In Defense of Hell

in religion •  last year

Hell is, to say it mildly, an unpopular doctrine. Who wants to believe that some are deprived forever of the sight of God and are tormented for all eternity with pains greater than any Earthly woe? More particularly, who wants to believe it would happen to a loved one?

Would not a just God be more chillax about this whole evil thing and not damn anyone? Right? Right?

Wrong.

Inferno_Canto_3_Charon_strikes_lines_107-108.jpg
Gustave Doré, from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

A note on methodology.

God, as it happens, does not take our beliefs into account when creating reality. (So unfortunate.) In the end, arguing what a just God would do has a sense of meaningless to it--God has already done it, and will not change His mind. This is the nature of an omniscient, omnipotent, and transcendent being.

But ignoring that, we can at least play god ourselves and see what we would do if thrust into the Divine throne. If we get the same result... haven't we succeeded?

Universalism

So! Let's just dump Hell. Drop that table, sudo rm -rf /dev/hell && sudo apt remove damn, Human Wisdom, surpassing some, has here deconstructed me. It's gone. Hooray!

Now everyone, without exception, goes to Heaven, no matter how good or evil they are.

What does that lead to?

A constant.

That is, all your life, all your work, all decisions you made and ever could make, boil down to this:

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That's it. That's all. The function of your life simply returns a constant. You win. GG. The end. Everything you did meant nothing, because you'd win anyway. It's like a casino where the slot machines always spit out the same amount of money.

Nothing mattered, or ever could. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. Enjoy whatever you do, because you have no choice in what ultimately matters.

Meanwhile, go on and murder, rape, and steal, because it will also be meaningless. Everyone's just going on up! HOORAY!

Not.

BUT WAIT!!

Let's try that again, but specify there is a Hell. Just a temporary one. Assign any bad deed a given time period or suffering level, multiply times jerkitude, subtract holiness deductions--whatever, let God do the sin return. All we care about is that there's a finite punishment for a finite evil. Phew.

So, after you die, your entire life is... This:

1

It's no different. Any temporal punishment is meaningless compared to an eternal reward. All we have done is reinvent Purgatory. Which, speaking as a papist, is a pretty awesome doctrine.

But not this form. Think about it. Essentially, even someone who hated God would eventually be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the Empyrean to eternally worship and adore God. That's... kinda a jerk move. So much for free will.

Let's try yet again.

OK, so let's say people burn in Hell for their bad deeds, BUT they can come out if they change their mind. Otherwise, they can keep getting sucked around a vortex with their adulterous lover, buried in iron hot coffins, or turned into lizards, or what have you. But once they repent, FINE. Off to the celestial spheres.

All good now? What do we get when we mix it up and stick in the oven?

?

Um, hold on. Let's think about this. Is everyone still going to Heaven? What about the hypothetical maltheist? That is, will everyone eventually repent? Or can there be someone who still refuses, no matter how painful the fire, no matter how black the darkness, no matter how reptilian the lizard, to return to God?

What if they don't? Will God, in the end, respect this choice?

If so...

Reality

Then, at last, we get this:

{0|1}

Your life has meaning. Choose good or evil, life or death, and it matters. Your temporal life can set your eternal life. Any good deed, no matter how small, helps you to choose yes. Any evil deed, no matter how small, drags you down.

But why? It's simple enough. Choices--actual, real choices--are not inert levers pressed by the untouchable homunculous in your mind. They affect you: your brain wiring, your place in the world, and (dare I say it?) your soul. Whether you choose good or evil once contributes to making that same choice again.

Some of you might be interested in expanding those possibility further. That is, rather than two outcomes, offer an infinite number of outcomes. Let every good deed and evil choice be rewarded and punished separately. Now EVERYTHING matters! Yay!

Thus, the doctrine of merit. (But a full expounding on that would be a post for another time)

Appendix A: How about some of that good ol' Purgatory?

But wasn't that escapable Hell up a few sections so nice?

Purgatory is a doctrine we papists, the Orthodox to an extent, and some Protestants hold as an in-between. Specifically, anyone who dies unready to immediately enter Heaven gets cooked a little bit first. After that, they go to Heaven. Hooray! There's no chance of going to Hell once in Purgatory--it's a one-way elevator. Meanwhile, it's not exactly a pleasant place. St. Lidwina describes a vision of a part of Purgatory bordering on Hell, where a particular soul was at the bottom of a well covered in incandescent fire!

If you are so inclined, praying or doing penances for the dead helps them along. The literal poor soul St. Lidwina described was relieved by prayers and so ended up in... a higher section of Purgatory.

Appendix B: What about angels?

