10 Questions About Hell From an Atheist

Go ahead, sound off here with your answers.

When it comes to discussions about heaven and hell, I prefer Mark Twain’s quip: “Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company.” Since OnFaith has published a few pieces lately from evangelicals on their theologies of hell (see here and here), I figured I’d throw my 10 cents into the ring and ask: What the hell is going on?

There are probably as many ways to think about hell as there are believers in hell. And as an atheist, I think the right way to think about hell is also the right way to think about heaven — both are nonexistent.

All this afterlife theology raises a lot of questions. Here are just 10 of them I’ve wondered about:

1. Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding factor about who winds up in heaven or hell?

Whenever I’m asked what I’d do if I meet Jesus when I die, I say I would then have enough evidence to become a believer. Apparently, though, that would be too late. If a creator god exists, why would she create so many evidence-based humans if she wants us to make faith-based decisions?

2. Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?

If an Adolph Hitler repented on his deathbed for his role in the Holocaust and accepted Jesus, some say he would go to heaven. I think it would be more reasonable (though what’s reason got to do with it?) for a person to be judged on his or her lifetime actions rather than on an end-of-life belief.

3. If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in heaven?

If so, might we sin and go from heaven to hell? If not, will we be heavenly robots? If God can make us sinless in heaven, why didn’t he create us sinless on earth? So many ifs, so few answers.

4. What moral purpose does eternal torture serve?

We want to rehabilitate evildoers with the hope that they will learn from past mistakes. Even in capital punishment cases we try to execute as painlessly as possible. Why would a purportedly all good and compassionate God burn people for eternity?

5. What happens to people who died before Jesus was born — or didn’t hear of Jesus?

If they can still go to heaven, how does Jesus matter? If they are all condemned to hell, how is God merciful?

6. If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing infanticide?

Wouldn’t it be a blessing to baptize newborn babies and then kill them? Or perhaps encourage abortions, since presumably all fetuses go to heaven?

7. How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?

Our earthly binary divisions are usually quite arbitrary. People may vote when they are 18 and buy alcohol when they are 21, but they are not permitted to do so the day before. We recognize such rules for what they are — distinctions without a real difference. Not so when it comes to the cutoff between an eternity of bliss and an eternity of torture.

8. How could heaven be a happy place?

Can you be blissfully happy in heaven knowing that some of your loved ones are being tortured in hell? And what do you do for an eternity in heaven without getting bored? 

9. Why did God torture his son?

Couldn’t He come up with a less bloodthirsty way to allow us into heaven than by torturing and killing his innocent son to make up for an alleged Original Sin of an alleged first couple? We praise God for an action that we would incarcerate any human for perpetrating. God seems inhumane, but I suppose that’s because God isn’t human.

10. Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make it unambiguously clear how to get there?

Christians, let alone those of other faiths and none, disagree about what to believe or do. Faith? Good works? Some believe we were predestined for heaven or hell before birth, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to change it. Others say we are all given the gift of faith to accept Jesus as savior and thus go to heaven, but that some people refuse the gift. I didn’t refuse a gift I was never given. A gift is different from a belief in a gift.

*   *   *

I think these questions can best be answered by applying Occam’s Razor: in trying to understand something or search for truth, it’s best to get unnecessary information out of the way.

This is why I don’t believe the wishful thinking about eternal life found in ancient holy books. My wish is for believers and nonbelievers to focus on helping their fellow human beings and treating them with respect and compassion.

I believe that my afterlife will consist of the repercussions of any good works I have done that survive after my death. I expect my body parts will go neither to heaven nor hell, but to medical school. I will then feel much like I did before I was born, which was not the least unpleasant.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Herb Silverman
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  • RichardSRussell

    I think that the ideas of heaven and hell arose from the natural human desire to see poetic justice done — that the good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. And since that so manifestly does not happen here on Earth, human imagination kicks in and invents some nebulous future place where all accounts will be set straight and people will get what’s coming to them. It just seems more satisfying that way. But, as with everything else, wishing doesn’t make it so. Thinking, however ardently, that there should be such places as heaven and hell doesn’t bring them into existence.

    And, of course, there’s not a shred of evidence at all that any such places actually exist. Nobody’s ever come back from either place to write a travelog or show us their funny, touristy hats or post their selfies on their blogs. Even the people who most strongly contend that such places exist are all over the map when it comes to describing what they’re supposedly like — a dead giveaway that it’s all just made-up fairy tales.

    Our actual, physical, tangible real world would be a better place if its current inhabitants didn’t think of it as a temporary rest stop on the highway to their final destination but instead as the actual destination itself. Then maybe they’d take better care of the planet and each other while they’re alive. As Robert G. Ingersoll wrote, “The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.”

    • Ed Buckner

      Nice follow-up, RichardSRussell.

    • James West

      As the last quote says, I have often felt. This is paradise. This is heaven. We have a perfect world, with many imperfect ideas. If we could just celebrate where we are, we may eventually evolve as a race.

    • Mohammad Dana

      this is totally the reason i was once arguing with a religious person about after life and his reasoning was that “how could all this cruelty and crime go unpunished” or “how is it possible that a good person and bad person just die the same?”
      and then i didn’t bother anymore (i mean you can’t argue with that logic!)

      • Shahid zaidi

        for you should not be a problem, just visualize one small verse 37:107 “wa fidyaunu beyZibaheazeem”.
        All World know Muslims celebrate ‘Eid ul Azha’ Muslims and some non Muslims know the whole story.
        For sure sheep sacrificed, while Prophet Ishmael found alive by Prophet Abraham when he opened his eyes.
        In the desert of Karbala, Imam Hussein did not cover his eyes, while seeing his loved ones including his sons sacrificing themselves, though he understand that his own sacrifice is for the sake of Islam, THIS SACRIFICE IS MENTIONED IN HOLY QUR’AN 37:107, pity, Majority of persons Muslims or non Muslims try not to understand.

        • anamericanundernogods

          Imam Hussein and especially his father Imam Ali were the most savages of all. Imam Ali in one day beheaded 500 infidels. Today’s ISIS is nothing compared to what Imam Ali did to infidels.

          • Shahid zaidi

            How to comment? read my thread, written on faith few minutes ago.
            Pessimistic be avoided, Imam Ali (a.s.) has done so much, fact remains all his work is the best by any person in this World, only Prophet Muhammad (saww) known as ‘Blessing for the World s’ is above Ali (a.s.), rest Imams to follow, twelve in number patiently took work forward, 12th Imam living, all eleven Imams met martyrdom.

          • anamericanundernogods

            I agree with Shahid Zaidi that Imam Ali has done so much for
            Imam Ali was the Commander-in-Chief of Prophet Mohammad’s
            Both Imam Ali and Prophet Mohammad were instrumental in terrorizing
            and beheading of tens of thousands of infidels and waging wars in the
            neighboring countries.
            What ISIS is doing now is very little compared to what Imam Ali and Prophet Mohammad did to infidels.
            Both Imam Ali and Prophet Mohammad were womanizers and sex
            Prophet Mohammad had over 23 wives (the youngest was Ayesha,
            only 7 years old).
            When Prophet Mohammad died, he had eleven living wives.
            Imam Ali had seven wives and 34 children.

    • brewster101

      Not necessarily rewarding the good, but I think part of it either arose or at least found fertile ground among those who lost loved ones as well. Saying goodbye is immeasurably difficult, to have someone there and then they’re just not, is difficult for the mind to come to terms with. Even atheists can create a sort of private fantasy or delusion in the midst of such pain, leading to thoughts like the person is still with them in the form of something that reminds them of better time. I have personally caught myself entertaining a bit of private fantasy or delusion in a very difficult and depressing time, where I convinced myself that things weren’t as bad as they seemed, when they were pretty bad, almost to a point of denial. Hope very often involves a little bit of fabrication, an optimism that works only with a smidgeon of fabrication and/or denial.

      • Varick Thompson

        Sometimes that’s all we have to hold on to. Temporary self-delusion can serve as a buffer, to keep us moving forward (whatever our personal destinations). I would venture to say that it bears some similarity to the power of ritual, which Anton LaVey understood, and utilized in crafting the Satanic guidelines (not to be confused with devil worship).

    • Shahid zaidi

      Your thinking is short of Faith, else acceptable.
      Sir, kindly give some time to understand different Faith, surely, you will land up with correct Faith.
      Sincerity is the key to success.

      • RichardSRussell

        Believe me, I am 100% totally, honestly sincere when I say that faith is the all-time, gold-medal, blue-ribbon, world-heavyweight, undisputed, worst method EVER of arriving at conclusions.

      • Julian Lewis

        Faith is just lazy thinking. It’s poison to the rational mind. In the name of faith isil behave like animals, they are full of hate and cruelty. Keep you disgusting perversion to your self. I for one know that I have one life here and now. So treat others with this in mind, compassion and love.

  • Ed Buckner

    Seems to me that my friend Herb Silverman doesn’t accept New Testament Christianity–and all, apparently, because it makes no sense at all, even on its own terms. Well written (skewered), Dr. S.

  • Will Moredock

    All questions I have been asking for decades. And these are pretty much the same answers I have come up with on my own. Good to have Herb Silverman confirm my suspicions.

  • Phil Torres

    Excellent post. It hits upon a number of important points, and with great accessibility! Perhaps, though, God isn’t all-good, but evil or morally indifferent. This would answer, at least to some extent, some of the questions posed above. It seems to me that an ethically apathetic God is far more probable (but maybe still quite improbable) than an omnibenevolent Being.

    • Herb Silverman

      You bring up the important theodicy question about why an all-powerful and all-good God would permit evil and condemn people to eternal punishment. My questions are mostly for believers whose justifications I would like to hear. Those who believe in apathetic gods don’t usually believe in a god who judges whether to put dead humans in heaven or hell.

      • bakabomb

        But both the question and your response address the alleged nature of the Divine, not the question of an afterlife. Your questions need not necessarily be addressed in terms of the divine nature.

        In fact, I’ll go further and propose that the existence (or not) of an afterlife is in no way contingent on the existence (or not) of a divinity. These two questions are almost invariably conflated, and I can understand why those who believe in a deity fall prey to this, but to an atheist or agnostic these are surely entirely separate questions.

  • PhilAtheist

    All these are great questions that I have asked myself. Here is one more and is somewhat related to #4: How can a God justify infinite punishment (eternal torture) for any necessarily finite sin occurring during one’s life?

    • Herb Silverman

      The general religious view seems to be that humans have to justify themselves to God, but God doesn’t have to justify himself to anyone. That seems to be how it works with all dictators, earthly or heavenly.

  • Barry Goldberg

    I’ve heard many apologists claim that, since we are all sinners by nature, the demands of justice require us to suffer eternal torment as punishment for our sins. In other words, God doesn’t send us to Hell — we send ourselves there by sinning. What God does is provide us away to escape this just punishment through the sacrifice made by his son, and it’s entirely our choice whether to accept that sacrificial redemption or not.

    Except… If God is all-powerful and created the universe and all of its laws, isn’t he the one who defined what the demands of justice require in the first place? Isn’t he the one who decided that the punishment for any sort of sin whatsoever should be eternal torture? If we need to accept Jesus into our hearts to avoid eternal damnation, isn’t that only because God set things up that way?

    Imagine a country ruled by an absolute dictator who has decided that any and all crimes should be punished by death, even minor ones like forgetting to cover your mouth when you sneeze. Would any sane person really say that people *choose* to be put to death when they don’t cover their mouth during a sneeze? Or would they instead call out the dictator and his regime for the evil institution it is? And would it matter one whit if the dictator provided a loophole to avoid the death penalty if that loophole was only made known to a small subset of the population and described in contradictory ways with no way to verify whether the loophole really came from the Dictator in the first place?

