Is Heaven Bogus?

July 16, 2007 at 7:09 pm 43 comments

my-heaven.jpgI’m not sure about my title, I originally entitled this article, “To Suffer or Not To Suffer?” You tell me what is more appropriate.

Most of my best ideas come to me while in the shower. Most of my worst ideas also come to me while in the shower. My point – most of my ideas comes to me while in the shower. Since Scavella recently expressed disappointed with some of the recent articles for what may be considered straw man arguments, I felt that this might allow for some more philosophical argumentation. You will, however, have to excuse me for the lack of philosophical articulation in this post. Like most epiphanies, especially ones that happen in the shower, this one could easily be shot down with one sentence – I am looking for that one sentence. So theists, please help me with this one. This is not an argument against the existence of god/God/G-d. It is an argument against the incompatibility of earthly suffering and heaven.

Like many theists, even after grappling with various aspects of the issue, I was not convinced that the problem of suffering/evil was that problematic for my beliefs. Although I certainly was not Catholic, I favoured Pope John Paul II’s perspective that temporal suffering is almost meaningless compared to the grand scheme of God’s goodness. I think most Christians believe this, albeit maybe in different ways – some more, some less philosophical. Needless to say, the problem of suffering never confronted me as a huge philosophical problem against the existence of God.

But while in the shower yesterday I was thinking about heaven, probably because I felt like I could spend the rest of my life in that gentle, soothing, waterfall-like shower, and it got me thinking – none of the various arguments surrounding the problem of suffering/evil address the issue of the afterlife. On the surface, why should it? Heaven doesn’t/won’t have any suffering. But why is this? Just because God says so? Why didn’t God say so for this earthly time? Almost any answer given by theists for an explanation of suffering negates what many believe about heaven. (Aside: Does anyone know if there is a term for the “study of the afterlife” or “the study of heaven”?).

J.L Mackie (1917-1981) was an Oxford philosophy professor and divided solutions to the problem of suffering into two groups: adequate and fallacious. The adequate solutions rest on the demotion of wholly “omni-benevolence” or “omnipotence.” This sort of demotion, however, creates other problems for theists. It is, however, the “fallacious” solutions that Mackie disagrees with that we hear more often, and are discussed at length by professional and armchair philosophers and theologians alike.

Since I am not really concerned with the overarching argument of the existence of God at this point, I will only focus on what is probably the most popular defense by theists: [moral] evil is due to humankind’s freewill. This argument falls into line with the “best of all possible worlds” sort of reasoning which explains the more natural evils of the world (earthquakes, hurricanes, lightning strikes etc.). The reason that this argument is probably so popular is because Christians have a doctrine that backs it up: God created everything in perfection but gave humankind free will – with this free will, we screwed up and became separate from God’ kingdom (later to be reconciled by the ultimate “sacrificial Lamb”). But lets say that this doctrine is not a historical reality – as it isn’t in many Judeo-Christian circles, much less other religious traditions. The solution of free will is a convincing one, despite the problems that arise from it (free will vs. determinism, the paradox of omnipotence – i.e. a creator creating something it cannot control, or “is the creator bound to its own logic”). But let us say that J.L Mackie could not convince you (see Mind, Vol. LXIV, No. 254, 1955) with his arguments. Could you still hold that the Christian God that created this world also created another “world”, perhaps purely ethereal, that has no suffering?

Most Christians would argue that free will is a reality and a good thing, which is why God gave it to us. The tree of life, which we don’t hear too much about, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, both symbolize the gifts of God. But if we are to believe that the next world, heaven for Christians, is to be without suffering, how is this going to be achieved? Will God simply not give us free will? Is there a better than the “best of a possible worlds”? Will it be because only Christians get into heaven (because, you know, that will be interesting)?

As I thought about several reasonable arguments that a theist might come up with, only one really stuck out. Heaven will be a place, unlike earth, infused with the Holy Spirit. Because of this stronger influence, heavenly beings will not cause other beings to suffer. The problem with this is obvious. Could two omnipotent, omnibenevolent beings exist in perfect harmony? Could three? Could three billion? (I’m not saying we all turn into gods, but the argument remains even stronger if we aren’t) Maybe this is why heaven is often idealized as a bunch of angels sitting on clouds, playing harps. But if they got up to play hockey, conflict would arise and suffering would occur (I once asked my mother if there would be hockey in heaven – she replied with an affirmative, I was happy). Furthermore, if God could figure out how to create a world without suffering, why torment us in the first place?

Again, this is not an argument against the existence of God. What I am calling into question are two issues that humankind have needed to answer since the dawn of consciousness: where does suffering come from and what happens when I die? Almost every major and minor religion has answered these questions one way or another, but have rarely done so keeping each other in mind (except perhaps the dharmic religious philosophies). What I ask now is for theists, or atheists, to help me realize whether I need to go back to the shower and think, and if so, why?

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A Commentary on De-Conversion Is the New Testament an improvement on Old Testament morality?

43 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Scavella  |  July 16, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    I would phrase the question a different way.

    We live in a world of suffering. It’s all we know. So rather than trying to explain it away I’d turn the question on its head and ask why we would imagine a place without.

    I say “imagine” because heaven, like God, is one of those things for which we have no proof — in which we have to believe, if we are so inclined, or not-believe if we’re don’t.

    I’m one of those theists who subscribe to the with-God/without-God ideas of heaven — who sees God as love ultimately (and who uses the mystery of love as evidence of God’s existence, by the way) and heaven as being permanently in taht presence.Whether heaven exists in an afterlife or not seems to me to be fairly irrelevant to what I do in the here and now, so I don’t ponder much upon it, though I used to think the physical existence of milk and honey and gold pavement and silver walls. The heaven of the Bible, if taken literally, would be a pretty messy place.

    But the fundamental question to me is this: why would heaven be thought up in the first place? And where did it come from anyway — in Judeo-Christian terms, it appeared in the gap between the Old Testament and the New — a pretty busy time for a few pages to handle.

    So is it a case of the grass being greener? Is heaven the invention of a people in exile? Of a people having been conquered? Or what?