Some ask if Hell is empty. I always wince, because the question is "Is Hell empty of humans?" There are definitely angels in Hell, traditionally 1/3 of the original Heavenly host. While God could indeed save any of them, even Satan himself, this cannot occur, due to the nature of free will.

God assigned angels, like us, free will. Unlike us, it is impossible for an angel to change its mind, due to the nature of being a pure intellect. Thus, angels end up with essentially one choice at the beginning of their existence: whether to serve God or not. The LORD respects the choice of those beings, of whatever nature, that choose something other than Him.

Conclusion.

Am I happy that Hell exists? No. Am I glad, nonetheless, that God offers an actual choice? Absolutely. I used to be a universalist (and a pseudo-Taoist, too.) Yet this is why strong universalism is unacceptable to me. A weaker universalism--merely that the brute fact that all humans eventually choose God of their own free will--is something to hope for. God does not have a damnation quota.

Next time, I'll be defending something which, I think, is even more unpopular than Hell. Stay tuned!

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I would pose the same question to the professor that I posed to @scalextrix: if there is no afterlife, why do good or evil if there is no present reward or punishment? The thief who is never caught is to be considered fortunate, and the woman who spends her life serving the poor, but dies penniless herself pitied.

All of this is assuming that death is considered negligible. If it is considered an infinite evil, then there is no point to good or evil at all. Timor mortis conturbat me indeed.

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In fact nature has zero obligation to satisfy our needs, anguishes and pain, or even pleasures and satisfactions. Nature is neutral regarding our desires and fears. But it does not mean that it is intellectually honest to create things in our minds that make us run away from reality. It is always better to accept that a problem exists and to face it courageously to try to find a real solution to it.

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Is nature truly neutral? That is, can one add up all the evil and good that nature provides and come out with a perfect zero? I think that such a result would be more evidence for a Creator than of blind chance. Yet even so, if there is no creator, or at least an amoral one, blaming the uncaught thief is irrational.

Actually, let me ask that question: If this thief declares that his solution to a blind and pitiless nature--namely, the solution of ignoring other people's property rights--is a courageous, real solution, what argument can you make against it? For the purpose of this argument this thief is not and will not be caught. (Suppose he is making it on his deathbed, say.)

If we are talking about Reality, then I would indeed fear Hell and take active steps to avoid it, as no one can escape the consequences of ignoring Reality. I have talked in the hypothetical so far, but the reality of God and the Four Last Things is objective. Is this but an assertion? Of course, but so is the assertion that there is not a Hell.

The only problem with your very nicely put article, is that plenty of people live their whole lives without heaven or hell motivating them in any way.
The idea that we do nice things for other people, to try and buy our way into heaven and avoid hell, is disturbing to me. I'm nice to people not because I'm afraid, but because being nice, is nice.
Is this the kind of self centred people we are supposed to be? Is this why people pray for material things? Is everyone in religion just out for what they can get for themselves? A new Toyota in this life and heaven in the next?

sudo rm -rf religion and we will all be better off

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How would you define "good" or "evil" without an external constant? What does it mean to be "nice" to others, and why is that standard the measure of a person's moral merit. If criterion for acceptable behavior becomes reduced to nebulous and fluctuating emotional or empathic state, then it is equivalent to having no acceptable behavioral standard.

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Good and evil do not exist, in the reply I just gave on the other thread, I explained that we sometimes do bad things, but that that does not make us bad people.
We judge ourselves based on a set of societal norms, ethics and personal morals.
There are no absolutes to this though, and we sometimes are faced with difficult ambiguous situations. We all agree its wrong to kill another human, right? But what if the other human is in terrible pain and will certainly die slowly, is relieving their pain good or bad? There is no clear answer to that, and we must personally wrestle with what the right thing to do is. The fact we are conflicted, is evidence we don't need good/evil as absolutes, we each do what we think is right at the time and live with the consequences.

I don't see how good/evil help us make any decisions over what to do. Religion of course sets down exactly what is good/evil and right and wrong. The Bible tells us that if someone doesn't believe in god, that you should kill them, immediately. If there are towns, of unbelievers, kill them all, drag their possessions into the streets and burn them. And killing your slaves is OK too, and raping women, so long as you marry them later.

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If there is no good or evil, then you cannot call religion evil, no matter what it apparently orders. You can only say it is against your personal morals (since ethics is arbitrary without absolute morality, and in some places societal norms are quite in favor of religion.) But so what? My own personal morals (as if either matter) are that my religion is absolutely true, as well as morality being objective. How are they any less meaningful than yours or anyone else's?

To say that in some utilitarian sense religion makes a worse subjective morality is meaningless, because it is recursive. By what metric can we judge metrics? In example of someone dying slowly and painfully, then the Catholic Church teaches that it is permitted to give painkillers even to the point where it would likely end his life, but not outright kill him. Here I have a clear teaching. Is this, in some fashion, better or worse than struggling over each case to find an ultimately arbitrary answer? If morality is subjective, I don't know, because there's no way to judge except personal preference.

