Tag Archives: moral influences

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.
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The Story of the Golden Calf
Moses Receives the Commandments

On the mountain, or wherever

Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to meet God, who told him that his people needed to keep his covenant. Moses went back down and told the Israelites, and they said they would keep it. So Moses went back up the mountain and told God what they said. Then God said he was going to come and talk to Moses. Then Moses told God what the people had said, again.

God told Moses how the people should prepare for God to talk to Moses, and how Moses should keep the people away from the holy mountain while God was there. Then Moses went down and told the people what God had said. He also told them not to have sex during the visit from God, which God had not said anything about.

Moses stood at the foot of the mountain with the people and talked with God. Then Moses went up to the top of the mountain so God could talk to him. God told Moses to go and warn the people not to get too close to the mountain. Moses reminded the all-knowing God that they had already put limits around the mountain to keep people away, because God had told them to.

Then God told Moses to go down and get his brother Aaron. So he went down and told the people to stay away from the mountain, again. While Moses was down there with the people, God told them the Ten Commandments. But God was too scary, so the Israelites told Moses not to let God speak to them directly. So Moses went back up the mountain, and God gave him some more laws for Israel, so they would have more opportunities to sin. God thought that would help save people’s lives, but somehow it didn’t work.

Then God told Moses to come up the mountain with Aaron and some others. So Moses went down the mountain and told the people about all those laws. The people said they would obey them. Moses wrote down the laws, and then he came up the mountain with Aaron and some others. Then God told Moses to come up the mountain so he could give him the law. So Moses went up the mountain with his assistant, Joshua, leaving Aaron with the people. A week later, God started talking to Moses and giving him more instructions.

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Moses Receives the Commandments
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The Story of the Ten Plagues
The Exodus from Egypt

Mass infanticide

The Israelites (the descendants of Jacob) were getting so numerous that the new Pharaoh was afraid of them. So he decided to enslave them and have all their baby boys thrown into the Nile River.

Jacob’s great-grandson Amram and his aunt Jochebed had a baby boy, so they put the baby in the Nile… inside a waterproof basket, with their daughter watching over it. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby in the basket while she was bathing in the Nile. She adopted the baby, named him Moses, and hired his mother to nurse him for her.

After Moses grew up, he was watching his fellow Hebrews working, when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. So Moses killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about that, he tried to kill Moses. The other Hebrews weren’t happy with what Moses had done, either. So Moses ran away from Egypt and lived in Midian until that Pharaoh died.

The Israelites were still slaves under the next Pharaoh. So when Moses was 80, God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to go tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. On the way back to Egypt, the all-good God tried to murder Moses for some reason. But Moses’s wife touched his feet with their son’s foreskin, which convinced the never-changing God not to kill him.

Moses and his brother Aaron told Pharaoh that the God of Israel wanted his people to go out into the wilderness for a festival. But Pharaoh didn’t know that god, so he refused to let them do that.

God could have instantly overcome that obstacle in a peaceful way, like by making Pharaoh no longer want to keep his slaves, or by teleporting the people out of Egypt. But God cared more about showing off than about the freedom of his people and the wellbeing of all the innocent people of Egypt. So instead, God decided to cause a lot of unnecessary death and suffering, and to let his people continue to be mistreated in the meantime.

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The Exodus from Egypt
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Good deeds for bad reasons

The Bible describes and encourages a lot more evil behavior than you would expect from a “good book”. Not all of it is like that, of course. But even when the Bible discusses and promotes good behavior, the reasons it gives for behaving that way are usually all wrong.

There’s a Bible verse that addresses the issue of doing things for the wrong reasons. Paul thinks that as long as you’re doing the right thing, it doesn’t really matter why you’re doing it. Well, I disagree. Reasons are important. Your reasons for doing things influence which things you choose to do. If you’re not doing things for the right reasons, you’re probably not going to consistently do the right things.

What would be a good reason for, say, showing hospitality? Why should you provide people with lodging and food? In the past, one good reason was that it took a long time to travel, and there weren’t a lot of commercial hotels around. So the only way travelers could get shelter at night was to rely on strangers to offer them a place to stay.

The Bible’s justification for promoting hospitality, on the other hand, doesn’t even have anything to do with helping people! Instead, the Bible says you should let people stay in your home because your guests might actually be angels. That’s a dumb reason, isn’t it? How is it in any way better to provide for angels, who don’t need your help, than to provide for humans, who do?

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Should we follow God’s example?

The Bible says we should follow God’s example. That makes sense, because God is perfect, and everything he does is right. God is love, and we should walk in the way of love. We should be holy as God is holy, and perfect as he is perfect. We should speak the way God would speak. We should think like Jesus and follow his ways.

Paul taught his followers to transform themselves and become like God, because God wants his people to become like him. Paul followed Jesus’s example, and we should follow Paul’s example, so that we end up following Jesus’s example too.

How can we follow God’s example, though? I mean, if we can’t see God, how can we know what kinds of things he does, so that we can do the same? We can find out what God does by reading stories about God in the Bible. That includes stories about Jesus, since according to the Bible, Jesus is God.

So, here are some things we should do in order to follow God’s example, according to the stories about God in the Bible:

…Wait a minute. Those are all things the Bible says we shouldn’t do!

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The Story of Abraham’s Sacrifice
Isaac and his Murderous Psycho Father

Ten generations after Noah, God promised a man named Abraham that he would have countless descendants through Isaac, the son of Abraham and his sister Sarah. But before Isaac could grow up and have children, the all-good God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. So Abraham lied to his servants and his son about what he was planning to do, so they wouldn’t interfere. Then he tied up his son, put him on an altar, and picked up a knife

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Isaac and his Murderous Psycho Father
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The Story of Cain and Abel
The Picky Eater

Adam and Eve’s first two sons were Cain, who grew plants, and Abel, who raised animals. They offered some of their plants and animals to God, but God only liked Abel’s meat, and didn’t like Cain’s fruits. Cain got very angry, and the all-knowing God couldn’t figure out why.

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The Picky Eater
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Should people follow their hearts and eyes?

The author of Ecclesiastes (who claims to be Solomon, the wisest man of all time) advises young people to follow their hearts, and to follow whatever their eyes see. Everything else the Bible says about following your heart or your eyes is very much against it, though. Righteous Job, for instance, believes that people who let themselves be led by their eyes don’t deserve to eat.

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