Designing the Afterlife

In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis puts a challenge to those who condemn the doctrine of Hell as immoral: “What are you asking God to do?”

The apparent reasoning behind this question is that even those who think the idea of Hell is monstrous would be unable to come up with a superior afterlife scenario in which justice would be done. I am happy to take up this challenge. In this post, I will sketch an alternative scenario, one which I believe any reasonable person would agree is morally superior to Lewis’ conception of the afterlife. In so doing, I intend to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that Lewis’ conception of the afterlife is morally unacceptable, and that if there exists a benevolent deity, the afterlife cannot be as Lewis and Christians of like mind have historically pictured it.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, let us assume that the Earth is exactly as it is now (though I am not claiming I could not improve that as well, if given the chance), save for one difference. In this alternate world, each person possesses an immortal, conscious soul as theists have historically conceived of it. Upon the death of the body, this soul separates from it and travels to the afterlife, where the scenario I imagine begins.

In my afterlife, there wouldn’t be a Hell, but there would be a Purgatory. Every person, upon their arrival, would undergo a review of their life. They would be shown both the best and the worst things they ever did, and would have explained to them, in a way that was impossible to deny or misunderstand, both the good and the evil that they caused by their actions. It will be explained to them precisely why their evil actions were wrong, and what they should have done instead.

After this would come the purgatory, less a place than a state of being. Each person would have to relive snippets of their life, not from their own perspective but from the perspectives of others whom their actions affected. All the happiness they caused in others, they would feel it as if it were their own, and likewise all the anger, sadness, pain and fear they caused. Each person would feel happiness equal to all the happiness they created during their life, and would suffer an amount equal to all the suffering they created during their life. (Naturally, for people such as Adolf Hitler, this process would take a very long time.)

Upon completion of this process, the person would be given a chance to express their sincere apology for the suffering they caused. If they refused (although I can’t foresee that ever happening), they would be sent back to repeat the process as many times as it takes. Since it is possible that the person will repent at the end of each cycle, and since all things that are possible will happen eventually given an unlimited amount of time, no one will be condemned to suffer forever.

The people who complete purgatory and sincerely repent their misdeeds would be allowed into what we can call Heaven. The physical appearance and characteristics of this place are not especially important; what is important is that it would be a meeting place, where the souls in residence can freely mingle, interact and enjoy each other’s company. Even aside from the enormous potential in a meeting of history’s great minds, I envision this as a place of good company and fellowship. The purgatory process would not erase the differences that make people unique, but it would ensure that they would treat each other with the respect and kindness that only come from gaining the most profound perspective possible on one’s own actions.

There is one potential problem with this scenario that needs to be addressed straight away. One of the major benefits of Heaven in every religious tradition is the hope of being reunited with departed loved ones, but Heaven would be a very lonely and distinctly unheavenly kind of place if one had to wait hundreds of years for friends and loved ones to complete the entrance process. To fix that, upon completing the process of purgatory, regardless of how long it took, every person would be moved to the same time, the “entrance time” of Heaven. Thus, no one would have to wait for anyone else to arrive in Heaven, and no one would be the first or last to arrive; everyone would appear there at the same time.

There would be another, major aspect of this heavenly realm. Each person knows better than anyone else what they themselves would consider paradise, so why not let them create it for themselves? Each person in Heaven would be granted a private reality that was completely under their control, within which they would be omnipotent, able to alter the laws of physics and create or alter worlds by will alone, limited only by what is possible to imagine. The heavenly residents could create private paradises inhabited only by themselves, or shape whole new planets inhabited by people of their own. They could reign over their worlds as gods and direct their unfolding from above, or enter them as one more mortal resident. They could even shape a storyline and suppress some of their own memories to better fit in, if they wanted. (Imagine being a character in a story you created yourself!) The saved would also be able to freely visit each others’ home realities, though they would not be able to affect anything there without the owner’s consent.

The possibility of creating a world with its own living inhabitants poses some special difficulties. I do not expect any of the people inhabiting Heaven to want to create a world where others would suffer, but I can recognize that an interesting world might involve conflict. To solve this problem, I propose that two options be open to world-creators: create either “zombies” that would behave as the creator desired and that would be practically indistinguishable from ordinary people under most circumstances, but that would lack any true subjective experiences and hence could not suffer, or create true, conscious free-willed beings that could learn and grow and would not be fully predictable. (And yes, the created free-willed inhabitants of these worlds could, in the fullness of time, gain admittance to Heaven on equal status with any other resident and become creators of their own worlds in turn. Why not?)

