Today I would like to ponder the question of judgement.
Judgement would seem to contain the following elements: rules, a judge, and an offender. It is about enforcing the law, restitution, containment of the offender and his actions, and hopefully also about restoration of the offender back to society.
The offender is convicted, told to pay back that which was taken if possible, locked up so he doesn't do it again, and then finally released when a sufficient period of punishment commensurate with the crime has passed, or sufficient change of heart in the criminal can be established. Sometimes there are mitigating factors, such as mental illness, where it makes no sense to punish the criminal, because they could not help their actions.
The criminal, at time of conviction, may protest his innocence, but at no time is either the existence of the judge or the law in question.
Now consider religions such as Christianity in which a god, the judge, will call us one day to account for our deeds in this life, and if applicable, reward or punish us. On the surface of it, this seems reasonable enough, but there are some difficulties, for me at least.
Can God justly condemn us if:
- there is not sufficient, unambiguous proof of his existence?
- we are genuinely ignorant of his laws?
- we cannot help what we do?
- the degree of punishment outweighs the misdeeds?
- there is no opportunity for restoration after judgement?
I'll use Christianity since that's the religion I know most about.
Sufficient, unambiguous proof of the existence of god?
Clearly, man's understanding of god is varied and ambiguous across the many cultures, as is what he or she requires of us. We can't all be right, so what about those who are not right? Ignorance of the law and the judge is surely the just excuse? And what about those who don't believe, not through a desire to commit evil, but for the simple reason that the evidence for God is ambiguous. You don't think it is ambiguous, then why do so many not believe? Is it wickedness? Really? I know too many good, upright people who do not believe. They do this in good conscience.
Ignorance of the law?
A consequence of having a varied understanding of the law-giver will be a varied understanding of the laws we are required to obey. Can we be held accountable if we believed in the wrong set of laws? Some would say that we are all given a conscience, that this acts as our moral guide, that we know when we have done wrong, and that we will be judged with respect to it. This does seem plausible, and indeed there is much commonality between the morality of different cultures, but there are also significant differences. Were the Incas wicked for sacrificing children, or just wired that way? What about genocide?
We cannot help what we do?
If I am made thus, why am I judged for it by my maker? If there is original sin, why is that my fault? If I am made gay (whether directly, or because of a genetic deviation from the intended blueprint), then why is that my fault. Am I not to be judged by what I do, rather than what I am by nature?
The degree of punishment outweighs the misdeeds?
A plain reading of the Bible would seem to indicate the existence of an eternal hell, a deeply unpleasant place to which will be assigned all those who didn't make the cut. This will include Hannibal Lecter and depending on where exactly the cut is, my mum, who whilst she has some concept of god, is not a Christian exactly. This can't be right. Hell will be filled with a lot of very surprised people.
No opportunity for restoration after judgement?
I have no problem with the concept of punishment. I punish my children on occasion, so that they learn the lesson that there are consequences to bad actions, but get this: I don't need to do it much. They have learned, and changed their ways. That's the point. Eternal punishment without a corrective element seems sadistic and wrong to me.
Judgement in the context of universally understood laws, and punishment that restores, make perfect sense to us, but without these just judgement feels much more problematic.
I can already sense the rumblings of those who are certain about their faith, their books of doctrine, the justice of eternal hell, and I sometimes long for such certainty, but my intuition is that something is amiss.