    Bottom line, any supreme being who sets up a system whereby the majority of his creation will end up suffering for eternity is the very definition of evil. Fortunately for all of us, he’s only a myth in the first place.

    • Herb Silverman

      In some ways, the situation is even worse than with your hypothetical dictator who puts people to death for not covering their mouth when they sneeze. People at least have the choice to cover or not cover. However, many of us have no choice on whether to believe the unbelievable.

      • Barry Goldberg

        True, very true.

        As an aside, what do you think the chances are of fellow “non-religious Jew” Bernie Sanders actually getting elected president? I have followed your saga with interest for years and understand how hard it would be, but I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, the American public just possibly might be willing to vote for somebody based on the actual issues and not whether he claims allegiance to one imaginary sky god or another.

        • Herb Silverman

          I agree with you that Bernie Sanders is undoubtedly not religious, but he hasn’t come out as an atheist. If he believes in a god, he would probably be the only socialist Jew in America who does. Note that Barney Frank only came out as a Jewish atheist after he retired from public office.

          • SecularHumanist199

            I have to agree that it seems highly unlikely that someone with Bernie’s record and intellect is religiously Jewish. As another “secular” Jew, I have my doubts as to whether Bernie could get enough votes to win the presidency, even if the majority think he is religiously Jewish. I will vote for him anyway, but I just hope that if he wins the nomination there are enough people fed up with the republican clown car that he could still win.

          • Varick Thompson

            Bernie has always relied on real grassroots campaigning. The way I see it, all that needs to happen is for enough people to know about him, his real stances on issues that affect the majority of Americans, and we’ll see Bernie in office. I inform everybody I know about all the positive, potentially revolutionary things Bernie has planned for this country.

    • bakabomb

      Aren’t you committing the sin of assuming that this dictatorial deity you describe is the only one that can exist, and because the notion of such a deity is both illogical and intolerable (no dispute from me on that count), he’s only a myth in the first place? Kind of a strawGod argument, wouldn’t you think?

      • Barry Goldberg

        No, of course not. We are discussing Hell here, so I’m only assuming that this dictatorial entity is the sort of entity that would create such a place and consign sinners to it. In other words, the God of the Christian Bible (not to be confused with the Jewish Bible, which doesn’t really talk about Hell at all).

        A different sort of God who didn’t create Hell and didn’t set up a system whereby the vast majority of his children would end up there for all eternity would certainly not be anything like the evil dictator I described. It also wouldn’t be anything like the God of the Christian Bible, but it could be the God of some other religions (or the God worshiped by some Christians who pick and choose the parts of the Bible they want to believe in, I suppose).

        And no, the fact that a God such as the one described in the Christian Bible is both illogical and intolerable is not, in and of itself, reason to assert that He doesn’t exist. It does, however, make me question the motivations and morality of those who claim to believe in such a being.

        • bakabomb

          Well, you have me pegged indeed as one of those cafeteria Christians who “pick and choose”. Educated people would call someone who gobbles everything on the buffet table a “gourmand” rather than “gourmet” (others would simply call him a glutton), so I find no shame in picking and choosing. It’s far better than going hungry — or stuffing myself to bursting with food that roils my gut.

          To claim that I, or anyone, must choose all or nothing is to offer a false dichotomy. Not gonna buy it.

          In that respect I take after Thomas Jefferson, who famously elided almost everything but Jesus’ “red-letter” words from his personal edition of the Bible. I’ll defend those words until my dying day. Nor have I any problem defending my personal motivations and — of all things! — morality against all comers.

          • Barry Goldberg

            Well, I don’t claim to be a history expert and may very well be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that Jefferson did not self-identify as a Christian (more of a Deist, if I remember correctly). And when he edited his copy of the Bible, it included removing any reference to miracles or the divinity of Jesus. Which is to say that Jefferson appreciated some of the teachings ascribed to Jesus, but that doesn’t mean he believed in the saving grace of Jesus, the resurrection, etc.

            I agree that Jesus reportedly said some very nice things that are worth following. “Love they neighbor as thyself,” for example. “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven,” for another. All the stuff about “when you do it to the least of these you do it to me,” etc. But Jesus certainly wasn’t the first to ever say these sort of things and you don’t have to be a “Christian” in order to follow those teachings.

            So, sure. If you want to call yourself a “Christian” because you follow some of Jesus’s teachings even though, like Jefferson, you don’t actually believe in the divinity or saving grace of Jesus, then that’s fine by me. But if so, I still have trouble understanding where your notions regarding heaven and hell come from, unless they are just things you have made up to give yourself comfort. Nothing wrong with making stuff up to give yourself comfort, I suppose, but you should at least be honest about it.

    • SecularHumanist199

      This whole concept that “we are all sinners” is just one more of the starting points of Christianity that seems nonsensical to me. If we were created by god, why did he make us so flawed if he is perfect? Ignoring that, he set up the “test” in the garden that led to “original sin.” He must have known that we would fail that test, since he knows everything. What the hell is so bad about eating a particular fruit anyway? Any entity that would threaten people with eternal torture because they ate something that he put here and told them not to eat really is a sociopath. Then again, anybody who needs the fear of eternal damnation in hell to prevent them from killing people or doing any of the other things prohibited by the big book of myths is a sociopath.
      Fortunately, as you have said, it’s all a myth designed to scare primitive people to keep them in line.

      • towhomitmayconcern

        What makes god sociopath to me is that god set two innocents, they had no knowledge of good and evil….they barely had “awareness” at all since they didn’t know they were naked, where they’d be vulnerable to the angel who had enough balls to betray god. For example, a child’s curiosity of what that red thing is on the stove will override the command of said child’s parent due to being innocent. They have no conception as to why that thing looks the way it does so, like most living things, they want to touch it and see what it is. They have no conception of “right and wrong” danger or saftey. They would have no cognizance of doing what they are told out of the greater good and just that something different is there and they want to know what it is. Adam and “eve” (she’s named after the fall) aren’t any different. if any thing, they are worse off because a parent would keep innocent children from malefactors such as a manipulating evil spirit. God set Adam and Eve loose in the garden without so much as a warning about a manipulating evil spirit. Just a direct command to two innocents without knowledge of “right or wrong.” How are they supposed to understand obedience if they don’t know about obedience?

        Worse still, once they were manipulated, god’s main concern was that adam and eve was just like himself. Worser still, god lied to adam and eve as they didn’t die. Just understood the world around them. When this is considered, it seems god’s goal was to punish humanity so harshly because he was scared humanity would try and usurp his position similarly to how lucifer did. So was paradise really a paradise or just a comfortable prison?

        to sum, god laid things out to fit himself instead of adam and eve.
        he set two innocents loose in a situation he knew they’d be corrupted
        he purposefully let them stay dumb likely due to keeping them under his control
        then, once adam and eve “sinned” god curses them in such away to prevent them from ever achieving their potential.

        all that together screams narcissism and sociopathy.

      • Varick Thompson

        My understanding was that the test was designed to be failed. This God character gave two commands, one relating to the tree, and the other impossible without having tasted its fruit.

        And, of course, God created Lucifer exactly to do the things he did. By my reckoning, if there’s a heaven, you’ll definitely find Satan there. For some reason, irritates people when I share this. :p

    • Hala

      What if you are wrong?

      • Barry Goldberg

        What if you’re wrong? What if there really is a Hell, but it’s for people who don’t follow Islam? Or for people who aren’t Buddhists? Or for people who aren’t baptized in the Catholic church? Or who aren’t Mormon? What, should we follow the precepts of every possible nonsense religion in the world just in case one of them happens the be the “right” one? Or what if this whole “Hell” concept is just a test to weed out the gullible and reward those who use the brains God gave them to make logical choices?

        What if, huh? WHAT IF???

  • bakabomb

    I always enjoy your work; this piece, too, although you end up taking liberties with the theme of “heaven and hell” by speaking of the afterlife in general — as if all questions of the afterlife must resolve themselves into “heaven and hell”. You know well that this dichotomy is only one concept of the afterlife, and by focusing on just this particular concept you give short shrift to the broader question.

    I call myself Christian, though I freely acknowledge my unorthodoxy. And I do — apparently unlike you — believe in an afterlife; one that holds the answers to all the problems you posit above. Let’s dispense with these from easiest to most interesting, using your numbers to identify them.

    1, 2 & 10: We’re judged in the afterlife much as we are in this life: by our lifetime’s worth of actions. (I avoid the term “works” in these discussions because in the Bible, “works” is generally shorthand for “works of the law”, i.e., how diligently we comply with Mosaic laws. Some of those laws are applicable to all times and humans, while others are woefully dated and parochial.) Faith exists to give us hope when in difficult, trying circumstances and to keep us steadfast in the belief that this life isn’t all there is — that we are meant for more than these short, brutish physical lives.

    5. Since “heaven and hell” don’t exist as customarily defined, there’s no cosmic triage as such. Therefore the question of a triage based on a particular specific moment in human history isn’t germane. The afterlife experience is essentially the same for all humans, no matter whether we’re speaking of lives lived before or after Jesus’ sojourn on Earth.

    6. This question is rhetorically amusing, but the obvious answer is “no”. And the reason has to do with our purpose here in Schoolhouse Earth. Infanticide is akin to keeping your child out of school — a self-defeating tactic, since that deprives them of a golden opportunity to learn and grow. (I look at abortion slightly differently, since there the root question has to do with when the soul enters the physical body.)

    4 & 7. The concept of “an eternity of bliss vs. an eternity of torture” is a misapprehension, and therefore your point about our predilection for arbitrary binary divisions is well taken. There is no “arbitrary cutoff”, hence the question is unnecessary. I always liked the succinct aphorism, “We are punished not for our sins — but by them.”

    We certainly don’t escape the consequences of our actions, but those consequences don’t involve horrible tortures, nor do they endure throughout eternity. Clearly it would be unjust if “settling the score” involved unbearable tortures, since most of us commit mostly relatively petty “sins”. And given the insignificant brevity of our earthly existences when measured against the unfathomable breadth of eternity, an eternity of punishment would be equally unjust.

    9. According to the Trinitarian doctrine, asking why “God tortured his son” misses the point because it creates an arbitrary distinction between triune persons of the Trinity. It would be more accurate to say that the Divine allowed the Divine’s own self to be subject to the same indignities and sufferings that we humans experience in our own lifetimes. Orthodox theology states that this was so that we could realize that each of us can choose to live in a way that allows us to transcend those indignities and sufferings similarly to Jesus. I’m not a huge fan of the nitty-gritty of Trinitarian theology, but that piece makes excellent sense.

    3. Yes, free will exists in the afterlife. It’s an intrinsic part of human nature, or “the human spirit” if you will. But since the afterlife isn’t a binary existence, being “cast from heaven into hell” as a result of our postmortem exercise of free will is a scenario that cannot occur. And let’s get away from these terms “sinful” and “sinless” while we’re on the subject. Let’s stick to “wrong action” and “right action” as the Buddhists do. The potential for “wrong” choices does exist in the afterlife, but it’s much lower because “now, we see dimly as in a mirror, but then face to face”. The consequences of mistakes are much more evident because we’ve gained superior understanding; also, we aren’t beset by earthly temptations and baser emotions, so we aren’t overcome by them against our better judgment.

    8. A two-parter. Since our loved ones aren’t being tortured eternally in Hell, that possibility doesn’t gnaw at us and prevent our being happy. And what do you do for an eternity in Heaven without getting bored? Well, not sit around on clouds and strum harps, that’s for sure. It’s more like the most incredible post-graduate school that can be imagined. Living — both here and hereafter — is about learning and growing, and that’s an endless process. One that’s endlessly satisfying and gratifying, and never, ever boring.

