Questions for Christians #2

ID-100252486Topic: life and death

Last time we discussed Heaven, This time I have twelve questions for the religious regarding life and death.

Link to no.1: https://countercreationist.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/questions-for-christians-1/

Would you want to exist eternally on Earth or risk going to Hell when you die?

What is your response to the fact that in the Old Testament, the punishment for sin was death, an afterlife was never mentioned. What happened to all the people who died back then, when Heaven and Hell weren’t even mentioned?

What happens if someone dies without ever knowing Christianity exists? Do they go to Heaven? If so, WHY do you preach and spread the word of your religion if we can get a free pass?! If the answer is that you go to Hell, how is that fair? Nomads in the middle of nowhere, busy surviving, die and go to Hell because nobody told them about Christianity – if God cares about people that much then HE should go about preaching.

If people die and go to heaven, how are humans mortal? Are humans ghosts up in heaven with a zombie Jesus and a God who looks like Santa Claus? Just like when Jesus ‘died’ and was resurrected, how is that a sacrifice?

What happens to animals after death? Also, Heaven must be pretty full if it has been collecting people and animals for about 3.5 billion years.

Do you go to Hell for simply forgetting the Sabbath? And couldn’t God come up with better commandments? After all, he left out rape, slavery and genocide. And the Sumerian laws that came before him covered literally everything, from woman’s rights to tax laws.

Everyone always says that ‘the punishment for sin is death’, but first off, everybody dies, and secondly, why is Hell necessary? Isn’t the so called ‘spiritual death’ enough?

Can people get out of Hell? If not, then your God is a sadistic monster. Punishing people for no good reason without a chance for redemption is hardly a thing that such a loving God would do. But I guess that with that many great people down in Hell, including many scientists, actors and people who changed the world, Hell must be a pretty good place after all.

If your God is so concerned about saving people, why doesn’t he provide better evidence of his existence? And what happens to babies who die before they can be ‘saved’? Do they go to Hell?

Last of all, how is infinite punishment for a finite crime fair? If you commit a crime you are generally given a time in jail, you are not sent there for eternity!

My last ‘questions for Christians’ post got a handful of likes, but no answers! I do genuinely hope that I get some answers to these questions, just to see what different people have to say on the matter.

Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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13 thoughts on “Questions for Christians #2

  1. I am personally not a Christian, but I was once and I am familiar with Christian arguments from a large number of denominations. So, for the sake of examining different perspectives, I will answer some of your questions as I think they would:

    Would you want to exist eternally on Earth or risk going to Hell when you die? – Most Christians I know would say they would not want to exist eternally on this Earth, because this world is Fallen thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve. The existence of suffering, death, and various immoralities in this world makes it quite an unsatisfactory home for the devout – who also generally do not worry about going to Hell when they die since they believe they are saved.

    What is your response to the fact that in the Old Testament, the punishment for sin was death, an afterlife was never mentioned. What happened to all the people who died back then, when Heaven and Hell weren’t even mentioned?

    The story I am familiar with, which is put forth by the Catholic Church (and I don’t know if Protestants agree with it, but I have a hard time imagining what other explanation they could come up with) is that those who died prior to the coming of Christ went to Hell or to another not-Heaven place until Christ bridged the gap between God and Man, at which point he actually descended to Hell before resurrection to free the people who had been trapped there for no other reason than the fact that the gates had not been open prior to his death.

    There seems to be some wiggle room for whether these people actually went to Hell – Catholics believe in a “Limbo” that is between Heaven and Hell, where souls that are not damned but neither perfect enough to get into Heaven wait around. There’s also some suggestion from the Hebrew scriptures that they believed their forefathers had gone to a more neutral sort of not-Heaven, not-Hell underworld, which is accepted by some Christian teachers.

    It is also important to point out that in many Christian theologies, “Heaven” and “Hell” are not so much realms or locations as they are states of mind. “Heaven” is seen by many theologians as the state a soul ends up in when it sheds its worldly body and can fully commune with God again – if it is able to do so. “Hell” is seen as the state of a soul that has shed its physical body but is UNABLE to commune with God, resulting in a state of constant misery because it is able to perceive that it is missing something terribly and that its whole existence has gone wrong, so to speak.

