Friday, November 6, 2009


This is one of my major gripes with the Christian religion. Their concept of punishment. Granted though this concept of punishment I will be blaspheming is not held by all types of Christians, but most from the conservative, evangelical persuasion do. I've probably briefly mentioned this in a previous post, or perhaps in the comments section, but this is an expansion of that point.

To put it bluntly, hell is horrendously horrific. The belief that a being known as god, loves people and condemns many to burn forever in an unending flame shocks me to my core. Many Christians believe that god is omnipotent and can know future events before they happen, we'll ignore the omni-max logical contradictions and focus on the ethical issues for now. You may have heard it said that 'why would a loving god create someone knowing they would go to hell?' and to answer that, a loving god wouldn't send anyone to hell to begin with. It is quite frankly immoral and unethical to torture anyone at all, let alone for eternity.

There are many problems with the concept of hell, one being that Jewish theology does not believe in hell as the Christians conceive it. Hell in Jewish tradition was known as Sheol, which is viewed as the resting place for ALL of the dead, the good and the bad. In fact believe in the afterlife didn't arise until quite late in the history of Judaism. Within Judaism today there are many divergent views on the afterlife, ranging from no afterlife to concepts of heaven which is sometimes referred to as Olam Ha-Ba.
Another problem is the ethical issue I have already raised. Is it right to torture for eternity? Is it right to torture at all? ever?
One serious problem in my mind is the schism of belief between Jesus' teachings on how to treat others and gods treatment of humans in the afterlife. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Does that sound familiar? If god expects us to follow that rule, and then goes off and tortures people for eternity, he would be a hypocrite, a sadistic hypocrite at that.
On top of all of that, what I cannot fathom is how god would create humans (read: allow humans to evolve) with the ability to sin, write laws knowing that they would be broken by all (because they are impractical and moronic), then establish punishments for those 'sins' that end in eternal torment. It's not only that god would create humans knowing they would go to hell, it's like he created them so they would go to hell.
If you purchased a robot that occasionally went and murdered people and committed crimes, you wouldn't blame the robot, you would blame the programmer. Likewise, if humans break laws and kill people, (assuming we were intelligently designed lol) would you blame the person or the programmer? Many humans are genetically predisposed to certain activities, their brains are wired in certain ways. For example, some people are wired up to be analytical thinkers, some people are wired up to be homosexual, some people are wired up to be sociopathic killers, some people are wired up to be unquestioning followers, some people are wired up to be compulsive sex-addicts. Can you spot which of the previously mentioned 'wirings' will not result in punishment in hell? If you picked 'unquestioning follower' you were correct and you deserve a cookie (I'm not giving you one though, buy it yourself). All of the other wirings will land you in hell, which doesn't seem just to me. Just like it wasn't the robots fault that it committed crimes, it was the fault of the programmer, and in this case it is the fault of whatever caused them to be that way.

I applaud the more liberal christians who do not believe in the masochistic hell of the evangelicals for taking a step forward in ethics. Even the Jehovahs Witnesses do not believe in hell, they believe that the wicked are 'annihilated'. This detestable doctrine has been used by many gleeful fundy's to try and scare people into believing. Unfortunately for them, the only effect it has on most people is to pity their pathetic attempts at trodding all over other people. Among other things, this is one of the beliefs that simply has to go. It isn't even well supported in the bible, yet it is so widely held by fundamentalists and many other christians.


  1. i really liked the beginning of this.

  2. I'd like to answer this not from my own point of view but rather from what I understand the point of view of the Catholic Church to be, given that this is the one with which I am most familiar.

    According to the Catholic Church, God did not create Hell for humans. Hell came into being when some of God's angels, including Lucifer, made the choice, of their own free will, eternally separate themselves from God. Matthew 25:41 explains the origin of Hell, when Jesus says

    "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels'."