    • Herb Silverman

      You are correct that there are beliefs in an afterlife that don’t involve heaven and hell, like reincarnation for example. However, this piece is about those who believe in a god who sends people to heaven or hell. Note the two links from OnFaith I provide in my first paragraph. I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, but yours sounds more reasonable than the traditional ones.

    • Barry Goldberg

      I would agree with Herb that your particular view of an afterlife definitely sounds much more reasonable and comforting that traditional ones. My only problem with it is that, nice as it sounds, it doesn’t seem to match with what is actually in the Bible (generally regarded as the sole source of Christian doctrine unless you belong to a denomination that has ongoing revelation such as the Catholics or Later-day Saints). If you believe in Christ and call yourself a Christian because of what is described in the Bible, what justification is there for ignoring what the Bible says about Hell (lake of fire, etc.) and coming up with your own version?

      I have a lot of very liberal Christian friends who accept Christ as their savior but who don’t believe in Hell (or even Satan, for that matter). They are very pleasant people and I think the world would be a better place if there were more people like them who took Christianity to essentially mean that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, period. But I always wonder why they need to keep a belief in Christ if they are going to discard the rest of the Bible. Why not simply discard Christ and choose to treat people nicely because it’s a good thing to do? Is it simply because of the comfort and solace that a belief in an afterlife grants them? Is it all just wishful thinking?

      • bakabomb

        Why not simply discard Christ? Because Christ is the heart of Christianity. I’ve never bought into the all-or-nothing mandate of fundamentalism. I’m well aware that the Bible was written by fallible humans and am quite prepared to jettison the surplusage. But I’m disinclined to throw out the Holy Babe with the baptismal-font bathwater.

        • Barry Goldberg

          Well, as I said in an earlier post, it sounds like you, like Thomas Jefferson, are a “Christian” in the sense that you choose to follow Christ’s teachings, which is certainly admirable, even though you don’t actually believe that Jesus was divine, that he performed miracles, that he died for our sins, that he was resurrected, and that he is the only way to eternal salvation. So when I talked about “discarding Christ” I didn’t mean to discard his teachings — just discarding all the supernatural mumbo-jumbo that surrounds those teachings.

          On the other hand, if you want to claim that much of the Bible was written by fallible humans and contains a lot of “surplusage” while still claiming to believe all the superstitious stuff in addition to the teachings, I have to ask how you decide which parts are “true” and which parts are “surplus”? Is it just what you personally feel good about or what gives you comfort? Do you only discard things as surplus when science provides an alternate explanation (or proves them to be false)? Why not simply accept that Jesus said some great things about how we should treat each other and discard everything else?

          • Herb Silverman

            I can see following certain teachings in the New Testament, but it’s difficult to say whether they are the teachings of Jesus or what the gospel writers who never met Jesus claimed that Jesus said.

          • Barry Goldberg

            Well, sure. It’s like claiming to follow the Socratic method, even though we don’t know for sure whether Socrates actually existed or whether Plato just made up all the things he attributed to Socrates. My point is that it should be possible to call oneself a “Christian” because one follows what are purported to be Christ’s teachings, regardless of whether one believes in his divinity or in the existence of Heaven and Hell.

  • Ryan M.

    Apologies in advance for the tl;dr, but I’m going to attempt a response to all 10 points, which is necessarily somewhat lengthy.

    1) Let’s not falsely contrast faith and evidence here; “faith” does not mean only “blind faith”, it can also mean a well-founded expectation for the future given the evidence of the past. A major theme in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, was remembrance of what God had done in the past as the basis for their trust in him for the future; both Christianity and traditional Judaism are heavily based upon events they claim to be historical. If Jesus of Nazareth was truly raised from the dead, then it stands to reason that the God he claimed to believe in most probably exists. Your argument is more about the nature and quantity of the evidence than being asked to ignore evidence completely.

    2) Christianity’s defining characteristic is that we all deserve the worst possible outcome based on our works, but that the option is there for you to get something other than what you deserve. Repenting doesn’t suddenly make you deserve better, it just involves accepting the offer of the alternative. It doesn’t matter when you accept it, you still don’t deserve what you’re getting, so it doesn’t matter whether you accept it 30 years before death or 30 seconds.

    3) We will have free will, but we’ll being using it to submit. Free will includes the possibility of choosing to surrender certain aspects of your desires; those who are in Heaven will have exercised their choice to no longer want to choose sin.

    4) While Hell-as-eternal-torture is not the only Christian conception of final punishment that has ever existed (anihilationism may be more to your liking), it is certainly the most ubiquitous one. As for whether it serves a moral purpose, Hell is arguably giving those who end up there an eternity of exactly what they’ve asked for. If everything good has its basis in God, and those who go to Hell are those who’ve chosen a path apart from God, then to experience an existence completely devoid of God would be torturous. The torture is not imposed, it’s a consequence that follows directly from choosing to be apart from God.

    5) If everyone deserves, on the basis of their actions, to receive the ultimate penalty, then this question is more aptly, “Why does anyone at any point in history get a chance to get anything else at all?” That being said, there are some schools of thought that those who never heard about Jesus will be judged on the basis of their response to their conscience and similar sorts of ideas, but the former tends to be the orthodox school of thought. If you start from the perspective that everyone is born a morally neutral, clean slate, then you tend to understand people’s lives as earning their way up or down into their respective destinations. If you start from the perspective that people are born in a state that will lead them to live lives that overwhelmingly sinful lives, then it’s the exceptions that are saved from the consequences of those choices that become the thing worth of surprise.

    6) While there are some voices in Christianity that make that sound awfully like it should be the case, given their extreme focus on that which is eternal, that’s not the Biblical narrative. Late in the first chapter of Philippians, Paul has that dialogue with himself, concluding that, while to die is good because it means being with Christ, it’s better to live in service of others than to rush to death for his own benefit. It’s selfishly better to die, but selflessly Christianity sees the best outcome as living so that we can bless others with our life. Christianity shouldn’t be a death cult, although Western Evangelicalism does make it sound that way at times.

    7) None whatsoever, but that’s true of the best person in Heaven (Jesus Christ excluded) and the worst person in Hell. We all deserve Hell, it’s just a matter of some of us getting to Heaven because of mercy, getting what we don’t deserve.

    8) Christianity places God as the highest goal of human existence; anything else can be sacrificed if it means drawing closer to him. I don’t know whether there will be a bittersweet tinge to Heaven for those whose loved ones did not make the choice to be there too; maybe there will be a longing for them to have made that choice. There is, however, a reason why much of the language of Christianity is about the Church being a family; for many early Christians, simply choosing to be a Christian meant accepting complete rejection from their own familes, and the Church was their new family in Christ. No Christian will be without family in Heaven, although they may wish that people they knew in this life could have joined them there as part of that family.

    9) If it is right for sin to experience the consequences of absence from God as it’s punishment, as would be expected from a God whose character includes justice, then it was not a matter of whether those consequences would be experienced, it was a matter of who would experience them. The doctrine of the Trinity involves the second person of God himself choosing to bear those consequences, thus allowing mercy to be given to those who sinned without violating the necessity of justice directed towards those sins.

    10) People are remarkably good at distorting messages; if someone is motivated to twist a message in a particular way, it doesn’t matter so much what the original message was as how long it takes them to twist it out of context to say something completely different from where it started. God made clear what was actually required to be saved; any lack of clarity from that point onward is due to the effects of people getting their hands on that message.

    • Herb Silverman

      Thanks for caring enough to write such a lengthy comment. Please let me know if I accurately summarize your views, after which I will ask you a question.

      A loving and omniscient God created the universe and viewed humans as his crowning achievement. But God created humans knowing they would all become miserable sinners (except for his son Jesus) and deserving of an eternal Hell,
      which he also created. Fairly recently in human history, God figured out a way to spare a small minority from Hell (by torturing his son and requiring people to believe this story). God is responsible for the Bible, which is so ambiguous
      that there are over 40,000 different Christian sects alone and countless holy wars about the best interpretation. Most humans don’t believe the story because they don’t find sufficient evidence. Should we find evidence to believe when we
      die, it will be too late to change our minds. Once in Hell, always in Hell.

      Here’s my question for you: If you picked the wrong holy book, would you deserve to go to Hell because you didn’t believe in Allah, Zeus, Krishna, or the many other gods that people believe in?

      • Syed Iftekharuddin

        my understanding of islam is that anyone muslims, christian,jews, etc believe in god and DO GOOD DEED go to heaven

        • Herb Silverman

          If your understanding is correct, then Muslims would say that there is no need to be a Muslim

          • Syed Iftekharuddin

            but muslims dont say that

            quran 5:69

            who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures),
            and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the
            Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall
            they grieve”.

      • Ryan M.

        In a certain sense, your summary is accurate, although your choice of tone reflects your own position as being rather antagonistic towards the view that you are summarising. If I were to reword the summary, it would end up as something more like:
        “A loving and omniscient God created the universe and viewed humans as his crowning achievement. But God created humans with the option of choosing him or rejecting him, knowing that the first humans would reject him and their offspring would follow in their footsteps. This would result in them deserving isolation from his goodness, an isolation that would determine their eternal state (whether that be anihilation or eternal suffering in a place he would create). While he knew from the beginning how he would save (the protoevangelion in Genesis 3 alludes to this), God fairly recently made it clear in history how he would save (by his Son experiencing the consequences of sin so that sinners don’t have to, and requiring people to believe that this took place). God is responsible for the Bible which, like any document of similar length and with a similar number of cultural contexts, authors and genres can be twisted by anyone who sets out to do so, and which people have fought holy wars over (even though Christians are never told by the Bible to fight holy wars over their beliefs; see previous point about people doing what they want). Most humans don’t believe the story because they don’t find sufficient evidence within their epistemological framework. Should they find evidence to believe after dying, it will indeed be too late.”

        As for your question, it would depend on the religion. Some interpretations of Islam, such as that of Mr Iftekharuddin, would suggest that my earnest desire to serve the God of Abraham may result in my salvation despite my distorted view of him and how he works. Other interpretations would find me guilty of rebellion against God, in which case I would very much be guilty. The Greco-Roman pantheon was always pretty willing to allow other religions, because they just assumed you were worshipping the same God by a different name. Zeus may, therefore, equate service to the God of Abraham as service to him, in which case perhaps I have been spending my life trying to do good works in the name of Zeus. If such service was not recognised, however, then I probably would be worthy of punishment. If it turned out that the Norse were correct, I’d absolutely be worthy of condemnation because I’m a pathetic whimp who isn’t out on the battlefield dying a glorious death to earn my way into Valhalla. I’m not going to use my own framework to decide whether I’m worthy within the framework of another religion; some religions would hold me condemned, others would not. Either way, if I’m wrong about what I believe, then I deserve whatever fate would be ascribed to me by the belief system that is correct. I believe, on the basis of evidence, that Christianity is more likely to be correct than its alternatives, but I could be wrong; I haven’t blindly remained within the faith I grew up in (after almost walking away from Christianity completely, I instead instead found myself within a different denomination), but I do recognise that cultural conditioning can be powerful, and maybe my reading of the evidence is distorted. If God exists, or if some combination of gods exist, then I am at his/their mercy; I am guilty if they/he say/s I am guilty, and innocent if they/he proclaim/s me so.

        • Herb Silverman

          Even with your rewritten version I’m bothered that correct belief in a god is more important than good behavior. Since your God had a choice to create humans any way he wished, doesn’t it seem odd to you that he chose to create the kind of humans who would reject him because he didn’t make his wishes clear enough?