    What happens if someone dies without ever knowing Christianity exists? Do they go to Heaven? If so,WHY do you preach and spread the word of your religion if we can get a free pass?! If the answer is that you go to Hell, how is that fair? Nomads in the middle of nowhere, busy surviving, die and go to Hell because nobody told them about Christianity – if God cares about people that much then HE should go about preaching.

    The answer to this varies widely among Christian denominations:

    Some interpret “Christ is the only way to salvation” to mean that EMULATING Christ is the way – i.e. living a Christlike life full of kindness, compassion, righteousness, and self-sacrifice. By this logic, people of any religion or belief system can go to Heaven if they have lived a good life.

    Others believe that getting into Heaven is almost a physics problem – it’s less a matter of what a person deserves, and more a matter of the need to remove the stain of Original Sin that we are all born with due to the sin of Adam and Eve. By that logic, no one can be saved without baptism in Christ – not because they DESERVE to go to Hell, but because the natural state of the human soul is not capable of communing with God after death. These are the folks who really believe you’re going to Hell if you’re not “saved,” regardless of your deeds or moral fiber.

    The issue of “faith vs. works” is actually a HUGE theological controversy in Christianity – arguably one of the most important points of disagreement for Christians. The “faith” folks believe the latter model, that the human soul simply can’t commune with God in the afterlife unless the stain of Original Sin is removed by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. To them, no good works could possibly make a difference to the outcome. The “works” people, on the other hand, believe that following Christ’s example through doing good deeds is what’s important.

    Most denominations, if we’re being honest, fall somewhere between the two extremes. Almost all denominations teach that it’s important to know Christ – either for your well-being in this life or the next – but also that it’s important to do good works and avoid sin. Most denominations end up teaching something like “only God can judge, so we can’t say for CERTAIN who’s going to Heaven or Hell – but following our teachings (which generally include both “faith” and “works” components) is the safest path!

    If people die and go to heaven, how are humans mortal? Are humans ghosts up in heaven with a zombie Jesus and a God who looks like Santa Claus? Just like when Jesus ‘died’ and was resurrected, how is that a sacrifice?

    Interesting note – another name for the Holy Spirit among Christians is the Holy Ghost. There is a connection between ghosts and spirits of the dead in Christian theology; ideally, spirits of the dead should not be on Earth anymore, since they should be partying with God in Heaven. That’s why many Christians default to the idea that ghosts and other spirits that purport to be human are evil – if they’re not partying with God in Heaven, something must be wrong with them!

    Another point I will make from a purely humanist perspective – immortal soul aside, being crucified HURTS and is SCARY. Some would probably argue that such an experience is worse than ceasing to exist, since ceasing to exist doesn’t hurt.

    Not that I’m speaking from experience, or anything…

    What happens to animals after death? Also, Heaven must be pretty full if it has been collecting people and animals for about 3.5 billion years.

    Almost all Christian denominations are of the opinion that animals don’t have immortal souls.

    Do you go to Hell for simply forgetting the Sabbath? And couldn’t God come up with better commandments? After all, he left out rape, slavery and genocide. And the Sumerian laws that came before him covered literally everything, from woman’s rights to tax laws.

    Depends on who you ask. Since Heaven and Hell weren’t really part of Hebrew theology, nowhere is it made clear what the relationship of the Ten Commandments to Heaven and Hell are. The Catholics at least have an index of “deadly sins” that will most likely result in Hell if you die without getting them absolved, vs. “venial sins” that will get you more time in purgatory but not result in Hell.

    Everyone always says that ‘the punishment for sin is death’, but first off, everybody dies, and secondly, why is Hell necessary? Isn’t the so called ‘spiritual death’ enough?

    It is an interesting point that this scripture, again, is part of a book that does not anywhere clearly lay out the concepts of Heaven and Hell. It is arguable that the person who originally said it thought that literal death – ceasing to exist – was the worst thing that could happen to a person (and was the lot of those who were not saved).