    Hell, in the Catholic tradition at any rate, is less a physical place than the eternal separation of the souls of angels and humans (the only creatures with souls) from God. The angels in Hell chose their fate by choosing to turn their back on God. Humans choose to go to heaven or hell by their deeds. Unlike the Protestant belief of predestination, which is what you describe in your opening statement, Catholics believe in the concept of Free Will. We choose our own actions, and our actions determine our fate. Thus the sinful man (or woman) is not irrevocably destined for Hell just because they shoplifted a can of coke from the corner dairy when they were 10. Catholicism allows for the miracle of Reconciliation, in which you confess and repent of your sins, and are washed clean, becoming once more a tabula rasa (blank slate).

    The punishments of Hell, insofar as Catholic theology goes, are entirely self-inflicted, so we cannot say that Hell was created as a dire and evil place by God to force humans to do His will. At most, God allows the human fear of hell to work as an "external motivator" to live by His commandments. This is seemingly at odds with the description of Hell in Revelation 21:8 -

    "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."

    As a non-theologian, I'm not sure why there is a difference here, but I guess if you asked a Catholic priest about it he'd be happy to try and explain his view!

    Also, humans are not robots. We are not programmed. We have the ability and the will to make decisions for ourselves. As we grow older many of theses decisions are quite mundane, but others may be more complex. We choose our actions, some of which lead to other choices. I choose not to own a gun, so therefore that lowers the probability of me ever having to choose between firing a gun at someone or not. We are not 'wired' to be analytical thinkers, sociopathic killers, unquestioning followers, or compulsive sex-addicts (not too sure about homosexuality so I'll leave it off the list). Environment shapes us; nature AND nurture have a role. No one is destined from the moment of conception to abduct a nine year old girl and film himself sexually abusing her before posting it on the internet. That's a choice that person makes, built on a long series of other choices they have made. Perhaps, some may argue, the choice was made more difficult because someone, maybe Uncle Fuckin' Bully, molested the offender when they were younger, but at the end of the day they still made a conscious choice not to break the cycle. They were weak, and found wanting - maybe God likes watching the Weakest Link.

  3. What kind of God creates word limits for blog comments? Honestly...

    As for what kind of God would allow people to go to such a fate, well, I guess that depends on your position. I was always led to believe from our Religious Education classes at school that Earth was like a training ground for the Kingdom of Heaven (I guess today it would be a pretty awesome reality TV show!). Not everyone can get to Heaven, so there are certain rules and morality tests etc which people have to go through in order to get accepted or rejected. Those that freely choose the 'right' path get the reward; those that freely choose the 'wrong' one, even knowing what the consequences are for making that choice, can't really blame God for the punishment they have brought on themselves.

    Look at it this way - you enrol in a course at uni. The lecturer would like you to pass - the more passing students he or she has, the better their teaching looks; if too many people fail, there are questions to be answered. The lecturer tells you there is an exam at the end of the semester, and if you fail the exam you will get an F or whatever. She (lets just make the lecturer female) then presents the material, advises you of the course readings, suggests you go to the tutorials, gives you some assessments and tells you when the exam is. You can choose to adhere to those stipulations, or not. Free will, right? But you know the consequences will be unpleasant if you do not do as expected. Some people will still muck around, not study, and turn in some utter dross at the end of the paper. Again, the lecturer would LIKE all her students to pass, but the lecturer, having established the ground rules, can't just ignore them. So, she fails some of her students - not because she wants to, but because their choices and actions have left her no other choice.

  4. I was having a discussion about the nature of god and about the viability of omnipotence with a christian on an internet forum recently. When you said "God did not create Hell for humans", and that "Hell came into being when..." were you referring to a hell more like the Jewish concept of Sheol, where it is effectively an annihilation of being as opposed to a state of conscious existence and/or torment?
    Realistically Sheol could be said to not exist if it is a place of non-existence.

  5. Karl,

    Blaming Lucifer doesn't solve the problem, since God had the knowledge of his betrayal before creation (omniscience), and had the power to act upon that knowledge (omnipotence) before He even created him. In light of this, God would have *purposefully* made Lucifer to betray.

    Downplaying hell still doesn't change the fact that it would be an injustice to damn someone for the trivial beliefs/disbeliefs that they hold (eg. atheism), regardless of how they came to suscribe to those beleifs - freewill or not.

