Heaven is for Young Sociopaths

Libby Anne recently noted one of the problems with concepts of heaven and hell. How can the eternal torment of others not impact the bliss of those in heaven? Apparently the answer some readily offer to this conundrum is that those in heaven will be so transformed that they will be unconcerned about the torment of those in hell.


This may be an issue specifically for fundamentalist versions of religion – but there are other similar ones for other ideas of an afterlife. The question of how there can be an eternal paradise with beings like us in it is a conundrum for most visions of heaven. If human beings will be transformed so as to be incapable of doing wrong, then what was the point of making us otherwise initially? And if not, then aren’t ongoing cycles of fall and redemption likely?

Jerry Coyne recently blogged about the movie Heaven is for Real, which apparently envisages everyone being young in heaven. Combine that with Libby Anne’s post, and you get the title for this one.


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  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

    “If human beings will be transformed so as to be incapable of doing wrong, then what was the point of making us otherwise initially?”

    I think an answer consistent with scripture is that the entire history of the world is to be seen as one long-drawn creation process. Creation is carried out this way because that’s the way God works … perhaps it is the only way he could do it … it takes time for single-celled organisms to appear, for human bodies to evolve, then for human minds (spirits) to evolve …

    Perhaps God sees some meaning in letting us go through this creation process this way. Or maybe God is not “all powerful” in the way people imagine. Or maybe God is just a concept people made up to give “authority” to their views …

    • R Vogel

      …or perhaps our symbols of G*d and the concept of the afterlife were invented as a means to deal with our existential terror of death….the thought of non-existence is a pretty scary thing, believing there is something eternal is a comfort….

  • R Vogel

    The key to making heaven work is G*d cleansing us of all empathy…..I guess the evangelicals are just practicing for the kingdom then…..

  • arcseconds

    I understand that young sociopaths are the worst. They are more physically and socially able to get away with extreme behaviour, and they haven’t had time to experience things going badly for long periods of time.

    Apparently sociopaths tend to mellow a lot as they get older, and they start to work out that they can’t continue carrying on indefinitely, they’ve already burnt many bridges, and they actually need friends or at least allies to get by.

  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

    In the spirit of seeking mutual understanding, I feel that it is not so much that people who believe in “eternal torment” are sociopathic. They simply do so out of the following misguided thought process:

    1. Bible is infallible and authoritative …
    2. Bible says “eternal torment” is real.
    3. Therefore “eternal torment” is real.

    This thought process pretty much overrides their ability to reflect on the implications of “eternal torment”. Fundamentalists are not necessarily sociopathic. Many of them simply live in constant denial of the truth (including the full implications of their twisted beliefs) because fundamentalism is such an effective intellectual trap. They are brought up thinking that if they lose their “faith”, they are going straight to the same hell which they have been taught is real.

    I feel this is also very relevant to the World Vision fiasco. For many of them, they have simply allowed their misguided hatred for gays (and their fear that if they even consider for a moment that homosexuality might not be a sin, they’re GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL OMFG) to override their ability to understand the ethical implications of their actions.

    The two sides have such profound disagreements that it becomes easy for each side to imagine the other side as somehow being rotten to the core. But I feel that’s because both sides have yet to dig deeper into their disagreements to find the epistemological/hermeneutical/psychological roots of their disagreement. Both sides seem to be equally guilty of having failed to properly understand the full perspective of the other side.

    We cannot cure their disease if we are overly fixated on the symptoms and fail to address the root cause of their illness.

    • arcseconds

      I don’t think James thinks they are sociopathic.

      One of the attempts to rationalise the existence of heaven, where everything is perfect and everyone happy, with the simultaneous existence of hell, where many of those known to the ones in heaven are tortured for eternity, is to claim that on entry to heaven, one is transformed into someone who doesn’t mind others suffering eternal torment.

      In other words, on entry to heaven, you are transformed into a psychopath.

      (EDIT: in other words, it’s not about the personalities of those who hold this view. It’s merely pointing out that by definition, if you are indifferent to the suffering of others, you are a psychopath, and using that definition to re-word the claim that some make about heaven)

      • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

        I feel that it is not so much that people who believe in “eternal torment” are sociopathic.