          • Ryan M.

            The thing is, I lack the perspective to be able to say what other types of humans could have been created, and what the outcomes would have been for those types of humans. I find it to be a reasonable explanation that God wanted whoever he created to have free will, and thus it would always have to have been possible for his creation to rebel against him. Perhaps it was inevitable that somebody would eventually have rebelled if it were made possible for them to do so; perhaps there was a reason that made it better for that to be the first couple than someone else down the line. Part of me wishes that Genesis was a theological treatise put together by God explaining the entire reasoning behind why he made the decisions he did when it came to creation, but alas, he did not see fit to do so. For me, that’s not a make or break thing because I lack the information to conceive of all possible alternatives and the outcomes that would derive from them; if I had to have that level of information to believe something, I could never believe anything.

            As for the issue of belief trumping behaviour, the difference in perspective is the baseline status of humanity. If we’re looking at a relative spectrum of humanity, and trying to find the line in the middle of the spectrum where the people above deserve a positive eternal outcome and the people below it deserve a negative outcome, then your objection is more reasonable, because belief wouldn’t be the primary factor that determiend where a particular person is on that spectrum. On the other hand, if there is a more “objective” reference point that isn’t based on the spectrum but is set independently, then it’s more than possible that every person would belong on one side of that line. One of Christianity’s distinctive features that sets it apart from almost every other religion is that you don’t earn your way to a good outcome, because everyone has earned their way to the bad one. God mercifully offers us the option of getting what we don’t deserve, but we still don’t deserve it even after we accept it; we have it without deserving it. Belief is important not because it is simply a heavily weighted factor in determining where you belong on the spectrum from good to bad, it’s important because it’s the acceptance of the offer to not be judged on the basis of your position on the spectrum from good to bad in the first place.

        • Breath of Fresh Science

          What a twisted, demented God you have.

          “God created humans with the option of choosing him or rejecting him,
          knowing that the first humans would reject him and their offspring would
          follow in their footsteps. This would result in them deserving
          isolation from his goodness, an isolation that would determine their
          eternal state .”

          He created humans with the option of choosing Him, but for tens of thousands of years He wouldn’t tell them how they could choose Him and his divine grace. Without a choice, they had to reject Him and suffer His eternal punishment.

          • Ryan M.

            God didn’t wait tens of thousands of years to tell people how they could choose him. A literal reading of Genesis makes it clear that God revealed himself to Adam and Eve, and even after the Fall the sacrifices of Cain and Abel indicate that they had some idea that God was present and to be worshipped. A metaphorically reading of the same stories depends heavily on which metaphorical interpretation is applied, but such interpretations generally focus on drawing out the theological value of the stories, which would include God’s communication, God’s presence and human worship happening even from the very beginning of humankind. From the start, people knew enough to turn to God and woship him. They may not have understood that the mode by which they would eventually be saved was the salvific work of Christ on the Cross, but they accepted the need for God’s mercy, in whatever form that might eventually come. God’s revelation to Abraham and the line of Israel began to shed more light on exactly what God’s work of salvation would look like; in Christ, the full revelation was given. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t available before Christ, however; the mercy has always been available, and God provided enough information from the beginning for people to receive it.

  • http://mindprod.com roedygreen

    Faith demands that we disregard:
    a) absence of expected evidence
    b) presence of conflicting evidence
    How do we detect lies?
    a) absence of expected evidence
    b) presence of conflicting evidence

    ~ TheraminTrees

    The point of faith is to facilitate telling lies.
    Why no torture till after you die? So the con men don’t actually need to torture anyone and face civil prosecution
    Christianity is primarily a protection racket. If you hand over 10% of your income they
    promise not to torture you for eternity.

    Eternal torture after a death is a rather silly bluff, but if it were genuine it would be worse that anything the Mafia threatens.

  • wil9000

    I think the bible should be renamed: The Big Book of Bronze Age Teachings by Vague, Contradictory Metaphors and Confusing Stories.

    • bdlaacmm

      The Bronze age lasted from about 3300 B.C. to (at the latest) 1200 B.C. The various books of The Bible were written between about 700 B.C. and A.D. 100.

      In the future, try to actually know what you’re talking about before posting.

      • wil9000

        Iron age, then?

      • SecularHumanist199

        OK, the change it to “The Big Book of Primitive Teachings by Vague, Contradictory Metaphors and Confusing Stories.” Do you like that one any better? It still sounds like an apt description to me.

  • bdlaacmm

    1. It’s not.
    2. It’s the the time span itself, but the state of your soul.
    3. Yes.
    4. Read your Dante. hell has no purpose. That’s one of the most terrible things about hell – no purpose.
    5. Are you genuinely worried about them, or is this just an excuse to not look within yourself?
    6. No.
    7. Meaningless question, on the order of “How much does red weigh?”
    8. Eternity is not “endless time”. Read your Aquinas.
    9. He didn’t – we did.
    10. He has.

    • Herb Silverman

      Regarding 10, if God made it unambiguously clear, why do so many Bible believers have such different and contradictory views about heaven and how to get there? How do you know your answers are right and all the others are wrong?

      • bdlaacmm

        “How do you know your answers are right?”

        I never said mine were.

        • Ed Buckner

          That scans as, pretty much, “our way or the highway; no questions welcomed if even allowed.” You “know” that the leader(s) of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church are right–and you know this because… well, because…. Wait, you’ll think of something.

          • bdlaacmm

            “You “know” that the leader(s) of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church are right–and you know this because … well, because…. Wait, you’ll think of something.”

            No need to wait. We have perfect confidence in the Church’s teachings because God Himself promised us that we could trust them.

            “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (perfect conformity between Church teaching and Heavenly Truth))

            “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” (i.e., the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth)

            “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (the Church is the guarantor, the defender of the truth)

          • Ed Buckner

            I assume you realize, bdlaacm, that your answer is entirely circular and–to someone not accepting your assumptions–nonsensical? You “know” which church or religion or leader or sacred book to trust because that leader or church or religion or book says it is. I know you’re declaring your faith, affirming your beliefs–but you’re not defending them meaningfully unless the reader already agrees with you.

          • bdlaacmm

            “but you’re not defending them meaningfully unless the reader already agrees with you”

            So what? That sounds like your problem, not mine.

          • Ed Buckner

            Of course it’s not your problem, nor that of anyone else content to chase their tales in circular arguments. But if you–or they–have any interest to changing minds or “saving” souls, then it’s your problem.

          • bdlaacmm

            I doubt if anyone’s ever been “saved” over the internet – that’s not the purpose of such discussions. Rather, the aim is to state your position. Arguing about it is futile, other than to rebut misconceptions.

          • Varick Thompson

            Except, in this information age in which we live, people do come to the internet seeking answers. If the conversation is not thorough, how can the seeker possibly reach reasonable conclusions?

          • Herb Silverman

            One advantage of the internet is that seekers can hear many different and contradictory views, and then decide what makes more sense. I think the internet is responsible for the growing group of “nones,” those without religious beliefs.

      • Hala

        We cannot know everything just accept the mystery. Have faith and know our souls are immortal .

        • Herb Silverman

          If we can’t accept everything, and I don’t, how do we know our souls are immortal? Or even that we have souls?

          • Hala

            I don t know if you were brought up in a faith. If not you need to talk to a priest or assuming you are Jewish, a rabbi. There are many different religious faiths but only one G od.

          • Herb Silverman

            I had an Orthodox Jewish background. I spent years talking to rabbis who could not adequately answer my questions, including who created God. I talked to other religious leaders, too, who could not answer my questions. That’s what led me to becoming an atheist.

          • Shahid zaidi

            My sincere advise ‘Never Give In’ means keep on trying, anyway when you write of becoming an atheist, the first few words (WORDS OF ALLAH) you accept, THEIR IS NO GOD (ALLAH).
            My prayers and best wishes with you so that you understand the rest.

          • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

            I have a suggestion, Shahid: Try “Never give in” with a completely different god (for instance, Athena or Allfather Oðinn). Try it for a week or two, then report back and let us know of your experiences.

          • Shahid zaidi

            I thank you, same I tell you “Never give in” research, study, listen to them who knows for your own benefit, sure you will get to the ‘ONE & ONLY ONE CREATOR’, you may name differently but fact remains shall be ‘SELF COME’, if you add or follow some creation whether ‘actual’ or ‘imaginary’ you be held for doing SHIRK. From my childhood our motto in school being “Never give in”, I am ex student of Lawrence College

          • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

            My research and study have led Me in the exact opposite direction: I see no evidence at all for your alleged god. If it wants Me to believe in it, it will have to contact Me in person. I see all scriptures as inauthentic and of 100% human origin, and I see the natural universe as just that — Natural in origin, with no gods required.

            If one had to have a religion, though, I see polytheism as much healthier for society than monotheism. Monotheism concentrates far too much power in the hands of the religious establishment, whereas polytheism balances it out a bit more successfully. Polytheistic religions (for example, Ásatrú, the modernized beliefs of My own ancestors) also have much more entertaining stories.

  • duns 1308

    Hope you don’t mind the detail:

    Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding factor
    about who winds up in heaven or hell?

    Evidence (can I presume scientific method) based approaches are either
    foundationalist, coherantist or circular (Agrippa’s Trilemma).
    Likewise, Christian approaches are either foundationalist,
    coherantist or circular.

    Epistemically, you can only condemn the latter if you endorse the former. But even
    endorsing a theory of knowledge, or an approach to a world takes some
    faith, an epistemology-ex-nihilo.

    To suggest that an evidence-based approach is somehow privileged is
    talking from a position of faith, either in a foundationalist,
    coherantist or circular endorsement. At least creationists have the
    decency (dare I say, erudition) to admit that.

    I would think faith plays the deciding factor in pretty much everything
    we think or believe, no matter how “commonsensical” or “obvious”
    certain of our dear beliefs are.

    Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?

    Consider this:

    A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The
    emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offence
    twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,”
    the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your
    son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,”
    the woman cried, “It would not be mercy if he deserved it, and
    mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor
    said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.

    I suppose if you don’t want to consider God merciful, perhaps you could
    consider Islam? Either way, it does nothing to answer the existential
    question of God to talk about him being good or bad or curious.
    Questions of God’s queerness come later.

    If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in heaven?

    Good question. This depends on your position on free will being either a
    “principle of origination” or a “principle of alternative
    possibilities approach”. In short, if you maintain that freedom of
    origination constitutes free will (see for example a person behind a
    locked door who freely chooses to remain in the room) then it could
    be maintained that the lumen gloriae (the light of glory) is so good
    in the beatific vision (seeing of God’s face) that whilst we can’t
    turn away, we still freely look at it.

    Perhaps that is unsatisfactory, and plenty of Theologians have written on
    this. But this is another question of God’s queerness, and not an
    existential question.

    What moral purpose does eternal torture serve?

    The jury is still out on what that torture will consist in. In many
    Jewish or Catholic traditions hell consists of existence in the
    absence of God. In other traditions, hell remains temporary or
    purgative, as a way of purifying ourselves before seeing God.

    But what about the “fire and brimstone” approach. Well, if God did
    exist, surely there is a great difference between us, and in the same
    way my dogs do not understand their neutering, we do not understand
    why God permits suffering.

    But I think we can go further, I certainly don’t think most people would
    see anything wrong with eternally punishing someone who has committed
    the gravest of acts, and I am sure were we to put it to a popular
    vote whether to cast Hitler, Stalin or Mohammed into “the pit” I
    think the result wouldn’t be all too rehabilitative. To be coy, would
    Hitler get a “well done” or a “medium rare”?