    Also, Where is the free will in having a choice between heaven or hell? One is infinite happiness, and the other is the antithesis of that. Sounds more like coercion than free will.
    In any case, an omniscient God would have known the choice that the potential sinner would have made before they were even born, and had the power to act upon said knowledge through His omnipotence. Only fatalism can be compatible with such a concept of god, meaning the sinner was destined to sin.

    Yes, the environment has a *role* in how we are shaped, but so does biology. Genes also play a role in making us who we are, and something like hormonal levels in the womb can shape where you stand on the spectrum of sexual preference. Do you think it is just to damn a homosexual who was born so without choice? Nevermind that homosexuality is as harmless as any other sexual preference.

    That lecturer would be more analogous if he forced you to apply to that course, and he knew if you were to fail or pass, because he was the one who instilled the knowledge/intellect that you have before the course had even started.

  6. Karl:
    If we go with your comparison of God to a uni lecturer:
    You said that if too many people fail then there are questions to be asked. What percentage of people in the world do you think are going to end up in hell?
    At a guess I'd say a lot more than end up in heaven... So maybe we should ask some questions. Like, I dunno.... Why is the text book so badly written and confusing? It's either, if you think the bible should be taken literally, full of contradictions or, if you think it needs to be interpreted in some other way, why is it so unclear?
    I think we need to take a look at God's tenure because he/she/it seems to be failing an large amount of the students.

  7. Okay, this is all an exercise in theoreticisms...

    I have no idea about Sheol. I'm not Jewish and have never really read much into their theology.

    Omniscience is not the same as predestination. Knowing that something will happen is not the same as making it happen. Granted, an omniscient God must have known that Lucifer would betray Him, but He also allowed Satan the freedom to choose. We make choices all the time, and it's not something hardwired into us. When I'm walking, I might decide to turn left or right, depending on where I want to go or what I want to do. Granted, this will probably not send me to Hell if I go the wrong way, but I have definitely not be 'wired' to make this choice - even though an omniscient God would obviously know that I would make it.

    I don't have the level of education to argue this point, as a theologian or a philosopher may be able to, because it is obviously quite an integral issue and my own understanding of it is limited.

    I do, however, entirely disagree with this whole "it's not my fault" culture we have today. If God exists, who are we as mere mortals to question His edicts? Surely any all-powerful all-knowing deity must be endowed with knowledge and insight far beyond our capabilities to even begin to understand.

    From a 'rationalist' or 'humanist' point of view, yes, of course there are a number of issues with this whole thing.

    For some reason, though, religious people don't have the same issues. They simply accept the stipulations, or don't accept them.

    The difficulty with the Bible-as-text-book analogy is that there remain disagreements over the exact nature of the text. Imagine going to a lecture (to continue my previous analogy) to find that the person sitting next to you has five additional chapters in their text book, and seven other chapters are different. Personally I think we have to accept that the Bible is entirely man made and, as such, is imperfect. While the authors may have been inspired by a God who may or may not exist, they were also writing according to the customs, traditions, beliefs and limitations of their times. A lot of Leviticus, for example, seems to be quite out of place today. But then, we don't stone people for adultery these days either. I'm not commenting on whether that is right or wrong, I'm just saying things have changed.


  8. ...

    Likewise, the Biblical problem with homosexuality seems out of place to many of us today. In a small tribal society, in a harsh environment, where numbers often made the difference in tribal conflicts and resource collection, I'm sure any acts which were seen as being detrimental to the propogation of the tribe were seen as being 'wrong' and therefore discouraged as sinful behaviour. These days, with the world population exploding, I'd suggest that perhaps homosexuality is a positive, environmentally friendly condition! (Almost makes me wish I were one of them...!) The same conditions also inspire bans on eating pork (which would not be wise in that heat, as the meat would go off very quickly) and being circumcised (to prevent sand rash in the foreskin; that's why the British 8th army circumcised any uncut soldiers when they arrived in North Africa during WWII).

