My Reflections on Heaven and Hell
When all is said and done, and at the risk of oversimplification, Christianity is about who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. For me as a scrupulous atheist the fear of Hell has been one of the most harmful concepts to me. In my case the fear of Hell was producing excessive anxiety so, during one of my sessions with my therapist I did an exercise called ERP. I imagined what hell would be like and allow all the images to surface instead of avoiding them. One of the images was one of fear of my spouse burning in hell. This thought brought tears to my eyes. Out of all of the nasty, fear inducing thoughts, the idea that innocent people, good people could burn in hell evoked the strongest emotion in me.
Some of you may be familiar with the problem of Hell. For brevity, it’s the idea that an infinite punishment from a “benevolent” God can not be justified because of a finite life. I think I stumbled onto the problem of Heaven (although I apparently am not the first to think this, I only claim to independent agreement to some philosophers). I’ve been listening to Eric Whitacre’s stuff lately. Eric Whitacre is a composer of choral music. He’s pretty awesome and this is coming from a metal head who loves Tool and Nine Inch Nails. One song in particular that made me have an epiphany of sorts was the song “When David heard” which is a song dedicated to a mentor’s son who had passed away. The lyrics are pretty basic and based on the following verse from the bible.
And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!
This song is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard and portrays in very real terms what any parent would feel after learning their child has been killed. The overwhelming sense of loss is palpable.
This brings me to a certain issue. If someone you loved died, how would you feel? What if you were in Heaven and they were in Hell? One of the “joys of Heaven” is being able to watch others suffer. I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly thrilled with seeing suffering. While many Christians look at the cross as a source of salvation. I see a deluded man who’s only mistake was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite my rejection of Christianity, my impulse is not to put the screws to Jesus. Crucifixion is a horrid punishment. This acknowledgement goes to both the thieves as well.
While I’m not against punitive measures altogether there would have to be some reason for it. The punishment has to fit the crime. There is something incredibly wrong with you and your religion if you believe that a reasonably well behaved non-believing woman who gets raped and killed by some idiot who ends up finding Jesus in prison, the rapist/murderer goes to heaven and the woman goes to hell, is justice. Now assume that the non-believers husband finds Jesus too. He goes to heaven with the rapist, but his wife whom he loved is in hell. There are no words for this type of disparity. It mocks any measure of the word justice let alone love.
Of all the wonderful things I’ve experienced it has been the love of family with all of their faults, warts and all. It simply could not be Heaven without them. It would give me pause if you believed that those who have been good to you deserve to go to Hell simply because of their disbelief. If you can love them, what makes you think that God can’t, or won’t?
I’ve struggled with this too. But I started with the question of why I should believe that my religion, Christianity, can be so arrogant as to say that you can only go to Heaven if you accept Christ, but just about every other religion says exactly the same thing… You only get access to Heaven if you accept that particular religion’s doctrine and god. Yet everybody who is born into any other religion is doomed, just because they have been taught to believe and accept something else (in much the same way as my own Christian indoctrination). So no matter how good they are, they are doomed because they happened to be born to parents of some other religion?
I can not accept that. And on that basis, every religion must be rejected.
Of course this leads to more questions… Can you believe in an afterlife if you reject all religions? Well, if all religions are based on nothing more than man’s ancient superstitions, then none of them are rooted in fact in any way at all. That leaves us nowhere, and there is no evidence, one way or the other, of whether there is an afterlife (or a before-life).
Sorry… I know my rant went off-topic… My starting point of rejecting religion did start with Heaven/Hell though.
Some people believe in an afterlife without believing in any particular religion. For my part, I don’t see how an afterlife is possible. I have analyzed several different afterlife scenarios, and I see problems with all of them.
I second that.