Gospel Disproof #49: Maimed in heaven


In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus is reported to have said:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

The idea of eternal punishment offends a lot of people today, even among believers. And not just today, either—a number of the ancient Church Fathers tried to soften this doctrine by turning it into a kind of pre-Catholic purgatory, where sinners go to get the sin burned out of them so that they then can enter into the eternal blessings of heaven. But Jesus wasn’t one to try and accommodate what you might call the harsh teachings of Christianity with the nice-guy sensibilities of the meek and moral. All of his reported teachings on hell, like the passage above, assume that once you’re thrown into hell, you stay there.

Think about it. Suppose that hell were just a place where evil souls spent a finite amount of time on their way to becoming good souls. Compared to spending eternity in heaven, any finite amount of time spent in hell is going to be relatively infinitesimal compared to the amount of time you spend in heaven. If we assume that hell is just a relatively tiny waypoint on the road to heaven, and we read Jesus’ teachings as recorded in Mark 9, it comes out like this:

If your hand or your foot or your eye causes you to sin, you should cut it off, because it’s better to spend eternity blind and maimed than to keep your whole body, spend a relatively tiny amount of time in hell, and then spend eternity unblinded and unmaimed.

Obviously, that’s nonsense. The reason it’s better to go to heaven maimed is because it’s better to go to heaven, period. And in Jesus’ theology of hell, that’s something that does not happen to sinners who are cast into hell. The whole point of hell is that it does not end—the fire never goes out, the worms gnawing on your body never go away.

Morally and ethically, that’s a terrible theology, of course, which is why so many Christians are anxious to repudiate it. But Jesus wasn’t one of them.

Comments

  1. redpanda says

    My church taught annihilation, instead of hell/purgatory/etc.

    Basically the lesson would start by arguing that eternal hell is incompatible with a benevolent, personal God. It would continue by proof-texting all of the “The dead know not anything” verses, and then end by explaining away passages like the above as referring to the consequences of hell as eternal, not the punishment itself.

    Perhaps it’s just because I was raised to see things that way, but I’ve never understood how people can believe in the Christian God and a literal, eternal hell at the same time.

    • kagekiri says

      The justification I was given when Christian emphasized how horrible we are for existing in a way that offends our creator. So basically, by hating yourself or considering yourself unworthy of any good things, you can love God for being so merciful and gracious toward you and also think all humans are just as hell-worthy as you, allowing you to justify any injustice in the world. “Anything less horrible than hell is far better than we deserve” is the thinking.

      Which, yes, is pretty much insane and self-destructive and eliminates the possibility of healthy self-esteem, but that’s what I cobbled together to try and outdo theodicy. It…didn’t work out so well (which is a tremendous understatement), so yeah, now I’m an atheist.

      • Len says

        … that’s what I cobbled together to try and outdo theodicy. It…didn’t work out so well […] so yeah, now I’m an atheist.

        In what way did it not work out so well?

  2. wholething says

    What if you were an organ donor? Would you go through eternity without your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and corneas? Could you demand them back if the recipient came to heaven? What if the person who got a cornea was offended by what he was then able to see? Would you get the cornea if he plucked out the eyeball? What if you were beheaded?

    Dueling verses imply you get a new body with new offending body parts. It has been said that when Jesus spoke about much wailing and gnashing of teeth, an apostle asked about people with no teeth. Jesus had to have replied, “Teeth will be provided!”

  3. believeinme2 says

    It all makes me SMILE. :)

    “The only words missing from the bible are once upon a time and happily ever after.”
    ———————————— D. L. Foster

  4. jakc says

    I’m cool with going to Hell. Eternal life or eternal torment, it’s all eternal. And you can do whatever you want in Hell – what are they going to do? Send you to Hell? Milton said It’s better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. So look out Satan -I’m coming for you.

  5. Orthodoxdj says

    I think one way to make things mesh is to look at the bigger picture from another angle. When Jesus says “enter life” He’s talking about dying. Thus, it would be better to suffer physical harm in the short-term than it would be to have short-term gain at the expense of long-term pain.

    Whereas there are various doctrines of Hell erected by Christian groups (sects, denominations, etc.), the best philosophical explication of the doctrine of Hell is that Hell is not simply a place and eternity is not simply an amount of time. Hell is the final state of a person. Thus, Hell grows from within, not from without. The reason it is eternal is because the nature of a final state is permanence. “Eternal” and “permanent” are interchangeable here because duration isn’t the issue. The issue is what someone becomes, not how much time it lasts.

    • David Hart says

      “Hell is the final state of a person.”

      The final state of a person is death, at which point you cease to be a (sentient) person and start to be a (unsentient) corpse. As there is no reason to think that we remain sentient after we have ceased to be alive, there is, therefore, no difference between ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ on this reading – they are both synonymous with the coming to an end of one’s conscious experience.

      This being the case, there is no reason to prefer one over the other, which makes the widespread obsession among the religious of getting into Heaven / avoiding going to Hell appear to be completely nonsensical.

      It makes far more sense to assume, in the absense of contrary evidence, that they actually believe what they say they believe.

      …unless I have misunderstood your meaning?

  6. Childermass says

    I might point out that Christians usually imagine that people cease to be maimed in heaven and yet the words attributed to Jesus here seem to imply otherwise.

  7. Subtract Hominem says

    I don’t think the “Hell is a state of mind” Catholics I know would find this argument very convincing. Then again, I have no idea how they rationalize these passages into their beliefs about Heaven and Hell in the first place, or if they’re even aware of them.

  8. brenda says

    “Obviously, that’s nonsense.”

    Yes, it is nonsense. That is why only atheists and fundamentalists interpret the Bible literally. Atheists and snake handlers make a such loverly pair of clowns.

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