    What the answer is, I do not know. I think the basic moral codes within the Ten Commandments, for example, are still pretty much worth adhering to. The Seven Deadly Sins, remember, are not contained within the Bible - they were added later, to reflect changing times. Perhaps in holding on to the Bible in its entirety, Christians have become too dogmatic in what is right and wrong? Should 21st century Christians rewrite and modernise the Bible to reflect our new conditions? Instead of 'covet not thy neighbour's wife', do we need something like 'cast out not your recyclable items amongst the general trash'?

    Oh, and to answer Hez's question about sin - yes, of course we are expected to sin, that's the whole point. Christians believe that God sent His son, Jesus, to redeem us of our sins. As I stated in my previous post, Catholics sin but can retain a state of grace by confessing and repenting.

    Again, as a non-theologian of course I lack the answers to these questions. I do feel, though, that sometimes these debates are about as pointless as a Nazi Party membership drive in a synagogue: not matter what anyone says, or how persuasive or convincing they are (not that my argument is either of these), the Nazis just aren't going to get too many new members...

  9. I know what you mean about the "it's not my fault" culture but I think I didn't explain my position clearly enough. Yes, it is a free wil choice to do anything, but if someone (as a result of their genetic makeup) has the part of their brain that deals with conscience not fully formed, or somehow wired wrong, they are more likely to do bad things. Upbringing and the likes definitely play a part in how a person develops and what they become, but there have been several cases of 'normal' children becoming serial killers. I believe it is generally caused by some sort of neurological disorder they may have been predisposed towards.

    I don't think Hez meant that god literally made lucifer to be evil, I think he meant that since god would have known it was going to happen, had the power to stop it, and let it happen anyway, the blood is on gods hands, and he is responsible.
    The same applies to the problem of hell, God "creates" people knowing they will go to hell, has the power to stop it from happening, yet sends them there anyway. Then we are told that "Oh but God loves you!". This what I find so discordant about the whole doctrine of hell combined with the doctrine of the omni-benevolence of god.

  10. I really this article i would love to answers your questions but dont have the time too.

    Oh and religion is shit the end don't debate me because I won't reply lol.

  11. I think we're just talking round in circles over the same issue. Nobody "becomes" a serial killer. They choose to kill, more than once. We have no idea what most of the brain does, so to say that people are "wired wrong" is pretty much the same as saying "God made me do it" - it can't be proven.

    If we accept, for the sake of argument, that God exists - which has been pretty well established is the driving focus of this entire blog - and look at the case with Lucifer - dare I say it, FREE WILL! Yes, in a scenario where both God and Lucifer exist, God would have known what would happen. Yes, God would have had the power to stop it. Yes, God would have let it happen - because Lucifer, like all of us, had Free Will.

    If He exists, and God intervenes to change someone's choice or action, it is no longer Free Will, by definition. Lucifer made the choice. He could have made a different choice, but he didn't. God knew what Lucifer would do, but having established Free Will He couldn't just override it because He didn't want "blood on his hands". It could be argued that, given the circumstances, maybe He shouldn't have developed Free Will at all - but then what would be the point of existence? That's the whole deal with Free Will.

    Likewise with humans. God (if He exists) knows what's going to happen but people choose to do it - God's omniscience supposedly comes from His omnipresence, so He's less a script writer and more an historian. Just because He knows what is going to happen, doesn't mean He makes it happen. The choices are there, everyone has the Free Will to make their choice. It's just that God already knows what choice that will be, and can't intervene because it would violate - yes, Free Will. I don't know how many more times I am going to write Free Will in this comment but I think that will be the last.

    Oh, and Kungfuanthrax - I'm sorry, but I don't think I've ever read a less coherent, more pointless blog comment in my entire life. You did not even attempt to contribute to the argument, and I counted eight grammatical or spelling errors just on my first reading of your inane statement, which isn't bad for two lines of nothingness. I'm sure KJ would welcome your contribution to this discussion if you actually had something to say. If you didn't have the time to say anything, why did you bother writing at all?