    By the way, I haven’t read Mackie, though I’ve heard his arguments second-and third-hand. Could you say a litle more about them, as Mackie outlined them?

    Cheers.

  • 2. Thinking Ape  |  July 16, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    I think you can legally download Mackie’s article here: http://spot.colorado.edu/~kaufmad/courses/Mackie.pdf

    If not, my bad. It is only about 8 pages long. It was also published in Gary E. Kessler’s “Philosophy of Religion: Toward a Global Perspective” textbook. It is probably one of the most comprehensive collections of philosophy of religion articles. Definitely worth buying.

  • 3. Heather  |  July 16, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    TA,

    **But if we are to believe that the next world, heaven for Christians, is to be without suffering, how is this going to be achieved?** I think this is an important question, actually. One thing that has always puzzled me about aspects of Christianity is the idea that there’s no sin in heaven — you’re a sinner here, you may have Jesus as a savior, but you’ll still sin, only you’re pre-forgiven. ANd when you get to heaven, you no longer have sin.

    But if sin were that easy to discard, or be discarded, wouldn’t it be eradicated in larger chunks here? The whole idea behind sin is wanting something that is bad for you. Those that struggle with it don’t just go from struggling 70% one day to completely ‘cured’ the day after. Removing bad behavior is a process, because we have to be willing to let go. So shouldn’t the eventual complete eradication be a gradual process?

    Scavella,

    ** in Judeo-Christian terms, it appeared in the gap between the Old Testament and the New ** Thank you for mentioning this. The concept of heaven/hell is incredibly vague in the OT, and the NT doesn’t really focus on getting to heaven when one dies, but living out the kingdom of heaven now, for the eventual time in which there is a new heaven and earth — and the dead are resurrected to take part in that.

  • 4. Thinking Ape  |  July 16, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Do you think that the afterlife is left purposely vague? The Old Testament is so vague, as you mention, that their have been various sects in Judaism that do not believe in an afterlife at all. The New Testament talks a lot about the kingdom of heaven, but it is left up to the interpreter to decipher whether this kingdom is something that is in the present or in the future (I believe the current understanding among most Christians is that it is cross-temporal concept, both here and now, and there and later). I believe the kingdom of God/kingdom of Heaven rhetoric is meant to be very different from heaven itself, but that is possibly only because of the way I was raised. Most of what Christians expect from heaven is found in John’s apocalypse.

    Yet this doesn’t really help me answer much. It just appears that any life after this one will merely run into the same problems as this one. Whenever I try to fathom what this afterlife might be I think of the Buddhist devas who can never attain enlightenment, despite and because of their superiority to humans, who sit around in bliss, never understanding suffering, but never really able to do anything other than eat gourmet meals, drink nectar, and sleep.

  • 5. julieH  |  July 16, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    speaking as a theist, and not necessarily the greatest philosopher…

    How did we get the idea that suffering exists, or should not exist, in the first place? That it’s anything other than normal life? Where does the desire or thought that this isn’t the way it should be come from? There is something intrinsic in us that longs for things to be better, perfect. So I guess I figure that’s what heaven will be like. Perfect and holy.

    I think the concepts of heaven and free will CAN co-exist. Heaven, unlike earth, I think, would be a place without temptation or the tempter, without evil, without the possibility to make a bad choice or to sin. Us being free, but to choose only good things.

    I don’t know if we will necessarily be any more infused with the Holy Spirit in heaven then we are on earth… but the difference might be, that in heaven, you get to be in the manifest presence of the Father and Christ, you get to see, touch, talk to, hear, engage with God, in a way which we can’t even begin to fathom.

    When I get to know someone on earth who is generous, loving, kind, compassionate, wise, heroic, etc… well, I like spending time with them! I want to get together with them, help them, get advice, listen to them share stories… good doesn’t necessarily equal boring.

    If there is a God who we get to spend time with, who dreamed up everything on this earth… every color, texture, mountain peak and valley, cloud and ocean, giraffe and elephant and lady bug, who has watched time unfold from the beginning, why would I assume He would be boring??? Or that the world He would create would be boring…

    just my ponderings,
    julie

  • 6. Epiphanist  |  July 17, 2007 at 8:12 am

    An epiphany! That got my attention. It’s very difficult to conceptualise what thinking would be like without a physical brain after the body reaches it’s use by date. It could only be our encounters with the divine, our spiritual moments, which would give us a clue, but they occur while we are alive and might be part of our mortal existence. I don’t even know if I would have a unique identity in an afterlife or any awareness without physical senses. No guarantees either, “Many are invited, but few are chosen”. A warm shower just might be as good as it gets?

  • 7. Heather  |  July 17, 2007 at 8:23 am

    TA,

    **Do you think that the afterlife is left purposely vague? The Old Testament is so vague, as you mention, that their have been various sects in Judaism that do not believe in an afterlife at all.**

    OT wise, I wouldn’t use the word purposely. I think much of it had to do with what the writers understood at that time: for them, eternity was wrapped up in children, because that is how one ‘lived forever.’ As the idea of heaven progressed, even then I’m not sure it was left purposely vague. After all, how does one describe perfect bliss when all we have is what we see around us? The explanation would be vague. I tend to have a problem with seeing heaven something we suddenly get to after death due to Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven is among the people, or comparing it to a mustard seed — that implied a slow development, rather than an instantenous arrival.

    **Most of what Christians expect from heaven is found in John’s apocalypse.** It does seem that the NT gets interpreted through Revelations, rather than all the other books used to interpret Revelations.

    Julie,

    **Heaven, unlike earth, I think, would be a place without temptation or the tempter, without evil, without the possibility to make a bad choice or to sin. Us being free, but to choose only good things. ** The complication from this is by the understanding of Satan, who was tempted in heaven, and thus ‘fell.’

  • 8. Scavella  |  July 17, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Further to the original issue (and thanks for the link!), which took Mackie’s argument as its starting point, the problem only arises if one accepts the secondary and quaifying premises Mackie advances — that good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. I am one of those who would question the assumption that something that is wholly good would indeed eradicate something that is evil. On what basis is such an assumption made? What other rational possibilities exist?

