It is typical for believers of the Abrahamic faiths to ascribe praiseworthy and certainly virtuous characteristics to their respective deities. These qualities are so infinitely unimaginable that they are claimed to surpass all of human comprehension!
“God is all loving (Omnibenevolent), all powerful (Omnipotent), and all knowing (Omniscient).”
Most are familiar with these basic three, but one other claim heard often is that God is “just”. Not only do they claim that he is just, they claim that he is the highest form or degree of justice.
“God never has and never will do that which is ‘unjust’.”
The main response given in defense of God’s claimed “justness” is that he delivers justice via the afterlife. For those who live their lives “sinning” or doing evil, hell awaits them, and for those who live their lives righteously and in accordance with doctrine, they will receive the ultimate reward or promise of salvation.
In modern day society, punishment is reserved for those who break laws, which, in some cases, means that they perpetrated some form of evil. Hell, on the other hand, is reserved for people who simply don’t meet the requirements to enter into heaven. As implicitly understood by the Christian doctrine, a person of the Islamic faith will receive a punishment of hell because they believe in Muhammad instead of Jesus Christ. The same fate could be said about Jews and anyone else who does not conform to the Christian salvation requirements, (which includes those who have never been exposed to the teachings of Christianity).
Already, one can see that justice in the afterlife is not limited to punishing those who harm others or do evil, but its about punishing those who have different beliefs. The equivalent of this is punishing someone for espousing their communistic beliefs in a democratic nation. Surely, we can label this kind of punishment as unjust.
Secondly, this notion of justice allows for the following scenario:
Lucinda, a little girl, was kidnapped at age 8. She was kept in a basement for 10 years and molested repeatedly. This eventually drove her to commit suicide while kept in captivity. 10 years after her death, her rapist has a change of heart and realizes the evil he has done. He sincerely confesses to Jesus Christ, asks to be saved, and lives a true christian lifestyle from then on. Because he now meets all of the requirements for heaven, he will be pardoned of his sins.
If this is the case, then where is the justice? If justice rests purely on punishment in the afterlife and he is not punished, how will justice ever be delivered for Lucinda? This schism in the Christian doctrine clearly undermines the exact form of justice it purports to deliver. We can label this as inconsistent because we can expect that justice will not always be delivered as promised.
In modern day society, we don’t dish out the same punishment for every crime. For example, when someone breaks the speed limit, its considered a misdemeanor and is usually undeserving of jail time. But if someone murders another person, we put them away for a very long time. However, in the bible, homosexuality, which is a victimless crime, receives the same punishment as something as obscene as premeditated murder. Is this really the only form of punishment God can implement? He gives only two options — Heaven or Hell. Is there no in between? Can he not think of any other way to punish that which he considers to be a sin or a crime? Only an unjust God would allow this kind of system to stay in place.
We also don’t punish people for the crimes of their ancestors. However, in the bible, everyone is born into sin because of what Adam and Eve did. It is they who condemned every future generation to hell. Why should anyone have to bear the burden for their actions? A common response to this question is that Adam represented everyone. To this, I quote Matt Dillahunty and say “I didn’t elect Adam as my representative”. What’s more is that this kind of displaced punishment is clearly displayed in the salvation story. God sent someone to be torturously killed to alleviate all of mankind from sin. Both of these punishments would be seen as unjust by most people today, including Christians, if we simply took it out of a religious context and replaced it with a modern day scenario. Clearly, this is unjust.
We at least try to make punishments reasonable, but there is nothing reasonable about the threat of hell. It is a place where one is burned for eternity in agonizing pain. We don’t punish those who do evil by inflicting pain, we simply lock them away to suffer though time. Even when we give the death penalty, we at least try to make it painless.
Moreover, if we were to imagine the worst possible evil that could ever be perpetrated, could we honestly say that it would be deserving of a punishment such as hell? I don’t know what the worst possible evil would be, but I would never wish hell upon anyone!
It’s also claimed by some that God punishes people in this life. The earthquake in Japan, the stripping of fortune, and other natural disasters have been said to be the work of God. It has been said that AIDS is a punishment from God as well, but all of these punishments simply punish those who disobey authority or don’t conform to the christian belief system. They have nothing to do with punishing someone for doing evil or harming another person. These have absolutely nothing to do with justice.
The biggest problem of all is why not deliver justice in this life. Societal justice actually makes a difference. It actually locks away bad people and deters people from criminal activity. Imagine trying to govern a society without punishment based on the assumption that one will be punished in the afterlife. Which approach do you think would be more effective? Which would you prefer?
Most people should be able to see through the flaws of the Christian doctrine, but somehow, even the most egregious of ideas can be revered if you only place them in a religious context. On occasions, societies may convict the innocent and acquit the guilty, so societal justice is far from perfect, but if anything, its certainly better than this biblical view justice.
T Townsend is a member of FAAMSU.