Eternal Solutions to Problems We Mortal Folks Didn’t Have
A couple of weeks ago, Kullervo had a really great post at Into the Hills: Aura Salve. This post is actually an updated/adapted version of a similarly titled post he had at his personal blog, Sailing to Byzantium, but since I haven’t really spent much time with the original post, I’m going to say that for the purposes of my discussion here, that original post is inessential. Anyway, I really liked the post, which is why I’m linking to it and telling you all that you should read it, but there was a part in particular that really got me thinking:
…it is hard for me to shake the notion that some approaches to Christianity offer made-up solutions to a made-up problem. These approaches tell you that God is mad at you for the bad things you have done, and that he is going to punish you with an eternity of torture in hell because it’s what you deserve.
Leave for a moment that logical problem with this, which is that a “just” God is going to dish out infinite punishment for a finite quantity of sin. The problem is that, as a grown-up, when I do something wrong, I feel bad because I feel like I did something wrong, not because I fear being punished for it. The guilt I already feel is a lot of torment on it’s own. Committing sins–real sins, not made-up ones–carries its own punishment in terms of fractured relationships, compounded brokenness, inner guilt, and ultimately a spiritual hardening. I’m not worried about going to a hell that may or may not exist anyway. I’m worried about the stuff that happens now: not only the the proximate results of my broken behavior, but also the collective results of all of the broken behavior in our broken human existence: depression, alienation, anger, insecurity, cynicism, anxiety, mental illness, suffering, starvation, pain, terror, death. I am worried enough about that stuff without also being worried that God is going to torture me in hell as a punishment.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things that many would consider sins that just don’t seem like they’re honestly very bad. For these things I feel no real guilt or trouble in the here and now anyway.
I can really appreciate what Kullervo is getting at…any given person may recognize problems and imperfections. Any given person may be suffering from the effects of those problems and imperfections as well. While religion seems capable of addressing these real problems of mortality, it often unfortunately tries to solve problems that people didn’t have to begin with.
What Kullervo’s post made me think about is how much of a problem I have with the idea of the afterlife.
The concept of an afterlife, in my experience, not only causes people to miss the mark when it comes to focusing on problems of mortality, but it also completely distorts the conversation on decision-making to begin with.
I have heard some say that Mormonism is a consequentialist religion. And you know, I guess I can see that. But here’s the thing: if you ever try to bring up your experiences as potential “consequences” of various things within Mormonism, then a funny thing will happen. People will invalidate your mortal experiences with assertions about the eternities.
So, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re miserable (for whatever reason) living Mormonism (or any other religion) in mortality…because if you don’t make the right choices now, then you’ll have to live with all the terrible consequences for all eternity.
I mean…consequentialism already has plenty of challenges. One major challenge is the problem of knowing what exactly the consequences of any given action will be. While we think we will know the likely outcome of any given action…we don’t. There are too many variables at play. Too many possibilities.
The religious appeal to the afterlife not only ignores this challenge, but it actually amplifies it to absurd levels. We don’t know all the consequences of our mortal lives…yet some folks feel comfortable and confident assessing things in eternal consequences?