    For myself I would think that the damned are damned simply because they
    have been excluded from the God’s unconditionally willed act of
    salvific grace. Call me a pessimist, but I fundamentally believe that
    the human condition is so awful, so turned away from the imago Dei
    which we are intended to be, because of our freedom and original sin
    (viz. Concupiscence), that we all deserve damnation.

    What happens to people who died before Jesus was born — or didn’t
    hear of Jesus?

    The jury is out on that question. I would intuit that they go to hell,
    but that is because I think all human beings are deserving of eternal
    punishment, and that it is only through a specific act grace that
    people are saved. However, in the same way that God saves people
    through mercy alone, and not through any works or deeds they have
    done, I see nothing unreasonable in him extending this grace to those
    who have not heard the Word.

    If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing

    This only really works if you are some sort of Catholic, oddly enough.
    Most protestants and reformed Christians believe that we are saved by
    grace, and not by any actions we have committed. Similarly, we
    believe that we are damned by our very condition of unworthiness
    before God, and not because of any particular act.

    How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best
    person in hell?

    We are all totally undeserving. Sin is not a quantitative act, it is not
    like someone who steals one sweet is any better than a person who
    steals an entire bag of sweets, they are both, qualitatively, thiefs.
    Similarly, all sinners are deserving of hell.

    How could heaven be a happy place? Can you be blissfully happy in
    heaven knowing that some of your loved ones are being tortured in
    hell? And what do you do for an eternity in heaven without getting

    Thomas Aquinas tells us that one of the chief pleasures of heaven is
    watching God’s justice. This seems a little counter-intuitive, but I
    would agree, if we consider the example of the man Napoleon pardoned,
    he may still righteously enjoy the execution of criminals, or sit on
    a jury and condemn them, even though he himself has been saved
    through mercy alone.

    Why did God torture his son? Couldn’t He come up with a less
    bloodthirsty way to allow us into heaven than by torturing and
    killing his innocent son to make up for an alleged Original Sin of an
    alleged first couple? We praise God for an action that we would
    incarcerate any human for perpetrating. God seems inhumane, but I
    suppose that’s because God isn’t human.

    Oddly, humans are the images of God, and God’s personhood of Christ is
    hypostasised with humanity. So it is sort-of inaccurate to say God
    isn’t human in an absolute sense, that would be what thinkers such as
    Maimonides would say.

    But regarding the torture, we can break down theories of salvation in
    the following way:

    Anselm’s way: God sacrificed his son because he had to

    Aquinas’ way: God sacrificed his son because it was the best way

    Scotus’ / Ockham’s way: God simply sacrificed his son because that is the way
    God chose to do it.

    I would accept Ockham and Scotus’ way. It does seem odd how God did it,
    but these queerness objections are again, epistemically presumptuous
    to some aesthetic unity to the act of salvation as understood through
    a 21st century view. I don’t find these “queerness
    objections” very convincing or rigorous. Funny enough, this is how
    Ockham uses his Razor, cut away the Theological justifications and
    simply accept on faith that God did it that way.

    This “queerness” reasoning is the sort of stuff that would be used by
    a peasant in the middle ages : “the earth is round? That is queer,
    I’d fall off” or “the earth is moving, how come I don’t feel it”?
    Sure sure, we have explained these facts now quite adequately, but
    that is not to say there are no more queerness questions existing in
    the present day about the nature of Gravity, Quantum particles,
    Abiogenesis and so on that we do not immediately leap on and reject
    science for.

    Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make it
    unambiguously clear how to get there?

    I guess I’m lucky to be a horrible Calvinist, and think that there is
    no way to heaven but when God pops out from behind a wall and bestows
    grace on you. Sort of like Divine Star Trek: ‘grace me up Goddy’.

    “I think these questions can best be answered by applying Occam’s
    Razor: in trying to understand something or search for truth, it’s
    best to get unnecessary information out of the way.

    I believe that my afterlife will consist of the repercussions of any
    good works I have done that survive after my death. I expect my body
    parts will go neither to heaven nor hell, but to medical school. I
    will then feel much like I did before I was born, which was not the
    least unpleasant.”

    We have plenty of time to write blogs, go to pubs, and generally bumble
    about. A bit of harmless Theologising is no worse than spending the
    evening discussing the latest TV soap.

    Also I’ll be donating my body too, hopefully I’ll get a new shiny one in
    heaven, or a nice flame retardant one if things go South.

    • Herb Silverman

      You believe, “there is no way to heaven but when God pops out from behind a wall and bestows grace on you.” Do you believe that your God makes loving or arbitrary decisions? It sounds like he is applying “Sophie’s choice” millions of times.

      • duns 1308

        I am happy to say that in my opinion, God does
        things which appear arbitrary. The problem with placing God’s will -post-
        intellect is that it creates problems of divine foreknowledge: if God
        Knows that he will cause creation at x or y a date, or that he will
        forgive this or that person then he must do it..

        There are quite a few serious attempts at this question, Craig tries to
        graduate types of knowledge (following Molina) which I don’t find
        convincing, and a little dishonest (unsurprisingly, for Craig).

        In my own opinion, the act of God must precede his reflective (intellectual) capacity.
        I would think God is self-subsistent-being, actus purus as
        it were. Because of this, his bestowment of grace (like his
        bestowment of creation) is not a consequence of some reasoned-fact,
        or some weighing up of circumstances, it is a simple act and a
        flowing out, a consequence of his omnibenevolence.

        In that way, God’s act is not an arbitrary decision, as it is not really
        a decision at all in the post-reflexive sense. The act of bestowing
        grace (or creation) is a fully willed, but pre-reflexive affection of
        his omnibenevolence.

        An example of this in humans, although analogous, would be the love one
        might have for someone, this is not (one would hope) the consequence
        of a reflection or a decision. Simply, our love for, say, a wife or
        family member is a pre-reflexive affection, it
        is not rational, but similarly, it is not arbitrary. I do not -choose- to love my wife, but my love is not arbitrary.

        • Herb Silverman

          So then you believe in a God who creates and loves everyone, but who knows before creation that he will put most of his beloved humans in hell. Your love for family members would presumably mean that you would do
          whatever is within your power to prevent them from suffering. Sounds like you are a lot nicer than your God.

          • duns 1308

            If I think about that woman who went to Napoleon, asking for mercy for
            her son. Were she to have two sons and the emperor only pardon one,
            wouldn’t she still be grateful?

            Likewise, the fact God condemns many of us does not mean I am grateful for his
            pardoning, even if it were to be extended to only one person.

            Also, it does seem odd to judge God by today’s standards. In 2015, God is
            unloving for not pardoning everyone, in 1515, God would be unjust for
            not punishing everyone. I don’t think God changes, but I am pretty
            certain society does, and I don’t really find culturally-rooted
            arguments from the present very convincing regarding an absolute

          • llamaspit

            I find it interesting that you have so many insights into the mind of God based on absolutely no evidence of what is there, or even if there is anything there. Every conclusion that you reach is dependent on the assumption that there is a God. I can posit all kinds of things that might be in the mind of God, or justifications for his/her action or inaction, but neither of us can prove a single thing about what we posit.

            IMO, you have found a need for a God to explain the workings of the universe, and set about to explain that need, without considering that your need may be faulty.

          • duns 1308

            that would be the genetic fallacy

          • llamaspit

            Are you arguing that the existence of God is irrelevant to what that assumed God may think? You’ll need to offer more than dismissal.

          • Herb Silverman

            This gets to the crux of the matter for me. I think the Bible was written by men who reflect their views at the time, including how women and slaves should be treated. Our views on race, religion, gender, and sexual
            orientation, and science have changed significantly in a pluralistic and democratic society that is not ruled by the divine right of kings. However, the Bible remains the same.

  • Jim Cassidy

    Great questions! I enjoy good religious/fantastic/spiritual fiction (the irreverent kind like Lamb and I, Lucifer). These stories don’t make religion any more rational, though. If, as a thought experiment, I give the believers benefit of the doubt, I can understand hell to be a removal of some deity’s grace (the shunning is what “burns like chains of ice.”) This means, to me, though, that we already have that touch of grace. Is the concept of heaven a misinterpreted representation of our current state? Was “heaven on Earth” originally meant to be taken literally? What if this existence is as good as it was ever supposed to get? If death was scary and unknown and life was full of things that killed you, the idea of something better waiting helped the fearful cope. Too bad we lose sight of the journey as we focus on our imagined finish line.

  • Lorde Fark


    q1. Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding factor about who winds up in heaven or hell?
    a1.wait so.. you’re trying to teleport your mind somewhere you don’t believe in? good luck -haven’t you WATCHED Dragonball?

    q2. Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?
    a2. Well this is the only chance you get to ascend, but most people have issues they cant get over so they +1Up and blow off living again. Think you’ll come to terms with yourself in the last 30 seconds? #Procrastinator..

    q3. If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in heaven?
    a3. 46+2

    q4. What moral purpose does eternal torture serve?
    a4. Good question, what moral purpose does eternal torture serve?

    q5. What happens to people who died before Jesus was born — or didn’t hear of Jesus?
    a5. They’ll learn

    q6. If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing infanticide?
    a6. How will putting yourself back in a babies body make Eden ANY better than it is now..(or less painful for all my depressed homies)?

    q7. How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?
    a7. Irony – you’re aware that’s the same guy right?
    The Question is 6×7

    q8. How could heaven be a happy place?
    a8. You could clean your F*King room??

    q9. Why did God torture his son?
    a9. Because He is a woman?

    q10. Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make it unambiguously clear how to get there?
    a10. Yes?

    q11. Why does the world suck?
    a11. ………..free wi11?

  • Sara Nevalainen

    Good questions, and I had to think a bit too before answering… I’m a Catholic, btw, so this may be slightly different from what a proper Christian might say.

    1. Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding factor about who winds up in heaven or hell?

    Saint John of the Cross has written “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” And also Jesus said that love is a greater thing than faith. So, we are judged according to how much we have loved God and our fellow beings (and true love requires action). Though in the case of loving God, I think it’s more about accepting God’s love for us than us loving him back (which is very little compared to his love for us).

    2. Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?

    If a Hitler suddenly realizes his sinfulness, and accepts the grace, forgiveness and love that God has for him (I believe God loves all beings), he will be saved. But someone as cruel as Hitler would probably be tormented in this case too, when the repentance for all the suffering he has caused would flood his conscience (and also knowing that it was a Jew who saved him). So, he might rather refuse God’s grace and turn his back on Him altogether, in which case he’d go to hell, since obviously that would be nicer for him than being face to face with God in heaven.

    Finally, how we have lived probably has an effect on what happens in our last 30 secs, so our whole life and actions may (or may not) determine what happens then.

    3. If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in heaven?

    Yes. In theory, it might be possible to sin in heaven (just like the angels who rebelled against God). But apparently, it would be practically impossible, since we will be in perfect union with God, the source of all moral beauty and goodness.

    4. What moral purpose does eternal torture serve?

    Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC1033).. “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”” CCC 1057: “Hell’s principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” CCC 1058: “The Church prays that no one should be lost:”Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).”

    For the rehabilitation of sinners, there’s the purgatory.

    5. What happens to people who died before Jesus was born — or didn’t hear of Jesus?

    The Catechism says: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church,
    but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

    So yes, they may go to heaven too.

    6. If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing infanticide?

    I’ve heard a legend that in the medieval Norway the Vikings used to be ready with an axe when a newly converted person was being baptized, so that they could chop his head off before he sins again (as baptism washes away all sins).

