By Immanuel James
A certain King Darius of ancient Rome, in order not to forget to extract justice – or rather, revenge – from the offence he received from the people of Athens, mandated one of his servants to always say to him, three times at every dinner: “Sir, remember the Athenians.” And one King Clovis of ancient France was even more dramatic in his desire for justice. He had promised arms of gold to three servants of his enemy to enable them betray their master to him. The young men did the job and after their master was killed, Clovis was so deeply haunted by regret that he first hanged the three servants, before hanging the purses of their gold rewards around their necks.
For ages, the quest for justice has taken man to the heights of wisdom and folly. From that quest have arisen cases where ‘justice’ itself became a whole new offence, one driven to extremity by man’s obsession with reward and punishment. Yet that obsession is understandable, for it is applied towards societal order, without which human cohabitation would be a more difficult affair. Justice – that system that shares good and evil equitably to those who
merit them – is the foundation of civilised society.
Forgive the repetition: man’s passion for justice is indeed excusable, despite its potential for extremity, given that it seeks to attain a measure of order for humanity. We must now admit that it is not just for social order that justice is courted. To see a robber or murderer punished, or see an innocent freed from harm, confers a certain sense of peace and compensation on the human psyche. So the passion for justice is as much a social as it is an emotional pursuit.
But it is also religious, this passion. Aware that the political system does not always guarantee justice, especially punitive justice, man had to insert another order of nemesis for those who have escaped human justice in their lifetimes. It has been argued that this insertion is even more effective than legal justice in discouraging evil but let that argument pass for now. Most religions embrace this order as a divine instrument of punishment. Let us concentrate on divine punitive justice, and work with its most popular, nay, notorious appellation: Hell.
Divergent as many religious creeds are, they appear to agree that God created a Hell for evil-doers. There’s a little problem anyway, which is the fact that since these different religions have conflicting moral codes, a righteous adherent in one religion is a candidate for Hell in the other. We can, however, assume that some kind of harmonization may take place in Afterlife?
However, there is a greater problem still, one that I have tagged ‘The Hell Dilemma.’ We can examine the following hyothesis:
John, a graduate of Criminology, has been believing God for a job. He wants to work in the police or SSS. His wife has just got a bank job and Mr. John has been doing his best to please God for the family’s testimony to be complete. Finally God answers. The chap gets his good job, and as a good Christian, one-tenth of his salary goes back to the church every month to help advance the work of God. He thanks God, thanks his pastor, his pastor thanks him back for sowing his entire first salary in the Lord’s vineyard. Everyone is happy.
But there is someone John has unfortunately failed to thank: the armed robber; the murderer; and every other criminal out there without whom his job would simply not exist. Even his wife does not seem to acknowledge that her bank job, at least in terms of what drove the banking business back in the day, was in a way made possible by insecurity, also made possible by the handiwork of criminals. When she worked as a marketing executive in an insurance company, and nabbed that huge contract for her employers from a theft insurance policy undertaken by a client, she also did not thank thieves who made it all possible merely by existing – and her commission ran into millions!
Anyway, ignore this family’s ingratitude to the people who have ‘helped’ them pay bills, tithes, offerings, etc. A greater ‘injustice’, however, is about to happen.
After this life, how does it feel that God will disgorge all these criminals who have ‘helped’ Him answer His children’s prayers, on Hell? Look at it critically: many livelihoods are actually reactionary creations against some forms of evil. Think! In fact this is how society runs: evil assists good to deliver more good, and more evil,etc. Even nature rolls like that: without ailment, doctors would die of starvation – no, they wouldn’t even exist; without immorality, preachers would not be too. So we can suspect that without evil, there may have been more unemployment in the world.
Consider this one, a real-life testimony in a church: some mischievous witches supposedly tied one woman’s womb for 20 years, and the blood of Jesus finally shattered the bondage. And twins came, to the boundless joy of the couple and the prayer warriors who supervised the deliverance project. (Well some people may find it curious that an innocent Godly couple was kept childless for 20 years just that a point be made between God and the devil – not like the point so made has even convinced everyone anyway – but that is not our problem.)
On account of this witchcraft shaming, many devil worshipers crossed over to God having been convinced that He holds greater power – all along nothing could make them change from their evil ways, not their own misfortunes or the preachers’ sermons. While the testimony blared forth, no one had the simple sense of justice to thank the witches who had been busy working their evil hands to the bones – whose 20-year-old mischief yielded the divine glory of the moment – without whom the kingdom of God would not have boasted new defections from the devil’s camp. And it is not enough that no one thanked these goddamn witches, they’ll also be sent to Hell after ‘helping’ win souls for God, a thing many preachers could not achieve all these years!
So I ask: Is it morally just for God to benefit from a system and still chastise that system?
Let us not forget, however, that not all religions believe there is a Hell. Even in Christianity, there are dissenters to that notion. Let us also not succumb to that childish temptation of throwing ugly labels at anyone who raises fundamental questions about our theosophy. The theory of Hell deserves to be critically examined. This might not be a serious matter anyway, but it at least makes intellectual sense to begin to ask critical questions about the human religious culture. Religious scholars should begin to examine the hell question, for it does not come out clean upon inquiry from rational interrogation.
But would religions have collapsed without such a scary insertion? Does the human psychology not corrupt itself with mental constructions of endless pain and suffering? Could man have been worse with evil if he were not tamed with such extreme morbidity?
These questions can guide our probe into the subject. In creating this eternal order of punitive justice, religion may have – let us borrow this expression – ‘put God in a serious dilemma’, almost like the dilemma of that King Clovis, who was so just he punished servants that aided murder, yet so just he fulfilled his promise of gold – but to their dead bodies!
*Immanuel James is the author of the new literary fiction, ‘Under Bridge’. A humanist and lover of philosophy, his articles have appeared in many national dailies. Visit http://www.immanueljames.com for more.*