Finally, if anyone grew tired with even this degree of variety, residents of Heaven would also be able to reincarnate themselves and live another human life on Earth. People who had been through at least one life already would be able to control, to an extent, the location and circumstances of their next birth.

The only problem I can see with this scenario that I have not yet worked out is the problem of boredom. Given infinite time, even the limitless diversity possible within this conception of the afterlife could grow monotonous, and Heaven would not be Heaven in that case. It could be possible to allow the souls in residence to annihilate themselves, but that would raise problems of loneliness and grief among those who remain, two emotions that would seem inappropriate for Heaven. I do not know how to solve this (although, I should note, I do not think the traditional conception of Heaven avoids this problem or offers a superior answer to it). If anyone has an idea that respects the freedom of all involved and does not threaten eternal monotony, feel free to suggest it.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • faust

    Quite an interesting scenario and I believe you addressed most of the major problems with CS Lewis’s “Problem” of Pain. The difference being, he worked with a defined goal, his understanding of the christian heaven, whereas you were free to imagine a truly pain-free version of an afterlife. This is CS Lewis with a hammer, every problem being a nail. Very insightful post, especially the time dialation part. (I believe some xtians have incorporated that idea as “everyone dies at different times, but arrives at the same time.)
    Thanks,
    faust

  • simulacra

    This is an improvement over the Christian version, but who is to manage the life review, to decide what wrongs and evil one has committed? Such decisions seem inescapably subjective, at least to some extent, placing your gatekeeper on questionable moral grounds. As for the boredom, why not allow souls to end their existence while replacing them doppelganger zombies?

  • http://abidemi.livejournal.com Abidemi

    This is a lovely little scenario. It’s fun to dream about, and fun to poke at. To go along with simulacra’s question, what would happen if a genuinely good – at least, good in the subjective opinions of most of the people in the world – causes accidental suffering. Or what if a genuinely “good” action causes suffering in an “evil” person (say, the prosecuters and investigators who went after Ken Lay)? The creator of the afterlife would have to be awfully human to make those kinds of decisions.

    The joy of being an omnipotent actor in your own, private reality is part of the reason why I write.

  • Alex Weaver

    The doctrine of Hell would bother me less if Christianity stipulated that everyone started with a BFG… ;/

    On a more serious note, one possibility to relieve boredom would be to allow souls in heaven to selectively erase portions of their memories of heaven, giving them the chance to experience things over again. This presents its own problems; either people would have to know who in heaven had erased what, or people might become very confused. And if they did know, they would have to not mind having more or less the same conversation multiple times.

    This reminds me vaguely of an assignment I did in a Mythology class where we had to design our own versions of Dante’s Inferno and explain why we set them up the way we did. Let me see if I can find it and I’ll email it to you, if you’re interested. Paying people back for suffering they’d caused was the main idea, but embarrassingly I kind of took for granted that it would be eternal…

    And I was playing a lot of Disciples II at the time, which probably shows in my concept of it x.x

  • Tycho the Dog

    An interesting thread that seems to prove that it’s impossible to imagine a practical scenario that doesn’t sound more like hell than heaven (a Stepford Wives’ eye view of the afterlife). The idea of everyone arriving at the same time is interesting, but it would be pretty cranky if, for example, a victim of the Holocaust was to arrive at the pearly gates the same time as the newly repentant Hitler, Geobbels and Eichmann: “We’re so sorry”. “That’s okay, I forgive you. Now give me a great big hug”.

    The very idea of paradise negates a crucial part of what makes us human – that is, being living creature on a living world. Can you experience true pleasure without pain? true happiness without sadness? and so on, (Hope that wasn’t too flowery). And if you remove the prospect of death as the ultimate deadline for our activities, doesn’t everything start to become pointless and unfocused.

  • SpeirM

    Is the object justice or an existence free of evil? I’ll confess to not seeing the good in justice solely for justice’ sake. The goal of justice is to right wrongs.

    In Adam’s scenario punishment is meted out to the end of righting wrongs. But would there really be any need? Not unless we assume evil is spiritual in essence. Look at this:

    Gal 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
    Gal 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
    Gal 5:21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
    Gal 5:23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

    Such biblical passages as this show me that Paul understood something a lot of Christians today don’t; that is, that evil is a result of the flesh. The common tack taken by many Christians today is to reinterpret “flesh” as “sinful nature” or some such thing, thus making evil a spiritual entity. But I think Paul had it right. People don’t commit evil except in response to some physical urge. (Which doesn’t at all imply that Paul was a materialist.)