Continuing my answer to your other post here (so this doesn't get all chopped up)...

If the worst that an unrepentant thief gets is feeling guilty, so what? If there is no objective morality, then one might as well cultivate a vae victis morality in all your children, such that they will lie, cheat, steal, and do so better than others.

That religion exists only to explain the randomness of the universe is a simplistic explanation, no? The pagans believed in harsh, arbitrary gods, who might as well dump rain or not on a village for no good reason at all. If I will hear any explanation for religion, it is that it copes with the numenous, that which cannot be explained in terms of the common and material. Is there a numenous? Perhaps I'm wrong that there is, but every culture believes in ghosts.

And seriously, no. Christianity does not teach one to despise oneself and others. Nor is that a correct description of original sin (another thing to defend, I suppose). But what of it? Even if that was so, one cannot say that one purely subjective morality is better or worse than any other.

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The point of this is, if you lie, cheat and steal, you will objectively not do better than others. You dont need a religion to have laws, and breaking laws for most people leads to genrally undesirable outcomes. Humans are social animals and prefer company over lonliness, being a liar, a cheat and a theif leads ultimately to lonliness, and less optimal life chances and outcomes.
This is why we teach our children not to do these things.

Religion is not equivalent to morality, religion requires you to believe in specific things for which there is no evidence, examples are things like evil and hell. You dont need evil and hell to be a moral person, and therefore religion is surplus to human requirements.

There are no ghosts, its the stuff of childrens nightmares, believed in by people who were unfortunate enough not to have better ways of explaining what happens around them.

Note not having religion is not the same as denying the existence of god(s), or appreciating some people have a tendency to feel spiritual. Religion warps these things into a set of dogmatic rules that people must follow, or (for example) be terrified into thinking they will go to hell. The problem with that is no set of rules fits all situations, and certainly not sets of rules from thousands of years ago which are now morally bankrupt and most in the religion feel they have to ignore anyway. So this leaves the followers of religions at the mercy of whichever person has been put in charge of interpreting that religion at that time, that person may be benevolent (The Pope seems like a nice man), or they may terrorise (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader if ISIS), but their election as the literal voice of god(s) is unquestionable. Controlling people in this way is immoral.

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Is there an objective standard or not? Laws are not an objective standard, because every age has had its own laws. For example, the law in one time and place punished those who freed slaves. If "do the right thing or the laws will punish you" is the basis of morality, then it logically follows that the most moral person is the absolute dictator of a despotism.

But let me try arguing on your side for a moment. One could say that certain kinds of laws are superior to another, and that a despotic government is far inferior to a healthy republic. I would agree. I would further posit that there are, as per Montesquieu, different baseis for the different governments. Namely fear for the despotism, public honor for the monarchy, and civic virtue, that is, love of one's country or patriotism, for the republic. If this is so, it implies something quite amazing about the fabric of reality, that a government based on love is superior to others. I would find this hard to believe: that a purely natural world would permit altruism to be rewarded.

But back to your post!

Religion does not require believing in things that have no evidence. I would submit that the existence of God can be objectively proven by natural evidence (this is Catholic dogma). I also submit the doctrine of original sin as provable from experience. And, if we insist on science, the positive analysis of Eucharistic miracles.

All that aside, what does it mean to be a "moral" person if there is no objective morality? I'm generally moral by my own definition, and so, I would assume, are you by yours, and everyone by everyone's. It's arbitrary, with ourselves as arbiters.

I'm curious why you seem to absolutely deny the existence of ghosts, but the existence of divine beings is permissible without religion. (And indeed, the existence or lack of divinities is not based on religion, but the reverse is true) In some cultures, ghosts are worshiped as gods. And spiritual experiences imply some kind of spirit, no?

But one more question: If there is no one set of rules that fits all situations, then by what rule(s) do we decide if a ruleset's time is over? Or, more interestingly, why not assemble the Perfect Rules simply by discarding all those which are unnecessary and adding those that are?

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Thank you for the reply. If there is no absolute standard, as you posit, then why the need or tendency for "personally wrestl[ing] with what the right thing to do is"? Whether we liquidate the sick or the inconvenient has no value valence, other than state efficiency metric. I agree that men behave in displeasurable ways, but that is mere preference and not a standard of measure for "judgment" as you put it. In the absence of an absolute, then all "morals" or "ethics" are delusions (group or individual) and the only metric to which we align our behaviors would be the state as the ultimate arbiter; such paradigm then merely shifts the matrix from the mystical authority to material authority.

