by Jay Johansen | Oct 26, 2022
According to the Bible, there is no sin in Heaven. Atheists sometimes object that this means that, even if Christianity is true, they wouldn't want to go to Heaven because the people there must be automatons. They cannot have any free will because they are compelled to always slavishly follow the rules of a tyrant God.
Let me reply to that with a mundane analogy. True story: My doctor prescribed a medicine for me that has a side effect of reducing my appetite. (Lest you wonder, the medicine is Trulicity.) Since I started taking this medicine I have lost about 10 pounds. The doctor told me that indeed some people take this medicine just to lose weight. (I don't know if that's a good idea, but that's another question. And the medicine is pretty expensive, mine costs over $1000 per month before insurance, so I don't think I'd be taking it if insurance wasn't paying most of the cost. But maybe it's good for people who are overweight AND rich.)
By taking away my ability to overeat, does this drug take away my freedom? (It's not really 100% effective at preventing me from overeating, but suppose it was.) In a sense, I guess. But in another sense, it enhances my freedom, because it gives me the ability to do something that I want to do. My long term, rational will is to not overeat. But sometimes I get cravings and I overeat despite myself. Sometimes I eat just because I'm bored, and right afterward I'll be kicking myself for eating when I wasn't even hungry. I WANT to limit my eating. The drug helps me to achieve this goal. It enables my long term, deliberate will to overcome my momentary cravings.
Christians have the same struggle with sin. Our deliberate, rational, long-term goal is to not sin. But in the spur of the moment we will feel anger or greed or lust and fall into sin. Then later we will be kicking ourselves for having broken our resolve. So something -- however it might work -- that enables our willpower to overcome our passing desire to sin would be welcome.
I say "Christians" here. Of course there are non-Christians who similarly do not want to sin. They accept all or most Christian moral teachings and try to follow them. But of course there are people who do not accept Christian moral teaching at all and see nothing wrong with actions that Christians call "sin". Therefore they have no struggle to overcome their impulses to do these things. They just do them.
FOr a person who does not want to sin, something that enables him to overcome his impulses to sin is not taking away his freedom. It is enabling him to do what he really wants to do. To the non-Christian who does not share these values, something that would force him to follow these rules would, indeed, be taking away his freedom.
Non-Christians sometimes condemn a God who will send people to Hell. But suppose you were God. What would you do instead? If God said that everyone goes to Heaven, but once there they are compelled to follow all his rules, Heaven would be a place of force and slavery. Or suppose he didn't force everyone to follow all his rules. Then in Heaven there would be people stealing and kidnapping and raping. It wouldn't be Heaven. It would be just like here.
At this point you might say, "Well of course God should prevent people in Heaven from stealing and kidnapping and raping! But he should allow people to do things that break his rules but are harmless, like drunkenness and adultery and homosexuality." But then, who says which rules are important and which aren't? People who say this are supposing that they know what the rules should be and that God got it all wrong in his book. And of course, whatever set of rules you say God should impose, there would be people who disagree. Some would say that adultery is no big dfeal. Others would say that is a serious offense and should not be allowed. Some would say that racism is a terrible offense. Others would say it's perfectly reasonable. Etc etc. And for that matter, while most would say that kidnapping small children and torturning them is about the worst evil they can think of, there are people in the world today who do this and who think it's fun. By what standard do you say that their idea of good clean fun is wrong?
Once you concede that there should be rules, the question then becomes just what rules. And at that point, on what basis do you say that your idea of what the rules should be is good and God's idea is wrong? Because you and your friends agree it's so? So what? I've had many conversations on the Internet where someone says that he doesn't agree with some rule from the Bible and he thinks it would be better to follow some set of rules that he made up. I've taken to sayings, "So on the one hand we have the all-knowing, all-powerful, creator of the universe. Or if you don't believe that, at least we have the concensus of hundreds of millions of people over the course of centuries. On the other hand we have some guy on the Internet who doesn't even give his real name. Which one should we listen to?"
So ultimately, God says, "I will admit you to Heaven. But the condition is, you must follow my rules. If you don't want to follow my rules, then you can go somewhere where no one is compelled to follow my rules and you can do whatever you want." Many people think such a society would be paradise: Total freedom, everyone does whatever they want. But of course in real life, that means that some would steal and kidnap and rape etc. A society where there are no restraints on human evil would, quite literally, be Hell.
I prefer the freedom of Heaven.
© 2022 by Jay Johansen
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