[Note from 2017: This is part of a series of posts I wrote after suddenly discovering that religion can be questioned. I felt like I had broken into uncharted territories of thought and needed to reveal the way to the sad unenlightened. Drunk on this conviction, and still emotionally underdeveloped following a very introverted childhood, I proceeded to become the most condescending kind of atheist and also blindly wreak emotional havoc among the Christian parts of my family. Thankfully this was a phase. My current thoughts on religion are quite different, and at some point if I see fit to blog about them, you’ll be able to find them in the “religion” category here. I’m leaving the posts up as a window into that ugly time.]
If you believe in Heaven and Hell, and you would like to continue doing so, leave this post immediately and continue living in blissful ignorance. I say this without a tinge of demeaning you, because I respect that. I respect it, that is, if you’d rather your beliefs go entirely unchallenged, and each time something contrary happens, you avoid thinking about it. I know that used to be me. Now, however, I can’t stop myself from thinking. I respect your willful ignorance, if you insist on it: but do you?
I’ve been thinking a lot about religion recently. This is a new development. I never used to think about it at all, and that’s the way it has to be. If I read anything that pointed out something wrong with Christianity, I turned red and hot with something akin to embarrassment or fear, and then tried my best to forget about it entirely. But now I think. That’s incompatible with a lot of what I believed.
I’m reasonably sure that I’ve independently proved that the concepts of Hell and Heaven are mutually exclusive. I’m sure other people have come up with this before me, but I figured today:
- Heaven is supposed to be a place where there are all the happinesses that exist, and no sadness at all.
- Hell is supposed to be a place of eternal torment, with no chance for reprieve.
- Some devout Christians – [my] Mom for example – have deep love for atheists or agnostics in their lives ([my brother] Micah1, [my uncle] Dan). I’ll be focusing on Mom’s example here.
- If the Bible is correct, atheists will go to Hell for rejecting Jesus, and Christians will go to Heaven for accepting him.
- The Christians who love atheists will then be sad. All throughout Micah’s and my life, the shibboleth of Mom’s motherhood has been, “I love you guys SO MUCH. I don’t know what I would do without you.” She could never, ever be happy if she were in heaven and Micah were eternally separated from her and being tortured in Hell.
- It’s impossible to claim that Mom will go to Hell for loving an infidel, because according to the Bible, Jesus both loves all and is completely free of sin; loving an infidel is not a sin.
- Therefore, there are a few possibilities:
- Everyone goes to Heaven, because God forgives all offenses, even atheism.
- Everyone goes to Hell, because God doesn’t think anyone in the history of Earth has prostrated themselves well enough.
- There is no Heaven and no Hell, just our lives on Earth.
Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure this soundly indicates that we’re all in the same boat, and there’s no point whatsoever in trying to change it. Undoubtedly there’s some sort of apologetic argument against this. But it’s going to have to be pretty damn impressive before I recant this. I tried to come up with some myself. Perhaps when a Christian goes to Heaven they lose all their love for any atheists they know? Come on, that just reeks of nonsense. For one thing, it would entail God changing free will, which is pretty much the one and only thing he’s not supposed to be able to do. For another, it would mean that the Christian in Heaven wouldn’t be the same person as the Christian on Earth, but rather a gutted version, and aren’t we supposed to go to Heaven as we are? Perhaps the atheist-loving portion of the Christian goes to Hell, and all the rest gets into Heaven? That really stinks, and I imagine no one holds that theory, that it only exists as something I just made up. I doubt there’s even one passage in the Bible that suggests something that absurd. I found an answer from Thomas Aquinas. He says there are two types of pity, one that we feel with our earthly selves and one that we feel with our heavenly selves. In Heaven the first will disappear entirely, and the second kind will be unable to pity the damned because that would require that it want the damned to become saved. So, there will be no pity for the damned. What? So in Heaven, love for those who are damned will disappear as an inferior, earthly emotion? Then what about Jesus, who is said to love all? Surely he wouldn’t immediately stop loving Micah if Micah died and went to Hell. Jesus can’t be a fair-weather friend like that. This answer also sounds like the first one I made up: that something changes in a Christian when they go to Heaven from Earth, and they lose their love for people they love. It still entails God changing free will, or gutting it. If God suddenly took away Mom’s love for Micah and me while she was on Earth, she would not be the same person, not by any means. Her love for us is an essential part of her being. If she went to Heaven as a different person, it would be pointless, as pointless as if she went to Heaven only under the condition that she forget everything she knows about humans, or mathematics, or science. Heaven cannot be a place where there is no knowledge.
I’ll keep looking, but I doubt there’s any defensible answer to this boulder of logic. Of course, I’m willing to change my mind if there is. I have an open mind. I can’t stop thinking about stuff, and that’s what an open-minded person does. I thought too hard about the Christianity of Heaven and Hell, and I broke it. If there’s a good answer, let’s hear it. I’m completely open to anything. I’ll point out a problem with any answer, and acknowledge any and all problems in this post, in the idea of being completely fair. Let’s get to the bottom of this, if I haven’t already.
Micah has stated unequivocally that he doesn’t believe in God, as recently as a few days ago. ↩
File under: religion