        Perhaps I could have worded it like this: “I feel that it is not so much that people who believe in “eternal torment” also believe that sociopathy is morally acceptable/desirable”.

        Though, I feel the point remains that anyone who actually believes that sociopathy is morally acceptable/desirable is perhaps already a sociopath.

        • arcseconds

          They don’t, of course, realise that their solution to the problem of feeling bad about people being in Hell is sociopathy.

          Generally speaking, no-one knows all the logical consequences of what they currently believe (no-one has ‘deductive closure’, as they say), so pointing out the upshot of a particular belief can come as a surprise.

          And to be fair, it’s a bit hyperbolic calling it sociopathy. Presumably one might still have empathy for those in Heaven, or those still living on Earth maybe?

          But this hyperbole’s OK, it’s kind of a joke, right? Albeit a joke with a point. Less hyperbolically, it is perhaps more akin to the lack of empathy most of us have to some degree for the suffering of people who are quite distant from us. But as the view would normally entail some loved ones being in hell, it does mean a removal of empathy even for people very much in one’s ‘in group’, so it’s not too far from sociopathy after all.

          Again, I’m sure they don’t think of it like this, but that’s kind of the point.

          • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

            This thought process pretty much overrides their ability to reflect on the implications of “eternal torment”. Fundamentalists are not necessarily sociopathic. Many of them simply live in constant denial of the truth (including the full implications of their twisted beliefs) because fundamentalism is such an effective intellectual trap.

            Yes, I very much share your view here :)

  • Michael Wilson

    We ought not to view heaven as a settled concept. The views of contemporary religions are frequently reworkings of earlier views, and we should give our seves the same freedom the old prophets did to reexamine the concept. I find much of our current view unworkable as it assumes the human mind, a product of information stored in the chemicals of an animals brain, to be atomic and immutable. When one ponders what potentialy be the case for what ever it is that we imagine to be us after this body is destroyed, I think assuming basicly this, but immortal somewhere is short sighted.

    The concept itself in Christian tradtion is rooted in ideas few Christian would fi d valid, and its current understanding I think are rooted in misunderstandings of what the first Christians beliefs on heaven and hell were. For the people that wrote the preexilic biblical books, heaven was the world of the stars, evelasting, remote, and a paradise not because there was no evil but because the level of existance there was on a more fabulous level than on earth in the same way a kings palace was not free of evil, but was paradise compared to the house of a serf. The destination of humanity was not imagined to be the stars but the dirt. The conception of the “afterlife” was a primitive “Beetlejuice” concept of ghost living in graves and caves. Effectivly the dead were nil but people have a hard time grasping annihilation, so afterlife was imagined by many as living death. It was a rare hero, like Enoch or Elijah that was ushered up to live with the gods. Christinanity has in its roots concepts that both made God and heaven=virtue and democratized the assention to heaven. The fate of the good was imagined to be heaven, the evil got the old world of the grave. The metaphors for this place of the wicked were still based on the observations of the dead in reality, they are not anymore, but again the tendancy to personify the dead as though alive continued. I think for nany of the descriptions of hell in the bible as eternal fire and torment are meant to convey that the wicked are destroyed and that the destruction last forever, not that the wicked are eternaly being burned and destroyed. When Revelation says that death and hades will be tossed into the lake of fire, I dont tjink the intention is that the future will have two places, heaven where all is good, and a lake of fire where death and hades will burn forever, but that death and hades will no longer exist. There is no locality of a lake of fire, it is the concept of an eternal elimnation from reality. Later Christians I think seized on the language that attri uted eternal torment to the concept of destruction and filkex hell with alk sorts of devices of torture, but I don’t think Paul or John would have agreed withthe focus on the torments of hell. Of course it has its own problems, but I think Christians now should feel as free to examine and modify these ideas as Christians then.

  • anon

    I don’t believe in Heaven and I never have. I think we are physical beings, tied to the material world. Our thoughts and memories are actually patterns of neuron activation and connection, and when our neurons stop firing, our thoughts stop as well. There’s proof from various medical case studies that bits of your personality can be destroyed by having injuries in various parts of the brain. I think Heaven is wishful thinkings. So’s Hell, in a different way; people have fun imagining their enemies there. Like in Dante’s inferno.

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