Christopher, a long time reader and commenter, said :
If you ask me, hell is where everyone gets to do what he/she wants, and where they and everyone else pays for the consequences of it.
Now, Christopher is a Christian. He is quite amiable and often lends nuance to some of our discussions about Christianity. When I was a pastor, I would have agreed with Christopher’s statement, with a few qualifications.
First, do humans have naked, unrestricted freewill? The short answer, without getting into a huge, unsatisfying philosophical debate, is no.
None of us are a blank slate. All of us are influenced by our genetics, environment, education, and experiences. All of us have biases and presuppositions. We all, at times, lack objectivity.
As a Christian, I believed humans had free-will, according to what I wrote above, but I also believed God controlled every aspect of his creation. It took quite a bit of mental gymnastics for me to posit that humans had free will and God is Sovereign over all.
I saw God, through the Holy Spirit, as a restraining force. I believed that if humans were left to their own devices they would destroy themselves and the world they live in.
In this view God takes away our freedom in order to protect us from ourselves. Of course, this view has all kinds of problems. After all, God created us. We are the way we are because God created us this way. Some might object and say, no, sin and the Devil are the root of our lawlessness. Who created the Devil and allowed the human race to fall into sin? God.
No matter how you look at it, everything traces back to God, the first cause. (viewing the world from a Christian perspective)
I suspect, when Christopher says, doing what we want, he is referring to our actions that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible. The Bible describes the unconverted as people who do what is right in their own eyes. Their God is self.
Would the world fall into chaos (hell) if everyone of us did whatever we wanted to do? Perhaps. We don’t really know because no one does whatever they want to do. Our influences guide our actions. We all live in tribes and countries that have rules and conventions that we are expected to follow. Our freedom is restricted by these rules and conventions. Simply put, we give up some of our freedom in order to live peacefully in our tribes and countries.
If we removed religion from the discussion, would the human race plunge into anarchy? I doubt it.
As humans continue to evolve, we hopefully will move away from our ancient tribal religions. While I suspect that religion will be with us for a long, long time, we can hope that it will be relegated to the place where we keep our cultural icons. These are the icons we drag out for weddings,funerals and special events, and then put them back on the shelf until we have need of them again. They play a part in our cultural identity but they do not dominate how we live our lives day by day.
True freedom does not begin with God. As many of us know, God and his attendant religions, bring bondage, a loss of freedom into our lives. Religion, in many ways, makes us less-than-human.
Christopher is right in one sense. We make our own “hell.” When we live selfishly and think only of ourselves we tend to hurt others and ourselves. The cultural rules and conventions we live by have evolved over thousands of years. They are far from perfect but, generally, we are served well by them.
As a humanist, I live by one general rule, do no harm to others. (humans, animals, the environment) I fail living up to this standard most every day. Unlike the Christian, I don’t need to pray and ask for a God to forgive me for my “sins.” Instead, I just determine, each and every day, to be a better human. If I want to be loved and respected, I must love and respect others.
Living for self, giving the world the middle finger, only leads to loneliness, and it is loneliness that most humans fear the most. We are social beings. We want to connect with other humans, eat with them, live with them, have fun with them, and have sex with them.
Granted, there are a few among us who desire a life of solitude. All of us need solitude at times, but some people want it all the time. Such people are rare. They become hermits, mystics, and write wonderful books but, for most of us, we desire communal living.
This blog is a testament to the fact we crave a connection with other people. I am amazed at the variety of people who read this blog. People from all over the world. Yes, we often share common beliefs, but we are far more diverse than our commonly held beliefs.
I have never experienced hell on earth. I have had moments and periods of time where I thought my life was burning to the ground…but my tribe, those whom I love and care for, lifted me up from the ashes. In these moments, I am glad that I surrendered some of my freedom so I could be a part of the tribe and country I am a part of.