Let’s say you are on a big cruise ship. Over 6,000 men, women, and children are on board. This cruise ship promises to take you to paradise and it’s not a lie either. A place where everybody is happy, nothing bad ever happens, and everybody gets along in love and friendship. Children are laughing and smiling and running around. Nobody
is hungry or hurting. Everybody lives in harmony. There was no charge to even be one of the passengers. You’re on for free and who wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity.
As you are making your way to paradise, the captain announces that due to some unknown structural defects that they need to get rid of about 100 passengers or the boat will sink. Fortunately there are an equal amount of bad criminals who have done some bad things and don’t really deserve paradise on board and the captain knows who they are and asks everybody else to throw those people overboard. Would you still want to be on that boat? Keep in mind that by even looking the other way, you are an accessory. But many people, I think, given the promise of such a wonderful destination they could make it work for their conscience.
Now rewind the scenario and the same announcement comes on and says we need to unload 100 passengers or we all sink, and paradise will never be reached. It’s only 100 people and still some 6,000 people will get to go to paradise. But everybody wants to go so nobody volunteers. People get tense and some people start deciding for themselves who might be bad or good, who might be too old to survive the journey and thus can justify getting rid of them. Would you still want to be on the boat? Again doing nothing to help still makes you an accessory. In this scenario, not that the group who stays must develop some sort of justification for why those people will have to die. Judging them without evidence, making assumptions, perhaps developing a philosophy that gets people to volunteer, convincing the more gullible of passengers that they will get to paradise anyway by making the sacrifice (even though they don’t know that to be the case, no matter how strongly they believe it to be so).
Let’s rewind again except this time the captain announces that his good friend the Grim Reaper will be coming around and taking the lives of 100 people at random. It
could be your child, your friend, your wife. Slowly everybody watches 100 people keel over without knowing why they had to die. Would you still want to be on that boat? If you stayed, what justification would you come up with to be okay with those deaths?
Let’s rewind one more time. Instead of the Grim Reaper, the captain announces that everybody will be restrained while a psychopathic killer, wrought by the same person who made the paradise, will be coming around to kill 100 random people. Having little control over his actions and lack of moral center, he will beat, rape, and torture these people before he kills them. Many or all of these people are innocent. Most importantly some are children. Young children, perhaps even babies. Children in their innocence and purity must be physically and sexually abused in order to reach this paradise. Would you still want to be on the boat? What justification would you invent to be okay with this if you stayed?
In one the most influential books to me was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In that book one of the Brothers Ivan is having a conversation with his younger brother Alyosha in a chapter I believe called “Revolution”. Ivan is an atheist and a collector of news stories around Russia of atrocities committed against children. He questions the religious harmony that Christianity offers (I do not single out Christianity here, only relaying the religion that was used in the book). We are all supposed to follow The Bible and follow its moral teachings. The goal being that we will all come to know God on Earth and secure our place in Heaven afterwards. But we are also supposedly given free will and thus some do not follow. This allows for the possibility of great harm to innocent children: abuse, rape, torture, death (not even counting all the natural/accidental causes that take the lives of children). Ivan claims that if this is the price of harmony then he would like to “respectfully return his ticket” to the Creator.
In reading that passage, I could not help but agree with Ivan. Being a father now only reinforces that idea more. If there is a Creator who is omnipotent and decides what happens to all His creation and that there is a reward of Heaven for those who are good, then I submit that this existence is simply not worth the price given all the suffering that does and has taken place already to get there. There are of course many other atrocities that happen to adults, that make it not worth the price either, but it is especially hard when I think of the harm that comes to children. The logic of a Creator who commands us to act according to His moral guidelines in order to achieve some post material existence paradise at the expense of harm to innocent people, simply does not add up. It’s not enough for me to say that “God works in mysterious ways” or that “no one can know the mind of God”. It’s not enough for me to know that God has taken the innocent up to Heaven either. Because what is the point of this existence if they had to suffer here? And for the life of me I really don’t understand why that can be enough of an explanation for anyone else. I’m open to any and all explanations as to why the tears of a suffering child are worth this paradise?
