Everything wrong with heaven and hell

Perverse incentives

  • The expectation of being rewarded or punished in the afterlife is supposed to be a reason to be good in this life. But rewards and punishments are not good reasons to be good. Focusing on personal repayment distracts from the real reasons to be good, which leads to selfishness and moral apathy.1
  • Expecting to be infinitely rewarded or punished depending on what you believe is arguably the worst possible obstacle to true belief.
  • A lot of religious people say it’s very important to God that we have free will. And they say it’s particularly important for us to be able to freely choose whether to accept him. So what’s up with all the threats and coercion? It’s hardly a free choice if you’re threatening to torture people forever if they don’t make the choice you wanted them to make.
  • The knowledge that life is short is an incentive to stop wasting time, focus on the things that matter most, and enjoy your life as much as you can while it lasts. If you think you’re going to live forever, you have no reason to do any of that. Scarcity makes things more valuable, including life. The belief in an everlasting afterlife devalues this life.
  • If you were really going to go to heaven when you died, the logical thing to do would be to kill yourself as soon as possible, after encouraging everyone you care about to do the same. Or maybe you wouldn’t do that, since having all those deaths on your hands might prevent you from going to the right place. But still, it wouldn’t make any sense to fear death, to try to avoid it, and to be sad when people die. A rational believer in heaven would live recklessly. Who cares if you die if you’re just going to keep living? Death would be a good thing if it meant you were going to a better world. And you would be anxious for it to happen as soon as possible, before you had a chance to do anything that might prevent you from getting there. (Of course, death is not actually a good thing, and not caring about death is a terrible idea, since heaven isn’t real. But many people think it is real, which is quite a dangerous belief.)
  • Having children is a terrible idea if it means there will be more people who have a good chance of ending up in hell. The existence of hell would mean that by reproducing, you risk causing infinitely more suffering than you would cause by doing any other bad thing you can imagine. Even if most people weren’t going to hell, as the Bible says they are, allowing any risk of even one person going to hell when you could have avoided it is unacceptable, and makes you an infinitely worse person than every childless criminal in history combined. The risk of causing your children to suffer forever is especially bad if people who die very young go to hell by default.
  • On the other hand, if you believe that people who die very young go to heaven by default, the logical thing to do would be to reproduce as often as possible and then kill all your children as soon as possible, to maximize the number of people who go to heaven. There certainly wouldn’t be any reason to oppose abortion if you believed that. In any case, if people believed in heaven and hell and acted logically on their misguided beliefs, believers would be extinct by now.

Unjust judgment

  • The Bible says anyone who has died has been set free from sin. If that’s true, it sounds like there’s nothing to punish them for. So nobody should go to hell.
  • The Bible can’t make up its mind on what exactly it is that determines whether you go to heaven or hell. Will people be repaid for their faith, or for their works, or for another of the twenty or so possible judgment criteria the Bible suggests? How are we supposed to know which of those things God wants us to focus on? We can’t be required to do all of them, or it would be impossible for anyone to get to heaven.
  • And some of God’s criteria for judgment according to the Bible are awfully random and unjust. What’s good about rewarding a lifelong sinner for a deathbed conversion, or punishing good people because they don’t happen to believe in Jesus? That doesn’t reward good behavior, or deter bad behavior, or anything.
  • What happens to people who die too young to have the capacity to accept Jesus, or whatever it is they have to do to get into heaven? It wouldn’t be right to send them to hell just for dying as babies. And so despite the popular Christian belief that people are born sinful, many Christians also believe that all dead babies go to heaven for some reason. But that would mean the vast majority of the inhabitants of heaven will be people who never really had an earthly life, and are being rewarded for nothing.
  • Similarly, a lot of people who have severe mental disabilities are likely incapable of accepting Jesus. So is everyone who lived before Jesus. And a lot of people probably still die without ever hearing about Jesus. It seems all these people have no choice but to go to hell.
  • In the past, almost everyone was perfectly okay with things that are now considered terrible crimes, like slavery and adults having sex with 13-year-olds. And the Bible certainly did nothing to help correct those views. Are all those people going to hell for things they had no idea were wrong? Or are most of the people God rewards in heaven going to be slave owners and child molesters?
  • No one deserves an afterlife full of either nothing but happiness or nothing but suffering, because everyone has done both good and bad things.
  • An infinite reward or punishment is infinitely disproportionate and can’t be a just repayment for any of the finite things people do in their finite lives. No one deserves to go to heaven or hell.2
  • And it’s not even our fault if we do something God thinks we should go to hell for. The Bible says God makes some people for evil purposes, and they do evil just because they can’t resist God’s will. And then unless God happens to randomly decide to have mercy on them, God will punish them in hell for what HE forced them to do.
  • Sending people to hell is even more unfair if, like all the people in the past who didn’t have the New Testament, they never even knew hell existed. There is no mention of heaven or hell in the Old Testament.3 In fact, several Old Testament passages suggest that there is no afterlife at all. In reality, this is because humans hadn’t come up with the idea of heaven and hell yet. But in-story, it can only be explained by assuming that God is less than perfect in some way. Like maybe he somehow didn’t know about the afterlife himself. Or maybe he was keeping hell a secret from the people he was planning to send there. Or maybe he only invented hell in New Testament times, after getting along just fine without it for thousands of years, just so Jesus would have something to “save” people from.

