As one voice out of many others in the world I want my readers to know that I believe in justice. It comes from this ancient notion of balancing the scales and meting out a proper punishment that fits the crime. Nothing more and nothing less. As a human race we have failed rather miserably at executing fairness and justice in many instances. What else would keep our history books so, dare I say, suspenseful and interesting?
There has been a war of ideas raging for centuries about where justice should find its ultimate culmination. I personally am part of a minority of skeptical thinkers that has been gradually gaining a voice in the West since the periods of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Mathematically speaking this would mean that I am extending my thoughts to an audience that reflects a religious majority. Yet in my particular generation there seems to be a rise of teens and young adults that grew up in religious homes and for whatever reason find themselves on a path that isn’t so ready to jump back into the whole church thing. This doesn’t make you guys Atheists, it just means that you find yourselves in a big world so why not be curious and test the waters so to speak?
So I’m not here to be a fundamentalist Atheist that has only one singular mission of eradicating religion and spirituality from people’s minds. We all have a uniquely human right to think and believe whatever the hell we want to. I happen to love living in a world that challenges me with such a diverse set of ideas and beliefs. This is a very big proverbial sandbox to find ourselves in. Hey, look at this dude over here that practices Buddhist meditation, I wonder what kind of benefits I can glean through practicing meditation rather than rotting in front of a computer screen all day? There is an absolute wealth of information and knowledge that stems from ancient Eastern practices that have been around way before Moses is alleged to have come into the picture.
All of that being said I mainly want to narrow in on this idea of justice and fairness and how it should be contrasted with the idea of an eternal hell? I come from a previous religious background that teaches its adherents to believe in and propagate the notion that human beings must be warned about a very real and literal hell. A place of eternal conscious punishment and torment for the wicked. Now, as I’ve personally surveyed peoples responses to this idea of a literal hell there seem to be a few different common responses in the area where I grew up.
One such response is that it is simply ridiculous. You believe that God is love and that it was ultimately people that made up hell. You may have grown up in a church that mentions hell on occasion but you never felt compelled to embrace that part of religion. No one makes a big fuss about it, so why should you?
Another response from some of our folks that have had kind of a rough life is that hell does seem to make some sense. Someone like Hitler for example should probably be bubbling in the extra crispy forever fryer right about now! There have definitely been some humorous depictions in movies about how to deal with former Dictators. On the flip side you really couldn’t picture your stumbling drunk friend who only becomes more loving with every shot of Jack Daniel’s as being anywhere close to the eternal furnace. Fair enough, we’re all trying to figure this justice thing out together.
Then we have the fold that I just came from. Don’t forget to crack open your trusty Bible and follow along with the Pastor. Today we are doing a full doctrinal study on hell. This is going to be great! Fill up your coffee cups gentlemen, we are in for a wild ride through conservative Evangelical dogma 101. Also known as, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”
Does that settle it ladies and gentlemen? Well, it certainly didn’t settle it for this former aspiring Pastor. The more I drilled down on biblical ideas, the more questions I was compelled to raise. Almost any popular Bible story that comes to mind is far more gruesome than we learned in Sunday school. Sunday school gave us the kid friendly, readers digest version of what this ancient set of books actually conveys and teaches. I mention this not because we should be concerned about desensitizing brutality and bloodshed from age appropriate learners, but we should rather be concerned about the main instigator of biblical violence. Anyone want to take a guess about who the main perpetrator turns out to be? It’s a three letter word that starts with a capital ‘G’ and ends with a ‘d’.
I’ll provide one quick example. Just follow the historical map of ancient Israel’s battles and conquests. A death toll that adds up to millions and it was said to be perfectly acceptable according to their Jewish God to eradicate pagan religion by force. A jealous and holy God can see no other appropriate action to take than to use one group of people to slaughter men, women, and yes even their children in order to maintain dominance and eventually make way for a Messiah. It was then that a message of peace could be given to the nations. It’s all in our Old Testaments once we dust them off and give them a good glance!
In a biblical worldview it is only appropriate to turn the dial of human depravity up so high that all you can see after self evaluation from this set of principles is a blackened, broken, and rabid human nature both within yourself and others. It makes this whole idea of Yahweh using Israel as a tool for conquest more fitting and beneficial. It is a mentality that makes otherwise good and charitable people assent to divinely instituted torture, murder, and sometimes even rape.