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You seem to have forgotten we are programmed to care for others, and we even extend this to animals through anthropomorphization.
Due to the natural variation, some people are more deeply effected, and some such as psychopaths wont feel anything, but on average we are all effected similarly; we don't need religion or a state to set a moral absolute, we know what emotional and physical pain is and recognise it in others, and would seek to reduce or eliminate it through natural empathy which for most of us is innate.
TL;DR We don't need to be told it's wrong to hurt others, it's experiential. We would not liquidate the sick, we know it's wrong.

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I would argue that natural impulses as morality is flawed. Imagine a race of predatory aliens that prey on each other and on other sentient races. Their "morality" would be quite different from our own. Would it be wrong?

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You seem to have forgotten we are programmed to care for others

You are positing that man is instinctually empathetic - I assume you are not arguing that there is a "programmer" :). I agree that empathy seems to be an instinctual response, but I don't think that we can conclude empathic instinct prevents harming others. Studies regarding empathy illustrate that the automatic concern for another only extends to those who are of same tribal or blood relations. To extend empathic concern towards those outside of our tribe or blood requires cognitive/intellectual reflection. From the perspective of evolutionary theory, empathic concern for those outside one's tribe is hinderance for gene propagation.

From purely intellectual perspective, if morality derives from instinctual impulse, that is propagation of the gene pool, then I would argue that liquidation of the infirm and the genetically inferior untermenschen would be a moral imperative.

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I tend to think, that just as we see in the second law of thermodynamics entropy (disorder) will increase over time, yet we also see that ordered systems self-organize out of chaos (the galaxies, stars, planets, animals, plants, DNA etc.); then to think that human intellect, morality, ethics and so forth do not naturally occur out of the action of the universe, is somewhat over-stating humanities free will and self determination.
No, Im not talking about any kind of intelligent programmer, but we have morals and ethics that go beyond the scope of our immediate social circle, because that is ultimately best for humanities aggregate gene pool. Some people took a step back at some points and though to themselves 'if only we stopped killing each other continuously, we might actually get somewhere'. This isnt a human triumph over our innate empathy purely for your own gene pool, its a self-organizing certainty-of-chance, given the conditions of human development and enough time.
Ultimately we cant know for sure, but given all the information I have seen, this to me seems like the most plausible course of events. This is why its critical we arent held back by 2,000 year old thinking, because that thinking wont stop that asteroid that is going to extinct us, only humanity working as a unified force can acheive that.

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I tend to think, that just as we see in the second law of thermodynamics entropy (disorder) will increase over time, yet we also see that ordered systems self-organize out of chaos (the galaxies, stars, planets, animals, plants, DNA etc.)

I read that the self-organizing orderly systems do not violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics because the seeming decrease in disorder of the localize system arises at the expense of increasing disorder of the general system. If we are subject to this immutable law without any other recourse, then continual wars strife, and conflict are a certainty of our impersonal universe; any attempt to counter such natural impulse would be futile.

If morality is instinct, then the term "morality" need to be jettisoned, as it obfuscates discussion. Instinct serves to propagate the DNA of the creature, then the tribe, in that priority. A tendency or sentiment that fosters species level propagation at the expense of the creature's or tribe's DNA propagation is not instinctual, and thus, "immoral" (if there can be such term). From the logical framework you have provided, the instinctual imperative is to place the self and his tribe above all else.

Man's fate would be no different, whether he is from a world 2000 years past or current, since his perceptual matrix would be instinctually driven. In fact, wouldn't the set of instinctual imperatives be more aligned with man 2000 years past, than the modern man, who clouded by technological smog to imagine himself above the immutable instinct of his DNA?

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I'm not in religion to be out for my material gain. (Perhaps my next next article shall be called "In Defense of Heaven.") I'm a Catholic because I believe God exists, and is more important than any material or worldly thing.

But to turn things on their head, what would you say to someone who commits some evil, saying that, after all, there is no Hell, so why not? If there is no eternal reward and punishment, then someone who lies and steals, and gets away with it in the end, can hardly be called unlucky.

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There is no justice except for that we humans make. If you do a bad thing and no-one finds out it was you, then there are no consequences for you. Of course any normally adjusted child will feel guilt and or shame, and will probably confess, because most of us innately understand we need to pay for our crimes; that harming others is wrong.

Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, it's just the randomness of life. This is the only role that religions have, its to give people an explanation of why that village over the hill that stole our sheep; why did they get a good harvest and our village did not?

Of course if you were the village over the hill, you wouldn't think of yourselves as bad, nor do most people think of themselves as bad. Sometimes we do bad things, but that does not make us entirely bad people. Only religion teaches us that we are actually bad people, and that we should despise ourselves and others, and be damned for eternity, and this is certain even from before birth.