoing, and that everyone is going to Heaven, do not even believe that hell is a literal place, it simply doesn’t exist to them.

To me, however, such a viewpoint also raises quite a bit of questions about the just and loving attributes of god. At least in the fundamentalist perspective of god, there is a sense of eternal reward and punishment. Although people do go to hell simply for not believing in Christianity, they also go to hell as punishment for wrongdoing, for what they have done to other people in their lifetime.

I can see how this view would appeal to some people, it gives them closure, and it gives them hope that people will receive their just dues for what they have done in this life in the afterlife, whether they are rewarded or punished.

 I think it’s one of the biggest aspects of religion that really appeals to people, and there have been times in the past where I have wished it was true myself, but reality sets in. It seems strange to me that someone could believe in a just, merciful god when they look at the suffering in this world, much of it happening to people who didn’t do anything to deserve it.

If you take the perspective within Christianity that there is no hell at all, to me, all sense of final justice is gone. Is it fair to let someone who has committed horrible crimes against other people and has went unpunished in this life receive no punishment in the next life?

Where is the justice in the afterlife to balance out the injustice of this cruel world? You’re telling me that some like Joseph Stalin, despite all the millions of people he was responsible for killing millions of people, and yet still died without ever being tried and punished for it, is going to end up in Heaven? Sure, such a viewpoint would be showing that god is incredibly merciful and forgiving, but at what point does forgiveness cross into the territory where it abandons all sense of justice?

Believe it or not, the fundamentalist concept of god and heaven and hell also runs into the same problem, but in a different way. In the fundamentalist view, everyone goes to heaven if they choose to accept Christianity. Let’s set aside the fact the injustice of believing that non-Christians are going to hell, simply because they rejected Christianity, and think about that for a moment.

Anyone who accepts Christianity means anyone, despite what they have done in their lifetime. Let’s say hypothetically, continuing with my Stalin example, that Stalin secretly decided to convert to Christianity before his death, and didn’t tell anyone. Sure, that’s highly unlikely, but theoretically possible. He would still be going to heaven, despite never facing his punishment here on earth for the atrocities he was responsible for.
Though the example I gave was highly unlikely, it wouldn’t have actually been the first time it had happened that someone responsible for horrific atrocities converted to Christianity, and yet, at the same time has never faced justice here on earth for their actions. The most perfect example of this is former warlord Joshua Blahyi, who is now a Christian evangelist, but before that, lead a rebel militia that committed horrific atrocities in Sierra Leone’s civil war.

He freely admits to personally killing over 20,000 people himself (not counting the people killed by his troops), committing acts of cannibalism (I’m serious), and decapitating people, and playing soccer with their heads. Yet, no matter which view is taken, either the liberal/universalist view, or even the fundamentalist view of the afterlife, this man is guaranteed to go to heaven, despite everything he did, and despite the fact that he has never faced the consequences for his actions here on earth.

Where is the justice in that?


  1. But is the "judgment" for evil even that fair? Doesn't punishment need to "fit the crime"? And eternal punishment, especially the more sociopathically gleeful punishments dreamed up by authoritarian believers over the millenia, doesn;t seem fair.

    1. Good point, Brian. At what point does an eternity in hell go from just punishment to unjustified torture? Where is the line drawn on who is evil enough to deserve hell for eternity?

      I forgot to mention that I had encountered once on a forum, several years ago, a liberal Protestant who believed that Hell existed, but only the worst people in all history were sent there, and it was only temporary at that. His views on hell were more similar to the old concept of Purgatory within Catholicism. I don't know how popular that view is among liberal Christians, if it has really caught on or not.

      As one of my regular readers, CM, likes to say "there are many different Christianities"

  2. Even the worst of criminals (like say, Hitler) would not deserve torment for all time, considering he lived and committed those crimes in a finite amount of time. Eternity is a very long time. So lon that our minds can not even grasp how long it truly is.

    Also, if God has all the attributes that theists give him, which include omnipotent, omni-benevolent and omni-present, then free will would be an illusion. Not only would this god have set up the rules and created the beings to play by these rules, but he also would know the outcome before it happened and be present for it happening.

