Post Author: Bill Pratt
Recently I met a woman in her thirties who had grown up Christian, but over several years, starting in her late teens/early twenties, she grew away from her faith and now considers herself agnostic (we’ll call her Judy). She doesn’t know that God doesn’t exist, but she finds it very unlikely.
A couple of us in the discussion group asked her what some of the issues were that caused her to stop believing in Christianity. One of the things she mentioned that most pushed her away from faith was the existence of hell. She said that the concept of hell is so cruel that she simply cannot believe that a God exists who would allow hell to exist.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. As we questioned her about why hell was so repulsive to her, Judy eventually revealed a critical belief which she holds: nobody should be punished. Her view is that any person who commits a crime should be rehabilitated, not punished. They should be given psychiatric treatment, medication, training, education, whatever it takes, to make them stop behaving in a criminal way. As soon as they are “fixed” they should be released back into society.
The idea of punishing a person, without rehabilitation, was nothing but cruelty to Judy. So, the idea of a place where people are punished for their crimes in the afterlife is simply a non-starter. Since hell does not rehabilitate, but only punishes, she cannot accept it.
What I find so interesting about Judy is that her belief that nobody should be punished was foundational to her; it was one of her core beliefs. Other people in our discussion group gave her scenarios where rapists or murderers were convicted of heinous crimes, and she stood firmly behind her beliefs. Even murderers and rapists should not be punished, but rehabilitated.
We never had time to dig into how she came to hold this belief, but one thing was for sure: her belief that nobody should be punished was clearly more foundational to her than the existence of God.
As this was the first time I had ever heard someone give this reason for not believing in God, I wanted to pass it along. What would you say to Judy?