  • 9. Simen  |  July 17, 2007 at 9:58 am

    The problem of evil is strong, and provides good reason to doubt the coherence of the omni-all god and the concept of heaven. It seems like there could easily be less suffering in the world – one less hurricane, or one less person with an inclination towards moral evil. I remain unconvinced about any attempts to solve this dilemma. The easy way out is of course to give up on the concept of ultimate moral good, and say that God is good, but not perfect, or not good at all, but that doesn’t seem like a popular alternative.

    I was thinking about writing about the problem of evil, not just the argument against God but also other problems it creates regardless. It’ll have to wait.

    As for the study of heaven, I don’t know of a term, but it’s easy to derive one, such as epouraniosology, from epouranios (existing in heaven, the heavenly regions, things that take place in heaven, of heavenly nature or origin) and -ology (study of).

    Scavella, do you deny that it is good to remove suffering?

  • 10. Scavella  |  July 17, 2007 at 10:10 am

    I deny that it’s an either-or choice, I think, because it isn’t; our experience mixes both evil and good, or both those things we consider “evil” and “good”. Logical abstractions aside, almost all I do has decidedly mixed motives, and few of them are exclusively “good”.

    I’m perplexed by the “problem of evil”, to be honest. What we consider “evil” (and I am not denying the existence of evil, by the way, but challenging the idea that it’s a problem) is ubiquitous, isn’t it? What we consider “good” is far rarer. Humans are far more likely to do what they want, regardless of how it might hurt others, than they are to do what will be best for people other than themselves. I tend to wonder about the “problem of good” — like where, in this climate, we even got the idea of an absolute good. We can see things that are pretty thoroughly evil fairly regularly; I for one can name a number of people and things I would categorize as such. But naming the things and people that are pretty thoroughly good is far, far harder. Where do we get the concept of unmixed good? And why do we imagine that it is, or must be, opposed to evil?

  • 11. Brad  |  July 17, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Oh my goodness… Entire degrees could be earned on this subject alone. I’m a student at Covenant Seminary, and we have a full class on Eschatology (or “End times… Good news: It’s NOTHING like the Left Behind series…) and heaven. That said, I doubt all the ground can be covered in a single post. To start a few observations.

    1.) The popular conception of heaven (angels sitting on clouds playing boring harps singing prom songs to God) is more a cultural evolution than biblical. I also believe there will be hockey in heaven (and baseball, football, etc.) and so will checking. I don’t know that there will not be conflict in heaven, but there will be no sin or tears shed from suffering. That much is true. Remember, even God gets angry, but he doesn’t sin in His anger either.

    2.) In this line of questioning is also the problems of evil and suffering (C.S. Lewis wrote extensively on this during the aftermath of World War II). Without getting into trying to define evil (tried that once, never succeeded really), I would say that our simple repulsion to suffering, and sincere desire to be free of it, is internal proof that it isn’t the way it is supposed to be.

    Heather said:
    “But if sin were that easy to discard, or be discarded, wouldn’t it be eradicated in larger chunks here? … Those that struggle with it don’t just go from struggling 70% one day to completely ‘cured’ the day after. Removing bad behavior is a process, because we have to be willing to let go. So shouldn’t the eventual complete eradication be a gradual process?”

    Yes, it is. In Christian terms, we have the three “-ifications”: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. At Justification, one is saved by faith and freed from sin. During our sanctification, which is really kind of a line connecting the other two, we are gradually “sanctified” and transformed by God through faith with a strong dose of the Holy Spirit. While we are alive, we work WITH God to do this gradual transformation. No, one will never be perfect, but at our “glorification” (ascension to heaven upon death), the rest of that process is completed for us and we are completely freed from all sin.

    How? Well, as TA points out, it is an interesting paradox. How can one continue to have free will yet not sin (which can be defined as a choice to rebel from God)? Will the alternative (obedience) just be that good that sin is no longer tempting at all? I have no idea. This is a tension that the Bible does not seem to think important to resolve as of yet.

    Also, it is important to remember that heaven as we view it is only temporary. Biblically speaking, the esoteric/spiritual realm we go to upon death is only going to exist until the “new heavens and new earth” are created by God. At this point, the world is judged, heaven comes down (in the form of a city, and not a garden as in Genesis) to establish it’s PHYSICAL presence on a new earth. Let the cross-checking begin! Can I get an “amen”?

    Anyway, this was a long comment, pardon my long-windedness. Again, this could be written on for a very long time and still only scratch the surface. This is an excellent post.

  • 12. Brad  |  July 17, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Oh, as far as the study of heaven and afterlife goes, “soteriology” is the study of salvation (from the Greek “soteria”), which in Christian terms cannot be divorced from the study of heaven. As far as a more general study of the afterlife, you got me there.

  • 13. undextrois  |  July 17, 2007 at 10:24 am

    wow this is very cool .I have been doing some comparative-religion stuff, and your blog is very insightful. il add you on my blogroll is that sound cool?

    cheers
    undextrois

  • 14. Heather  |  July 17, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Brad,

    **While we are alive, we work WITH God to do this gradual transformation. No, one will never be perfect, but at our “glorification” (ascension to heaven upon death), the rest of that process is completed for us and we are completely freed from all sin. ** To me, that still doesn’t work, given how sin is portrayed. What if there is a sin someone is unwittingly doing, and doesn’t work to grow past that, and then dies? Based on how we see people deal with flaws, it seems highly unlikely that the person will just drop the sin, especially if that sin is rather signifigant in a person’s character. It seems that one would still have to work at overcoming that sin. Otherwise, at the glorification, it’s still a matter of the sin suddenly stopping.

    **Biblically speaking, the esoteric/spiritual realm we go to upon death is only going to exist until the “new heavens and new earth” are created by God.** Is there anything in the Bible that flat-out says someone goes to that realm after death? Something not in Revelations, because much of that seems to be a matter of interpretation, and varies on who one talks to. The NT more seems to be focused on the fact that when someone dies, that’s it, until the new heaven/earth arrive. Then all are resurrected for the day of Judgement, and then the person’s fate is decided.

