March 20, 2014 by Devin
Imagine someone came up to you and asked, “You know how there is a bunch of poverty, famine, and genocide in Africa right now? Are you okay with that?” If you are a normal, sane person, then you will probably answer, “No.”
But suppose they gave you a million dollars (that you could in no way use to help alleviate the problems in Africa). Would that change your answer at all? What if they gave you your dream job? What if they gave you the ideal family and a group of friends that would always be there for you? Would these change your answer at all? Would being in a good situation make you more accepting of a bad situation happening to someone else?
Let’s change the question a bit, mainly because there are a lot of innocent people in Africa. Suppose someone came up to you and told you that inmates in prisons across the country were being beaten and tortured for no real reason. They were being waterboarded without anyone actually looking for information. Every day unspeakable acts were being inflicted upon them. Would you be okay with this?
Again I ask, would you be okay with this if you had a million dollars? Your dream career? A loving family?
If you cannot tell, what I just presented to you was the basic reasoning for why I cannot believe in Heaven and Hell both existing. The idea of a utopian paradise where I live in perfect happiness while at the same time knowing that people are suffering is dreadful to me. It sounds terribly dehumanizing, as if I am forced to give up my sense of empathy and sympathy in order to benefit myself. No matter how good Heaven is, it cannot counteract the suffering that people are receiving in Hell.
This is why I am glad that Fred Phelps is not going to go to Hell. For those unaware, Fred Phelps was the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, the people infamous for their messages of hate to just about everyone, focusing mainly on an anti-homosexual message (“God Hates Fags,” etc.). As of writing this, he is on his deathbed and has been reportedly excommunicated from the hateful church he led.
I have no desire to see Fred Phelps punished. I suppose that there might be a sense of justice in that, but I would get no pleasure from that. As a Christian, what I learned from Jesus was to love everyone, especially those who harmed me. And while Fred Phelps has not harmed me personally, I aspire to have the love that reaches everyone regardless of what they have done, even as an atheist (perhaps especially).
More than anything, I see a need for pity beyond justice. Pity for a man who devoted himself to a life of hate and will die in that. Pity for a man whose legacy was denied even to that small group of people that used to accept him.
This is not to say that I do not feel for those he harmed. I have homosexual friends who struggle with being accepted, both being accepted in the community and accepting themselves, and I am angry that they have to deal with these issues.
But I don’t want to play the blame game either, for doing so rarely actually solves the problem. People burning in hell for the crimes they committed do not make the crimes any less significant. You cannot heal a wound with another wound. Ultimately, the “justice” that Hell supposedly enacts is foolhardy.
I can accept the idea of Hell, and I can accept the idea of Heaven, but I cannot accept the idea that they coexist. Such a reality would mean that Heaven was filled with people who did not care about those in Hell, and that sounds like an awful group of people to spend eternity with.