Wednesday, March 20, 2013
After an unbearably long winter, we are finally getting a taste of spring.
We southern Italians don’t have a good relationship with cold weather. The chilly air takes our breath away and freezes our noses, so we give up strolling around town for the winter. But today it was warm enough to go for a walk with my son.
“If I get it right,” I said to him, “you don’t like the idea of hell, but you also don’t like the idea of forgiveness. So, what is God supposed to do with the sinner?”
“That’s a silly question, mom. What I don’t like is the idea of a supernatural judge inflicting eternal punishment or forgiving all sins, provided that one repents. You can’t apply ethic values to a supernatural being.”
“Because the moment you allow a celestial dictator to enter the picture, the entire ethical system is reduced to nothing more than ‘I’ll do this because God says so‘. Our ethic values are a product of evolution. Society couldn’t function without laws. Many religious people arrogantly maintain that ethics wouldn’t exist without religion, ignoring the fact that within philosophy there are many schools of ethic. It’s a complex subject.”
“But I’m asking YOU a very simple question! What is your choice, punishment or forgiveness?”
“If you want to know what I think should be done with a convicted killer, well, I think he should be punished. But I don’t believe in capital punishment.”
“So, should he spend his life in jail?”
“That’s a sort of earthly eternal punishment, isn’t it?”
“I told you, you can’t compare human justice to a supposedly divine justice!”
“But we are made in God’s image!”
“Maybe He’s made in ours!”
“True, that can be a problem. But let’s forget punishment and talk about forgiveness. What’s not to like about it?”
“The total absolution of one‘s responsibility is immoral. The wrong that has been done cannot be erased. ”
“Don’t you think that to forgive is the only way to overcome one’s pain? I mean, if one keeps brooding over an offense and hating the offender, the pain will never end.”
“Well, I’ve always been able to leave the pain behind and go on with my life. I have also kept good relationships with the people who have hurt me. But I have not absolved them.”
“What you are describing IS forgiveness. Absolution means to declare the defendant innocent, whereas forgiveness means to look evil in the face and then put it behind our back. It’s only in this way that evil loses its power.”
“It seems to me that you are taking meaning out of life with your quasi-ascetic attitude. If something sad happens to me, I should feel hurt, because I want the events in my life to matter.You religious people believe that you have to be happy whatever happens because it’s the will of God!"
“I don’t believe that God wills for people to get sick, or to be homeless, or loose a loved one. But He can give strength if those terrible things should happen.”
“I’d rather be strong on my own, without the help of a hypothetical creator."
“I hope you can. I’m sure you can.”
Later that day, my son and I involved his father in our chat. He is on his son side when we talk about the existence of God, but he’s on my side when we talk about Jesus. He loves his parables, his sayings, his subtle intelligence. Paraphrasing the professional atheists, our son often makes silly comments about Jesus, which unfailingly refer to the problem of eternal punishment.
“Jesus was immoral,” he begins, “He said that those who don’t believe in him will end up in hell. This is a horrible thing to say.”
I think he feels threatened, but for no reason. He’s a good person, and good people don’t deserve
A few days ago I went to a conference on the subject of damnation. When I came home Andrea asked me, trying to look cool:
“So, who goes to hell, only the bad ones or also those who don’t believe in God?”
“Oh my!” I said, “Are you worried about your supposedly non-existent afterlife?”
“Not at all!” he answered, “I just want to know were you people stand.”
Yet, he had a funny expression of his face. I know him well enough to detect one one when I see it."
“Don’t worry, you’re fine,” I said. “Jesus was an eschatological prophet and his words must be
understood in their historical context, although this is something that your fellow atheists don’t seem to understand.”
“Hell is an invention of the church,” my husband intervened. “For Jesus, Gehenna was the place of eternal punishment, but you have to read it as a metaphor for the suffering of the soul that can’t get close to God.”
“If faith is given by grace,” our son answered, “it is still wrong that nonbelievers won’t have a chance to see God, in the improbable case that He exists.”
“I can’t give you a chart of who is going to heaven and who is not!” I said. “One way to look at the problem is that death might not be an entirely new state of being, but rather the continuation of what we were during our lives.”
to be continued...
at 5:30 PM