Some “enlightened” Christians (a term not used derogatorily) are of the opinion that once you go to Heaven, you are completely stripped of your bodily self, to the point that you no longer care about your former family and friends and have absolutely no personality characteristics linking you to your old self. It’s as if once you leave your body behind, you’re just an anonymous soul that goes to Heaven and does…I don’t know. I guess, crazy anonymous soul stuff, like standing around looking like a bright light. And praying, or something. Nobody’s ever really clarified that for me.
I’ve gotten this theory repeatedly whenever I ask Christians about whether or not my Christian parents would be sad if they knew I was in Hell. I was of the opinion that if my parents made it into Heaven and I didn’t, they’d be really sad and it really wouldn’t be Heaven for them. Or so I’d hope. And the same goes for everyone. Were the Heaven & Hell system to work the way many people believe it does, it’s unlikely that anyone in Heaven wouldn’t have at least one or two dear friends or family members suffering in Hell for eternity. And that just doesn’t seem right.
But when I’ve asked Christians about this in the past, many of them seem to believe that this is no big deal. That once you’re in Heaven, you drop all your earthly relationships and so you wouldn’t even care that you can’t remember your children, friends, and whatnot. And I guess that makes sense to me. I have no idea how these people would know any of this, seeing as how nobody’s ever been there. And unless I’m crazy, Christians can’t believe that people come back from Heaven, so this seems like a big guess to me. But whatever. If they’re willing to believe it, I guess that’s their business.
But the part that doesn’t make sense is: Why are they cool with this? I mean, what’s the point of living in Heaven for eternity if it’s not us anymore? If we completely lose our identity, memory, etc; aren’t we effectively dead? I mean, if some evil doctor removed your brain and placed the brains of another person in your head, would it still be you? Would you be cool with that, knowing that it isn’t you anymore? Of course not. If some other dude was walking around in your body, you’d be pissed.
And so how is this any different with our souls? If my soul doesn’t have my memories, then it’s not me. It might as well be something else walking around in my soul. Our personalities are nothing more than our memories combined with our earthly genetics and chemicals. So if you deny us our bodies and our memories, we are nothing. We don’t exist. So what’s the point of that?
And what would be the point of Hell? If Hitler’s soul has no memory of who he was or what he did, is it really Hitler? Does God get some special kick knowing that these dudes have no idea why they’re suffering? But is it really Hitler suffering? Or is it yet another empty soul, unaware of its former self? And if my soul doesn’t have my identity, what the hell do I care what happens to it? Sure, it was my soul. But it’s not me. Without my memories and body, it’s no different than anyone else’s soul. If our souls really are anonymous, then I’ll just pretend that my soul went to Heaven. What difference does it make? According to these people, they’re all the same.
Punishing the Soul
And speaking of points: What’s the point of this whole earthly place, if we’re just going to lose all our experiences once we leave? Is our universe just a disposable test, which will someday be entirely forgotten once God is finished with it? Does God really need to put us through all this suffering, simply to find out if he wants to let us hang out with him for eternity? And after it’s all over, we’re not going to remember any of this? He created all this, just for a loyalty test? I find that unlikely. Could anyone really believe that God is allowing children to die and women to be raped, for no other purpose than to test our ability to love him? Really??
And honestly, if we’re sinners, we’re sinners because of our bodies and experiences. So how does it make any sense that those are the two attributes of us that won’t be getting the reward or punishment? Or are our souls somehow responsible for how we act, independently of our body and memory? If that’s the case, then that’s how God made us. And if he can make us with rotten souls, then he should just cut-out the middleman and just put us bad apples directly in Hell. That sure would prevent a lot of needless suffering and agony.
But I think that people’s personalities are based entirely on their memories and bodies, so I see no reason why the soul needs to be punished for anything. Punish Hitler’s body. Screw with his head for the things he did. That makes sense, though I refuse to understand how eternity is the proper length for any punishment. But come on, leave his poor soul out of this. I haven’t the faintest idea of what a soul could possibly be, beyond our life experiences; but if there is one, I refuse to see how it’s anything but an innocent victim in all this.
Overall, I’ve got to give the memory-less soul theory a big D-minus on the sensible theory scale. It goes hand-in-hand with the theory that God doesn’t send people to Hell, but rather people send themselves there by rejecting God. And that the only punishment in Hell is that you exist without God. Sure, these sound like intellectual improvements over the traditional Fire & Brimstone version of life, but even a cursory exploration of these theories leaves us far more confused than if we hadn’t bothered thinking of them at all.
But these really aren’t supposed to be sensible theories. They’re supposed to be enlightened ones. You know, the ones your “enlightened” Christian philosophy professor feeds you, in order to quell the growing dissent between your new knowledge of higher ethics and the childish vision of the sulfury pit of Hell. Hell is an absurdity to all enlightened people, so this argument is designed to reassure newly enlightened Christians by giving them a less absurd Hell to believe in.
But this enlightened vision of Hell is even more absurd, for many of the reasons I mentioned above. But you’re not supposed to think about that. You’re just supposed to accept the new line of reasoning because it’s better than the alternative. But the truth is right there for anyone to see: There is no Hell. It’s just a dumb idea used to scare the rubes, but it really doesn’t make any sense.
Blessed be the Sinners
If we assume a kind and loving god, we cannot accept a cruel and judgmental god. If I’m expected to have the wisdom to understand my children’s mistakes, then any loving creator would surely understand mine. And of all people, he’s got the least right to complain. He made us. He created this world. He knew that some people would be born with bad parents. He knew that some people would be given bad experiences. He knew what those experiences would do to them. And he let it happen anyway. He knew what he was getting into. God is no victim in this.
So he owes it to the sinners most of all. Whether they were born with a bad soul, bad genes, or bad experiences; none of this was their fault. God was responsible for all of it. Sure, they had freewill. But what did they use to make their decisions? The soul, genes, and experiences that God was ultimately responsible for. And if a dumb schlub like me has figured this out, then there’s no way that our Almighty Lord hasn’t figured it out yet. People wouldn’t do bad things if they truly understood the consequences of what they were doing. And if they don’t understand, then God just wasn’t doing his job.
So he can’t punish these people. Nor can he allow them to banish themselves to Hell, as these enlightened Christians believe. He would understand why they made these mistakes. He would forgive them. Not because they asked. But because they were too ignorant to know how to ask. This shouldn’t be about finding Jesus as the savior. This is about an omniscient being showing how truly omniscient he is. I am expected to unconditionally love my children, even if they reject me. It is absurd to expect any less of God.
But the obvious truth is that this has nothing to do with God at all. This is about impotent humans trying to scare people into obedience. That’s where Hell comes from. All-powerful beings don’t need to rely upon anonymous threats of eternal damnation to get obedience. Humans do. And the reason why no two Christians have the same idea of Heaven is because they’re just thinking of the place they’d like to be. This isn’t about God and the afterlife. This is about humans, coping with what we were given in this life.
And maybe there’s a god. And maybe he wants us to obey his rules while we’re temporarily here on earth. But I’m quite confident that he’d certainly understand if we didn’t. And if he didn’t understand and really intended to allow me to be punished for all of eternity, then I fail to understand why anyone would want to love him in the first place.
But I’m willing to grant people their enlightened god. Just as long as we go all the way with it. Eternal damnation might be a fun threat to toss at those who disagree with us, but it sure isn’t very enlightened. Intellectual honesty requires more.