Infinite punishments for finite crimes?

Dante and Virgil in Hell

Image via Wikipedia

Naysayers: this is not an argument against the existence of a god. It is an argument against the existence of a benevolent god, and therefore the Christian god. Today’s topic is Infinite Punishments for Finite Crimes.

Let’s agree on one thing: killing somebody is bad. If you kill somebody, you should be punished. Perhaps you should go to jail. Perhaps you should spend the rest of your life in jail. Perhaps, even, that punishment should be sped up a bit and you should be executed. In each one of these cases, the punishment is finite. In other words, it has an end. Even if the end is at the end of the criminal’s life, it still has an end. It is not infinite.

God, on the other hand, punishes criminals infinitely. Kill someone? Eternal punishment in a fiery pit. Maybe you agree that this would be an appropriate punishment for somebody who has killed another person. I must ask you, though – why? The crime is finite. Person A kills Person B, and so Person B is dead. That’s it. It happened once. It’s over. Yes, Person A absolutely should be punished. “An eye for an eye,” they say. So our legal system takes over and (assuming Person A was caught and tried properly) they are sent to prison and [perhaps] even executed. Great. Now we’re even. And that’s it. Right?

Wrong. God, who is allegedly benevolent, is going to punish Person A again. Not just for a while, but for ever. Person A will suffer like he has never suffered before; not for the rest of his life, but forever. This is not “an eye for an eye,” but more like an infinite number of eyes for one eye.

Maybe that’s a bad example. Killing isn’t just bad – it’s really bad. But what about one of those weirder Biblical laws? “Thou shalt not steal.” Almost all of us can probably agree that stealing is bad, and almost all of us can probably agree that thieves deserve some sort of punishment, but also that that punishment should be a bit milder than that reserved for a murderer.

Nope, not in God’s eyes. You broke one of his commandments. You go to Hell. You burn for eternity. Did God catch you wearing polyester along with cotton? You’re going to Hell. Even after a benevolent god who gave you free will (as though that even makes sense) and therefore the ability to doubt, do you doubt it exists? Sorry, what’s in store for you is far worse than a life sentence. God isn’t even going to kill you. He’s just going to torture you – not for life; not for two lives; but for ever. Ever, and ever, and ever. There is no end to the pain you will endure.

If the Christian god exists and what the Bible says about it is true, then it is not benevolent. And yet if what the Bible says is true, then the Christian god is benevolent. These statements cannot both be true. Either the Bible is only correct on one count, or it is correct on neither count.

If it is correct on the first, then I would hardly say a malevolent god is worth worshiping. If it is correct on the second, then I imagine a benevolent god would be perfectly okay with the fact that I don’t worship it.

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12 thoughts on “Infinite punishments for finite crimes?

  1. hate to play the devils advocate here….but it seems that the crime….in the case of murder at least…is pretty infinite for the victim…unless your jesus…why shouldn’t there be an infinite crime for the criminal?

    • Maybe I could have phrased it a little better, but there’s a bit of a difference – an eternity, in fact – between dying (once) and being tortured eternally.

      Yes, you’re dead forever. That’s it, you’re gone. And I still want to emphasize that murder is a terrible crime to commit. But the crime is finite. Person A kills Person B. After that, Person A has committed the crime, but is no longer committing the crime. The crime itself is finite.

      Even if someone can justify torturing somebody forever for committing murder, how can one possibly justify eternal torture for somebody who simply did not believe in that one particular god?

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but this same eternal punishment is in store for nonbelievers of the Muslim god as well.

      • who said that god punishes some one who killed forever?, maybe you just heard that from false preachers…what verse in the bible can you find that?

    • To consider the internal Christian logic:

      From the viewpoint of a Christian, being murdered leads to one of two ends (I’m leaving out the idea of Purgatory for simplicity’s sake and because it also, eventually, leads down one of two paths). You go to Heaven, or you go to Hell.

      If the murder victim has been quote-unquote Good, then he or she goes to Heaven, to live in unbridled bliss forever and ever. Does this sin really merit eternal torture? As Dave has said, punishment, yes, certainly, but forever? Seems like overkill.

      If the murder victim goes to Hell, then we’ve rather shot ourselves in the foot. The murderer in this case has consigned someone to perpetual agony for all time. This is an infinite crime, and therefore a potential candidate for infinite punishment.

      But wait – the murder victim in this case has been chosen for eternal punishment based on his breaking of one of God’s laws. If God had shown him mercy, he wouldn’t be punished infinitely – and then why should his murderer be punished infinitely, for committing a finite crime?

      It all goes in a circle. If God is benevolent, eternal torture isn’t an option. If eternal torture IS an option, for anyone, he’s not benevolent.