  12. What about when God "hardened Pharaoh's heart"? Isn't that messing with free will?

  13. Neurological science is a fairly new field, but we've already learned a fair amount about the functioning of the brain, and the malfunctions that cause certain impairments such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, alzheimers, huntingtons and behaivioural/cognitive disorders such as depression and autism. We still have a lot to learn about all of these conditions but we will continue to learn more as we study things.

    I don't doubt that we have free will, and for most things that we do, a conscious choice must be made to carry out the things that we do.
    For other things however, our subconscious takes care of it, for example as I'm typing this comment, I'm not thinking of every single letter that I'm typing in, I think of the word and my fingers default to the correct keys, I guess you could call it impulse, or 'muscle memory'. Might I suggest that very disturbed serial killers do not have the developed cognitive skills that most of us do, but due to a whole lot of circumstances, they kill out of impulse, and the thought processes that should usually be associated with such an act, such as the repercussions doing so would be, do not exist in their brain. Whether they arrived in this state as a result of a very messed up childhood, or as a result of having a cognitive disorder is not the point, it is about free will. You have to admit, in a circumstance where someone doesn't have the cognitive ability to determine the consequences of their actions, the role of free will and conscious effort is diminished greatly.

  14. Karl: You say that omniscience and free will can co-exist? I can't see how that's possible. To my mind if god knows everything then there is no free will because even if can make choices he already knows what we are going to do an so it's not really a choice at all.
    Another thing that you keep saying is that we do in fact make choices. As you say we don't understand the brain well enough to know if some people have something in their head that MAKES them kill people. But by the same token, and from the same source of ignorance, we don't know that we DO actually make choices.
    There is no scientific evidence, that I am aware of, that we are not just very complex robots that react in perfectly predictable ways.
    To say that killers become killers because they make a choice is true to a point. But I'd like you to ask yourself this: Could you kill someone in cold blood? For myself I believe, and hope, that I could not. I do not think I have the capacity to do that. There is actually a bit of neuro science that is pertinent here: If a baby is put under stress the part of the brain that controls feelings of empathy stops developing. I could tell you the study but all my books have been packed up and moved to my new place so I can't look it up.
    The result of this is that children who have a lot of stress early in life find it far more difficult to empathise with others and if you can't do that you're far more likely to commit a violent act against someone.

  15. You are 100% correct Steven.

    If there is an omniscient being, then free will is merely an illusion since all action has been predetermined. By the mere acknowledgment that a god 'knows all' you are immediately implying that you cannot do anything other than what you were always going to do.

    Ever heard people console a relative after someone close to them died?

    "It's all part of God's plan!"

    This is allowing them to mentally shift the blame for their loss to this god figure. By putting it on the figurative shoulders of an omniscient being, they can get past their grief, because they believe that he is in control, and is all knowing. Oh its ok that they died, sure it's terrible that my 5 year old boy died, or my auntie died, or my father died... because God KNEW it would happen. So obviously he didn't interfere, because it was SUPPOSED to happen.

    There should be a law against telling someone that it's all in God's plan. It is in times like this when your personal belief system has been shattered that you reassess why you believe in certain things. My assumption is this:

    Religion is either a crutch that you leaned on in a time of personal anguish, and have maintained since - or - it is something that you have been taught since you were a child, and your brain has been tempered to believe the concepts of ever since.

    It is no coincidence that people turn to religion in hard times. The concept that a god has all of what is going on under control is comforting. It allows them to shift their burdens mentally onto an external figure, giving them peace of mind, since they no longer feel any need to worry about those things. This is the ONLY reason that religion is popular. People usually don't realise it, but it is true.

    They feel better after giving their life to God, they feel lighter, a weight is taken off their heart! Wow, this religion thing is great, I can feel God touching my life already! But no, this is just your mind making a decision to stop worrying about all the little things it worries about on a daily basis. Suddenly you aren't feeling as negative, you start sleeping better, your health improves. Don't let anyone tell you that placebo's do nothing. You feel better because you want to feel better, you 'believe' that you are going to feel better, you are no longer worrying about life decisions like you should be. You have basically proclaimed that you don't want a free will anymore.