    Folks today can claim that “spiritual death” is a metaphor for Hell, but it doesn’t quite sound that way to me!

    Can people get out of Hell? If not, then your God is a sadistic monster. Punishing people for no good reason without a chance for redemption is hardly a thing that such a loving God would do. But I guess that with that many great people down in Hell, including many scientists, actors and people who changed the world, Hell must be a pretty good place after all.

    Interestingly, an increasing number of Christian teachers have been suggesting that Hell may not be permanent, or may not exist at all. One previously extremely influential American evangelical Christian teacher recently drew hostility from the Evangelical community by basically writing a book about how he doesn’t think there is an eternal Hell.

    Unfortunately his name escapes me at the moment, but that has become somewhat of a soul-searching moment for some evangelicals. Many are going with the party line of “it’s DANGEROUS to teach that there is no Hell, because there IS and if people think there isn’t then they will be more likely to go there.”

    But some have stopped to question whether that’s really fair, now that a well-respected teacher has come out and said it, and why so many other teachers are reacting to that guy with such hostility.

    If your God is so concerned about saving people, why doesn’t he provide better evidence of his existence? And what happens to babies who die before they can be ‘saved’? Do they go to Hell?

    The question of babies being saved is an interesting one. The Catholic Church has traditionally taught that babies who die unbaptised cannot go to Heaven – but Catholics have another place for them to go, the aforementioned Limbo, which is neither full communion with God nor full absence of him. A recent Catholic Pope even suggested that there “may be reason to believe” that unbaptised babies can eventually end up in Heaven.

    I have heard non-Catholics argue fairly vehemently that unbaptised babies do, indeed, go to Hell – that that’s simply an inescapable reality of how the world works. However I can’t imagine that most of them think this – I wonder what other beliefs there are out there among Christians on the subject.

    Last of all, how is infinite punishment for a finite crime fair? If you commit a crime you are generally given a time in jail, you are not sent there for eternity!

    I agree! However, it’s worth pointing out that in the “state of mind” model, again Hell is not a place into which people are thrown and locked up as punishment, but rather a state of the soul which is a natural and unavoidable consequence of the soul’s actions in life. By this perspective, Hell is less a prison system and more like a disease resulting from a congenital heart defect. Faith and/or good works can fix the heart defect, but if you never got the “surgery” of being saved or if you did a bunch of stuff in life that’s bad for your soul, you’re stuck with the consequences in the afterlife.

    Of course, this model of Hell fails to address the supposed omniscience of God – by which he should be able to save everyone even if they didn’t get the “surgery,” because, after all, he can do anything. And most denominations do teach that God WANTS to save everyone very, very badly. That’s why he commands people to minister and such.

    Why he is unable to do so in most Christian theologies is something of an unanswered question. The most common “answer” I’ve heard is that God has to let us live with the consequences of our actions and choices because otherwise, our actions and choices would be meaningless and we would not truly have free will.

    I find that argument to be deeply logically flawed – that’s like saying “your will is MORE free because I’m threatening you with eternal punishment if you don’t do what I want” – but that’s the explanation that’s given.

    And honestly, I can understand why people give these explanations. Spirituality is an extremely important part of life, and people who come to believe that they need a particular set of spiritual truths to be true often have a very difficult time if those beliefs turn out not to be true. That happened to me – I had been taught pretty much from birth that I NEEDED Christianity to be true, because the Christian God was my source of comfort and meaning. Many, many people are in that boat – and they will put together elaborate logic to protect their beliefs.

    I would argue, now that I sit on the other side of the fence, that the NEED for Christianity to be true is in fact an illusion which Christianity creates to sustain itself. If you can get over that illusion and the “withdrawal” of losing faith in Christianity, life is actually just fine without it. But the belief in the need it creates is extremely powerful – so I can totally see why people who don’t know how to be happy without Christianity fight to preserve it.