    But the heaven is not an end in itself, loving God and living according to his will are the main thing.

    7. How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?

    The difference is qualitative, not quantitative.

    8. How could heaven be a happy place?

    It sometimes sounds boring to me too. I’ve heard it’s indescribably blissful to hang out with God, and also all the saints, angels etc. And there is no time as we know it on Earth, so it will be something very different and boredom probably doesn’t exist. As for knowing our loved ones suffering, many of them are still also suffering on Earth (and in purgatory, hopefully not so much in hell), and we can help and pray for them in heaven because we are so near to God.

    9. Why did God torture his son?

    God is perfectly just, and it wouldn’t be just to let the guilty go unpunished, so someone had to be punished. But instead of us who are guilty, he came down himself to suffer the punishment, because he loves us. The flogging, beatings, being spat on and jeered at, being abandoned and denied by our friends, being stripped naked, carrying the cross and the crucifixion are also a teaching and a challenge to us, they show us how to live and die selflessly and how to love even those who hate us. In a mystical way, Christ’s suffering also gives us strength and joy when we ourselves suffer.

    10. Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make it unambiguously clear how to get there?

    It’s possible for all of us to love and to do good deeds, regardless of what we believe in (the Church also teaches that everyone knows or can reason what’s morally true and good on the basis of natural moral law written in each human heart). And as for faith, it is a gift from God and it’s a gift that we need to continuously ask for (“ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find”). Maybe God doesn’t give the gift of faith to everyone (and not everyone asks for it), or to some He might give it at the moment of their death.. and often it’s also rather shaky (many saints kept struggling with doubt all throughout their lives).

    • Herb Silverman

      Why would a loving God give faith to some but not others? Why does faith get you into heaven, but not good works? Also, how do you ask for faith in something that sounds ridiculous to you? If you ask to have faith in Shiva, do you think you will get faith in Shiva?

    • Varick Thompson

      I’m not going to attempt to address your entire post, but I thought I would mention: Hitler was a believer. Few in this day and age would disagree that what he did was wrong, but he believed. No one believes themself to be evil. On a related note, if one believes (certain versions of) the Bible, Hitler falls into one of two categories: were his beliefs correct, he should go to heaven for serving God. Otherwise, he’s clearly a madman, and the insane get a free pass. If heaven exists, you might find Adolf Hitler there.

  • Hala

    How on earth do you make sense of your life without a Heaven? It would be a sick joke. We cannot understand everything now Jesus told us this . Just believe and try to live in faith following the commandments. Accept the deep mystery of existence and know that our souls are immortal and we are all on a journey to another place .

    • Ed Buckner

      How on earth do you find happiness, of any sort, while believing that some judgemental spirit is monitoring you every thought and action? (I’m paraphrasing Dan Barker here)? Now THAT seems like a sick joke. As a bumper sticker I saw says,
      “I’m not religious–I just have a relationship with reality.” I don’t wish you ill, I really don’t, Hala–but I do wish you the ability to think critically.

      • Hala

        There is no argument to prove the existence of God. Faith believes in things unseen.

        • Ed Buckner

          I certainly agree that there is no argument to prove, or even convince anyone of a strong probability of, the existence of any gods. Which leaves, as you note, faith. But why faith in that, and not in something else? (I’m not trying to be flippant–choosing what to have faith in is important, if faith you want.) But how can you–or anyone else–make a choice, especially a good one? Why not faith in the teachings of Mohammed or in the Buddha, or in your fellow human beings?

          • Hala

            I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. We are all seeking something other than us. We are human and weak ,we did not choose to be here but someone did. That is the someone who made us ,the designer of the universe and everything. If you were not brought up in a religious faith I would advise you seek one out – talk to a priest . There are many different religious teachings but only one G od. It can be confusing but if you are seeking G od He will open a door for you just trust in him and take that first step.

          • Ed Buckner

            Hala, I don’t know you, of course, but you clearly don’t know me. I was brought up Episcopalian, and I have talked to (or debated, but I know that’s not the same thing) dozens of religious leaders, priests, Islamic leaders/apologists, etc.) The someones who chose to do something that got me here were my parents (how planned it was, i don’t know, but never mind). There are, as best i can tell–and I’ve looked and looked–no gods at all.

          • Daniel the happy jew

            Have you passed the adversity of nihilism?

          • Herb Silverman

            Just about everyone I know with faith didn’t really “choose” their faith, though they might think they did. Most have the faith of their family. It’s no coincidence that almost all people born in Saudi Arabia have faith in Muhammed and people born here into conservative Christian families have faith in Jesus.

          • Hala

            Well most people choose the faith they know. Many people chose to convert to a different faith. At my church there are as many converts as there are people born into the faith. There is only one God but many different paths to find Him. We are free to chose.

          • anamericanundernogods

            Moreover, those who are born MUSLIM have no choice but remain MUSLIM.
            If they convert, the order of ALLAH is that they must be killed.

          • Shahid zaidi

            Existence of Allah/Creator/God/Khud Aaa (in Persian meaning Self Come) is easy, only hurdle is rejection due to may be stubbornness, or in visualizing like see
            H.Q. 57:03. “He is the first and He is the last, the manifest and the hidden, and He has knowledge of everything”.
            note: difficult to visualize, simultaneously ‘manifest’, ‘hidden’
            hint; Nature is analogy to Creator common phrase act of Nature so MANIFEST=NATURE (some %)
            Problem remain for hidden, this even if a thing, your own possession is hidden and you can not find, shows thing exists but at present is not seen

          • Ed Buckner

            Hala, meet Shahid. Shahid, meet Hala. Now you can both perhaps understand why I cannot be persuaded to take either of you at all seriously. You assert the idea(s) of the divine that you think correct, but you can only provide your own, circular, “arguments” to support the ideas. If that works for you, then you’re stuck with it–but please don’t expect me to be persuaded or impressed. If you must therefore call me “stubborn” or, as Psalm 14:1 has it, a useless fool, don’t expect me to agree.

          • anamericanundernogods

            ALLAH is the worst and most devilish of all.
            His book (QURAN) is full of orders of beheading, amputations of legs and hands, beating of wives and women, and Jihad.
            What ISIS is doing all can be found and referenced to Quran.

    • Stefanie Margerison

      Why do I need to make sense of life without a Heaven? Life is life. We’re here for a short time. Enjoy it, look after the earth, treat others like you would like to be treated, teach your children the same. Why does there have to be a purpose? Yes, life can be unfair. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. I’ve had some road bumps and heart aches, they’ve taught me to love and appreciate this short life all the more.

      • Herb Silverman

        The question should be “How do you make sense of life WITH a heaven? Life is life, which we know exists. We haven’t a shred of evidence for a heaven or hell, and it seems like a wasted life to live for what you believe will happen to you when you stop living.

  • Matthew Enns

    I like that you admit that Jesus was a real person who died a real death. That opens up all the cans. If there was a real man who really was killed in the prime of life, then we all must answer the questions which that arouses, not the 10 questions a disgruntled person twists to his own device.
    Here’s a few questions these historic facts you have affirmed arise:
    1. Why did Jesus get killed in the prime of life, at the hands of the Romans, at the will of the Jews?
    2. Why did Jesus have the name Jesus, which means God saves?
    3. Why did Jesus hold on to whatever testimony he held onto unto death?
    4. Why did he develop any followers at all?
    5. Why did people claim he arose from the dead and perpetuate this belief unto this very article’s needed writing.
    6. Why don’t his own words get used to describe his death, and not Herb Silverman’s?

  • Mondomanda

    Historically, the idea of hell around during Jesus’ life only arose a few centuries earlier among the Jews when it became clear that empire after empire was going to occupy them, destroy their temple, kill them, send them into exile, etc. Hell appears to have arisen originally, therefore, as a righteous cry for justice- if not in this life than in the next since it did not seem to be enroute in this life. What Christianity did with it hundreds of years later is something else indeed. But when we talk about hell today we should begin by talking about hell on earth – unnecessary human (and other) suffering brought about by human imperfections, isolation, and idolatry (worshipping whatever can’t actually satisfy us). We could work very hard to mitigate if not eliminate hell on earth. But to do so we will have to turn our minds away from what happens after we die and focus on (for example) why people are dying unjustly right now. We need to re-envision hell not as a place but as that same righteous cry for justice, and then focus on working for justice.

  • Shahid zaidi

    My advise be positive, H.Q. starts with “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful”, which hell.
    Why faith? As Rules & Regulation are a requirement.
    Can reply your ten questions, once I gather much knowledge on Christian, as questions are Bible Oriented.
    N.T. starts with ” The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”.
    O.T. starts with ” In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”.
    Note: no mention of Hell means ‘hell is your (persons of this World choice) not Allah’s choice.
    Question arises are persons following their faith sincerely, by reading the very first lines for all three Abrahamic Faith,answer is no.
    ALLAH THE BEST PLANNER, ALL KNOWING well aware knew Atheist who follow Science and Science is pure, hence starts his introduction with ‘There is no God’ to which Atheist follow, soon they will follow the rest.

    • anamericanundernogods

      ALLAH over 100 times in QURAN talks about HELL and how he burns and tortures the infidels and the sinners.
      Allah also orders the faithful Muslims not to wait for hell, but do Jihad here and Kill the infidels here on Earth.

  • Lowne Wolfe

    The scariest thing I thought when I was struggling was…what if god isn’t all that righteous, what if that baby killing god really does exist, what if that unfair god demands these unrealistic requirements for whatever reason? Of course having been raised in christian churches and home…since before I was born…this is mostly the result of the ingrained ever present fear the church encourages in the heart/mind of believers. Part of me thinks, how could such a god actually expect anyone to believe? The other part thinks…what if they do? I’m always awash of conflicting thoughts…I guess I’ll find out when I die (after all despite decades of begging god has yet reveal anything,not even guidance)…or maybe I won’t. Of course the worst thought I have is that this really is it and nothing awaits me in death. I have lived a miserable life that isn’t getting better, death means the end of the possibility of happiness so I want to live as long as I can…but what if I can never achieve that, what if I can never overcome these trials in my life and I die miserable and then that was it. THIS!? is my only chance to experience existence and it sucks. I’m trying to make the most of it, trying to live each day one day at a time trying to be as happy each day as I can. It makes me wish there is an afterlife…but of course here come my conflicted mind…I’m not certain if there was an afterlife if that would actually be better if that version of god is real. To die and end in nothing, to die and face a supernatural being…dunno…and that’s the point of it all, I don’t know.

    • Varick Thompson


      Personally, if I find myself still existing as myself in some fashion after death, I’m hoping for reincarnation. Maybe as a cat. 😉

  • http://WWSHP.ORG William Dusenberry

    Before I retired from teaching — I used to give my “Sociology of Religion” students, a questionnaire about what they expect to happen in heaven? (Where it is; how one gets there; which spouse one expects to spend eternity with, etc,)

    The answer to two of the questionnaire questions remain with me to this day.

    The first: where is heaven? The most memorable answer: “up.”

    The second: Will there be sex in heaven? The most memorable answer: “There would be no need for it.”

  • Loretta Haskell

    I’m just pleased that when I pass on and go to hell that I’ll have the good company of my friend Herb Silverman!