    That means he would know before I was ever born that I would see no evidence for his existence and therefore not believe in him, damning myself to hell, which he'd ultimately be responsible for.

    Just from this moment, there are about 2 billion Christians. That means roughly 5 billion are not Christians, and so they would be going to hell. Repeat that for all of eternity, which means this god would know full-well before it ever took place that the vast majority of his creation would be going to hell.

    Grand plan?

    I would think any god worthy of the name could do a little better than this. It's obviously man-made.

    1. Christianity is most definitely man made, the evidence is all there.

      What I wonder is if this god is so loving, then why can't he forgive people for simply not believing in him? I think that's the dilemma that unviersalists are trying to avoid, but then in getting rid of hell, they reveal a god that's all mercy, and no justice, which means he can't possibly be merciful, that's my point. God can't be just if he would let evil people not only escape punishment for the harm they caused to others in this life, but in the next life as well.

      That's my point, no matter if you take the fundamentalist interpretation or the univeralist interpretation, there is no justice.

    2. Even betong that, according to the Bible, we are ALL "evil people" EVERY violation of "God's laws" makes us disgusting in His sight.

      Calvinism, as repugnant a doctrine as it is, is the only Christianity that makes sense logically (although the God of Calvinism is a monster that merits rebellion, not worship).

    3. Calvinism, the more I learn about it does seem more disgusting to me, honestly.

  3. Thinking of this reminds me of a chick tract that had a murderer and thief going to heaven after accepting Jesus and a socially responsible and charitable person ending up in hell because he didn't believe. For me this was a huge cause of concern always.

    Thats why when people in my family talk about hell, I like to remind them that my grandfather (an atheist) is now there, so I want to join him. That shuts the conversation up pretty quickly as he was a very good person, but not a superstitious person.

    1. Was it your grandfather that influenced you to become an atheist?

    2. No he didn’t influence me, but his mindset did lead to me questioning things and so that eventually made me an atheist. He never talked about religion actually, amazingly it never came up with him. Guess he was good at redirecting conversation.

    3. I guess he was tired of discussing it with the rest of the family, and gave up talking about it....

  4. as a Muslim, I also ponder about paradise/hell--though the presumptions upon which it is based are somewhat different from Christianity..........


    1. What is the Islamic concept of Heaven/Hell? I do know from past conversations that Islam does believe that some moral Christians and Jews, "people of the book" can make it to paradise. What about people like me, though, atheists and people who just simply don't belong to a religion, or belong to a non-Abrahamic faith?

  5. the simple answer (or a cop-out) would be that in Islam, "Judgement" (who goes to paradise/hell) belongs to God alone....therefore Muslims cannot say with any certainty if they are going to paradise or hell---let alone someone else. (By the way---not just "people of the book" but in Non-Abrahamic faiths---These wisdom teachers are also from God according to Quran)

    Since I have time, I'll give a much longer answer.....let's start with definitions......
    "Religion"---is understood as "a way of life" based on ethico-moral principles ("law")
    Core belief/Creed---Tawheed (Unity) = One God---In its broader application Tawheed (Unity) is applied to ideas of Unity of all humanity, Unity of humanity with all of God's creations, For all creation to unite with God...etc....
    "Salvation"---based on Tawheed(Unity)---"Salvation"(paradise) cannot be arbitrarily exclusive because ALL creation is from God and therefore has equal "access" to God's mercy, compassion, justice.
    muslim---The word means "one who submits to God" (God's law) and since all the laws of the universe are from/by God, the Universe which has no free-will and therefore naturally follows God's laws is "muslim." The creation that has "(limited)free-will" has the choice of following God's laws or not.
    Free-will---is limited, for ex, we have no choice when,where we are born or die, or in some of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Also, sometimes we have more options, sometimes our options are, the degree of (limited) free-will changes over our lifetime.
    Justice has to be based on accountability and the degree of our accountability changes with the degree of responsibility (free-will) we have.
    Also, human intentions must be taken into consideration---for ex,
    a) Good intentions that inadvertently caused harm
    b) harm caused unknowingly
    c) malicious intentions that caused good
    d) malicious intentions that caused harm
    For justice---judgement of all these categories would have to be nuanced.