  • 15. Brad  |  July 17, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Heather,
    “What if there is a sin someone is unwittingly doing, and doesn’t work to grow past that, and then dies? Based on how we see people deal with flaws, it seems highly unlikely that the person will just drop the sin, especially if that sin is rather signifigant in a person’s character.” John Piper writes in his book, “Battling Unbelief” that all sin is the result of a lack of faith. We struggle with faith because we put our faith in something that we can’t always see, hear, touch, or otherwise have 100% proof it exists. With that proof in front of us, it would be easy to have faith. An example of this would be the man who lusts after a women other than his wife. Why does he do this? At the core, because he lacks the faith that God has given him an incredible wife and that He meets all his needs.

    In short though, I don’t have a 100% infallible answer for you because the message of the bible in answer to this question is “wait, trust, and see.” It acknowledges the apparent paradox, but that it cannot be fully explained on this side of heaven. I feel like a God who can create all that I see around me can probably introduce some solution that resolves this paradox in a sensible way. Again, that’s part of faith.

    “Something not in Revelations, because much of that seems to be a matter of interpretation, and varies on who one talks to. ” Well, that may be a little difficult to do, but here’s a shot.

    At the beginning of Mark 9, three of Jesus’ disciples see him speaking to Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. Thus they must be in heaven, and it can’t be “that’s it” for everyone else if it isn’t for them.

    John 6: 47-51
    “47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
    If believing gives eternal life, then there must be some continuance of life upon physical death. Then, as is stated throughout the OT and the NT, there will be a physical resurrection.

    There are other examples as well, but these are the first two that come to mind.

  • 16. Heather  |  July 17, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Brad,

    **Why does he do this? At the core, because he lacks the faith that God has given him an incredible wife and that He meets all his needs.**

    That seems kind of simplistic, though. The man would be given proof that his wife would meet all his needs, given his encounters with his wife. Of course, that is dependent on the man understanding what he’s truly looking for. There’s almost the matter of lust: if a man finds another woman attractive in a passing fashion, much of that has to do with a biological function. There’s also the fact that people change, and unless the marriage had a firm foundation and both husband and wife worked at the relationship, one could wake up one day and find that s/he is married to a stranger. The ‘needs’ have shifted, in a way.

    **If believing gives eternal life, then there must be some continuance of life upon physical death. Then, as is stated throughout the OT and the NT, there will be a physical resurrection.**

    Both of these examples seem to rest upon inferrence, though. Like the eternal life — it doesn’t meant that the eternal life starts as soon as the body physically dies. It could be the body physically dies, the soul/spirit is in stasis, and at the day of judgement, that’s when the eternal life begins (and even here, though, it’s an interesting comparison, because of how life/death is used. It doesn’t work in a straightforward fashion. Jesus said that those who ate the manna still died, but those who eat his flesh would live. The logical comparsion would be that those who follow Jesus would not physically die, given how the comparison is operating. But if eternal life means something that happens immediatly after the grave, then those who ate the manna should be dead both body and soul, according to the comparison) That’s still life continuing past the physical death. It’s simply not uninterrupted life, as the eternal starts at a later date. Even with the transfiguration — there was a whole undercurrent with that in the representation of the law and the prophets, and it could just be special circumstances for them, given their importance, and a physical resurrection at a later date for everyone else.

    It’s just given Paul’s emphasis on the coming of the day of Jesus Christ, and how people will be blameless in that day, that people should only marry if they can’t control themselves because they should focus on God as the time is short, that christ is the firstfruits of those that sleep/slept, and those at Christ’s coming, the dead shall be raised incorruptable, and the fact that this goes into robbing death of victory and that Paul focuses on the day of Judgement above all else.

    I just read 1 corinthians recently, can you tell? :)

    **In short though, I don’t have a 100% infallible answer for you because the message of the bible in answer to this question is “wait, trust, and see.” **

    I do appreciate you saying this, because the bible does not provide a “1-2-3″ answer to most topics. It’s not like Sesame Street, which is what fundamentalist Christianity seesm to do (Note: I’m not calling you a fundamentalist). Rather, everything is very compact.

  • 17. Simen  |  July 17, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Scavella wrote:

    I tend to wonder about the “problem of good” — like where, in this climate, we even got the idea of an absolute good. We can see things that are pretty thoroughly evil fairly regularly; I for one can name a number of people and things I would categorize as such. But naming the things and people that are pretty thoroughly good is far, far harder. Where do we get the concept of unmixed good? And why do we imagine that it is, or must be, opposed to evil?

    I don’t “believe” in good and evil. That is, I categorize thing as good or bad morally, but I don’t believe they have any real basis outside my evolutionary roots. I just can’t help but make moral judgements, but that is because of human nature, not intellectual persuasion.

    I don’t know where the unmixed good concept comes from, but there’s no problem of evil unless you believe that there is a god and that this god embodies what you call unmixed evil. So if you deny that there is such a thing as pure good, and by extension an omnibenevolent being (although you don’t need to deny God), there is no problem of evil.

    If you do, there is. There’s no point in asking why goodness is opposed to evil. It is a matter of definition. Good is the opposite of evil by definition; an evil person would try to overcome good and vice versa. There are no purely good or purely evil people, of course.

    By the way, Brad, I see you’ve got a better word than my half-baked derivation. Good.

  • 18. Brad  |  July 17, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    “It could be the body physically dies, the soul/spirit is in stasis, and at the day of judgement, that’s when the eternal life begins” I can see based on those two examples how that can be seen. Here’s another though that would not otherwise be reconciled:

    Luke 23: 42-43
    “And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
    Jesus said this to one of the criminals he was crucified with While it is difficult to tell where the physical/spiritual distinction is made, it is clear that it is something very linear with death. A good way phrased to me (and seems to address your concern), is that “we were always meant to be whole without a platonic dualistic view of the spiritual/physical realms, but to both follow through with the inevitability of death due to sin (and thus maintain free will and its consequencesl), God miraculously preserves a continuity of life eternal by saving our spiritual self until the day we can be completely redeemed.”

