Heaven and Hell

File:Last judgement Bosch.jpg

Last judgement Bosch (left panel)If the division for eternity [between Heaven and Hell] is all about accepting Jesus and nothing about how you behave, it is a silly and arbitrary division indeed, was the challenge. So, what is the division?

There is not one Christian view. Origen, a theologian from the third century, believed in apocatastasis, the idea that that which God creates, returns to God. This was declared heretical in 553AD, but some accept it now. My former vicar said that he believed Hell existed but no-one actually went there.

The division being about accepting Jesus makes great sense in a personal context. I have heard of Jesus. The gospel is that I cannot be good on my own efforts- which fits reality, I make mistakes all the time- but that Jesus reconciles me to God by his sacrifice. There is forgiveness if I only believe in it. To me, that makes good psychological sense: I keep trying. Despite all my past failures, what matters now is what I do today.

Antinomians, such as extreme Calvinists in 17th century Scotland, said if one is predestined to Heaven or Hell, there is no point in behaving morally.

Why divide by belief? Belief is enough. I am accepted by God the parent. We hope this belief will change the person: loved, we respond with love, for God and others.

The division makes far less sense in a world context. The child of Chinese Communist Party members may have heard of Jesus, has not got the excuse of ignorance, and yet has grown up knowing that Christianity is ridiculous. He never enters a church. Yet, if he lives well, why should he go to Hell? One could multiply examples. The man who joins a gang, because it is the only way to be safe, and is ordered to do vile things, may be living as well as is possible in his circumstances. 2.3 billion Christians, now, means 4.7 billion non-Christians, and the idea of them all going to Hell is repellent. Last judgement Bosch (right panel)

Christians usually answer this by saying judgment is between God and God’s creature, and not up to the speaker. Romans 1:20 speaks of people being aware of the reality of God from their experience of creation:  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. This applies at least to those Paul saw worshipping idols. Despite that, we are squeamish about Hell- though not all of us, and in the past there has been enthusiastic damning of the Outsider.

The Reformation rejected the former idea of Purgatory, perhaps because the sale of indulgences. Someone not bad enough to be damned went to Purgatory (of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars) for a time, and the church sold time off. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 gives a scriptural basis for this; but I think Protestants believe those the Catholics destine for Purgatory get straight to Heaven. The Catholics do not sell indulgences now, but claim they can be gained by Freely abstaining in a spirit of penance from something licit and pleasant. So they encourage asceticism.

Limbo is not an official doctrine of any church, but the idea that at the edge of Hell there is a place for those who lived well but did not have the chance to turn to Christ: Dante places Virgil there. There is no punishment other than separation from God.

My answer, which is a strain within Christianity, is that damnation is between God and each person, and that I can only apply any threat of it to myself and to no other person; but I follow Origen. There is no eternal separation from God. Last judgement Bosch (central panel)

22 thoughts on “Heaven and Hell

  1. YAY! THere is no separation from God, not now, not ever. Our beliefs obscure the reality: what God has created – that is, everything – is always part of God and is never separate from God. Some spiritual beliefs suggest that our souls are connected to heaven by a long “umbilicus” of light, a thread which connects all living things to heaven, and keeps us going while we are on Earth.

    Why would God condemn that which s/he has made? The answer is that S/he never would.

    Bless you, Clare. I do love your posts, which are interesting and lively. Thank you. :-))

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  2. Lovely pictures and interesting thoughts. The fact that some Christians are happy with the idea of other people (and indeed most of some continents!) suffering eternally is rather bizarre. They must lead really odd lives.

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    • Thank you. I have three posts scheduled, on how Hell fits into an Evangelical world-view, and how Jesus’ own words on The Outer Darkness could be otherwise interpreted, with pictures by William Blake, Felicien Rops, and Hieronymous Bosch. Enjoy. Also one on me hitting someone, with pictures by me. But first- homophobiaphobia.

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  3. I love the pictures by Bosch. He was the first actual surrealist, even though he did not know about the concept, nor professed to be one. To me anyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. Most Christians throughout history would have thought, that all other people are bound to hell for an eternity. A very great number of people who sincerely think they are Christians even today are quite sure, that the wrong kind of Christians are going to hell and for centuries Christians of different denominations have killed each other for this reason. There is no doubt that they had faith, in what they were doing. They had accepted the authority of a god and those who speak for their god and honestly thought, that even when they ordered killing of other people, they were right and just. To be fair similar authoritarian problems seem to occur in other religions and even other ideologies as well. But that is just it. That is no excuse for Christianity to hold such behaviour models, on the contrary, it reveals to us, that it is just one more invented religion among others.

    Or perhaps it would be more honest to say it is a cluster of very different religions. The fundamentalist Christians share far more similar set of values to those of the fundamentalist Muslims for example and secular Muslims have a much more similar set of values with secular Christians, or any secular people, than they do with the fundies, who profess a religion with the same name and some basic tenets.

