A more rational choice is to believe that God is everything, we are individuations of It, and that God has no need to either reward or punish Itself.
You hear a lot about heaven and hell–especially if you grew up in a religious family like I did. The idea that good deeds are rewarded and evil deeds are punished appears to be both logical and just. Nobody likes the idea of Hitler getting off easy or being treated the same as Mother Teresa once we die. There is an ingrained notion that good things should come to those who play by the rules. And even though we don’t see consistent evidence that this is true on planet earth, ministers and teachers tell us that there is an afterlife where all is made right (though how they can know this for sure is certainly mysterious). So, those sinners who are living it up now had better beware–because there is a time coming where they will be eternally sorry for what they did (insert sarcasm here).
Punishment is an early memory of mine. I learned it from my parents who were big believers in it. If I did not do what I was supposed to, I would have to pay for it. Lying and speaking disrespectfully to my them guaranteed an automatic spanking. Not taking out the trash or completing some chore to their parental satisfaction might bring on lecturing, scolding, or yelling. Stuff like that.
My parents weren’t evil people–their intention was to teach me right from wrong–and that isn’t such a bad thing. Punishment, rather than correction or training, was deemed to be the best way of accomplishing this. Say, that I didn’t clean the bathroom correctly. It was thought that if I got into big trouble that I’d clean the bathroom better next time. The only flaw in that assumption was that I didn’t know how to clean it right in the first place!
Family punishment, no matter how bad it may have seemed at the time, was necessary so that I might be spared eternal punishment from God later on. My parents might be forgiving–but God would be absolute and would not hesitate to damn any sinner with hell fire. It was better to learn discipline now than suffer eternally later.
As a part of my religious training, punishment was explained as one of the primary characteristics of God. Like parents, God would get very angry If you didn’t do exactly what He said in the way he said. Failure to get things right would be punishable in this world and/or forever in the next. I was told that God had made his will explicitly known in the bible–and getting it right was very important. There was no tricking God like you could your parents. He saw everything and knew everything that you think, said or did.
I was told, “How we live in this life matters very much because it determines where we will spend our eternal life.” Rebellion, as well as honest mistakes, made during our lives on earth could doom you for eternity. Lying, cheating on your wife, stealing and murder were automatic ways of dooming oneself–but those weren’t the only ones. There were quite a few other ways to end up in the “fry daddy” as well. Drinking, cussing, dancing, smoking, and going to bad movies were considered risky behaviors as well. Divorce meant that one or both partners were probably going to hell.
I was taught that all people, no matter how good a life they had lived, or if they had never heard about Jesus, were condemned to eternal death if they did not name Jesus as Lord while there were alive on earth. Not only did one have to be a Christian, one had to be the right kind of Christian–such as those in our particular sect. The only way this eternal punishment could be avoided was to be baptized after confessing that Jesus was the Son of God who died to forgive me of my sins.
I don’t mean to pick on Christians. They aren’t the only ones who believe in rewards and punishments. Islam, Judaism, Greek and Egyptian mythology have their versions as well. But as well accepted as hell is among the worlds religions, I no longer believe in it for these reasons:
- It contradicts the notions of a just God because finite crimes are infinitely punished,
- It contradicts the notions of a loving and benevolent God,
- It is unreasonable to think that God would condemn someone who could not know about him due to earthly location, improper upbringing, genetic propensity to disbelieve, etc.,
- Humans, as created, are imperfect and unable to abstain from doing wrong things,
- It relies upon a literal belief system of scriptural interpretation and assumes an error free understanding of text–something we have never been able to accomplish with any other written material,
- It requires an illogical belief in the worldview of duality–by claiming that God is separate from his creation and that there is more to God than God.
The last point is the clincher for me. A belief in punishment and reward only makes sense if one subscribes to a dualistic worldview where God exists apart from humankind and expects obedience from a creation that was created by him but not a part of him. This doesn’t make logical sense to me. How can there be a God–and other things that are not God?
In a nondualistic world view, there is only God and nothing exists apart from It. When God creates something–It is only creating or rearranging Itself. It is impossible for God to create apart from Itself. You can’t make more God or take it away. There is only one thing going on–and that’s God. In this “God is all there is worldview,” if God were to condemn humankind to some form of eternal torment–he would be punishing himself, which in itself is another logical fallacy. It seems a stretch to think that God would condemn himself, or any part of himself, eternally. A more rational choice is to believe that God is everything, we are individuations of It, and that God has no need to either reward or punish Itself.
I believe it pleases Source to manifest Itself in infinite individuations and limitations. As individuations of the One Source we are like rivers who eventually empty into the sea. As individuations, we live in limitation in an eternal now. In that sense, we make a heaven or hell of our lives based upon what we do and our perceptions of our present experiences.
At the same time, I believe there is a pull towards the source that manifests itself in our lives via religion, philosophy and spirituality. Like the river’s journey towards the sea, this is the tug that draws each of us back to our common Source as well. Though our journey is filled with eddies, twists and turns; all things, Hitler included, eventually lead back to Source.