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Old January 14th, 2010, 09:45 PM   #1
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Default The Immorality of Heaven

I came across this blog post today and it raises an interesting idea:

The Immorality of Heaven

So let's say atheists are wrong. Let's say there is a God, and there are places of permanent perfect bliss/ permanent absolute torture waiting for us after we die, and if God decides we're good enough we'll get to go to the former.

Is that something we would even want?

I'm not talking about the question of whether Heaven would get tedious; whether human nature is even capable of experiencing conflict-free, obstacle-free bliss into infinity. (Although I do think that's a valid question.) I'm talking about something else. I'm asking: Could Heaven really be Heaven if we knew that Hell existed, and that people were suffering in it?

Especially if some of those people were people we loved?

This came up in a post on Ebonmuse's Daylight Atheism blog. Ebon was talking about Christian theologian and apologist William Lane Craig, and a question that was directed to him about this very topic. The querant asked whether God shielded people in Heaven from knowledge of their loved ones who are burning in eternal damnation... and if so, by taking away that knowledge, how was that not taking away our free will? But, the question continued, if we did have knowledge of our loved ones who were being permanently tortured in Hell, how could we be happy in heaven? He said -- entirely reasonably, in my opinion:

I would never forget that I had a child and wish to be with them in the afterlife unless God specifically altered my mind... I also find it hard to come to terms with your later assertion that my love and joy in being in the presence of the Lord would make me not care about my loved ones burning in hell... I am just having trouble imagining myself so happy that I just don't think about my child who is burning in eternal damnation.

The writing of Craig that prompted this question:

It is possible that the very experience itself of being in the immediate presence of Christ (cf. the beatific vision) will simply drive from the minds of His redeemed any awareness of the lost in hell. So overwhelming will be His presence and the love and joy which it inspires that the knowledge of the damned will be banished from the consciousness of God's people. In such a case, the redeemed would still have such knowledge, but they would never be conscious of it and so never pained by it.

His response to this letter begins (after a little opening background):

My first option suggests that it is possible that God removes from the minds of the redeemed any knowledge of the damned. It seems to me that so doing is merciful and involves no wrong-doing on God's part. You object, Eric, that God would violate the free will of redeemed persons were He to take such action. I don't see that this implication follows. God's respecting human free will has to do with moral decision-making. God will not cause you to take one morally significant choice rather than another. He leaves it up to you. But obviously God limits our freedom in many morally neutral ways. He has so situated me that I cannot, for example, choose to begin speaking Vietnamese or to fly about by flapping my arms. My freedom is circumscribed in innumerable such ways. None of this violates my integrity as a moral agent. My morally significant decisions are still up to me. Similarly, if God removes from the redeemed knowledge of the damned, including knowledge of loved ones that are damned, He does not violate the moral integrity or free will of the persons involved, any more than if He had removed their knowledge of calculus. At least I've yet to see any argument that removing such knowledge violates free will in the morally significant way which is at issue.

And then he continues:

The second option I find even more appealing: the redeemed do retain knowledge of the fate of the damned but they are not conscious of it. When you think about it, we're not conscious of most of what we know. This alternative suggests that the experience of being in Christ's immediate presence will be so overwhelming for the redeemed that they will not think of the damned in hell. You reply that you can't imagine yourself being so happy that you don't think of your child who is damned. Well, to help stretch your imagination a bit, imagine an experience of pain -- say, having your leg amputated on the battlefield without anesthetic -- which is so intense that it drives out awareness of anything else. In such a condition you wouldn't be thinking of your child at all. Now substitute for that pain-awareness a feeling of joy and elation, but immeasurably more intense and enthralling. That's the beatific vision of the redeemed in heaven! It's not at all implausible, it seems to me, that such an experience would preclude your bringing the painful knowledge of your child's fate to mind.

And I was so appalled, I could barely find words.

Let's recap Craig's hypothesis. The experience of Christ's presence will be so overwhelming that we won't care about the people we love. We either won't remember them, or we'll be too blissed-out on the presence of Jesus to devote even a corner of our consciousness to thinking about them.

And how exactly will we be ourselves, then?

My thoughts and feelings about the people I love are a central, crucial part of what makes me who I am. The best part, arguably. It is impossible to imagine me being me without the part of me that loves people and cares about what happens to them. And that doesn't just include my friends and family. I have love for people I don't know: compassion and empathy for people I will never meet, but whose suffering I nevertheless feel, and whose lives I want to make better even if they'll never know about it. It is a central part of who I am, and it is one of the best parts.

And Craig thinks that in heaven, this part of me will just disappear?

He thinks that if I'm a good person in God's eyes, God will reward me by eradicating the best and most central part of who I am?

And he thinks that's a good thing?

But in some ways, it gets even worse.

Let's talk about the supposed "moral neutrality" of this conception of Heaven. Let's talk about the notion that denying us the knowledge of the people we love, so we don't have to be troubled by their suffering, is somehow the moral equivalent of denying us the knowledge of how to speak Vietnamese.

