The Blessed Legion

“The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Good were it for that man if he had never been born.”

—Mark 14:21

C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters takes the form of a series of letters, exchanged between a senior and a junior devil, on the topic of how best to tempt human beings. One of the letters in this book contains an incredible admission, the only time I’ve ever seen such a point made by a Christian apologist:

How valuable time is to us may be gauged by the fact that [God] allows us so little of it. The majority of the human race dies in infancy; of the survivors, a good many die in youth. It is obvious that to Him human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death, and death solely as the gate to that other kind of life. We are allowed to work only on a selected minority of the race, for what humans call a “normal life” is the exception. Apparently He wants some — but only a very few — of the human animals with which He is peopling Heaven to have had the experience of resisting us through an earthly life of sixty or seventy years.

Lewis has it exactly right here. The rate of spontaneous abortion (i.e., miscarriage) is difficult to measure precisely, because it often occurs so early that the woman never even realizes she was pregnant. However, by some estimates, between 50% and 75% of all conceptions end in spontaneous abortion. (Other estimates put the rate lower.) If we accept this number, then add the number of elective abortions, plus the people who die in infancy or early childhood, then it’s indeed clear that what we adult humans call a “normal life” is the exception and not the rule.

By Christian theology, even a single-celled embryo possesses an immortal soul, and if the body dies before the age of accountability, that soul proceeds directly to Heaven. Thus, the bizarre implication is that the overwhelming majority of Heaven’s residents will be souls who were spontaneously aborted in the womb and never had a human life at all. This blessed legion will far outnumber the relative few who were born, grew up, resisted sin, and attained salvation.

What this means is that, by Christian logic, being born is a terrible misfortune. The majority of those who are unlucky enough to be born will end up eternally damned. (This follows directly from the fact that Christianity comprises a minority of the world’s population – even assuming that every self-described Christian sect is acceptable to God, an assumption which many denominations do not make. The more restrictive the requirements for salvation are, the more that pool of the saved shrinks.) By contrast, every single one of the spontaneously or artificially aborted embryos has a soul that goes directly to Heaven, with no opportunity to sin and no danger of going astray.

Granted, we could mitigate this problem by loosening up the rules. Maybe it’s too strict to assume that only believing Christians can be saved; maybe God will accept anyone who lives an honest and moral life. Even so, if there is any act or belief or lifestyle that leads to damnation, the warped conclusion remains: it’s still better to die in the womb and have salvation assured, rather than be born into a mortal life and run a risk, however slight, of ending up in perdition.

Given this, why wouldn’t God just create a race of humans that all die in the womb and have their salvation assured? (The question of who would be the mothers of such a race need not pose a problem. An omnipotent god could, for example, create a planet full of artificial incubators that continuously bring forth new conceptuses, all of which die before completing their development.) To those who say that such a scenario would be absurd, I agree completely – it is absurd. But the absurdity is not my invention; it springs from the warped logic of the Christian salvation system, in which early death is preferable to a long and full life. Like all other heavens, belief in this one inevitably degrades this life by comparison.

It would alleviate the unfairness of this system to imagine that every soul which dies before birth (or in early childhood) must be sent back to “try again”, and that only those who live a full mortal life and pass the age of accountability are eligible for judgment. But I know of no Christian or other monotheist sect which teaches this view.

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About Adam Lee

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


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