    And yes, I can tell you have been reading I Corinthians! Paul very much has the focus you mention, particularly when he discusses being “dead to sin,” and “alive in Christ.” I think the way to explain death that can be reconciled with this focus is that while sin has been forgiven and removed, the EFFECTS of sin are still everpresent in our fallen world. The effects will not be healed until the day of judgment. This is why Jesus’ death and resurrection is a preview or forshadowing in the middle of history to what God will do for all His people at the end of history.

    Beyond that, it is difficult to say what heaven (before judgment) will look like. The bible also doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on it because the final redemption is so important. And this is where the platonic/cultural view of this cloud-filled heaven has come in to try and fill the gaps. Until the new heavens and the new earth, I don’t really know what to say. Although, but comparison again, the “saints in heaven” plead with God, asking “is it yet time?” in Revelation. It’s interesting that even though they are in “heaven,” they still anticipate and eagerly await full redemption.

    “I do appreciate you saying this, because the bible does not provide a “1-2-3″ answer to most topics.” No problem. :-) I’ve found that whenever I try to provide answers that the bible doesn’t (at least in claiming it does), I’ve been wrong. Scripture gives us what we need to know now, and I’d be disappointed if it were all we would ever know about God and eternity with Him.

    Solo Scriptura. Don’t add on. Don’t take away. Just read.

  • 19. Brad  |  July 17, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Simen,

    OK, so without an omnibenevolent God we don’t have the problem of evil… I can see where you are coming from in that sense, but people are still murdered, raped, and generaly abused daily. While it may no longer be called “evil,” it is certainly still a problem, and it is suffering that we will never enjoy or even become neutral towards.

    That said, does it matter what you call it? Whether “evil,” or any other term? I’m a very practical guy, and a lot of the philosophical debate on here is a bit above my head, admitedly. Can you explain that a bit more? Because where it stands now, I don’t see how it changes or resolves anything.

    And I don’t think that your word was half-baked. Mine is very applicable in the Christian context, but I don’t know if it is in the pluralistic or secular sense.

  • 20. curtis  |  July 17, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    First time commenter, but I’ve been lurking for a bit…

    How about this as a possibility (not saying this is what I believe, I’m just thinking out loud)?

    The only reason that we’re wondering/pondering the afterlife at all, is because we’ve all been affected by improper interpretations of the Bible by people in the past… and that really it’s not about the afterlife at all. Is there an afterlife? I’m pretty darn sure that there is…

    …but maybe Jesus’ point was more about who we are and what we do RIGHT NOW. And what that looks like, here and now, will end up paving the way for whatever the future may hold for us individually and collectively.

  • 21. Thinking Ape  |  July 17, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Wow, maybe I should have addressed the issue of suffering and the issue of the afterlife before tackling the synthesis.

  • 22. Thinking Ape  |  July 17, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    “epouraniosology” – Simen, I like it, don’t know how to pronounce it, but I like it. Would someone who studies epouraniosology be an epouraniosologist?

  • 23. GrantTLC  |  July 17, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    “Is heaven bogus?”

    Like, totally, dude.

  • 24. Simen  |  July 17, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Thinking Ape: presumably :)

    Brad.

    OK, so without an omnibenevolent God we don’t have the problem of evil… I can see where you are coming from in that sense, but people are still murdered, raped, and generaly abused daily. While it may no longer be called “evil,” it is certainly still a problem, and it is suffering that we will never enjoy or even become neutral towards.

    The problem of evil addresses the logical problem with having a being that is inclined towards reducing evil, has the knowledge about how to reduce evil and the power to do it, but doesn’t do it. This is a philosophical problem for theists. They must deny one of the premises, or else come up with another explanation. In my eyes, no explanation to date has been successful.

    What you’re talking about is not so much a philosophical problem as a practical one. Suffering/what we perceive as moral evil is undesirable, so we must find a way to reduce it. There are no logical or philosophical problems here; we can easily give a scientific explanation for why people do as they do. If we don’t, as Socrates did (or at least that’s my understanding of Socrates), presume that humans are fundamentally good, there is no problem in explaining evil/suffering. The problem lies in removing it, not explaining its presence. That’s the problem between the theoretical problem of evil, which applies to theists of a certain persuasion about God, and the practical problem of evil, which applies to everyone.

    Another problem related to evil is to answer the question: what is evil and what is good? Is it something observable, is it something logical, is it something else? I cannot see sufficient reason to believe that it is more than an evolutionary trait, a belief that is useful and perhaps embodies some wisdom about group dynamics, but nothing deeper, nothing more. This, again, is theoretical. You don’t need to know the answer to lead a successful life or even to be what most people will call a moral being.

  • 25. Heather  |  July 17, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Brad,

    **And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
    Jesus said this to one of the criminals he was crucified with While it is difficult to tell where the physical/spiritual distinction is made, it is clear that it is something very linear with death.**

    Actually, I think there’s wiggle-room on this one as well. If I’m remembering my Greek texts correctly, it contains no grammar. So the placement of the commas is up to the discretion of the interpreter, and so it could also go: “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Which would lead to the Paradise being the future new heaven/earth.

    **Although, but comparison again, the “saints in heaven” plead with God, asking “is it yet time?” in Revelation. It’s interesting that even though they are in “heaven,” they still anticipate and eagerly await full redemption.**

    The difficulty I have in using Revelation is that it it’s so symbolic that almost ‘anything goes,’ in a way. It certainly speaks of a new heaven/earth, but much of everything else is in the eye of the beholder.

    I tend to read Paul as expecting the day of judgement within his lifetime, and so his geniune letters are written accordingly, though.

  • 26. Simen  |  July 17, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Heather, a tip: you can put quotes in blockquotes or cites. It would make the quotes easier to read and we would easier visually separate what you say ans what you quote. Observe (I hope this shows up right):

    <blockquote> insert quote here </blockquote>

    Will show up as:

    insert quote here

  • 27. superhappyjen  |  July 17, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    you can put quotes in blockquotes or cites. It would make the quotes easier to read and we would easier visually separate what you say ans what you quote. Observe (I hope this shows up right):

    So that’s how you do it.