  2. I think George Carlin put it best. ” And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

    But He loves you. “

  3. Free will? Says who? Perhaps you should read the bible that you rail against. The concept of *free will* is foreign the bible. Through and through the bible presents God as determining man’s course.

    -Your position about the nature of sin and punishment is quite entertaining because it demonstrates an ignorance of what the bible actually teaches on the subject [unless of course you grew up in a *fundie* church, in which case I am not suprised the ignorance there is willful]

    -You [and I] are born in sin. We did not start life as innocent, we started with a negative balance in our account from the very start. Every incidence of sin adds to the debt, and it is an affront to an *infinitely* Holy God. Certainly, sin is not *infinitely* unholy to you; you are a sinner therefore you naturally question the authority and justice of being whose character you cannot fathom. [in fairness to you, I only claim to understand God’s holiness based on his irresistible Grace]

    -You equivocate as you import a different meaning to the word *benevolent* I believe you are trying to assert that God is somehow unjust because he punishes sin for an infinite amount of time. Rather God would be just to send all of humanity to hell, and yet because of his benevolence he has spared those who trust in his Son.

    -It always strikes me as odd when *atheists* bitch about God’s goodness when they are so vehemently opposed to his authority and want nothing to do with him. If God allowed cosmic criminals to go free you would gripe about that as well.

    • If man’s course is already determined by god and no free will exists, then no punishment is justifiable. If we’re all born in sin, then one would assume a “fair” god would send an infant to suffer eternally should it die shortly after birth. The infant, after all, has not redeemed himself in the eyes of your god and does not have “trust in his son.” Such a god is cruel and unworthy of worship.

      In any case, this is all purely hypothetical being as I do not believe any god exists, benevolent or malevolent, just or cruel.

      • Well not to be picky but:

        1) No one redeems themselves.

        2) There are various schools of thought on the eternal condition of infants some would say that they are all elect therefore all of them go to heaven. In other words they have the work of Christ on the cross applied to them. Same argument for the mentally handicapped etc.

        3) Your first sentence is philosophically untenable. For every cause (b) there is an antecedent (a); ergo no punishment whatsoever would be possible for any example of (b) except those (b’s) where there is no antecedent? The antecedent in this case is the actions of our parents.

  4. All hell is is separation from god. Damnation is always chosen. How else could you possibly have free will? Nobody honestly believes the whole pitchfork/ lake of fire scenario. Nobody I would find credible anyway. Thats all the work of Renaissance artists and poets. Based on a couple of lines in the bible. If anything its probably a cold dark lonely place. Having a sense of spiritual thirst that can never be quenched. That sort of thing. Once again, who knows though? I certainly don’t claim to.

  5. Sin is nothing more than animal instinct. Godliness nothing more than aiming for the higher attributes of man. It’s not like jesus dying tipped some magic scale for everybody. It just showed a perfect example of non violent resistance. I would be willing to wager one of the first recorded.(though once again I’m no scholar). If we’re born with the desires of an animal(original sin). Salvation is the continued process of pursuing perfection. Goodness for goodness sake (treat thy neighbor as you wish to be treated, turn the other cheek, etc). Jesus was a man who came to tear down the religion that man had put between himself and god. His followers turned a prophet into a man god. I’m a catholic, and believe me it’s a daily struggle reconciling faith with reason. At times its impossible. I choose to look at the good though, and learn from the bad. I try to remember that catholic means “universal”. Even if that open mindedness hasn’t been practiced by other members of my faith for the past 2000 years. Born in another time I’d be burned as a heretic at the stake probably. Haha. I wouldn’t blame god for that though. Just the fear and ignorance of man. I keep two quotes by my bed so I see them first thing in the morning. They guide the majority of my religious experience.

    “Be fearless and pure; never waver in your determination or your dedication to the spiritual life. Give freely. Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving, and full of the desire to serve…Learn to be detached and to take joy in renunciation. Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all. Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity; avoid malice and pride. Then, you will achieve your destiny.

    ~ Krishna Quotes from The Bhagavad Gita

    And of course the saint francis prayer.

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
    Where there is injury, pardon.
    Where there is doubt, faith.
    Where there is despair, hope.
    Where there is darkness, light.
    Where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master,
    grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
    to be understood, as to understand;
    to be loved, as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive.
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

    Obviously attaining the goals of either is a daily struggle. I’m damn sure not a saint. 🙂 Although if I could…I’d be the patron saint of scotch!

    • I elected to disable commenting on that one, since my thoughts aren’t really in order. I feel like I know what I’m trying to say, but can’t quite say it. Every time I re-read it I find myself thinking “No, that doesn’t sound at all like what I meant to say.” I only made an Osama bin Laden post because I felt obligated to, anyway.

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