    Most people do not choose wich god they believe in, but are born into different cultures, that indoctrinate them into this, or that religion. Their cultural heritage makes the claims of one religion natural to them and others alien. Sometimes they realize, what they personally thought important about their own cultural religious heritage to be hypocritical within their own culture and recognize the very same stuff so important to them to be revered by a nother religion and turn to that other religion. That does not make either of these religions true. Especially since people turn back and forth between all religions.

    A caring, law abiding, Chinese mother who has once heard of Jesus by a street preacher, but dissmissed as nonsense, because of cultural reasons, is bound to hell, but if Stalin asked for forgiveness from Jesus just prior to his death, he is in the for ever jubilation with god in heaven? If this is not a description of an arbitrary system, then what is? People are pretty self righteous abut this issue. They are simply ready to accept it as a piece of luck that they themselves were born into the right religion, and are all too willing to expect other people should understand to turn to their religion, because of course it is the right one. Why? All religions are based on unverified claims ie. faith.

    There are a lot of believers who, when confronted, offer as a reason for their faith in one particular religion the Pascal’s wager, wich is utter nonsense. Even if it seems to make perfect sense on a personal level. As if they thought they can decieve their deity that they believe, though they only profess to believe just in case. Any religion, or ideology, that has this sort of division to eternal pain, or pleasure as a major tenet, or even preaches such unproportionate punishment/reward, is simply unethical and obviously has problems of understanding the concept of eternity. The idea is a terrible one, and it was obviously invented to get people join in a cause by fear and a threat of violence. Adult people should choose right over wrong because they understand the possible outcome of their choises to everyone involved, not because they fear a punishment, or hope for a reward for themselves personally.

    I salute anyone who understands, that the idea of eternal punishment for any crime in this temporal existance is simply wrong and unethical. Does it not seem like primitive tribal moralism? Not something we would expect from a divine and just creator of the universe, but rather something obviously invented by iron age religious fanatics in the Near-East?

    What is the purpose of hell being described in the Bible, if it does not exist?

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    • Mmm. Hell in the Old Testament: it is sufficiently ambiguous for the Sadducees to disbelieve in any afterlife. Hell in the New Testament:

      I will come to that, I have further posts scheduled, but for me it is that the writings are addressed to me, and me personally. The promises are for me. So I can choose life with God, according to Jesus’s word, or reject it; but if I apply that to another, and say what about him? Jesus has answered that. John 21:21-23: 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’

      22 Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ 23 Because of this, the rumour spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’

      So if I say someone else is damned I am missing the point. It is not my business, not for me to speculate.

      I also have posts scheduled on certainty, tomorrow and later. I passionately desire certainty, to put things in boxes so I can understand them, and this is impossible. I think that is the fault in the Christians you describe. But Christianity itself is not a closed system, but one of possibility.

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      • I will be looking forward to those future posts of yours, and check them out. I also sincerely hope you get what you want from Jesus, or what ever you now or in the future will have faith in, in this life and the next (if there is one), since to me it seems you would not be asking anything unethical.

        However, I can not bring myself to believe in this, or that religion, because they all seem like nonsense to me. I really can not help it. The more I explore them, the more they all seem to represent cultural heritage from the times when we humans did not have very many good ways of exploring the reality around us, and out of fear invented personified superforces to bargain with. Why else would the smoke from the sacrificial animals have ever been pleasing to the Abrahamic god once? As you said we like to put stuff into boxes in order to identify them and to have some controll over our own lives by recognizing the forces that influence us.

        It is all fine, that you do not demand damnation to others, and I do respect you for that. But are you a sychopant to an ideology wich demands damnation and claims membership fees by the fear of eternal torture? What does that tell you of the truth value of the ideology? Why would god allow any such unethical tenets to be taught about the divine and afterlife to sincere and faithfull listeners who accept such horrors by the authority of this god?

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        • Why would God allow any suffering at all?

          I don’t see myself as a sycophant to one ideology, but a child playing in a vast tradition, some of which is very beautiful. We Christians have never all demanded damnation for outsiders. Origen I have mentioned. CS Lewis in The Great Divorce and Dante’s Inferno show souls suffering consequences of their own acts- they have gone down dark paths, and trampled them so much that they cannot now leave that path. Dante has those who commit the vilest betrayal leave their body in that instant, and the soul is replaced by a demon until the body dies. This is not a literal account of how a soul is taken to a place and frozen in ice, but a poetic metaphor.

          And- I think Christians can believe bad or useless things and still be on balance better off for the entirety of the belief. Better happier people, living better.

          I think as we develop individually and as a species we perceive God differently. The change is in us and not in God.