  • Shahid zaidi

    1) Say to all: “O you who disbelieve.
    2) I do not believe in what you desire.
    3) Nor do you believe whom I believe.
    4) Nor shall I believe in what you worship.
    5) Nor do you believe whom I believe.
    6) To you your believe, to me my believe.”
    Holy Qur’an, chapter 109.
    First condition for reliable faith is understanding peacefully.
    So all of them who are killing in name of Islam are actually against Islam.
    Secondly, most of the persons they kill are Muslims this is happening in my Country.
    Middle East is even worse scenario, this may engulf whole planet earth.
    World is a global village = one World, one leader.
    Check ‘secret diary of Admiral Richard Byrd’, Adventure of Colonel Abdullah Baines.
    Advise to do more for this World is temporary, for simple reason so much of developments,
    yet can not escape death, why? H.Q. 67:02. Who created death and life in order that He
    may see among you, for the persons best in deeds.
    He is the ever-prevalent, the most forgiving.
    Best of luck and best regards.

  • Raphael Revels

    1. Because if you don’t believe you cannot get saved and be washed in the blood of Jesus and cleansed of your sins, to put it simply if you don’t want to know God why should he want to know you.

    3. The free will you speak of is the freedoms to obey God or give into the temptations of the devil, you will not be tempted in heaven and the fact that you are accepted into heaven means that you have chosen to surrender your will to God if you go to hell it means you have chosen to surrender your will to the devil.

    4. Eternal torture is simply punishment no moral lesson simply punishment ment for those who rebelled against God and lead people away from him. It was originally ment for Satan and his angels(demons) but since humans chose to follow him they will follow him into his eternal punishment as well.

    5. The bible says because they were not covered by the blood and because Satan took with him the keys to death, Hell, and the grave those people ended up in Hell until Jesus went into Hell and preached the gospel and took with him all those who believed with him to heaven.

    6. Being baptized is a conscious decision made after being saved, you cannot baptize a baby because babies are not saved until they ask to be. My personal belief is that babies die because God deams it unnessacary to test them, wether or not they automatically go to heaven or not is something only God knows, but either way only God decides when each person dies just as only God decides who gets into heaven or not so killing babies would make no difference in helping people to get people into heaven

    7. It isn’t about what people deserve for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, it’s about wether or not you chose to follow God.

    9. What happened to Jesus happened because it needed to happen so that he could bring man back to God, without the shedding of his blood we would not have it to wash our sins away, or to cover us when the devil try’s to harm us.

    10. God’s intent is for us to walk with him, through his word we will get to know him through his ordained we will recieve his revelations, through prayer we will convers with him, through praise he will live in us. We are to each have an individual relationship with God different words are interpreted different ways because different people need different individual revelations from God, but sometimes things are interpreted wrongly because the enemy seeks to deceive people and it is our job to know when these deceptions are made through our walk with God so that we may proclaim the truth of God to all that will listen. The short answer is because we are being individualy tested and we each have to know the answers for our tests.

  • Ben

    These questions may seem profound, But they are actually all really easy to answer.

  • Warren Yeakel

    I like your ten atheistic questions. I am not certain I can answer them all, but I
    will post some thoughts. These thoughts will be more concise and to the point if I change the order of the questions.

    1. Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding
    factor about who winds up in heaven or hell?

    All your decisions about the future are based upon some kind of faith. All faith is based upon some kind of evidence.
    The faith God is interested in is based upon what He says. Ro 10:17 (Rather than quote the passages, I’ll
    let you look up the verses. All Bible references are to a KJV.) You can believe what the Creator and the Controller
    of the future says, or you can believe something else– at your own risk. Heb 11:6

    2. Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?

    A lot of things are well decided before the last 30 seconds. But consider sports contests, e.g., NBA and
    NFL games, that often come down to the last few seconds to decide who wins and who loses.

    Actually eternal rewards are determined by what you do in this life and they are cumulative both for heaven
    and for hell. Ro 2:4-10; Lu 19:12-27; Mt 10:15; 2Co 5:10 The person who gets saved in
    the last 30 seconds of life accumulates no rewards for serving God.

    7. How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than
    the best person in hell?

    Who goes to heaven and who goes to hell is not determined by how deserving a person is. The Bible makes it abundantly clear than no one deserves heaven outside of Jesus Christ Himself. Ro 3:19-20; Re 5:2-5 It is a
    matter of whom you choose to follow. Those choosing to go with God must go through Jesus Christ. Jo 14:6; 1Jo
    5:11-12 Those choosing not to go with God go with the leader of the rebellion against God. Mt 25:41; Re 20:10-15

    9. Why did God torture his son?

    I think the
    question should be, “Why did God require the torture of His Son (at the hands
    of others) as a propitiation for the sins of man?” Law works on the principle that when you
    violate the law, for justice to be served you must pay the penalty. You are not acquitted based upon how many
    times you kept the law or did some compensating good. A just judge cannot overlook a promised
    penalty. God counted justice as served
    if the penalty was paid by someone who was not himself guilty of violating the
    law. That just person was Jesus Christ
    who accepted God’s wrath against all sinners, so that all sinners could go free
    of the penalty. Ro 3:21-26; 1Pe 3:18

    4. What moral purpose does eternal torture serve?

    Everyone has
    a sense of right and wrong, what is just and what is unjust, built in. Ro 2:14-15
    Your very questions are based on that sense. How much punishment should there be for all
    of the wickedness that has been propagated on this earth? I am not sure we have a good enough sense of
    justice to second guess God in this matter.
    Satan will be punished forever for his part in it. Those who continually side with Satan against
    God will share with him.

    5. What happens to people who died before Jesus was born — or
    didn’t hear of Jesus?

    The Bible
    makes it clear that every person will be judged by God on the basis of what he
    did with what he knew. Ro 1:18-23; 2:1ff.
    Though not everyone knew of Jesus Christ, no person will get to heaven
    apart from His shed blood to cover their sins.
    God counts His blood as sufficient to cover all sins, from Adam into the
    future. Ro 3:25, 5:12-21; Heb 9:15ff.

    6. If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing

    God set it up that we would have a choice. Some do not
    get to make that choice. They are appropriately cared for by God, but they will go to heaven without the
    possibility of earning rewards as a servant of God on the earth. Col 3:24

    8. How could heaven be a happy place?

    I think God has made it clear that He can provide situations that you can be happy with—even
    with the tragedies, disappointments, and worries about the future that are part
    this life. God has not said a lot about how that will work, surely in part because it is just beyond our understanding.

    3. If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in

    Maybe it is
    hard to see how this is possible since we have inherited Adam’s sinful
    nature. He had free will and
    sinned. Jesus Christ had free will without
    an inherited sinful nature and did not sin.
    In heaven the tempter will not be there and the sinful nature will be
    gone. You will be able to choose what is
    satisfying without disobeying God.

    10. Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make
    it unambiguously clear how to get there?

    It is not so
    very ambiguous if you believe God. Jesus
    promised in John 7:17 that if you choose to do what God wants you to do, you
    will know what that is.
    If you are not serious with God, He does not extend the promise to you. Ja 1:5-7 But God can and will communicate
    directly with you, if you take at face value a promise from Scripture that
    applies to you. Heb 4:12; Ro 8:14-16 Doubts come from believing others. 1Jo 5:9-10

  • Zuleykha

    Here are your answers, Sir!

    1. If a creator god exists, why would she create so many evidence-based humans if she wants us to make faith-based decisions?

    No one is is evidenced-based, everyone is faith-based. When we start something, we know were we start but we don’t know where we end. So every time we start something we have faith it will end good. Even someone who commits suicide has faith that death is for him better than being alive.

    2. I think it would be more reasonable (though what’s reason got to do with it?) for a person to be judged on his or her lifetime actions rather than on an end-of-life belief.

    This is not reasonable: When someone has cancer, than healing 30 seconds before death is still healing, the rest doesn’t matter anymore.

    3. If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in heaven?

    First of all: We don’t how heaven is. What is revealed, is only partly revealed. When we talk about physics to a professor, he does only reveal to us as much as we understand and as much as necessary to that point.

    As much as it is revealed: Free Will is given to those who did overcome the beast in themselves, when you give someone the power to create, he should not be a beast.

    “If God can make us sinless in heaven, why didn’t he create us sinless on earth?”

    He doesn’t make us sinless, he forgives and hides our sins, just like he does on earth. If you can do this on earth, forgiving and hiding others weaknesses, than you will have free will in heaven too, you have killed the beast.

    4. Why would a purportedly all good and compassionate God burn people for eternity?

    One: When someone tells something to us, we don’t understand it as long as we don’t understand his intention. All parents at some point threaten their children with punishment, the good ones at least do it with the intention to save and not really with the intention to punish.

    Two: For the one who is in love, there is no difference between the beloved’s punishment and the beloved’s award. So the threat of punishment might be with the intention to educate the lovers.
    As said: What is revealed, is only partly revealed.
    Isaiah 55:8-11
    “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Three: Do you like free will? If yes, than why do you mind me, if you chose the way of suffering? If not, why don’t you give up on it and “follow me”? (This would be a typical Atheistic question if they were religious!)

    5. If they can still go to heaven, how does Jesus matter?

    “Before Abraham was, I am”.
    “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

    Jesus is not bound by flesh and blood. Jesus is all the time knocking on the door of humans hearts. One has only to open the door. (This I will make clear with my answer to your last question)

    6. If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing infanticide?

    This is the way of ego: Ego says, go this way and that way and I will save you! Although sooner or later we end up suffering, we still obey its commands. Kind of what Peter did, when he did cut off the ear of Malchus.

    The path of Jesus is what already Socrates did follow: I do know nothing.

    (This I will also make clear with my answer to your last question)

    7. How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?

    Is there a difference between someone who kills you out of rage and someone who forgives you out of mercifulness and love, someone who thinks he is no better than you and understands your weaknesses and therefore hides your weaknesses as he also wishes that god hides his weaknesses?

    8. a) Can you be blissfully happy in heaven knowing that some of your loved ones are being tortured in hell?

    When you see the truth about them, you might not love them anymore and there still might be someone who say: “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus claims he is god because he does whatever god wants him to do. So when he says “Father, forgive them” than this is the same as if father says: I for give them.

    As said: Isaiah 55:8-11″As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    b) And what do you do for an eternity in heaven without getting bored?

    When we eat something too often we usually become sick of it but there is one thing, we get never sick of it: breathing!

    If we understand and can accept that this is possible (not getting rid of something), than we can also accept that heaven could be in a way that we never get sick of it.

    9. Why did God torture his son?
    Jesus: I lay it down of my own accord!
    17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

    What you are doing with your questions is: You narrow down the meaning of words till they match your intentions.

    There is a hadith from prophet Mohammed (BTW: I am a Muslim): “Every time he suffered, he asked god to intensify his suffering as its end will come soon.”

    Without accepting to suffer no one can claim a mountain.

    As soon as we accept we know nothing, every suffering turns into joy. When we don’t, every little fly which flies around us turns our live into hell.

    What I try to make clear is: When we narrow down the meanings till they match our intentions and take things out of context, we can prove everything. Religions are not about: Why do I suffer? Believing is about not making others suffer. Believing is about remaining clean.

    10. Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make it unambiguously clear how to get there?

    You might say ok, when we don’t narrow the meanings, than we can prove everything too. And you are right! The issue is when the questions are irrelevant, than the answers don’t matter. As clever as you are to construct those questions, there are people who are more clever to construct answers.

    There is only one relevant question for believers and for non believers:
    How do I find happiness? This is what we are searching for. You think, you find part of it in these questions, don’t you? Doesn’t it make you kind of high constructing and asking those questions? It does!

