Sunday, October 9, 2011

Theists Justifying Torture

A friend of mine is running an event this month where people have the opportunity to ask tough questions to Christians and get some free food. He asked me (being an atheist) to pose a few tough questions on the event page on facebook to prepare Christians for tough questions at the event. I put up 3 sample questions

1) If morality is absolute and defined by God; and the Bible is the word of (or inspired by, depending on your doctrinal orientation) God, then why does the Bible endorse views that are by and large considered to be immoral, if not inhuman?
2) How is it moral to condemn humans to infinite punishment (or torture, if you're that way inclined) for finite crimes?
3) How do you reconcile the biblical view of an original pair of human beings whose sin brought death and suffering to all their descendants with the findings of modern science?

To the first question, I provided two quotations from the Bible where it endorses rape, genocide and slavery most of the responses were fairly typical, ranging from “That’s out of context!” to claiming that Biblical slavery was actually really nice. Both of these responses are quite plainly absurd. Interestingly enough no one felt game enough to try and justify the rape and genocide from Numbers 31.

The third question attracted a legit fundie, who said things like “Nothing in modern science goes against the traditional, literal teachings from the Bible.” And “Evolution describes a possible history. Creation describes a possible history. Science does not support or disprove either one.” I responded fairly briefly to his smorgasbord of fallacies and mistruths, providing him with links to learn more about the subjects he obviously hasn’t the slightest clue about. Some of the other responses included misusing the ‘Mitochondrial Eve’, claiming it supports a literal Adam and Eve, when it does no such thing.

Where the real juicy moral dissonance came pouring in was the question about eternal torture. Here are some quotes from the responses.
“The offended one dictates the extent of punishment. Offending an infinite God requires an infinite punishment. Since humans are finite beings, except for their immortality, the punishment must take eternity, or else an infinite payment credited instead.”

“Without hell, then there is no proof of God's holiness, or mercy or love.” 
“Yes hell is a terrible and torturous place, but it is proof of just how important love, mercy and justice are to the God of the Bible”

“Those who are commanded or judged to go to hell and suffer, are those who chose not to do so[To love God], but instead of their own free will disobeyed instead.”

It amazes me that people have allowed this religious doctrine to poison their moral thought and their empathy for their fellow humans. What was going through their heads when the words “eternal torture” came up on the screen?

Here are some excerpts from my responses to them.

Isn't God supposed to be merciful? Not to mention omni-benevolent (though this is admittedly not from the Bible)? Yet you still think that in God's dishing out of eternal punishment/torture he is satisfying his merciful, just and benevolent natures?

What of the 'sin' of non-belief? What of a person who despite their trying, and at one point desire to believe in Christianity, simply cannot? Is it just at all to punish someone who can't bring themselves to believe that a God even exists? I am of course speaking of myself here, I was raised in the church, and became an atheist just before my 20th birthday, I just couldn't believe any more. Do you honestly believe that I deserve eternal torture for simply being honest to myself?

I care for my fellow human beings and that is exactly why I find the doctrine of hell repugnant. I do not 'love God' in fact I think that a being that thinks it right to torture his dissidents would not be deserving of love, but rather would only be deserving of loathing and contempt. I do not steal, cheat, lie, am not violent and I am very interested in social justice and helping the poor. Despite all this, because I care for the wellbeing of my fellow hominids, and care very much whether my beliefs are true, I will be tortured for eternity according to your belief system.


  1. Great, thought-provoking post. It makes me wonder if there are any large-scale surveys of specific Christian or religious beliefs: a set of questions like yours asked to a variety of Christians of different denominations and collated for comparison. Any atheist or skeptic who's ever had a discussion with a Christian knows what a many-headed beast Christianity is, not just with its many denominations, which I would argue are becoming increasingly irrelevant, but with its multitude of individual interpretations. I think such a study would be fruitful for religion's detractors. It would be especially useful for disproving claims of 'moderate' Christians who, because of their own benign interpretations, believe that religion is a tool for good.

    I think I may just start collating a set of ten or so questions to put to the Christians I know and meet (as well as looking for any existing studies). Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Thanks for the comment, I was really quite blown away by how blasé the Christians were about the implications of eternal torture. I feel like making a youtube video (haven't done one in a while) on the subject. Surely it would be harder for a theist to justify in their mind condemning someone to be tortured if they can see their face?

  3. The paragraph that starts with "The offended one dictates..." is pure, 100%, gobbely-goop, made up, crazy talk. Awesome buddy,


  4. I agree, it's a good post. Here would be my response though.

    1) It's sort of self-answering. If God is the absolute authority, then whether we think its moral or not according to our culture is pretty much irrelevant. Doesn't mean we can't ask him to be nice. Having the power of life and death changes the perspective.
    Not to mention, what things went on back then, were probably in alignment with the general culture at the time (the rather bad-ass mentality), and is not necessarily in effect post-Jesus.
    Actually this is pretty much central to the issue that Satan challenged him with. Does God have a moral right to supreme authority over his creation?
    Humans are basically a secondary issue.

    2) That's a Catholic belief I think.
    Hell doesn't exist. The person who 'founded' my religion had asked the very same question and got that answer. I personally just think it would a big useless waste of time and effort. Gehenna refers to the 'second' or final death, not eternal torture.

    3) I don't actually know what there is to reconcile? Did you want a discussion on telomeres or something?

    Actually, hilariously enough, slavery was the 'nice' version of the word. They were the equivalent of whatever Americans have today to do their dishes. But you could only keep a slave for a maximum of a year, and generally the alternative to being a slave (servant might be more appropriate) would have been death in battle or something. 'Enslaving' them in this fashion had some very positive end effects.
    I had just read passages in the bible about it recently, and had found it a pleasantly interesting insight.

    Hey, my mum's a microbiologist who read the actual research paper, and she actually seems to think it does support a literal adam and eve. I read the published book and found it interesting, but it didn't really seem to sway in any particular final direction with its evidence. Though it did lead me to other conclusions.

    Ignorance is a mitigating factor, when it comes to believing in God, and from what I can tell you get a second chance during the 'crunch time', but you lose points for it. I think. Don't take my word for it.

    But yes, God is pretty hardcore.

    Numbers 31: I found genocide (sort of), but the women were killed for being sluts (misleading Israelite men with immorality sort of thing), the virgins were left alive, no-one was raped since that was pretty much the offense.