  • 28. Heather  |  July 18, 2007 at 8:23 am

    Simen,

    Thanks. :) I’ll practice the next time I quote another response.

  • 29. Brad  |  July 18, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Simen,

    OK, that definitely helps me see where you are coming from. The last time I discussed “The Problem of Evil” with someone, it was very much in the theoretcal sense and did not include the concept of a benevolent God (or any God for that matter… it was very anthro-focused).

    That said, and this is jut my musings, I’ve felt that the concept of free will helped explain the paradox of God’s sovereignty (benevolent God working to change evil to good) and human responsibility. Assuming thre is a God, and he is good, then we as humans have one of two choices: free will and choice or predetermined destiny. Scripture holds that it is both (don’t ask me how). If we have free will, we have the choice to do evil, however you define that, or good. But for it to truly be free will, it must include consequence. So to preserve free will and also reduce/limit/eradicate evil, this good God must somehow do this in a way that does not limit our free choice or consequences thereof. For Christians, this is where Jesus comes in as propitiation (substitution).

    That didn’t seem to flow half as well as I thought it would. Does that make sense, the argument at least?

  • 30. Brad  |  July 18, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Heather,
    It is a good day, indeed when we can break out the Greek! (I’m a dork, I know, but from the sounds of it you may be as well. :-) )

    My greek text (Nestle-Aland) shows commas in separation of the text. This particular edition of the Greek annotates when they (rarely) add punctuation, and this is not one of those cases.

    Also, the word order of the first clause of the quote (phonetically: “amen soi lego”) would have to include “semeron,” or “today.” For the most part, word order in Greek is… tricky, but when a qualifier is used (like the word “today), it must be sandwhiched between the first adjective or definite article (in this case: “truly”) and the main verb (“I say”).

    For it to read as you suggest (even without commas), it would have to be: “amen semeron soi lego” instead of “amen soi lego semeron.” Otherwise, the word for today “semeron”) becomes the first word of the next clause.

    Anyway, I’m just beginning greek in exegesis, and am by far not an expert. But this is my understanding of it.

    In Re: to Revelations, yes, that is an incredibly difficult text. My greek prof told us to read anything in the NT except that because it can be so confusing. My own knowledge of eschatology is pretty fuzzy mysefl so I won’t try and act like I am an expert.

    In Re: to Pauls talking of the coming judgment day… yes, he does talk a lot about it, and to a limited degree does expect a time of great suffering in the near future. Much of his discussion of judgment, however, is focused on his use of the word “righteouesness,” and applies it to his discussion of justification by faith and not works (as I’m sure you are reading in ICor.). He held that there is a jdugment passed in coming to the faith, but based on the record of Christ. That one is indeed iminent. But he also uses similar phrasing to talk about the coming one that we do not know the day or the hour of. Kinda tricky.

    I think to say any more on that topic would be presumptuous of me. I’ll do some digging and get back to you. I know the answer to it, but not the reasoning behind it.

    Really great stuff. I live for this kind of dialog.

  • 31. Heather  |  July 18, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Brad,

    a dork, I know, but from the sounds of it you may be as well. )

    Yup. I have four bookshelves full of theological and historical stuff, in terms of the Judeo-Christian religion. :)

    For it to read as you suggest (even without commas), it would have to be: “amen semeron soi lego” instead of “amen soi lego semeron.” Otherwise, the word for today “semeron”) becomes the first word of the next clause.

    From the sounds of it, you’re much more familiar with this particular area than I am. The reason why I brought it up is that HIS had a post on his blog a few months ago, about this very verse, and how he had heard some pastors preach ” Turly I say to you today, you shall be with me in Paradise” and it was interpreted precisely this way because of the lack of Greek grammar. They were arguing this way because of other Biblical verses that spoke of waiting in the graves until Judgement day.

    Much of his discussion of judgment, however, is focused on his use of the word “righteouesness,” and applies it to his discussion of justification by faith and not works (as I’m sure you are reading in ICor.).

    I’m going to somewhat disagree with you here, in the sense that works aren’t completely divorced from it. Yes, faith plays a role, but works are used in judgement, as well. It needs to be a faith *that* works, rather than a faith seperate from works.

    My main reason for saying that Paul expected the second coming within his lifetime is as follows: I read the NT all the way through (including Revelations, and my first thought upon finishing that book was “People claim to perfectly understand this??? ;) ) about three or four years ago. And I was struck by this disconnect between how Paul wrote and how Christianity is presented today. Today, it’s accept Jesus as a personal Savior, otherwise, get sent to the default location of hell. In Paul’s letters, it was to be in Christ in order to be okay in the approaching day of Judgement, and the impending kingdom of Heaven. Much of what he says, when read in any other context, would be interpreted as he expected to see the Second Coming. He didn’t know the exact date, but he expected it soon, as the resurrection was the precusor of events soon to come.

  • 32. Brad  |  July 18, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Oh yes! Works cannot be divorced from faith! I wholeheartedly agree and am NOT a fan of cheap grace! We are most definitely on the same page. :-)

    and yeah… I also do not claim to be able to understand it. I am only know becoming aware of the different positions on the second coming (pre-mil, post-mil, o-mil, and everywhere in between). Once I learn more about it, we’ll pick this up where we left off. :-)

    I appreciate your feedback, this is really great stuff…

  • 33. HeIsSailing  |  July 18, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Brad sez:
    “It is a good day, indeed when we can break out the Greek! (I’m a dork, I know, but from the sounds of it you may be as well. )”

    I am a geek too, but I am more the math variety. Heather is into English Literature, so she eats this stuff for breakfast.

    Concerning the comma placement in Luke, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” I don’t know the first thing about Greek, but the comma placement as shown in your Bible seems correct to me. It just seems odd to to write it as “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise” to let the repentant theif know that he is being spoken to… today. It just seems silly and superfluous. So I guess I am in agreement with you, Brad.

    Wow – I can’t believe Heather remembered that article I wrote. Maybe I willl reprint it here.