    Why do I bring this up? If we do have a spiritual component (and by that I mean an immaterial soul) the elimination of the flesh should itself be enough to rid us of evil. Simply dying then–shedding the flesh–should be enough to accomplish that. Where then is the need for punishment? True justice doesn’t punish just to punish. Such a thing wouldn’t properly be justice at all.

  • Shawn Smith

    Nice post, Ebonmuse. With respect to your question about endless monotony, I asked Philip Thomas a similar question on an earlier thread. He told me that there could be infinite gradations of happiness, that wouldn’t be repeated even after infinite time. I can’t really understand how that could occur, and told him as much, but he seemed pretty convinced that is the way it is.

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    Such biblical passages as this show me that Paul understood something a lot of Christians today don’t; that is, that evil is a result of the flesh.

    That’s an interesting reading of Paul. In some ways it would make hell unnecessary, since the elimination of the flesh upon death would get rid of evil. So I am wondering what is Paul’s position on hell, and does it contradict this reading of his position on evil?

  • SpeirM

    Unless I’m just misrecalling, Paul never alludes to Hell by name. But there can’t be much doubt about what he means by passages such as this one:

    Gal 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
    Gal 1:9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

    and

    2Co 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
    2Co 11:14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
    2Co 11:15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

    (I’m deliberately omitting references that come from epistles attributed to Paul but probably aren’t his.)

    It would seem that Paul, like most Evangelical/Fundamentalists of today, considered that justice demanded God be vindicated by punishment of those opposed to him. The point wasn’t to reform or to insulate the good from the evil. Hell was for retribution, pure and simple. Those who offend God deserve their fates for no other reason than that they have done so. To most of us here that will look a lot more like spite than justice.

    Is that contradictory? Not really. It’s not because in Paul’s mind Hell wasn’t created to make people good in the first place. It’s only there because a vengeful God decided that those who oppose him deserve it–pretty much because he says so. To me, the inevitable conclusion is that God isn’t really so much concerned with good; otherwise, he would have devised a plan more like Adam suggests that would have turned people from evil to good, even in the afterlife. (Although he probably could have avoided the problem altogether if he had been clever enough.) What God seems more concerned with is that he not be “dissed.”

  • EnigmaOfSteel

    Is that contradictory? Not really. It’s not because in Paul’s mind Hell wasn’t created to make people good in the first place. It’s only there because a vengeful God decided that those who oppose him deserve it–pretty much because he says so.

    Yes I see this would not necessarily be a contradiction based on Paul’s use for hell. Because regardless if evil is eliminated when the flesh is removed, hell still has a purpose, because in Paul’s view it is used not so much to deal with evil, but to administer his idea of justice for what he considers evil actions committed on earth. That could bring up an issue with Paul’s idea of justice that you mentioned, namely the question of what is the need to exact justice through punishment, when there is no more evil in the being. It seems almost like punishing someone else, since the being has been transformed through death.

  • Gathercole

    The solution to the boredom problem is easy for a scientist: in heaven, give people control over their own mental processes. If you don’t want to be bored, just choose not to be.

  • Harlequin

    If the deity was any sort of benevolent everyone would go to Heaven. As an athiest I know that one does not need the threat of eternal reward/damnation to guide earthly behaivor and it seems inestimably cruel to punish someone for eternity for what pain my be inflicted in a few decades on Earth. I do not see why the afterlife should be a magnification of one’s actions on Earth. If the deity has the power to send everyone to Heaven, it seems immensly unjust to deny that for eternity no matter what one did while alive.

  • http://mrdumpling.easingthebadger.com Dave

    Interesting post. It has made me move my planned “How could a good God send people to Hell” post up the priority list. I will email you when I have posted it and I would welcome your feedback.

    One question though. Why do you assume eternity would be a endless progression of time, rather than the absence of time? I don’t see the afterlife (and that is merely an opinion, not something I am trying to biblically prove as a necessary dogma) that Heaven will year piled up on year upon year like that hideously tacked on final verse to Amazing Grace, but rather a timeless existence with every moment happening at once. That would neatly solve the waiting for loved ones and perhaps even the boredom issue.

  • http://mrdumpling.easingthebadger.com Dave

    SpeirM,

    That is the essence of the gnosticism that Paul and the other Apostles so fiercely condemned, that flesh is evil and spirit good. I think you are misintepreting those verses. Of course, you can say the same about the way I interpret them too. :-)

  • SpeirM

    “That is the essence of the gnosticism….”