24 thoughts on “Returning Your ticket”
Swarn, why did you create a child when you know that he will endure suffering in his lifetime?
I don’t know he will suffer the type of torment I mentioned. And if I knew that he would definitely suffer I might not have had a child. That being said suffering happens, in a universe without intention I can accept this. Or at least a universe without a creator who interferes in its happenings I can accept this.
Suffering is a touchy subject. I think that most people would agree that a small amount of suffering is beneficial to build character, but for many there is a threshold (which is subjective, of course) where it becomes too much, and that a loving god could not allow this type of suffering to exist and that even the reward of paradise is not enough compensation, even though we can only speculate as to how good paradise really is in order to put the suffering into context. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to come to the conclusion that nothing is worth the amount of suffering that exists in the world.
As a Christian, I’ve thought many times about suffering. The first thing I usually realize is how little I do to ease the suffering around me. I remember in the movie “Schindler’s List”, near the end of the movie, Schindler looks at his watch and says he could have saved one or two more people with it. Well, I have a watch, a nice one. Christine bought it for me when we got married. I estimate the cost of this watch could feed a child for six months to a year. I find it a little disingenuous to blame God for suffering when I myself am willing to do so little. That’s not an argument to say that God is not responsible, but it’s food for thought. As for suffering in general, I think it is the price of free will. Is free will worth it? It must be, or God wouldn’t allow it. That’s somewhat circular, and likely not satisfying to many people. Hopefully it sounds less patronizing than “God works in mysterious ways”.
As an aside, and I don’t want to sidetrack things, because I think you brought up a great question, I do feel that you mis-characterize Christians. Heaven is not a reward for being good and God does not command us to follow his moral guidelines.
Whether you go to the kingdom in Heaven, or the Kingdom of Heaven the concept is the same. Either way it is eternal life, or eternal damnation, unless you do God’s will. You can argue that he doesn’t “command it” I don’t know, but he kind of gives you an ultimatum which is kind of like saying do good things, or your fucked. In many ways it’s more like a threat. http://www.openbible.info/topics/how_god_wants_us_to_live
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I’ve learned a great deal about this lately from my discussions with Christians. The popular response is that indeed it is not the ten commandments or the seven deadly sins or even doing “God’s will” whatever that means that will determine whether you go to heaven or hell. Rather, salvation or damnation is predicated exclusively upon whether or not you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have accepted him as your lord and savior. Technically, there is no moral imperative in that acceptance.
However, you are still correct that heaven is a reward and hell is a punishment. But instead of being based upon your moral actions, everything hinges upon that acceptance of Christ and the relationship you have with him. I distinctly remember being taught in Sunday school, before making our first confession and our first communion, that even a murderer can get into heaven, so long as he confesses and accepts Jesus before his death. The murdering is overlooked, and the salvation does not require said murderer to atone for their sins by doing even a single good deed.
Of course, that begs the question of why things like the ten commandments or the seven deadly sins even exist. Or why sin itself exists. Most Christians believe that morality comes from God, so clearly God is playing by some kind of rules. And he clearly wants us to play by them as well–why else would morals exist? And is that not the entire premise of judgement day? To be judged on one’s actions, one’s life?
And yes your argument hinges on the idea that there is a God for which no such proof exists and thus it does make your argument circular.
The same is true for free will, for which there is evidence mounting in neuroscience that negates a lot of what we think about free will.
But lets put that aside for a moment. When does free will develop? Does free will help babies and children who are raped and murdered? Does free will help babies and children die of starvation as a government, or warlord keeps food from the people who need it?
And aside from that, you feel the gift of free will is worth the suffering. I do not. If all this is an intentional system, it is simply faulty. I would choose not to be part of such a system. Luckily there is no evidence of an intentional universe. We are the ones who try to give it meaning.
And I don’t understand your argument about us not doing enough to leave suffering. Sure it’s true, I included. But then again I am not an omnipotent being that supposedly represents the epitome of goodness. Are you saying God is off the moral hook because I don’t do all I can do? lol
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Swarn, free will only helps those who are suffering if someone chooses to intervene. I understand that you think that it’s not worth the suffering. That’s fair.