This all gets bundled up into a neat little package known as divine command theory. At the heart of biblical teaching is submission of one’s mind and will to every command that is said to have sprung from the mouth of Jesus, God, and His inspired prophets. One must accept that in the case of the Bible’s God there is ample reason for this being to exploit and destroy humanity for succumbing to temptations and desires that He so carefully fine tuned to occur within His creatures.
Whether one ascribes to free will or determination this is a world in which the Bible fails to maintain relevance in comparison to the facts. The facts indicate that human beings are not innately aware of only one perspective of God or divine origins. Even when groups of believers remain faithful to their form of orthodoxy the human mind remains astonishingly fluid in its ability to create different nuances and shades of belief within the same criteria set. This is far more related to our evolution as a species in my opinion. We are very much the products of our own environments.
With all of this in mind we come to the notion of an eternal hell filled with unending torture and punishment. One has to wonder at a depiction of justice that punishes human beings eternally for finite actions? One has to ponder how love and compassion could ever be attributed to one who acts as the sole arbiter of an eternal furnace?
This is no solution to the problem of evil and in fact inflates human suffering to a proportion that we cannot even comprehend with meaningful justification. Those who hold to this perspective have crucified logic upon a false cross that shadows a false savior. It’s just an all around bad way think.
Perhaps the most important way to illustrate this type of absurdity is to ask those who are age appropriate and mature to simply imagine yourselves or someone you love in this predicament. A vast majority of Christianity does after all espouse a literal and eternal hell. Now consider the tension that exists among many denominations over what is considered holy or profane, good and evil, a pathway to grace or the way of death? Consider the fact that we are all worthy of someone’s notion of hell.
Do you have the picture just yet? At best the Bible indicates an extremely thin margin of people that shall enter into the gates of eternal life. This is due primarily to a verbal and mental assent to one set of ideas about a God whose track record in the area of justice, if taken literally, is rather dim. This being is said to have created paradise all the while standing by as a force of evil that He created deceived and spread death and violence to all people because sin must act as a poisonous virus for all who will ever be born. He is alleged to have drowned millions in a worldwide flood, thwarted human unity and progress by confusing language and communication, and chose one nation of people to exterminate surrounding pagan religion so as to eventually make way for peace?
Establishing cooperation and harmony is somehow overrated and perhaps a little boring for Yahweh. This is a God that had a raging lust for a particular piece of real estate in the ancient near east, this is at least what the story implies. This notion of acting as a missionary that gradually learns the culture and lives among a foreign people didn’t come until way later. In fact, this method of establishing peace and love is an afterthought even to Jesus.
Jesus explicitly stated in the New Testament that his concerns were primarily for Israel. He referred to Gentile women and men as being “dogs” in Matthew 15:21-28. Many apologists would like to lighten up this language to not imply discrimination on the part of Jesus toward a certain foreign woman, but this simply doesn’t fit the context of him first watching her beg and plead for her son to be healed while he initially refused to even talk to her and give her the time of day. In other words, he kind of toyed with her emotions, demeaned her personally, and then very reluctantly followed through with a miracle.
Many zealous believers will undoubtedly come to the defense of this particular Bible’s form of justice. Perhaps the question of the day is, “When will the pervasiveness of human irrationality become crystal clear within this ancient set of texts?” I ask this because the belief in an eternal hell would appear to be a prime example of sadism in its purest form. This is lightyears apart from an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
This is the assignment of eternal torture, pain, and agony to a human life that extends anywhere between zero to a little over a hundred years. Each separate instance of sin, yes, even a lustful thought is said to be worthy of a punishment that experiences no sense of relief forever and ever, amen! A good natured individual would search for equality and balance when meting out punishments. However, a psychopath on the other hand has no sense of this at all. This kind of mindset is so warped that it in fact exploits those who do feel pain and sadness.
It feeds off of others who experience these feelings day in and day out. Pleasure receptors continually are triggered within the brain just by silent observation of another suffering individual. What excuse does a God that is said not to possess a defective mindset have at all in relation to eternal punishment? It appears to be pretty sick no matter how we slice it.