    You’re right, Dave. I disagree. There’s a great deal more to gnosticism than body/soul duality. And, in fact, I don’t even think Paul ever argues for body/soul duality. Gnostics said the body was evil by virtue of being material. Paul said the body was corrupt by virtue of the Fall. (Romans 5; 1 Cor. 15 ) He insisted the body will be redeemed–or, rather, replaced–one day (Romans 8:23), something gnostics would have opposed.

    But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make a distinction. Another for instance:

    Rom 8:13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    Because the body is corrupt, in Paul’s theology, it induces us to sin. “Wretched man that I am!” he wails in the previous chapter. “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” And then he answers his own question in the next verse, although we don’t get a fuller exposition of the mechanics, if you will, of this until 1 Cor. 15.

    So, no, I don’t think I’m making a Paul a gnostic at all. What I’m pointing out are early Christian teachings that were near enough to certain elements of gnosticism that some Christians understandably confused the two. That was what Paul was trying to battle.

  • andrea

    it maybe because I’m mortal, but I can’t conceive of a place where “every moment happens at once”. Even in a “heaven”, there has to be cause and effect i.e. I do something and something else happens. If you don’t have that, it may as well be primal churning chaos.

  • Shrike

    Just out of curiousity, has anyone here read any of the works of fantasy author Terry Pratchett? Your conception of an appropriate punishment for those who lived incorrectly closely aligns with that imposed on a person in his novel “The Truth”. Spoilers for the novel follow:

    – Spoilers –

    From p. 370 of Terry Pratchett’s “The Truth”, Paperback edition.
    (Mr Tulip, of this dialogue, is a killer of innocents and one villain of the book who died.)
    Are you sorry for everything”
    “How will I know?” he said.
    Death waved a hand through the air. Along the arc described by the bony fingers appeared a line of hourglasses.
    “I understand you are a connoisseur, Mr Tulip. In a small way, so am I.” Death selected one of the hourglasses and held it up. Images appeared around it, bright but insubstantial as shadows.
    “What are they?” said Tulip.
    “Lives, Mr Tulip. Just lives. Not all masterpieces, obviously, often rather naif in their use of emotion and action, but nevertheless full of interest and surprise and, each in their own way, a work of some genius. And certainly very … collectible.” Death picked up an hourglass as Mr Tulip tried to back away. “Yes. Collectible. Because, if I had to find a way to describe these lives, that word would be ‘shorter’”.
    Death selected another hourglass. “Ah. Nugga Velski. You will not remember him, of course. He was simply a man who walked into his rather simple little hut at the wrong time, and you are a busy man and cannot be expected to remember everyone. Note the mind, a brilliant mind that might in other circumstances have changed the world, doomed to be born into a time and place where life was nothing but a daily, hopeless struggle. Nevertheless, in his tiny village, right up until the day he found you stealing his coat, he did his best to-”
    Mr Tulip raised a trembling hand. “Is this the bit where my whole life passes in front of my eyes?” he said.
    “No, that was the bit just now.”
    “Which bit?”
    “The bit,” said Death, “between your being born and your dying. No, this… Mr Tulip, this is your whole life as it passed before other people’s eyes…

    – End Spoilers –

    Great minds think alike? Or good taste in literature? Pratchett’s work is quite good. If interested in a quite interesting fictional novel about religion, I’ve got to recommend Pratchett’s “Small Gods” and Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens”. Both present interesting views on religion, though mostly center on Christianity. The Truth’s afterlife for Mr Tulip was something of a special circumstance, though, as the character believed, but didn’t really believe in anything. Typically Pratchett’s afterlife involves apparantly whatever the person expected or deserved to happen happening, or reincarnation though he does explore and parody the afterlife of Christian Hell in “Eric”.

  • SpeirM

    “it maybe because I’m mortal, but I can’t conceive of a place where “every moment happens at once”.”

    Even thought requires changes of state. Change, by definition, involves time. A timeless being couldn’t even think.

  • http://www.gibsonian.blogspot.com Ian B Gibson

    …even those who think the idea of Hell is monstrous would be unable to come up with a superior afterlife scenario in which justice would be done.

    For justice to be done, I would suggest that god be send to hell, simply for creating creatures capable of eternal damnation. God didn’t stop there, of course; he drew up an arbitrary list of prohibited actions, knowing full well their considerable overlap with the impulses and failings he had incorporated into his chosen people.

