Monday, September 23, 2013

What if I've never heard of Jesus?

If you live in the United States, you probably know the basics of Christianity: we are all born with original sin, and thus, our default destination after we die is Hell, but you can be saved from Hell if you love and accept Jesus as your savior who bore the burden for you.

But what if you don’t accept Jesus? Not because you hate God, not because Christianity is one hundreds of religions, but because you’ve never even heard of Christianity. What if someone living in a tribe in the amazon never hears of Jesus and dies, having never accepted him as their savior? Do they go to Hell?

The obvious answer is, “Yes, they go to Hell; that’s why we send missionaries to save them”, but that’s not a very pleasant thought, is it? Because it is so unpleasant, many answers I’ve heard try to say that these people can still get into Heaven, and they’re all very interesting.

The first and simplest answer is that these ignorant people get an automatic ticket to Heaven because God is fair and there are a few passages in the Bible that suggest this “free pass to Heaven”. But what about original sin? Can God just take that away whenever he feels like it? Why not take everyone’s original sin away?

The other problem with this answer is the fact that churches send missionaries to spread the word, and this problem is nicely summed up in this exchange between a missionary and an Inuit who had never heard of Christianity.

Inuit: If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?
Priest: No, not if you did not know.
Inuit: Then why did you tell me?

In other words, “I was headed to Heaven before you [the missionary] came along, but now there’s a good chance I’ll go to Hell. Thanks a lot, asshole.”

But debating this first answer can get messy because the Bible isn’t entirely clear on the subject, and there’s a clear conflict between God being fair and the existence of original sin. Fortunately, the other answers I’ve heard are much less messy because they make very clear assertions about the real world, which are easy to address. These answers are:

1. They can still go to Heaven because it’s obvious that there is a designer (God).
2. They can still go to Heaven because they know, in their hearts, that God exists.
3. They can still go to Heaven by following their conscience.
4. Everyone who would believe the message has heard it.

These first two answers come from Romans 1:18:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Do these people go to Heaven?

Essentially, “everyone knows that God exists, so they should still be able to get into Heaven.” So let’s critique these answers.

Response to answer #1:
Let’s just assume that it is obvious that the world had a designer: there’s no reason people shouldn’t know this; it’s as obvious as the fact that the sky is blue. This is not enough knowledge to get into Heaven. The fact that the world had a designer does not tell you that…
> the designer is male
> there’s only one designer
> that it’s all-loving
> that it has any laws for you to follow
> that it requires worship
> that you are born with sin
> that the designer is still alive

Response to answer #2:
I’ve actually responded to this idea in a past blog post.

Response to answer #3:
Although the Pope recently declared that non-Christians who follow their consciences will go to Heaven, this answer still leaves a few key details out of the picture. Specifically, my conscience does not tell me that…
> working on the Sabbath is wrong
> cursing the designer is wrong (especially if my life happens to be really shitty)
> being gluttonous and hedonistic is wrong
> being lustful is wrong

Response to answer #4
This is the most curious answer of all because we know that there are still people who haven’t heard of Christianity, and we also know that most of these people are living in tribes in Africa and the Amazon. So if everyone who would believe the message has heard it, then that must mean that these tribespoeple wouldn’t believe it, but why not? Other tribespoeple have believed the message, why not these people?

Why are these people less likely to believe the message than a hardcore secularist? Surely someone with my mental attitude would be much less likely to believe a new religion than a tribesman in Africa, right?

There’s also a strange geographical implication here: It’s as if Christians who give this answer are saying that a person’s overall gullibility is directly correlated with their geographical distance from modern society. But does anyone really think this is true? How does that work, exactly?

Besides, this answer seems oddly convenient for Christians, don’t you think? If you never hear the message, “well, I’m sure you wouldn’t have believed it anyway.” Ain’t that convenient?

So what happens to these people after they die, according to Christianity? I don’t know, but Heaven looks a lot farther away for them than many Christians seem to think.

1 comment:

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