    So if this is the only relevant question than what is the answer the Bible gives?
    The Bible gives and unambiguously clear answer how to get there: Don’t live like an animal! Don’t harm others because you fear death (think about its implications on our behavior on your own, one of its worst implications is that we try not to show weakness). Accept that you don’t know if death is good or bad for you and you cannot hide it anyways.
    I give an example: I did work all day long and I am very tired and hungry, hadn’t time to eat something. I go home and my wife didn’t cook for dinner. I get angry. Because I think: I know being hungry is not good, being tired is not good and letting my wife attack my territory (showing weakness) is not good too. Just like an animal. The truth is, I don’t know if being hungry, tired and not defending my territory is good or bad for me and how much of it is good or bad for me.
    Now lets take the same example but this time I come home and Scarlett Johansson is waiting for me instead of my wife. Now I would be nice and order or even cook happily the best food. Animals like new achievements (expending territory).
    The more I assume, I know, the more I end up frustrated and angry. Frustration and anger goes, happiness comes. This is human nature created by god or not.
    If you or anyone else knows a better way to happiness, than follow it. But the Bible and also the Quran and most other religions I know about say clearly: The way to happiness is to end acting like an animal.

  • Steven Sukovich

    I read this and actually took it seriously, seeing how I was an Atheist most of my life and then became a believer and a follower of Jesus. I do not subscribe to all of the beliefs that Christians do, nor do I believe the entirety of the Bible, but here are my two cents.

    1. Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding factor about who winds up in heaven or hell?
    The logic that we use to make earthly decisions is not the same decision making process that we use to make decisions of the heart. We use “evidence” to define our experience on Earth, but we use faith to elevate us into higher forms of existence which allow us to follow the calling of God within us. Which is goodness. We must make evidence based decisions as well as faith based decisions on Earth. That’s what it means to be human.

    2. Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?
    The last 30 seconds of our life is when all of our knowledge, wisdom, and experience come into play. Everything we have learned about the World is put to the test in our ultimate judgment. One final hallucination that tests our character to determine where we go next.

    3. If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in heaven?
    There is no free will in heaven, because we have surpassed our Earthly minds and pushed through to the next dimensions. Our comprehension in the next World will make our earthly endeavors seem simple, solved, and over.

    4. What moral purpose does eternal torture serve?
    There is no moral purpose for eternal torture because our comprehension of morality is compounded within our human minds. We cannot comprehend why God sends some of us to overwhelming peril, but just trust that he chooses the right ones.

    5. What happens to people who died before Jesus was born — or didn’t hear of Jesus?
    God is merciful. Trust that. Jesus came to Earth because the evil had become too rampant. The World was too corrupt, so God came down and cleansed it. There were people that went to Heaven before Jesus, just like after. Trust that God is merciful and that Jesus came to earth for the purpose of mercy.

    6. If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing infanticide?
    No, we should not kill infants. This should seem obvious to everybody but Atheist like to ask extremist questions to stir up controversy. We have a cultural dilemma in which irresponsible people are getting pregnant and are unable to sacrifice their freedom, so they abort. It’s sad, but it’s a way of our World unfortunately.

    7. How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?
    There is a clear cut difference between the evil people in Hell and the good people in Heaven. God does not make mistakes when it comes to our eternal fates.

    8. How could heaven be a happy place?
    Once we leave this World, we no longer have Earthly attachments so no, we don’t think about Hell in Heaven. The next realm is incomprehensible just like eternity. There is no boredom, because just like life, eternity is always moving.

    9. Why did God torture his son?
    God is not inhumane, it is us who are inhumane. The World was corrupt when Jesus came down, and the people that killed him were evil people that fed off of the corruption. God sent Jesus down to show us what it meant to be a sinless and blameless man, and how the World would react to Him. The Earth is balanced between good and evil, so the great good sent from Heaven was Jesus and He was met by the greatest evil of Earth. This was a message to all of us that His mercy supersedes our poor judgments and sin and no matter how corrupt the World, we must still be good.

    10. Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make it unambiguously clear how to get there?
    There is no “un-ambiguity” on Earth. We were sent here to make choices, not to conform to ideals. There are some people that have never heard the name Jesus, yet treat people with the kind of respect that a Jesus follower should. Most people are selfish, regardless of creed or origin or beliefs. There are people that proclaim the name of Jesus, yet destroy the World with their selfish intents. I trust that God knows what is in our hearts and not just the things we say. I also believe that when we dig deeply into our hearts with all of our Earthly experiences, then we will find God and it will have all seemed obvious.

  • Daniel the friendly jew

    I apologize in advance for my poor english.
    Well, I will try to answer every question with my knowledge, but trying to use my knowledge in epistemology, mathematics (formal or cuasi formal logic) and stadistics, and of course theology.

    1. Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding factor about who winds up in heaven or hell?

    Actually this is a fallacy, because it takes some interpretation from the mayor representation from Christianity (the Catholic religion) and even not quite, but some mass media representation of it (quite distortion).
    There a consensus among theologists and philosophists or more in general “scholars of religions” that in general, just to “belive” “oh I believe” argument, will not save you from anything (this being hell or whatever).
    Im assuming you reffer to faith in “there is a creator a “superior” divinity that we should serve/adore”, no, faith as “blind faith”, that I will not enter into detail, because, “blind faith” is a mass media distortion of the “faith” semantic.

    To have faith is to “believe from heart”, this is you are “sure” (psychologically speaking, this is, your inconscient “believes” in “it”).
    If you have this kind of pattern in your mind, YOUR ACTIONS will lead you to express your mind, this is a fact, our action responds to what we really, really believe.
    So, in fact, to have faith “real” faith and not some mass media, pseudo-intellectual (kinda Dawkins) construction of the real transfond of the faith word, is “almost” a necessary and sufficient condition to the good deeds.

    2. Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?
    Again this is the same fallacy.
    I hate how much Chatollic church (which is a strong-man religion created as final goal destroying most believers) has distorted faith, deeds and everything.
    Actually it is very simple logic.
    A) Subject has free will
    B) Subject may (and should) sin, because if not he is a robot, in fact.
    C) Subject may (or not) find “the word” of God.
    D) If Subject achieve (ACHIEVE) FAITH he “will be saved” (whatever save can be , paradise, heaven, rencarnation, etc).
    E) if Subject find the word of God and does not achieve faith it will NOT be saved.

    So, what happen if happens A,B, NOT C, and NOT D, and NOT E.
    This is subject haven’t found the word and have found the faith ?
    Well WE CAN NOT DERIVE NOTHING logically from those premises! (it is basic logic, A->B, Not A -> ???? ).
    So is up to God to decide if it saved or not.
    Besides it “sounds” logic and “just”, it is a retarded normally encarcelated if he kills some one?, applies the same.

    3. If we have free will on earth, will we have free will in heaven?

    Well, this depends from religion to religion.
    Against this is a fallacy because assume, one version the “everyone to heaven” (what happen to paradise?, what happen to came back to life? ).
    But lets take it just like the others.
    According to Christianity angels which are in “heaven” have free will, so in theory we will have.
    Also according to Christianity “make your will as in HEAVEN AS IN EARTH” there are several eschatology and estudy of the “end of they day books, like Revelations, Daniel, etc, that explains that heaven will be also “restructured”.
    So who knows what free will will be (yes that is not an english error, in fact “which will be”).
    Because, you can not just take this thought thinking in a marxist materialist thinking, becuase in fact “that god” not only created materialism, as we know it, but what we do “not know”.
    So, maybe they will have “the” free will that “we know” as we “know it” maybe no?, maybe they will be robots?, maybe they will “be”, yes ;-).

    4. What moral purpose does eternal torture serve?
    Again this goes from relgs, to relgs, but several interpration belives that:
    a)There is no hell, you just die, that is your punishment the ABSCENSE of eternal life
    b)Hell is temporary, and you in fact got “corrected” there.
    c)Hells is eternal.
    If c), we can speculate that in fact, IT WAS SO EASY to have faith that if you do not had “by the end of your life” you really did shit!, ha! :-).
    I do not believe in a “ALL LOVE” shit, if God creates he “has” all the feelings and emotions, he has all, even he has no emotions?, you are talking about the creator of time and space, we can not just say “oh i want love” ? should a father should always be love to his son?
    How do you define love?
    If your son is setting his hands on FIRE, what dod you do?, first? you scream: “no”, , ,you love it right? you do not want him to burn AND SUFFER , it is not for you, it is for him, but you do not hit him, right?, just a scream, right?.
    but he continues, over and over and over, he eve has burned before!, what do you do?, is he retarded?, maybe no, you try a “push” “out of here, you will burn/burn again!” you scream while you “push” him away.
    You just utilized violence!.
    What would you do if it something more important?, what if this THE FUCKING POURPOSE OF LIFE?, not just a push, not just a scream you probably hit the fuck out of him, do you hate him?, probably, he is quite stupid, but it is your son AND YOU LOVE HIM ALSO.
    Welcome to the real God, you are retarded, he hates you, but he loves you ;-).

    5. What happens to people who died before Jesus was born — or didn’t hear of Jesus?

    Answered before with the premisses A,B,C, etc.
    Anyway some interpretations of several religions believes that ALONG all history from paleolithic to now there were messengers sent by God.
    ¿Why do you belive that 10.000 years of history are so important, why do you think that the LAST 10000 years are better?, Are you some kind of persona that believe that “we have progressed” ?, Do you even have defined progress? welcome to “history 101”, defining progress is so close to define “good and bad” ;-).

    6. If we want people to go to heaven, shouldn’t we be committing infanticide?
    Answered also before, FAITH, SO ACTS, ACTS SO FAITH SO IF FAITH NO (in theory) Acts, specially those kind of acts 😉
    It is easy you see?

    7. How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?
    ¿How much?
    How much is a question that is aswered by an adverb ;-).
    But really, do you want to know if he will be talking to God or just talking to some guy over there in Heaven?
    Actually some religtions give some importance to some group of people, some people will be “aside of Jesus” in heavy or somthing like that.
    Actually, does it matter? ……

    8. How could heaven be a happy place?
    Most religions explains that “you will not remember the suffering” (that is the past).
    Also it is explains that “new knowledge” will be “delivered” to those persons.
    So, you probably will be in a “higher” (look at the “””) state of mind, as I told you you are refering to eternal life, you can not refer to eternal life with negative entropy, im a scientist, nobody will believe that you will shit and fuck in the “heavens”, neither you will be “material” (as we define material).
    Aren’t we in the hiphotesis of the creator of time and space?, no time, no space = eternal ;-).
    By the way, there is no need for time to the mind to exists, as time is a construction to our convenience to measure 😉
    This implies of course that conscience is not materialistic 😉 (the soul?).

    So, with this knowledge, even if your “friend or family” is OR NOT (previous questions) torturted in hell, it is understood that you will not bothered by this.

    9. Why did God torture his son?
    We did it.
    Why did you hit your son the 3rd time he set his hand on fire?, do you like to hit kids?, you damn kid molester!!!!.
    Seriously, you seem an educated person, from the previous questions and this note you can derive this one.

    10. Wouldn’t a loving God who wants us all to go to heaven make it unambiguously clear how to get there?

    He doesn’t want shit, he is not a human, with free time to write in the internet, he “is” (“i am”).
    What he does is for us, if we take it, good for us, if we not, we are just a “point” in THE WHOLE ETERNAL creation, he can move on .

    He create space and time, yes he loves us, just like you love your son, if he dies, you will cry, a lot horrible, also your wife, but probably you will have another kid or not and move on with your life.
    Imagine if you are the creator of time and space?.

    By the way, before you ask.
    1)if you create time and space you know all the future/past event to comes.
    2)There is free will, this means that there are INFINITE posibilitis of what may happen in the X time.
    3)He knows all the posibilities, he jus check from outside which BRANCH are we taking as humanity.
    4)All branches takes us to the same (the judgment day or whatever each religion said).

    Construct your branch, be happy, do not think about killing or touching kids 😉 im a happy jew, you can be one too 🙂