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  2. I had an interesting conversation about this with Matt Kovacs of Miami Valley Skeptics in Ohio. I’ll have to clip out the excerpt from the interview ( https://godlessengineering.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/godless-engineer-interviews-matt-kovacs/ ) but it was very interesting in deed.

    Curious though, What do you think about that recent study done that showed the mere thought about atheists caused theists to contemplate the finality of death?

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    • Thanks for commenting 🙂
      One of the main reasons people are religious is that they fear death. The idea of an afterlife pleases them, so they will go long lengths to trick themselves into thinking that it is real. I guess that’s why some people don’t find atheism appealing.
      “Of course we all wish for life after death, but there’s no evidence to suggest that it’s anything more than wishful thinking”
      – I think that was said at some point in time by Carl Sagan, but I’m not sure

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  3. Think of the “rewards” or “pay-off” on the following scenarios:
    1. Life eternal on earth — finite, since not all happiness is permanent
    2. Life eternal in Hell — (negative infinity) since by this time you already know what can make you happy yet permanently decides to refuse accepting it.
    3. Life eternal in Heaven — positive infinity, everything in perfection ontologically.

    Given these, the rational choice must be #3.

    BTW, death has lost its “sting” (fear of it) due to the hope of the resurrection and the Cross. The “fear of death” notion is an immature stage of Christians. Think of the martyrs who died for the Faith. Their fear is not being able to prepare properly for death, not death itself. (Natural) Death is “dies natalis”, the day we are born to the next life. Natural death is exciting.

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    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
      The fear of death comes from the fear of the unknown. Many people – even today – are afraid to die; simply because it is so unknown. No amount of faith or religious belief can show without a doubt what will happen when you die. It is because of this fear that ancient people wrote their own endings to the story. The concept of an afterlife was invented be ancient humans who feared death.

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      • Maybe that is true to a certain extent.

        However, the Christian concept of afterlife is not without basis. Assuming that Christian belief of God becoming man in Jesus is true, then their claim of KNOWING for a possibility of being with God in the afterlife must be accepted. Thus, fear today is more of being **unprepared** to die rather than death itself. Therefore, the Christian concept of afterlife cannot be simply categorized as “invented” or “made up” since this concept was confirmed by their God Himself. This notion is called “revealed truth” or Revelation.

        The ancient humans indeed had it imaginary perhaps only like a dream since they only had an inclination to an idea of afterlife but no notion whatsoever of what it really is. In fact, the knowledge of afterlife and the possibility of Heaven is the only certain part. However, its very nature (what it really is) is still unknown. But this unknown is the highest degree possible of human perfection thus, very exciting.

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        • Some people believe that they know exactly what will happen when they die, so yes, their fear is from lack of preparation. But others dislike/fear the change that death brings, or the fact that nobody has ever been dead and then came back to life and told everyone what it was like. There are near death experiences, but some people see God, others see Allah, and some people see nothing, so it doesn’t really count.

          The thing about the afterlife is that really, we must wait and see. When you die, there is no turning back, and that is where the facts end and the faith begins.

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          • Faith requires that we rely on the data that is revealed. It is a fact that God revealed himself through a person — Jesus, as Christians claim. At death, the usefulness of this data ends, faith ends; truth begins.

            The data about afterlife based on “near-death” experience is subjective and can only be seen as corroborating. Often they can be misleading. But they can be tested.

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            • Faith, by default, is defined as ‘belief without evidence’ – that is religious faith. The other type of faith is defined as ‘trust’.
              There is a strong possibility that a man existed some 2000 years ago and claimed to be God. Maybe he even did a few magic tricks to convince everyone. But if this man did exist, there is a strong possibility that the events were exaggerated over the decades before they were written down.

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              • As far as the Holy Scriptures of Christians are concerned, the bible books were written within the lifetime of the firsthand witnesses who could have corrected the books. They were few that variations are insignificant. In fact, there were certain books (“gospels”) which did not make it to the Canon. Your claim is plausible but the errors have been rectified early on as far as bible is concerned.

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              • Moreover, this hypothesis however plausible is difficult to prove and requires many complex assumptions. Evidence is wanting for the particular case of the Christian Jesus.

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