    You can imagine the results if a group of parents put several dozen 5-year-olds into a room full of toys, ice cream and water-cannons under the strict instructions to all sit quietly in the corner for 8 hours. Who would then blame the kids for the chaos that ensued?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    For simulacra:

    This is an improvement over the Christian version, but who is to manage the life review, to decide what wrongs and evil one has committed? Such decisions seem inescapably subjective, at least to some extent, placing your gatekeeper on questionable moral grounds.

    I believe that morality is objective, so I’m not greatly concerned about that. I acknowledge that I didn’t specify in detail exactly who would be conducting this life review I envision. It could be some suitable deity figure, or it could be a natural force like the myth of the law of karma. I don’t think that’s the most important part of this scenario; as you can see, I drew it so that the presence or absence of a god would be irrelevant.

    As for the boredom, why not allow souls to end their existence while replacing them doppelganger zombies?

    That would solve the problem in one way, I suppose, although it might be a significant source of uneasiness and unhappiness to the remaining saved to have to wonder for eternity if their loved ones are real people or just zombie imitators.

    For Tycho the Dog:

    The idea of everyone arriving at the same time is interesting, but it would be pretty cranky if, for example, a victim of the Holocaust was to arrive at the pearly gates the same time as the newly repentant Hitler, Geobbels and Eichmann: “We’re so sorry”. “That’s okay, I forgive you. Now give me a great big hug”.

    Yes, that does seem more than a little strange. On the other hand, the idea of torturing any person for eternity, no matter how heinous their crimes on Earth, strikes me as even worse. Hitler and the like may have caused a vast, almost incalculable amount of suffering, but it was still a finite amount.

    The very idea of paradise negates a crucial part of what makes us human – that is, being living creature on a living world…. if you remove the prospect of death as the ultimate deadline for our activities, doesn’t everything start to become pointless and unfocused.

    An excellent point. One could argue that human beings, as they currently are, are simply not psychologically constructed to live forever, and that this fact makes all eternal afterlife scenarios in some way deficient. We could picture a restructuring of our psychology to fix that, but one would have to ask whether the end product of such a process would really be human anymore in any meaningful sense or whether that would necessarily involve transforming a person into something outside our current understanding.

    For Dave:

    One question though. Why do you assume eternity would be a endless progression of time, rather than the absence of time? I don’t see the afterlife (and that is merely an opinion, not something I am trying to biblically prove as a necessary dogma) that Heaven will year piled up on year upon year like that hideously tacked on final verse to Amazing Grace, but rather a timeless existence with every moment happening at once.

    It’s an interesting viewpoint, but I have to agree with Andrea and SpeirM: What would it mean for a person to exist outside of time? I have no conception of what such a state could possibly be like. Everything we could possibly associate with being a person – thinking, acting, feeling – all these things require some notion of change distributed over time. An existence lacking this quality, if such a thing is possible, would have to be something utterly outside our present imagination, and I refer back to my prior comment about whether the beneficiary of that state would be recognizable as a human being at all.

    Shrike: Believe me, you don’t need to tell me about Terry Pratchett. :) (Although any readers of my blog who have not heard of him are advised to hie themselves to a bookstore, posthaste.) If you check the Recommended Reading page on Ebon Musings, it cites Small Gods in particular.

  • Archi Medez

    Adam,

    I think this could have been thought through better. The basic issue seems to be this: What is the optimal way to deal with unjust behaviour, i.e., how best to deliver justice?

    If C.S. Lewis’ question is “What are you asking God to do?”, it seems to me that an immediate answer, playing along and assuming God exists, is to give exacting and proportional justice here and now, with no waiting around for an afterlife while the evil ones enjoy themselves intentionally inflicting pain and loss on innocents. But we don’t have to respond to Lewis’ question by playing along with his assumptions. In the real world, God doesn’t intervene, because he doesn’t exist, therefore we humans are left with the task of how to best deliver justice to all–in the real world. (I’m sure you agree!). Another immediate answer to Lewis’ question is to address the whole moral value system of the ‘God’ (religion). Why, for example, is disbelief considered a sin? Why is adultery, though objectionable, to be punished so harshly (i.e., execution)? The approach you use in the above article leaves the world as it is and addresses only the afterlife scenario. But it is the afterlife concept that can and should be ignored.

    “[people] would suffer an amount equal to all the suffering they created during their life. (Naturally, for people such as Adolf Hitler, this process would take a very long time.)”

    In that case, Hitler would experience something very similar to hell (e.g., he would be burnt in ovens), in which case your proposal is similar to hell, even though it happens within the larger context of something like purgatory. I’m not necessarily objecting to putting Hitler through hell, but it needs to be pointed out that for some terrible cases your proposal is rather like a temporary hell, out of which one may extract oneself if…

    “Upon completion of this process, the person would be given a chance to express their sincere apology for the suffering they caused.”

