Heaven and Hell: obedience or morality?

The Thinker sits atop the Gates of Hell

I have been thinking about Heaven and Hell. Its essentially a system of punishment and rewards, except that unlike most other systems of punishment and reward, there is no way you can get away with breaking the law. There is no amount of money, no lawyer good enough, no way to ice the eyewitness and no way the policeman wont nab you. Right?

Unfortunately this creates an unusual problem, a morality problem. If you truly believe in Heaven and Hell, can you actually do good? Can you be morally good?

This is actually a problem of free will. Since God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and if you believe in God and God’s law, then you don’t really have a choice, because there is no ambiguity or uncertainty about the consequences of breaking God’s law. Who is going to choose an eternity of unimaginable horror and pain?

Bosch is a Hell genius.

Therefore, fear of punishment and expectation of reward keep the believer within a narrowly defined range of appropriate behavior. While that behavior may appear to be moral from the outside, how is anyone to distinguish whether the believer does this for the sake of doing good or as a reaction to his predicament of constantly being judged by the eye in the sky? There is no way to really know. Heaven and Hell make a believer obedient, not moral.

Think of it like this. Suppose you did everything that your parents told you to do and they told you what to do all the time. And then one day you managed to cure world hunger. Except… did you really do it? or did your parents do it? And if God is telling you how to do good (or else suffer the consequences, for eternity), then are you really doing good?

Philosophically speaking, the only way to commit a truly moral act is when you are doing good AND when you are the author of your own actions. And in the monotheistic system, the only time you can be the author of your own actions is when you are violating God’s law. It’s a paradox, right?

Question to think about. (I promise, I’m leading up to Genesis.) What if we have it all wrong about the Fall? What if this is not original sin, but in fact, original morality? After all why is the tree called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?


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