As an aside, and I probably shouldn’t tell you this, being an atheist and all…but if you ever get into an argument with a Christian (which will probably never happen to you) about whey they don’t want to allow ‘x’, you can say, “Look, if God gives us free will and allows rape and murder and starvation, why shouldn’t you allow ‘x'” Free will is important to us. The response might be interesting.
I do agree with you that some suffering can be beneficial, but that’s not the type of suffering I am talking about. I mean I just could never wrap my head around being in God’s kindgdom on earth and being so so happy that I’d be like..”.man this was a tough struggle…but we made it…kind of makes all those babies that got raped and killed to get here seem worthwhile.”
That is a good question. Certainly not one I’d thought of before. I’ll have to think about it some more. Interestingly in the Old Testament God actually commands rape, murder, and starvation to occur. God he was angry in those days. Hey that works both ways…just need a comma after God. Maybe that’s a good way to convert people. Put a comma after God and people will just pause and then think they have to something else afterward. Great way to start a conversation.
You know, Dostoyevsky was not the first thing that came to mind in reading this. The first thing that came to my mind was The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.
Thank you for your link, I’ll have to give it a read. Yeah, I’m sure nothing I’ve written is anything vastly new, and the theme of this sort of ideal state built on the back of atrocious crimes appears in many stories for sure.
One of the first things that came to my mind is why anyone would want eternal life. Or eternal consciousness. However one wants to frame it. Religion is promising that you will be able to experience the after life in some capacity, which must entail some form of consciousness. Eventually you would completely lose all sense of time. Time would become utterly meaningless to you. That sounds like a fate worse than hell to me.
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Even if one went to the proverbial heaven, wouldn’t an eternity of joy make one desensitized to joy? Eventually every feeling would become meaningless!
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I’m sorry, all I could think is “if the boat is going to sink unless you get rid of 100 people” was give me a lifeboat, 50% of the boats weight capacity in people (hedging the bet against rough weather), a couple weeks worth of rations for x amount of people, and I will find my way back to civilization. I can navigate by the night sky, and would hopefully have a compass for daytime, or I could make one if a magnet was handy. All I need to know is our current location, and which direction the nearest hospitable land is. I am a lot of fun to have around when watching movies too…
…but I get what you are saying. The whole carrot on a stick vs. eternal damnation thing has been a ridiculous notion for me, for a long time.
…And as Ryan points out who the hell would want eternal joy by being with the creator anyway? Once you think about how having steak 7 days a week, 365 a year would be, you soon realize that is nothing one would truly strive to achieve.
Swarn, –> “Are you saying God is off the moral hook because I don’t do all I can do? lol.” I smiled at that, us puny mortals vs. the super duper creator? I can certainly see our shortcomings but what the fuck is his/her/its excuse?
CP —> “Heaven is not a reward for being good and God does not command us to follow his moral guidelines.” What bible are you reading, and what church do you attend? That statement right there is in direct conflict with everything I have ever heard coming from the x-ian camp… and as you pointed out, your circular reasoning is circular.
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Thanks for your comments Shell! And I thought I had a good analogy…but you’ve just destroyed it. LOL
My cousin is semantically correct in his assertion. Technically the bible says you do not get whisked away to Heaven but rather you will be part of God’s Kingdom of Heaven on Earth when Jesus returns. My point was that paradise is paradise, I really don’t care where it happens! 🙂
shelldigger, I read the regular Bible found in stores and I attend an evangelical church, the likes of which is often maligned, sometimes deservedly so by the media.
Luke 18:19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”
Romans 3:22-24 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Galatians 2:16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
John 15:5 (Jesus speaking) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Mark 16:16 (Jesus speaking) “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
So, no one is good to begin with, no one can become good by doing good deeds, but rather we are “saved” by “believing in Jesus”. (Quotes added, not in the Chris Farley/Bennet Brauer air quotes way, but because there’s a fair amount of meaning in those phrases)
Also heaven/hell or life/death are not presented in the Bible as reward or punishment, but more as natural consequences. (That may be splitting hairs, but I think the distinction is significant.)
Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The ten commandments (and the “Law”) were given to the Israelites following their exodus from Egypt as part of their agreement with God to be His people. Those people were commanded to follow God’s moral guidelines, the burden of which was removed with the arrival of Jesus.
You’ve probably had enough Bible quotes, so I’ll stop there. I include these out-of-context quotes, not to convince you of their truth or merit, but to back up what I said earlier. Ryan’s summary above is accurate. So, I don’t know what you’ve heard from the x-ian camp, but this is what Christians have believed for 2000 years; it’s certainly not new.
Loved your take on the boat analogy, by the way.
I have seen this debate before among Christians about whether the moral guidelines of the Old Testament or not. Why are both the Old Testament and New Testament a part of the Bible if God’s commandments in the Old Testament can be ignored. Why are 10 commandments still taught in Sunday School if they are only there for historical purposes? Why can parts of the Old Testament be ignored while other parts of the Old Testament are not? Like the parts that predict the coming of a Messiah which Christians say that Jesus has fulfilled. Jesus himself must have been a follower of the Old Testament (since there was no new testament) and if Christians are supposed to be “Christ-like” doesn’t that mean the moral guidelines of the Old Testament are valid? I found this site that has some quotes from Jesus in the New Testament, and he, at least at times, seemed to think the Old Testament was important. http://carm.org/questions/about-jesus/what-did-jesus-teach-about-old-testament
Should Christians adhere to the Old Testament? Awesome question! You should write a blog post about that.
1. Regarding Ryan’s summary, I limit my personal relationships to persons, places or things that can actually be shown to exist. Thanks.
2. Bible quotes are as useful in a theistic argument as a Harry Potter book is in a magic argument.
3. I repeat that for as long as I can remember x-ians of all stripes have maintained that unless you do as your witch doctor (preacher) tells you to, while reading from his cult manifesto (bible) you are going to suffer the consequences. By whatever means the shaman (preacher) decides to convey, be it suffering here, suffering there, or NO soup for you!
I have heard it for years. I have been to church. I have seen it with my own eyes. To claim that all it takes is a relationship with an invisible friend to get your blissful happy soup, I admit I have heard it that way as well. So, it just depends which shyster (preacher) you are listening to on what day, and how the con man (preacher) wants to present his scam (message) on said particular day, in his tribal meeting place (church) to his somewhat brainwashed followers (congregation).
…I have seen this in various forms on the net, but what better way to run a scam than to invent an ailment (sin), for which you (religion) has the only known cure. Get the people (sheep) to believe in your cure, and charge (requests for money, also known as a tithe) for providing the service…Effectively fleecing people out of the money they actually worked for. Tis a beautiful piece of work. The best con ever.
As a side note into my personal life, a Jehovah’s Witness just knocked on my door. It was a guy I know from my many years as a commercial diver. It was kinda cool to see him, so I did not run him off. But I did tell him while I respect his thoughts and opinions, I have no use for religion. None of them. I find them all equally despicable. He left me a pamphlet and scurried on.
I’m actually fine with the “personal relationship” idea. That actually makes some lick of sense to me, especially within the themes of salvation and redemption. But it also implies a privacy when it comes to faith, and that is where I think a lot of Christians falter. Because if it REALLY is all about the personal relationship with Christ, then there’s no reason to ever try to convert anyone else. There’s no reason for missions. There’s no reason to try and get creationism taught in public schools. There’s no reason to introduce legislation banning gay marriage. There’s no reason to say “God bless” at the end of every political stump speech and there’s no reason to put it in the pledge of allegiance or on our money. A personal relationship with Christ does not call for any of those things.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine awhile back. He is in his 40’s and is now an atheist, but was a very hardcore Christian in his younger years. He was telling me that after he “converted” to atheism he was giving some thought to the bible. And he realized that if God was really so powerful, and if the only thing that mattered was the personal relationship with Christ, why is the bible so long? Shouldn’t it be a pamphlet or a leaflet? None of the other stuff matters, so why even bother writing it down?