  • 34. Heather  |  July 18, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Brad,

    becoming aware of the different positions on the second coming (pre-mil, post-mil, o-mil, and everywhere in between).

    I’m most familiarwith the Left Behind variety, which basically goes, “Burn in hell, you heathen/Catholic/Jew/Christian-but-not-really-because-you-fail-at-section 3, paragraph 4, subparagraph A- of-our-christian creed you!”

    HIS,

    Wow – I can’t believe Heather remembered that article I wrote. Maybe I willl reprint it here.

    It had a catchy title. :) I do agree that saying “Truly, I say to you today, you shall …” does seem very redunent, and do like the other reading, as it influences the idea of Christ descending into hell after death. However, it does assume that the thief died on the same day …

    I mostly see this passage as lending further credence to the fact that the Bible doesn’t present a uniform view on the concept of salvation/heaven/the afterlife, but the writers almost “feeling as they go” in terms of putting these concepts into words. Paul has the day of Judgement, Jesus alludes to a Paradise, yet also makes mention of the second coming in earlier sections, and it occuring within the disciples lifetimes.

  • 35. Brad  |  July 18, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    HIS,

    Heh, I didn’t even consider the redundancy aspect. You are very right. It is the same argument for Wright’s interpretation of Romans 3… but that is a WHOLE nother can of worms… ;-)

    Heather,
    I literally laughed out loud to read your Left Behind Version. I also call it the “wrong version,” but that’s my opinion. I’m pretty sure that those books are built on the pre-mil view of eschatology. I probably lean post-mil (non-dispensational), but again, I’m not 100% sure what that means…

    mostly see this passage as lending further credence to the fact that the Bible doesn’t present a uniform view on the concept of salvation/heaven/the afterlife, but the writers almost “feeling as they go” in terms of putting these concepts into words.

    Well… I don’t know that I agree with that. I agree that it is probably very difficult to put into words what the human language has never had to communicate, but I disagree that it is not uniform. Jesus gave many parables about the “kingdom,” and there is a lot of symbolism, but I have yet to see anywhere that it is in contradiction. Now, it is entirely possible and probably that it is in contradiction to our eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis). We often read our perspective and context into the text. This almost always creates problems.

    Jesus alludes to a Paradise, yet also makes mention of the second coming in earlier sections, and it occuring within the disciples lifetimes.

    Ahh, yes. But there is the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentacost) and there is the coming of Christ. Two separate things that are often hard to delineate because when Jesus says “I” (or any other 1st person pronoun), he COULD be referring to the whole trinity. If you view the HS as another person of the same God, this fits perfectly and is not in contradiction.

  • 36. Heather  |  July 18, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Brad,

    Now, it is entirely possible and probably that it is in contradiction to our eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis). We often read our perspective and context into the text. This almost always creates problems.

    The difficulty here is that nothing is read in a vacuum. Anything that we read, interact with, talk about is always accompanied by our beliefs, our assumptions, our paradigm, and so on. Just look at all the different denominations for proof of that: readings are subjective. Everything we do/see/interpret is subjective.

    The other difficulty I have with the inerrancy is that the justification comes across as slippery to me. If a Mormon or a Muslim used the same method as Christians used to claim that the Book of Morman or the Qur’an,was inerrent, Christians would say that their inerrant proofs don’t work. Yet the same method is used on the Bible, and suddenly it’s inerrant.

    Two separate things that are often hard to delineate because when Jesus says “I” (or any other 1st person pronoun), he COULD be referring to the whole trinity. If you view the HS as another person of the same God, this fits perfectly and is not in contradiction.

    In terms of Matthew 16, I read that as Christ’s second coming, and some standing there will not taste death. I read this in terms of the second coming because Jesus says right before that that the Son of Man will come with the glory of his Father with his angels. In Matthew 24:34, the present generation will live to see it all, and I read the coming of the son of man as part of that. Now, to me, that is the straightforward reading. But becaus the second coming obviously didn’t happen 2,000 years ago, it comes across as the text gets re-interpreted. I know you’ll disagree, but this ties into my problem with claiming the Bible is inerrant. Many things that should be straightforward are no longer seen as such, but must be interpreted to fit an outside concept. And again — I read this in full about five years ago, and this is one of the many passages that just didn’t ring with how Christianity is shown today. Is my viewpoint objective? Of course not, no one’s is.

    Even take the idea of the Trinity, and that the 1st person pronoun referring to the whole Trinity — one of the interesting things about Sola Scripture is that it’s the BIble alone, and one should be able to just use the Bible. However, in terms of the Trinity, if you just used the Bible, you would not walk away with the Trinity at all. You’d walk away with the idea of Jesus dying for sins, the cross, resurrection, God/Father and so on. But if someone with no knowledge of Christinaity — if this person were a blank slate– were given a Bible, would they be able to find it at all? Would they find reference to the words ‘God the Son’ or ‘three-in-one’ or all three co-equal or the same substance or anything that makes up the definition of the Trinity? Would the blank slate person walk away with a Trinitarian idea that even comes close to matching what is used today? Shouldn’t they be able to if the BIble is all that is needed? So even here, I see the data being interpreted to fit an eisegesis view, and a matter of a subjective viewpoint.

  • 37. Brad  |  July 18, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Heather,

    “Anything that we read, interact with, talk about is always accompanied by our beliefs, our assumptions, our paradigm, and so on. Just look at all the different denominations for proof of that: readings are subjective. Everything we do/see/interpret is subjective.”

    I agree! But the text itself is objective and not subjective. I know we will never be able to fully read it objectively, but how does putting our own subjective cultural assumptions into the text make a text (which was written objectively) more relevant?

    An example: A wall is still a wall, no matter how subjectively we view it. If we subjectively view an objectively true wall as a DOOR, we will only run into a wall.

    So what’s the answer? We ATTEMPT to engage the text objectively. No, it wil not be perfect, but this is why we seek to understand the context (author, audience, etc.), so that we can at least become CLOSER to the objective truth.

    Many things that should be straightforward are no longer seen as such, but must be interpreted to fit an outside concept.

    Why? Why must that be so? I understand and see how others have eisegeted scripture, but because they have does not mean that it is not possible to exegete the same scripture.