    An apology?! An apology is at best a useful social tool for reestablishing social relations that have gone awry. Actual changes in behaviour, real atonement or reparations for misdeeds, are needed.

    “Hitler and the like may have caused a vast, almost incalculable amount of suffering, but it was still a finite amount.”

    (from a later posting)

    Not finite if the victims have endless consciousness, as in your scenario. The idea that Hitler would be accomplishing much of anything for anyone by sincerely apologizing is absurd.

    If all that is left is a person’s consciousness in this afterlife scenario, how is this scheme going to work to produce justice? For example, a person can’t lose their life in your afterlife scenario, but they can kill someone else in real life. Therefore, how can someone, in this afterlife scenario, experience the suffering of someone who has lost their real life? This needs to be thought through more.

    I much prefer sticking to discussion of how justice can be best delivered, and injustice prevented, in this life—-the only one we’ve got.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I’d like to address this comment of SpeirM’s:

    Is the object justice or an existence free of evil? I’ll confess to not seeing the good in justice solely for justice’ sake. The goal of justice is to right wrongs.

    In Adam’s scenario punishment is meted out to the end of righting wrongs. But would there really be any need? Not unless we assume evil is spiritual in essence.

    With respect, I suggest that the goal of justice is twofold: to right wrongs, yes, but also to bring the wrongdoer to an appreciation of the wrongness of his deeds, and thereby to reform him so that he does not engage in such behavior in the future. I agree that punishment simply for the sake of causing pain, with no intent to reform, is terribly unjust, but that wasn’t the intent of the purgatory of my scenario. I believe in chastising evildoers not to balance some imaginary cosmic scale, but so they understand why they should not harm others in the future. In my scenario, bringing all people to that understanding is necessary to create Heaven without simultaneously requiring the existence of Hell, or some other place of imprisonment for the evil.

    I am assuming that, despite the loss of their flesh, people in this scenario would be essentially the same as they were while embodied; this may of course be a bad assumption, and I myself have argued against the plausibility of bodiless consciousness. But I’m trying to stick by the basic parameters of Lewis’ challenge, unreasonable though they may well be. This also addresses your comment, Archi Medez – you’ll get no argument from me that earthly justice is preferable by far! Perhaps it would be worthwhile to write a further post on how I would do things if I threw out all the assumptions of religion, including the existence of our world as it is, and started over from the very beginning.

    I’m not necessarily objecting to putting Hitler through hell, but it needs to be pointed out that for some terrible cases your proposal is rather like a temporary hell, out of which one may extract oneself…

    I believe that the fact of its temporality is the crucial difference between my scenario and the Christian one. It’s true that in the scenario I’ve sketched there are many people in purgatory who will experience quite terrible suffering. I don’t deny that, nor do I necessarily view it as undesirable. But the important point is that their pain, no matter how bad, will not last forever. In contrast with the horrendous view of neverending pain, this is an infinitely superior option.

    An apology is at best a useful social tool for reestablishing social relations that have gone awry. Actual changes in behaviour, real atonement or reparations for misdeeds, are needed.

    Again, that’s certainly true. But given that this is Heaven and all people present enjoy limitless bliss anyway, the ability of a repentant wrongdoer to make concrete reparations is basically nonexistent. All they could do in such a scenario is apologize, so long as that apology included a genuine and serious determination not to commit those same errors again. In my scenario, no person would be freed from purgatory until they could make such a pledge and mean it sincerely.

  • SpeirM

    “With respect, I suggest that the goal of justice is twofold: to right wrongs, yes, but also to bring the wrongdoer to an appreciation of the wrongness of his deeds, and thereby to reform him so that he does not engage in such behavior in the future.”

    Well, Adam, read what I wrote again. My point was that if the body is the source of evil, then being minus the body would automatically rid the personality (for want of a more imaginative word) of evil. Punishment would be unnecessary.

    This really wasn’t aimed at contradicting anything you wrote. I realize that in your scenario you’re giving the Christian conception as much of the benefit of the doubt as you can. My only object was to show that under Pauline theology eternal punishment couldn’t possibly be reformative, only retributive.