    Now this can either end up nicely for you, or backfire horribly. Either way, when you got to this point, you were putting your faith in a being who is presumably omniscient and you agreed that anything that happens to you or anyone you know is 'part of the plan'. This is the insidious part of religion, since it allows followers to absolve themselves of fault at will. Instead of being made to consider the real ramifications of anything that happens, they cry a bit, and pray a bit, then get up and walk away feeling a bit better because hey well, God knows what he's doing.

  16. cont.

    An omniscient god cancels out any free will. There is no other way of looking at it. If you accept that your god knows all - that is, everything that will ever happen - you are accepting that your life is fated to take whatever turns it does. So you may as well do nothing, take it easy! It's ok, im allowed to do it! It's not my plan after all!

    But of course, we have zero evidence for an omniscient god figure. So for the rest of us who don't shrug all our worries onto the fanciful shoulders of the guy/gal with the plan, we make the best of it we can. Sure we worry about things, we think about things, we have trouble sleeping worrying about bills that need paying. But guess what... There is a point to all that worrying and thinking. You might actually come up with a solution! And then you get to stop worrying about that problem, because you have it figured out. You don't need to hope it gets figured out at some point in this plan that is slowly unfolding, because you used your own brain to work out a solution.

    Oh but wait... since we're all a part of this god's plan, me working out that solution... was the plan all along! Curses! Foiled again!

    "Oh I'm quite sure that it's all part of God's plan! Why you say? Oh because I KNOW it is!"

    Oh to be a religious person again, and sail through life in blissful ignorance. Life is so much simpler when stuff always happens for a reason. Critical thinking may not help you sleep at night, but at least it doesn't breed a culture that encourages ignorance.

  17. Oh btw Karl...

    You said:

    "Omniscience is not the same as predestination. Knowing that something will happen is not the same as making it happen."

    This is a fair enough theory on the surface. But you are forgetting one crucial point. Knowing something will happen and doing nothing about it, IS making it happen. Maybe not directly, but if through inaction you allow something to happen that you could have averted, you may as well have actually caused it. Consider the following...

    God knows you will do thing A, which causes B to happen. God does nothing and lets it happen. Because the outcome was known in advance you were fated to follow this sequence of events regardless of whether you thought you were making independent decisions.


    You don't know what you will do, so you make a decision to do thing A. At some point after that, B happens and you realise it was caused by A. You assume free will and your choices caused this sequence of events since there is no evidence that fate exists.

    The two situations are not compatible at all. Just because God does nothing, does not mean he isn't causing it to happen. By the mere act of knowing what will happen, God has eliminated any chance for you to really make a choice.

    Unless he stepped in and did something to prevent what was going to happen. But then, why doesn't he do this all the time when terrible things happen. This is what causes us to doubt the existence of an omniscient and omnipotent god. He has the knowledge, and the power, yet does nothing. Seems unlikely.

  18. Can't believe I missed this bit too:

    "Granted, an omniscient God must have known that Lucifer would betray Him, but He also allowed Satan the freedom to choose."

    Too easy Karl. If God KNEW that Satan was going to betray him, then there was NO choice at all for Satan, since God already knew it would happen. This is the point we are trying to make. If you know something will happen, because you have the ability to see future events before they happen, it is now fated to happen. There is no REAL choice involved anymore, because the outcome was predetermined! Once someone has seen future events, all current choices up to that point are not free will because the outcome is known in advance. UNLESS... they choose to interfere with the events they know will happen, which according to the bible, used to happen quite a bit. Not so much these days though.

    So basically, not only are you deciding you don't have a free will by joining a religion, but you are allowing and often hoping that an omnipotent being will reach down and nudge you in the right direction. Not only do we take choice out of it, but making your own way in life is just too much effort...

    "Please God, can you drop a great situation in my lap? I would work towards it, but since I have no free will, and everything is your plan anyway, any chance you could fudge the numbers and help me out?!"