High heaven stinks

  • A lot of people think the reason God allows evil to exist in this world is because it’s necessary to enable a greater good, such as free will. Something that’s so important and necessary that we would be worse off without it than we are now with all the bad things that exist in the world, but something that can only exist in an imperfect world. If that’s true, and if there’s no evil in heaven, that means there must be something awfully important that you’d be missing out on forever if you went to heaven.
  • Another excuse people make for God allowing the existence of evil is that this is actually the best possible world, and even God couldn’t make a better one. If that’s true, heaven can’t be any better than this world.
  • Even if it starts out “perfect”, there are powerful evil spirits in heaven, and war can break out in heaven. So it seems there’s a possibility that something could go wrong at some point, and heaven may not stay perfect forever. And given an infinite amount of time, anything that can happen is pretty much certain to happen. It wouldn’t be the first time God created a world he thought was very good, only to have it go horribly wrong.
  • Judging by some of the Bible’s descriptions, it does indeed sound like heaven is imperfect, and people who go there won’t necessarily live happily ever after. Apparently people can be thrown out of God’s kingdom. And apparently some people who live there will be cursed and die before they even live 100 years.
  • The Bible says people won’t be able to do what they want in heaven. For instance, they might want to visit people who are in hell, but they won’t be able to.
  • Could people really be happy in heaven if they knew their loved ones were in hell? Maybe they would be okay if God changed their personality so they didn’t care that their loved ones were being tortured (so God would be making them worse people). Or if he hid the truth from them by erasing their memories of their loved ones…
  • People who love dogs or the sea will be disappointed to find that those things don’t exist in the world to come. Unless God erases their memories of those things…
  • The Bible does indeed say people will lose their memories of this world when they enter the next. But having your mind erased hardly seems like it should be part of a reward. Would the person who goes to heaven even really be the same person as you?
  • One thing that doesn’t change when you go to heaven is any body parts you were missing when you died. Even though you get a superior new “spiritual body”, it will apparently still be missing all the same parts. So it’s possible you’ll be rewarded by having to spend eternity horribly disfigured.

A place where nothing ever happens

  • Surely you would eventually get bored of life if it never ended. And then you would have to stay bored forever.
  • If all you ever got to do in heaven was praise God all day, that could get boring a lot quicker. Unless God forcibly changes people’s personalities (beyond recognition in many cases), removing all their other interests and giving them an unhealthy level of desire to senselessly submit to authority.
  • Another thing that could lead to neverending boredom is the fact that if heaven is perfect, if there are no problems anymore, there’s no reason to do anything! If everything is going to be just as good whether you do something or not, you might as well do nothing.
  • Of course, these problems of boredom are moot if eternal life actually means living outside of time. In that kind of “life”, if you can call it that, literally nothing would ever happen, since it takes time for things to happen. At least you wouldn’t have any time to be bored. But you wouldn’t have any time to be happy, either.
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