  • Jeff T

    I would rather be immortal in this life. I will deal with the boredom issues.
    Death is the final experience that we all must endure. I hope to face mine bravely. But to be honest, I will probably be scared of it, or sad, or both. If there is some other entity out there that wants to send me into eternal punishment after enduring death, then it can kiss my…and it surely isn’t benevolent.
    Furthermore, if I am doomed to death because of some primitives eating fruit in a garden—then it can kiss my….
    Abrahamic religions are a cancer on society. Look at the world today. The vast majority of the problems in the world today can be traced to individual greed and the manipulation of the masses through Abrahamic religions.
    “In the name of gawd, go blow yourself up in a marketplace”—all the while scheming for political(material) gain—while the brainwashed fruitcake goes off and explodes.

  • Philip Thomas

    I did indeed posit infinite pleasures. I see no more difficulty with this than positing an infinite extent of time, which we are assuming a priori. With infinite pleasures there is no problem about filling that infinite time.

    Abrahamic relgions are indeed a cause of many of the world’s problems. This is partly beccause they are so central to human history that their influence lies behind a great deal of human culture (especially Western and Middle Eastern culture).

    Justice is another matter: I have argued elsewhere that Justice consists in the punishment of the guilty and the sparing of the innocent, but I was pretty strenously opposed by people who said punishment of the guilty was totally inappropriate (in itself).

  • http://www.eternityexam.blogspot.com Universal Angel

    You are being too kind. I don’t know about yourself, but the people who have committed evil, do not need purgatory to explain why they were wrong. They KNEW when they committed the act, and their soul WANTED to commit the evil on so many levels.
    Read a short story on my blog, called Educating Mr Teddy B
    http://eternityexam.blogspot.com/2006/08/educating-mr-teddy-b.html

  • http://www.eternityexam.blogspot.com Universal Angel

    Just wanted to add, give sinners half a chance, and no matter how much rehabilitation they are given in purgatory, they will continue sinning…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I don’t know about yourself, but the people who have committed evil, do not need purgatory to explain why they were wrong. They KNEW when they committed the act, and their soul WANTED to commit the evil on so many levels.

    Just wanted to add, give sinners half a chance, and no matter how much rehabilitation they are given in purgatory, they will continue sinning…

    It must be nice to be able to make confident statements about the psychology of others on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

  • Shawn Smith

    Ebonmuse,

    LOL! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you be so snarky! Thank you!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    A little snark is unavoidable sometimes. ;)

  • http://www.eternityexam.blogspot.com Universal Angel

    You are using “psychology” to give yourself a false sense of security. When you need to resort to “snarkiness”, you are unable to truthfully justify your stance, so you adopt a tone which you think will hide the fact that you have no valid comeback. God is above wordplay, evil is evil, fullstop. So if you commit evil, you’ve crossed an irreversible line to a place beyond redemption.
    Perhaps the confusion here is what should be classed as “evil”? There are certain things that everyone knows you shouldn’t do, therefore they are evil, therefore they are unforgivable.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    You are using “psychology” to give yourself a false sense of security.

    As it happens, I think you’re using your religious beliefs for the exact same purpose.

    When you need to resort to “snarkiness”, you are unable to truthfully justify your stance, so you adopt a tone which you think will hide the fact that you have no valid comeback.

    My valid comeback is that you have no valid evidence whatsoever to support your views. It was true then and it is still true, and nothing more need be said.

  • Vjatcheslav

    I am wondering how Universal Angel explains people like sociopaths and the like, who seem to have absolutely no sense of guilt, or even being unable to have guilt.

    A bit late, but so be it. In the name of the Party, amen.

  • Paul A

    Hmm, seems this old post has a new lease of life. Interesting read but there’s one tiny point I have to question. If everyone is moved to the “entrance time of heaven” then that will require the supreme being to know when everyone will be finished in purgatory. This advance knowledge implies it will know how long every given person spends there and therefore it will know IN ADVANCE all the misdeeds which this person will perform. This in turn implies that we have no freedom and that therefore the supposedly just system is nothing of the sort. We were predestined by the head honcho to commit our misdeeds but are being punished for them regardless.

    Dunno if anyone brought that up previously (doesn’t look like it) but it’s an interesting point. Seeing as we’re dealing with a fantasy situation we can just employ the usual handwaving and invoke concepts like heaven existing outside time and all that sort of thing. It’s just that your formulation seems to imply some kind of traditional temporal order to things.

    Fun read though. Another thing – I know everyone ends up in heaven and has sincerely repented but a lot of people would still be a tad angry at Hitler, Stalin, etc. Would we be allowed to stick “Kick Me” signs on their backs and call them names at least?

    Oh, and I like the zombie idea. Heaven definitely has zombies (other than JC) :-)

  • Brad

    Your design of afterlife, Ebonmuse, is simply gorgeous. Alas, I still have some conceptual ideas/questions to add.