How quickly can I shoot this slow, stupid fish in this very small barrel?

Compassion for others is supposedly a central part of Christianity and Christian morality. (It's a central part of every other system of morality, too; but let's set that aside for the moment.) To know that other people are suffering, and to feel moved to do something about it by our sense of connection and brotherhood with them, is supposedly the essence of Christian love.

And yet somehow, our heavenly reward for living this caring life of Christian love and brotherhood is that we get to have that experience permanently stripped from us after we die. Our reward for our magnificent Christian compassion is that we don't have to be burdened with it anymore.

And this is somehow morally neutral? Destroying the lynchpin of human morality -- our compassion for others, based on our knowledge of their suffering and our desire to alleviate it -- has no more moral impact than destroying our knowledge of how to do calculus?

How does that work, exactly?

If anyone else dealt with someone's anguish over the suffering of their loved ones by permanently drugging them into a blissed-out state of ignorant catatonia, we'd be morally repulsed. In the novel Brave New World, the government that does it is considered an archetype of inhuman, soul-crushing evil. Why is it any different when God does it?

What is wrong with these people, anyway? Do they even hear themselves? Do they know what they sound like?
*

Now obviously, this isn't an argument for why religion is mistaken and atheism is correct. As I've pointed out many times: We can't decide what is and isn't true based on what we want to be true. There are excellent arguments against the plausibility of the afterlife -- and indeed, if any given afterlife is logically contradictory (as this one certainly seems to be), that's one of the stronger arguments against it. But if Heaven and Hell were real, my not liking how they're set up would not be an argument against them.

That's not my point.

My point is this:

One of the most common defenses of religion is that it's comforting. It's emotionally and psychologically useful. It helps get people through the day. So who cares if it's not real? If the belief that they'll see their dead loved ones in Heaven helps people endure the grief of their loss... then what difference does it make if it isn't, you know, true?

But it turns out that this belief isn't so comforting after all. For many believers -- such as the person asking this heart-rending and completely valid question -- the idea of Heaven and Hell provide not consolation, but distress. If they know their loved ones are suffering -- and not just suffering a stubbed toe, but suffering the most hideous tortures imaginable, into infinity, with no hope of relief -- then how can they be happy in Heaven? But if they're somehow made to forget about their loved ones and just bliss out on Jesus, then how will they be themselves... and if they're not themselves, then again, how can that be Heaven?

It's something Ingrid has talked about often. (In fact, she brought it up in the comment thread on Ebon's piece.) Her fundamentalist relatives were deeply anguished by the fact that their children and grandchildren had left the faith, and even though they believed that they themselves were going to Heaven, they had no such certainty about their families... and they kept wondering, "How can it be Heaven if our families aren't there?" It was even worse because they felt that the probable damnation of their family was their own personal failure. In their minds, their one most crucial task was to keep their progeny in the faith, so they'd get to Heaven too -- and they'd somehow failed.

So their religion, which if it did nothing else should at the very least have been a comfort to them in their old age, was instead a source of grief and despair.

If Heaven and Hell aren't real, and the only purpose of believing in them is to provide comfort in the face of death... well, it seems to be pretty cold comfort. Atheism may seem like a second-rate solace when compared to the idea that death isn't real and we'll get to live forever and be perfectly happy after we die -- but at least it doesn't teach that forgetting about the people we love is a nifty idea.

And if Heaven and Hell are real? If Craig is right, and being in Heaven means that God obliterates not only the lynchpin of our morality and decency, but the central part of our selves and souls, just so we don't have to look at the torture he's inflicting on the people we dearly love?

Then screw that.

God can go straight to Hell.
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Old January 14th, 2010, 09:58 PM   #2
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Ahh, sorry you don't understand what it will be like in the presence of GOD!!

I Can Only Imagine lyrics

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine

I can only imagine

[Chorus:]
Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in honour of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
When I find myself
Standing in the Son

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine

I can only imagine

[Chorus]

I can only imagine [x2]

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you

I can only imagine
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Old January 14th, 2010, 10:11 PM   #3
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i think i would much rather go to Heaven knowing or not knowing my loved ones are in hell than to think we die and that's it. if all we are living for is what is here on this earth then why do it? i don't know what it's going to be like when i die, i don't know what it will be like when i meet God face to face. i guess that's why i have faith a hope that im not just living for this short amount of life on this earth.
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Old January 14th, 2010, 10:13 PM   #4
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I can see where she is coming from. Oddly enough. Here's the deal though, We can only Speculate about heaven. Just like you (us, we) can only speculate on the beginning of the universe.

The problem with her reasoning is that she's trying to understand an Unearthly Place and Situation with an Earthly mind. I mean, she's an Atheist (or at least that's how I interpreted it) and that's all she has to reason with. Even the Scholar has only his limited knowledge. She is getting bent up about nothing, really.

What I can get from this is this

For Christians - If we can see our friends, family, and anybody else in hell and don't want to, do something about it. With urgency. Now, In the OT there is a Story of a man going into Torment and being able to see Abraham in Paradise. They talk too....