    If your husband (making an assumption here) made a comment to you that seemed mean, yet didn’t fit your current circumstances, what would you do? Would you try to apply the current circumstances to his comment and try to make them fit? No (and I know you agree here), of course not. Or, would you ask questions in return trying to understand him better (objective exegesis)? Would the fact that you are not him (a woman with very different life experiences, personality, background, consciousness, etc.) keep you from trying to understand him? Would the fact that it is not possible to be 100% objective with your “reading” of him stop you from trying and switch to trying to apply his comment symbolically?

    I hope you see what I am trying to say. The current postmodern cultural trend has really distorted how we interact with “truth” in general, and this has bled over into how we read scripture.

    Please check out my most recent post for case in point, I promise it will even make more sense:

    http://bradedwards.wordpress.com/2007/07/18/on-truth-and-kinda-truth-part-1-postmodernisms-effect-on-epistemology/

    And in Re: to the Trinity… it really is not a liberty taken and applied into the text. The theory (while the term is not found in scripture) is drawn from multiple verses talking about the plurality of God’s personhood yet singularity of His divinity.

    For example:
    There is one God, no other God before him. BUT,
    The hebrew word used for “God” is “elohim.” Elohim is PLURAL. Weird, huh?

    Also, Jesus said God the Father was the only God, yet he also said that HE was God, and prayed to God the father at the same time. Kinda weird and schizo without the explanation of the Trinity.

    Proper Exegesis is NOT inserting the reader’s context, but drawing information, conclusion, and reconciliation from a given text. The doctrine of the Trinity was truly exegetical, and is the ONLY reason why it has survived 2,000 years of cultural change and evolution.

    If those who came up with this doctrine had inserted their own opinions, how in the WORLD would it still be regularly accepted today?

  • 38. Heather  |  July 18, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Brad,

    < know we will never be able to fully read it objectively, but how does putting our own subjective cultural assumptions into the text make a text (which was written objectively) more relevant?

    Except no text is written objectively, either. History texts, science texts: all are written from a certain perspective, and to promote a certain viewpoint. Nothing written is ever objective, which is why I don’t think the wall example works. We also lack the ability to see many things, if not all things, objectively.

    Even in terms of the husband/wife example — I wouldn’t say I’m using a current context to interpret the Bible. Rather, with the two Mattew verses I provided, I was saying that to me, it clearly states those living when Jesus walked the Earth would see the son of man returning. Yet, this did not happen, and so current circumstances force those verses to no longer be straightforward. Same with Paul’s letters, such as him saying we shall not all sleep/die, but we shall all be changed. That ‘we’ is read as not referring to him, because he did die. And yet did he mean it that way? Based on his other geniune letters, I would say no.

    The hebrew word used for “God” is “elohim.” Elohim is PLURAL. Weird, huh?

    Not really, considering that God referred to Moses as ‘elohim.’ And there are other hebrew words in the plural that only referred to singular entities.

    Also, Jesus said God the Father was the only God, yet he also said that HE was God, and prayed to God the father at the same time. Kinda weird and schizo without the explanation of the Trinity.

    That would depend on the interpretaion of the verses used to say that Jesus says he is God — he doesn’t say point-blank: “I am God.” Rather, verses where he says he and the father are one, or the “I am” verses are taken to mean that from a certain perspective.

    The theory (while the term is not found in scripture) is drawn from multiple verses talking about the plurality of God’s personhood yet singularity of His divinity.

    It’s not just the theory, though. It’s everything that is used to describe the Trinity. A blank slate person reading the BIble would have no problem concluding in the resurrection, or the second coming, or Jesus dying for sin. It’s a matter of the word ‘incarnate’ or ‘co-equal’ or ‘same substance.’ Everything used to make up the definition of the Trinity is not clearly or explicitly stated in the Bible. And yet the Bible alone should be able to lead to the Trinity, and all the words used to define the Trinity, with no difficulty whatsoever.

    The doctrine of the Trinity was truly exegetical, and is the ONLY reason why it has survived 2,000 years of cultural change and evolution.

    I would disagree with this. For a very long time in history, the Catholic Church basically told people what to think about Christianity, as the layman lacked the ability to read the Bible. It was also fond of killing heretics or targeting anything non-Biblical, so why would anyone risk going against any of the Catholic concepts? After the Reformation, people were still killed for this. Even today, there are polls that show many Christians are not familiar with the Bible itself, but what people tell them about religion and the Bible.

    The idea of the Pople (and I’m not Catholic so I may have this wrong) isn’t clearly stated in the Bible, and so isn’t that why Protestants don’t hold to the Pope or the Catholic church? And yet that church would argue that it’s drawn from Bible verses.

  • 39. curtis  |  July 19, 2007 at 8:45 am

    “Even today, there are polls that show many Christians are not familiar with the Bible itself, but what people tell them about religion and the Bible.”

    So sad… but unfortunately (in my experience at least) this is usually true… I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well. I’m trying to change that though.

  • 40. John W. Loftus  |  July 28, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Interesting arguments. Thanks for visiting DC!

  • 41. bipolar2  |  August 23, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Then old Nobodaddy aloft
    Farted and belched and coughed,
    And said,
    ‘I love hanging and drawing and quartering
    Every bit as well as war and slaughtering.’

    — William Blake

    Old Nobodaddy is the author of (metaphysical) evil. Himself is evil. It’s an answer that belongs to Gnosticism. The “God” of the Book is not God. Matter is dead stuff. The spirit is wholly other.

    Open up your horizons in space (geography), time (the last 5 thousand years) and value (cultural norms) — have some fun people! Your limitations put lead in your minds.

    Until you can play with concepts, they’ll play you false.

    bipolar2
    copyright asserted 2007

  • 42. The Problem of Heaven - Reason To Doubt  |  September 1, 2008 at 5:48 am

    [...] Originally published on July 16, 2007 at de-conversion. [...]

  • 43. The Problem of Heaven | All Reason  |  October 10, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    [...] Originally published on July 16, 2007 at de-conversion. [...]

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Attention Christian Readers

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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