    Since it is possible that the person will repent at the end of each cycle, and since all things that are possible will happen eventually given an unlimited amount of time, no one will be condemned to suffer forever.

    (1) Is it really possible that psychopaths would, or could, repent – given that you set the condition to be “sincere apology”?

    (2) Your “limit proof” may be fallacious. You set up us humans with free-willed souls – and I assume that means we are not (a) random, (b) deterministic, or (c) an information-combination of these, but rather some kind of inexplicable, irreducible, metaphysical “excluded middle” between random and deterministic that does not rely upon mechanistic integration. Given that, it is dubious to apply any sort of probabilistic or otherwise formal theorem about infinities to “souls.”

    Given infinite time, even the limitless diversity possible within this conception of the afterlife could grow monotonous, and Heaven would not be Heaven in that case.

    This seems too subjective of a prediction. How do you know how the “limitless diversity possible” could play out? At any rate, I have some potential solutions to add in a bit, after some problems.

    Paradox in Metaphysical Time: You propose (a) all redeemed souls will begin existence in Heaven at one time, and (b) the afterlife gods can create new, legitimate souls that will likewise be received into Heaven. Doesn’t that create a supervenient time paradox? Imagine: my creator right now could be speaking with my afterlife self, getting recommendations on how to compose the world I’m in! Plus, if people can reincarnate back onto Earth, then do the afterlife- pre-incarnate and re-incarnate versions of people get to intermingle?

    Difficulty with Social Happiness: I think it is obvious to note that, us being social beings, we are very much dependent upon interaction with each other as a means of deriving happiness. Either this instinct gets dwindled, or we still probably suffer to some degree for all of our little differences. Imagine: a woman’s ex-boyfriend desires intimacy with her, but understands that his love is unrequited and wishes not to hurt this woman, so keeps to himself and diminishes his capacity for contentment. (You did say loneliness and grief seem inappropriate for Heaven.)

    Difficulty with Communication: In Heaven, how would we communicate with each other? Could we receive massive amounts of thought-communication at once and process it? Direct-revelation-message-boards with an infinity of members? Could I bug you if you were having uninterrupted fun inside some world you created?

    The following two ideas can be thought of as potential solutions to the problem of boredom.

    Spontaneous Phenomenality: Basically, I would want the power to literally create things that were previously unimaginable to me. I could see new colors, feel new textures, hear new sounds, smell new odors, taste new foods, control different bodies (bodies in n-dimensional universes!), feel new emotions, or even create entirely new types of sensations and experiences. Consciousness could be expanded indefinitely, beyond all known categories that define the mind as we know it.

    Soul/Being-Revision: This is a particularly dangerous idea. Essentially, you have the power to change your own nature or state. You can put yourself into states resembling that in dreams or on drugs. You can make yourself happy or sad. You may also make yourself more intelligent, more creative, more compassionate, more independent, etc. You can even alter your own memory temporarily so as to re-experience moments in a life. In fact, you could do much more. You could copy your own soul, or combine it with another person’s. (Does this even make sense?) If want be, you could give yourself omniscience (of all analytic truths so as not to contradict free will), and be in any superposition of mental states you want, even break free of temporality and become a timeless god.

    All in all, attempting to design afterlife is a very rewarding philosophical exercise. In nearly every possible avenue one comes across issues revolving around metaphysics and psychology that seem impossible to fix all at once.

  • Brad

    There are two time paradoxes in this Heaven. First, all people go to Heaven at the same time, and people can be reincarnated, so my pre-reincarnate self would meet my post-incarnate self at Heaven’s gates. Second, all people created in private realities go to Heaven too, so those people meet their makers before their makers even decide to make them.

    Also, I think psychopaths would be condemned to eternal purgatory, because it is impossible for them to feel “sincere apology.”

  • Laura

    To Ian B. Gibson, who said:

    “For justice to be done, I would suggest that god be send to hell, simply for creating creatures capable of eternal damnation. God didn’t stop there, of course; he drew up an arbitrary list of prohibited actions, knowing full well their considerable overlap with the impulses and failings he had incorporated into his chosen people.”

    I absolutely agree with the concept, except I don’t think we should blame “God” for drawing up “an arbitrary list of prohibited actions”–cause I don’t think “God” wrote the Bible; humans did. And you know how humans love torturing other humans! I could never believe in a God like the one in the Old Testament, who could be less forgiving of the “sins” of his created beings than I myself would be…and me, just a mere human!