For Non-Christians - If you do have people that you care about that are Christian don't be offended when they show concern in your eternal Future. If anything, I would see that as a show of thier love.

That's all I'm gonna say for now. Good article. Gets the old brain thinking.

Edit: Forgot this part...

The OT story I was talking about is actually a different stage of...um...Eternity. There is Paradise, Hades, Hell, and Heaven. Theologically speaking of course. Heaven is what Christ will build after the final judgement, here on earth. Hell is hell. Can't really say much about it. I mean, You don't research a place you're not going to go to for vacation. I feel the same about hell. Paradise is where everybody (at least, the faithful) is right now (pre-judgement) and Hades is also a Temporary "holding cell"..... That's one way it's looked at.

Last edited by L4CX; January 14th, 2010 at 10:19 PM.
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Old January 14th, 2010, 10:15 PM   #5
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IIRC the original concept for heaven and hell are something like this:

Heaven is eternal bliss because you are in the presence of God. While Hell is eternal torment because there is a lack of God.


It wasnt until later did Hell become a lake of fire and eternal physical pain.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 01:05 AM   #6
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“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He that sat upon the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' And He said to me, 'Write, for these words are true and faithful'” (Revelation 21:4-5).

I believe the typical interpretation for "making all things new" includes wiping loved ones who were not saved from the memories of the saved. In order for there to be no more sorrow or crying, you would have to lose your memory of your loved ones. Even if you fully understood why they were not saved, you would still love them.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 08:26 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VanTheMan View Post
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He that sat upon the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' And He said to me, 'Write, for these words are true and faithful'” (Revelation 21:4-5).

I believe the typical interpretation for "making all things new" includes wiping loved ones who were not saved from the memories of the saved. In order for there to be no more sorrow or crying, you would have to lose your memory of your loved ones. Even if you fully understood why they were not saved, you would still love them.
I tend to think that we won't think like we do now. Our minds will be back to the way they were supposed to be. Maybe we'll retain the memories but be able to deal with them better. Just a thought.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 08:40 AM   #8
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Without hell, heaven would be socialist. God is not a commie. :)
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Old January 15th, 2010, 09:19 AM   #9
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Cliffs notes: God pushes E.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 09:26 AM   #10
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Cliffs notes: God pushes E.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 10:07 AM   #11
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The blogger presents his conclusion based on his speculation. I'm sure we could find someone, or put together a conclusion based on speculation, that Atheists are unable to have any moral values, compassion, or guilt for their action.

But that would be silly wouldn't it....
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Old January 15th, 2010, 10:30 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr Toes View Post
The blogger presents his conclusion based on his speculation. I'm sure we could find someone, or put together a conclusion based on speculation, that Atheists are unable to have any moral values, compassion, or guilt for their action.

But that would be silly wouldn't it....
You could put together a conclusion like that based on speculation or you could actually test it scientifically.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 10:34 AM   #13
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"Man my album covers totally got this wrong!"
I like this one.
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Old January 15th, 2010, 11:35 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikesova View Post
You could put together a conclusion like that based on speculation or you could actually test it scientifically.
Last time I posted a conclusion based on science and statistics you called me a racist bastard, or something along those lines.
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Old January 17th, 2010, 09:59 AM   #15
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You could put together a conclusion like that based on speculation or you could actually test it scientifically.
how?

which set of morals would you choose? how do you define guilt?

ultimately it still would not be scientific per se' as there is no good test to determine the sincerity of the test subjects - also how to test the repeatability of said quasi-scientific test?

in a nutshell it would simply just be another poll where realistically one could only hypothesize at the measure of error.
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Old January 17th, 2010, 11:24 AM   #16
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how?

which set of morals would you choose? how do you define guilt?

ultimately it still would not be scientific per se' as there is no good test to determine the sincerity of the test subjects - also how to test the repeatability of said quasi-scientific test?

in a nutshell it would simply just be another poll where realistically one could only hypothesize at the measure of error.
Are psychologists not scientists?
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Old January 17th, 2010, 12:59 PM   #17
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Are psychologists not scientists?
I had quite a bit of psych classes in college and my opinion is in no way is that a science. Closer to Voodoo
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Old January 17th, 2010, 02:08 PM   #18
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Are psychologists not scientists?
do you really want me to answer that in the context that most people view science? empirical evidence, repeatable testing with repeatable observational evidence? or would you prefer to find your answer from google?
http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=...33cfa73c417403

your tired old habit of answering a question with a question is also not the answer to the question that I posed. I guess I'm used to that now...
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Old January 17th, 2010, 02:26 PM   #19
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That is why many Christians are so crazy about spreading the word. Even it becomes intrusive, annoying, etc...
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Old January 17th, 2010, 08:56 PM   #20
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That is why many Christians are so crazy about spreading the word. Even it becomes intrusive, annoying, etc...
There is a right time and a wrong time to say something and some people just mess it up and think that need to tell em about Jesus even if the person is not ready to hear it.
Sometimes we need to listen more than we speak.
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