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      • Hmm… “Better, happier people, living better.” Than who? The Hindus, the Buddhist, the Muslims, or the atheists?

        Who percieves your god correctly? Some of the Christians today? The Christians belonging to the same sect you do? Did the ancient Hebrew percieve their god wrong when they thought it ordered them to commit genosides?

        All religions evolve, just like any other cultural phenomenons evolve. This does not rule out a possible god, but renders all human explanations based on faith to be mere cultural phenomenons and human attempts to explain the unknown.

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      • Better than we would otherwise be.

        The command to genocide- it matters whether those books were written during the Babylonian exile, or as histories of the Exodus. During the Exile, some Jews thought that they would not have been conquered if they had been more purely Yahwist, extirpating all foreign influences. That is different from wanting to kill an actual unbeliever actually in front of you.

        Also, Quakers believe in “God’s loving purposes”- what God wants for us, now- rather than “God’s Will” which is fixed. What is good in this situation. I am quite sure that stoning in a subsistence agriculture society is the most humane punishment available, but not now.

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      • To me the idea that stoning is “most humane” sentence in any society, is culturally relativistic. It might apply, if human morals are ever evolving cultural phenomenon, but if there is a divine source for ultimate objective morals, then such a “lawgiver” should have not taught any people to apply such a sentence. Or the actions of the “lawgiver” are simply unethical. The shared execution is psychologically making people strained and even more cruel and divorced from compassion. Death sentence is unethical and serves only the society, not the punished person.

        The idea, that the god of the Bible orders genosides (wether it is true or fable, like so many things in the Bible) has led godfearing Christians to think and believe, this sort of atrocity, is something their god would approve of. The crusades, or other religiously motivated mass murders were committed by many people honestly believing they were on the good side of their god while doing that, but did they deserve heaven or hell for their actions? They surely believed, that their victims were bound for hell. Exept perhaps, the likes of Simon de Monfort, leader of the Albigens crusade, who said, that no matter who he and his army kills, god will recognize who to send to heaven, or hell. If he was sincere in his belief, that his violent defence of his god was not only necessary, but a good deed in the eyes of his god, and repented any of his other actions he thought wrong, did he deserve eternal bliss with Jesus? All the while a loving and law abiding Chinese mother who rejected Christianity because it did not seem like a plausible suggestion to her, for cultural reasons, does not recieve the eternal bliss, is this not an arbitrary method of selecting who gets to live for ever?

        Was it even a moral, or ethical act by the preacher to tell the Chinese mother, about Jesus, if he did not know how to convince the mother, at least if the mother was bound for eternal bliss in her ignorance? If she was not, it means a god lets millions of people to be born into a certain exile from this eternal afterlife. Again a very arbitrary way of selecting who gets to live for ever. No?

        If Simon de Monfort did not recieve the eternal life, because of his actions in this world, or rather because of his misunderstanding the “word of god”, and the violence he committed and ordered to be committed in defence of his god, is it not an arbitrary system of selecting who gets to live for ever? I am sorry the alledged afterlife selection system based on faith does not make any sense to me.

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        • Stoning. If we can only survive if we all pull together
          and someone is deliberately acting in his own self interest against the interests of the group
          and exile is either a slow death sentence or a curse on our neighbours with whom we sympathise
          and we wish to avoid a single executioner, with the possibility that that executioner is crushed by guilt and the object of vendetta
          then stoning is the most humane punishment.

          Stoning now, in Muslim countries, is abominable. That is why there is not one morality for all time.

          It is my experience that human beings do our best under difficult circumstances. Even the sociopath is acting with a damaged perception rather than deliberate evil. Wrongdoing comes from particularly difficult circumstances or brokenness. Possibly there are extreme examples which do not fit this airy idealistic view, but I am unlikely to come across them.

          The division by belief makes sense if it is addressed to me and me alone, as I said. I have the promises, which I can accept, and will be saved. I can reject them and be damned- which I feel has a this-worldly meaning rather than an afterlife meaning: I will not be living to my full potential. If I apply it to others, it stops making sense, and I face Jesus’s own words- “What is that to you?”

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      • I still do not exept it, that a benevolent god would have ordered stoning as the best possible sentence in any culture, nor do I accept it, that those things seen as abominations by the ancient Hebrews for cultural reasons, could ever have been directed by a benevolent creator entity. A trickster, or an evil entity, or a total dimwit for a god, could have told people that eating shellfish is an abomination, or that stoning is a good method of legal sentence. A theocrat or a demagogue who wanted to use divine authority to render a conquest and a genoside moral, could have told people, that the habits of the people living in the area to be conquered, are impure, in the eyes of this divine authority. Just to appease the consciences of his people. Of the two possible explanations I tend to go by the less miraculous one. Billions of people have suffered needlessly for something that seemed culturally convinient in the eyes of a god? Really? Further more, because the existance of this entity is totally non substantiated, for me it falls under the category of myths and folklore.

