Cerebrum123, one of our readers, wrote the following comment, directed at me, on the question of God's existence and his punishments in the afterlife, as projected by monotheistic creeds:
You are an atheist; am I right? The question is: can you be 100% sure that there is no life after death, and no punishment for those, who have rejected their Creator?
I am glad you are out of Islam and this site has been a great resource for me, but can you be certain that the path you have chosen is the truth?
I have been through a lot, and seen things that cannot be explained by science, and personally experienced God in my life, and I would like others to have this kind of relationship with God as well. This is why I'm asking you a couple of questions. You can just ignore them if you want to, but I am personally curious.
- Are you 100% certain there is no God?
- Are you absolutely certain there is no afterlife?
- Are you absolutely certain that there will be no form of judgement in such an afterlife?
- Do you see Christianity as basically the same thing as Islam without the orders to kill unbelievers?
Again I'm just curious. I've always been a curious person. I think understanding someone else's worldview helps me understand the person.
These questions have been debated and discussed too many times in various forums in recent years. Christopher Hitchens is probably the best and more eloquent person to answer them most convincingly (you may refer to some of his debates on youtube). And my understanding of these questions and answers would not be different from his.
To the question of the existence of God, there is no evidence whatsoever that He/She does exist. There might be a Creator, but we have no way of knowing that. Many people claim, as you have done, that they have experienced God. But what those experiences are! If you can experience God, then I should be able to experience Her/Him too. The only thing is: I may not have the methodology of experiencing Her/Him. But if you teach me your methodology, then I and every human being will, ideally, be able to experience God in the same way you do. That's how science works. If your methodology of experiencing God does not work for others -- then what you claim to have experienced about God is questionable; it's probably a delusion, like that of many frauds who claim to communicate with ghosts and spirits simply to cheat gullible people. Your experience should be reproducible, at least, by the majority of your likes, but a delusion may not be.
To the question of punishments after death, as most monotheistic creeds propagate (some polytheistic creeds have picked up the idea in more recent times), this is even more ludicrous. On what grounds would God punish us in the afterlife? And why God decided to do so only over the past 3-4 thousands of years ago, when modern humans have existed on earth for no less than 100,000 years. Before punitive monotheism made its mark about 3.5 thousand years ago, there were many Gods and religions -- but there was no concept of afterlife punishments in them. Even in the Jewish scripture, we don't see a solid foundation of the modern idea of heaven and hell, and punishments in the latter. If I'm not wrong, the idea of punishments in hell after death, as we understand today, was first conceptualized in the Zoroastrian Scripture. Other religions, certainly Islam, have borrowed it from there.
The idea of punishments in afterlife turns even more ridiculous when considered its modus operandi. If my father punishes me, he must set certain clear-cut conditions beforehand and warn me not to violate them. Only after that, if I violate those rules, he can claim justification of some sorts to punish me. But for me, the responsibility of a child's failure to heed father's advice/warnings also falls, to good extent, on the father because of his failure to inculcate proper values and teachings in the child. Nonetheless, the father is punishing his child with proper accountability, i.e. with setting a guideline of behaviour and warning the child about its violation beforehand. The same standard applies to authorities. Police punish criminals only after the latter have been informed of not violating certain rules or committing certain crimes clearly and beforehand. And in punishments by a father or authorities, they generally show good degree of decency -- limited punishments for limited crimes or punishments commensurate with crimes/faults. That's the greatest hallmark of civilized societies and conscience.
Now turn to God's punishments: He/She, my Creator, never informed me what I can do, should do, and what I should not. Of course, He/She is claimed to have talked in intimate privacy of a few, ages ago, but there is no way for me or others to know that those alleged prophet's really talked to God. And human history has witnessed hundreds of thousands of prophets. Most powerful religions that existed 4,000 years ago are dead today. Most, if not all, of the powerful religions of today will experience the same fate 2000, 5000 or 10000 years later. And, most likely, others -- suiting the ideas and understanding of the world in those times -- will take their place. The points I want to make is that:
- There is no way to know whether the alleged prophets -- Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, or Joseph Smith -- ever truly talked to God, even if He/She exists. If God wants to punish us for certain actions, He/She must warn us about it in terms convincing to all of us, just like the fore-warnings that comes from our parents or authorities. Indeed, God's fore-warnings is expected to be more explicit, convincing and lasting.
- God, after a while, allow us to commit things, even opposite things, that He/She had made capital punishments before (i.e., many teachings of the Old and New Testaments are conflicting). In other words, God wants us killed for certain actions of ours today, but will let us go scot-free for committing the same a few thousand years later.
- What God(s) told us to follow 4000 years ago are a laughing-stock today, and what the God's of our time tell us to follow will, surely, be laughing-stocks for our future generations, who will come 5,000 year from now (Hasn't many teachings of Jesus are being mocked already, less we talk about those of Moses?).
- God asked the Hebrews, a tiny part of humanity, to kill the adulterers by stoning some 3300 years ago, which he has even nullified already some 2000 years ago, but a big part of humanity probably still do not know about it. We humans are the same, and should deserve the same punishments for the same crime in God's eyes. But God is, ideally, killing the Hebrews for adultery for the last 3300 years, but letting a large part of humanity go scot-free for the same crime even today.
While this discussion can go on and on, let me conclude that we deserve much greater accountability and justification from the all-knowing and all-just God, if He/She wants to punish us for our actions. And He/She has certainly not set a solidly justified ground, not as yet, for punishing us in afterlife, even if there is one. If we compare the grounds human agencies -- such as parents or governments -- use for punishing us for certain actions of ours, God's ground for punishing us in a perceived afterlife is ludicrous. And the kinds of God's punishments in afterlife the religious people invoke make the agency of God not only ludicrous, but also make Him/Her immeasurably barbaric. A father or government punishes not only with proper forewarning but also in a limited measure, but God punishes infinitesimally and in the most barbaric manner (like burning alive for eternity) for a limited, often a petty crime, and even for non-crimes.
That being the truth about the idea of God's punishments in afterlife, I -- call me atheist or whatever -- refuse to bow to a barbaric God as believers present Him/Her to be, just like I will refuse to bow to my unjust father or government, and will embrace death in protest. He/She doesn't deserve my respect, neither of any other decent human being with civilized conscience.
If there is a God, it is He/She, Who has created us with the instincts and capability of doing good as well as bad. He/She can't punish us for the actions He/She has made us capable of committing.