    things get further complicated because God isn't only "Just" but this justice is tempered with compassion and mercy...which means that those who repent have access to God's mercy .
    There is also the factor that we encounter circumstances beyond our control---for example God gives blessings and trails to whom he pleases. Justice must take this into account---the innocent who suffer needlessly either because of circumstances or because of someones evil intent must be compensated. On the other hand, those who have blessings but misuse, abuse or neglect these blessings must also be held accountable....because those who have more (given more) have more responsibility than those who have less---therefore their degree of accountability is also more.
    Hell---there are degrees of hell called "gates" (I forget how many)

    Problems I am pondering.......
    1) There may be "gates" but descriptions of hell are very gruesome---Even granting that there are human beings who visit such evil on other human beings that it can rival any description in the Quran, and therefore, perhaps deserving.....yet, I have not found a completely satisfactory reconciliation of this concept yet.....
    2) Time---"the long period of time" may be long when understood through earth-centric perspective of time---but may not be experienced this way by our soul (?) yet---our time on earth would also be short when seen from a non-earth centric perspective therefore how do we understand "time" in light of justice....?...
    An Atheist with whom I was discussing this concept posed the question does justice require we spend an equal amount of time in hell as we spent on earth? is an interesting question to which I have yet to find an answer I am satisfied with....

    have readers here pondered on the ideal justice after death?, if so any ideas.....


  6. I obviously disagree that Christianity is manmade. I would say religion has developed it a lot, but to rule out all parts is a bit much.

    Universalism does not say Hitler goes unpunished. Evangelicalism does that. Evangelicalism says Hitler goes to hell if he repents on his death bed. Universalism does not say that. Universalism says that we came to earth to gain experiences and learn stuff that we could not have learned in a perfect world. Without suffering, we might not know courage, compassion, humility, embarassement, responsibility, helping others, making people happy, etc. I am not saying those things are necessarily worth all the sffering, but I am saying that our learning widens because we took the journey and came to earth. I don't want you to focus in on that list because there is probably 100s of things you could learn in a world with suffering that you could not in a perfect world. Sadly some men get it out of hand and commit hurrendous evils, but does this prove conclusively that God does not exist? That's a bit much. It could very well be that free will is so important. It could be that our souls need that journey where we learn to feel other people's pain, and learn to not murder, etc, so that we can spend the rest of eternity in the point where we don't do those things. As I said, this is a journey.

    Back to Hitler, universalism fully admits that not all people are ready for an eternal world without pain and an eternal world where they do no wrong. Hitler may be punished, though I don't think it's God pouring his wrath out on Hitler as much as it's Hitler living in the sheer pain of his own heart until Hitler works it out in his heart where he can properly love God and spend eternity in a world without suffering. But as someone said above, eternity of hell would be a bit much for Hitler too, such that I believe that whatever pain Hitler has gone through in the afterlife, it is not eternal.

    Part of the reason Christianity is scandalous is that sins do go unpunished in many cases, but that is also why we know that God still cares. Hitler was abused himself, not that it excuses Hitler, but it lends perspective of the heart of God. He can't punish people for eternity when people have limits...and one of their limits is they often only take so much crud until they snap. Thankfully most people don't snap by murdering, but many people snap by going into disbelief (not that there are not plenty of other reasons people become athiests. There are a lot of fabulous intellectual atheists) or yelling at their spouse, or going into depression. God knows this, and so he saves us anyway. This is the gospel. It's offensive, but I like it because if there is a God who is maximally good out there, it would demand that he be this way.

    1. Would you be willing to write a guest post sometime on your views of heaven and hell?

    2. Yea, of course, or more like it, I can write up a post on possibilities.

  7. typo, evangelicism says Hitler goes to heaven if he repents on his death bed.


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