Of course the correct answer to those questions is that the bible was written by men, religion was created by man, and God was created by man, and as Shell pointed out, the primary purpose of religion is to control people. To exploit them essentially. That often times takes the form of money. I don’t know why God needs money. If God loves religion so much, shouldn’t he provide for them? Why the collection basket? Jesus was a humble carpenter, and the pope lives in a palace that sits atop a treasure trove of billions of dollars worth of art work and other riches. The very concept of confessing one’s sins used to be predicated upon PAYING money for absolution. It all seems hard to morally justify.
ryan59479, Christians try to convert people because Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
So, we have to do it, but what you don’t know is this: We don’t want a bunch of sinners and pagans and bus drivers (you know who you are!) mucking up Heaven and driving up real estate prices, so we try to be really obnoxious about it so not too many people get in.
I’m only joking. Sinners are allowed!
As for the collection basket, we don’t send that to God. I expect the Pope will have some explaining to do regarding, what is in my opinion, institutionalizing the rape of small boys.
Swarn, this blog caused a bit of ruckus and many great comments. reading for a change Cheers
This is wonderful, the atheist vs christians. The spell check disapproves that I did not use a “C” with the word chrisitans. LOL Keep going this is great, I don’t need to write this week!! Think I will reblog “God Confided in Me He Was An Atheist” ;D That being said, I guess you might read what side I live on,,, give me real that I can see and touch, the rest, I am still in school. Cheers
Oooh, it’s posts like this that convince me to read blogs! I will say that I’m a Christian, but I have much of the same objections – I also study religion and politics, and my observation across religions is pretty consistent regardless of the religion and I think that Joseph Campbell’s studies reveal a clue as to how these inconsistencies can continue to resonate with people. He studied myths (not necessarily fictions, but even non-fictions that have been mythologized) and found that across time and cultures, humans have always built their religions, their myths, and their worldviews around many of the same variables that create a well defined picture of the ideal person and the ideal society. I think that “heaven” is a reflection of these ideas. I think humanity and its inclination towards competitiveness always brings judgement of others into the picture, but I agree, if there is a God, then we need to reckon with questions of justice and suffering in greater depth than what religions have commonly proposed. I would propose that suffering is the product of humanity – that we will never operate in a perfectly moral way, so our world will never be perfectly devoid of suffering. But this is how I arrive at my definition of morality, and it might be a bit cyclical, since we could also say that we will never live in a world devoid of suffering.
Thank you for this wonderful comment. I like talking with people who have spirituality but aren’t opposed to really seeing even matters of the spirit and divinity as perhaps something that might also be fluid, that there are ideas that might need to be challenged, refined and made better. If there is a God than he/she/whatever is certainly a complex being, and just like we don’t understand everything about the universe, it seems unclear why we would think we would know everything about the creator of such a universe. To imagine that somehow everybody had it all figured out 2000 years ago and that we should still adhere to those ideas religiously (pardon the pun) seems odd to me.
I don’t think your definition is that cyclical. In fact I find your approach to morality actually quite a scientific approach. A scientist would say that we can build a moral code based solely on the harm that is caused to others, and that this is a good place to start. And if we focus on the harm and suffering our actions cause others all of a sudden we see how ethics and morality must be shaped in order to prevent harm. This also should eliminate moral codes that are simply a default to authority which can often be dangerous and lead to authority figures and groups exploiting and oppressing other groups. For instance in my dad’s religious of Sikhism you aren’t supposed to cut your hair. But I ask why? Sure making people grow their hair out and never cut it, doesn’t really cause any harm, but a blind adherence to a moral authority without basis seems like an ultimately dangerous attitude to take in the long run. Growing your hair out might not be all that important, but when other edicts come down and we have a blind adherence to moral authority as well, this becomes a problem.
Will there always be suffering? Perhaps, but I think we always adopt a moral attitude to reduce suffering, we might at least eliminate a lot of it. I think suffering happens that is beyond our control, but there is a lot we can do that is within our control. There is evidence to suggest that we are a more moral species than we were in the past, and I’d like to make sure we continue to progress even if we can never completely eradicate the harm and suffering that people experience.