        I think, I can see your point about the personal relationship between you and a god, and the promise you percieve as real. However, religions and their representations of the world, or morals do not exist in a vacuum outside human cultural influence. Nor moral solutions drawn from them. No god, to my knowledge, has ever appeared to tell people, that they are actually doing wrong, when they think they are doing something right in the name and interrest of their god. This means, that either the gods are “nincompoops”, disinterrested, evil, or they do not exist. Either way, even if they were good, and we had evidence of that, I do not understand the need to make pacts and deals with them. That is, not in any other terms, than the primitive desire to appeal to magical, supernatural forces, in face of overwhelming phenomenons in the natural world (like death) to overcome something we personally can not.

        Oh by the way, this is so much more rewarding conversation, than the ones I have had with the fundies. Thank you.

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        • High praise.

          On stoning- what punishment would you suggest instead?

          No God has ever appeared- the prophets thought God spoke through them, and Christians say Jesus is God, come to show us the Way. So the “Pact” is to act in our own interest.

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      • Primitive societies have a bundle of different punishments for crimes much more ethical, than the capital punishment. Confescation of property just as an example. Public shame and incarceration, forced labour to pay for the damages and so on. And do not tell me they were unable to imprison people, as the same set of rules in the Bible incorporates rules for slaves. Any punishment, wich does not involve killing the sentenced is better, because such a sentence is finite, you can not recall it. if it is later proven, the sentenced person was not guilty. Of course there are also some more horrible laws than stoning, but that does not mean stoning was an ethical practice at any point.

        Stoning is very harmfull to the psyche of the participants. And as we examine the “crimes” for wich stoning was condemned for, there is no justice. Is there? Most of them are just arbitrary commands without any explanation as to why, what was done, was wrong. Other than it is an abomination to their god. It is silly for me to present a single sentence, wich is more ethical, because the ethics of any sentence, is in direct relation to what was the alledged crime. But to me no punishment is, nor should have been needed for example homosexuality, not to speak of stoning to death. Unruly children should not be stoned, but rather explained why their behaviour is wrong. Right?

        It is culturally relativistic to claim, that something wich could have been understood by the people in the past as immoral, could be claimed to be moral to them, because their culture was not ready to accept the obvious. If there was a unethical practice in past human behaviour, it does not make it right, that it was their custom.

        We as mammals have a capacity for empathy, to understand the “golden rule” as attributed to mythical characters like Buddha, Laozi and Jesus. They were just saying what comes natural to people, unless a cultural heritage has turned people into fascistic ideals. Correct?

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        • Thank you for your lengthy submission. How often do you suppose, with your understanding of parental love, that stoning of children occurred? Cursing of Parents was a crime under Scots law in the 17th century, with no record of it being prosecuted. That was a rhetorical question: the answer is, not a lot.

          I am not arguing that it was right for them because they did not know better, but because in exceptional circumstances there was no alternative.

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  4. Oh, I think we have reached the point where I have presented my case and run the risk of saying the same thing over and over again. I do not see the circumstances to have been so exeptional, that there were no alternatives. But I would rather agree to disagree on that point. Yes?

    I could also go on a lengthy evaluation of the different nomad cultures and their punishment methods. I dare say I have a pretty good general view of them, as I have studied archeology and ancient cultures & religions, but of course I could be wrong about this one thing. I have been wrong before. If someone could provide evidence, that this was the case about stoning, that it was absolutely necessary and unawoidable, it would be certainly interresting and entertaining. But as it fits in a bigger picture of a claim for a god with a bunch of rather unethical demands (genosides, slavery and such) and laws, wich resemble the primitive morals of any such nation under pressure for change as the ancient Hebrew, during the centuries their holy book was collected, I doubt there will ever be such evidence. Besides for us to require such evidence from beyond so many eons and so much cultural influence by so many generations, would be extremely difficult. So, difficult indeed, that it would be very exeptional. And as in most cases, when sufficient evidence is not awailable, I tend to lean on the less exeptional, miraculous, wondrous explanation. I really can not help myself on that.

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      • It will be my pleasure. I have thus far enjoyed this conversation. You write very interresting posts about Christianity and there is more challenge to engage you on those issues, as it seems we face these problems from a different aspect, but on an equal plane. A conversation with a fundie often feels like I am casting stones 😉 at a person sitting in a wheelchair unable to really defend themselves. The feeling of victory is easy enough to reach in such a situation, but the aftertaste is bitter, as it feels like leaving a wounded person behind. Simply because they could not accept any of my thoughts, because their own faith was built on such a frail structure, it could not stand any questions. Conversations should open up new venues of thought, not simply be a way to enhance our preset conceptions of matters. At least that is what I expect from conversation.

        And besides, you have all these lovely pictures.

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