Tough Questions Answered

A Christian Apologetics Blog

Should Anyone Be Punished?

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?


About The Author

Comments

  • Ian A

    I would find it difficult to believe that the worst offenders can be rehabilitated. By being in prison for life they are in an eternal hell. If you let them free they may go back to what caused them to go to prison for life. I can’t see how that kind of chance can be taken. If Judy had being responsible for the release of such a person, what would her conscience say if that person reoffended?

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Even murderers and rapists should not be punished, but rehabilitated.”

    How is this any less coherent than:

    “Even murderers and rapists should get to heaven if they repent”?

    How do you justify the idea of ETERNAL punishment for a finite crime?

  • Todd

    I’d tell Judy not to worry, hell is a made up place like Wonderland or Oz. However, I think she should look at the reasons for punishment. Typically they are to deter, rehabilitate, isolate, or exact retribution. The idea of eternal punishment does not deter (if you’re eternally punished you can re-commit your action). It does not rehabilitate for the same reason. It may be argued that you are isolated, but I think that weak since the isolation in question is meant as torture. That would leave eternal retribution. Why would you worship a god that exacts eternal retribution through torture? It’s cruel and petty. Thankfully, god is also made up so this is really just a mental exercise…

    However, to say that noone should be punished in society is quite short sighted. I can likely get behind her that the death penalty is ultimately immorral for the same reasons listed above. While I think deterrence and rehabilitation are good solutions for some offences, isolation is a viable option for heinous crimes. If we as humans were to exact retribution (in the form of pain or suffering), it would make us no better than the Christian god.

  • Boz

    I hear this a lot in deconversion stories – a lot of poeple are rejecting christianity (also islam) because of the idea of hell.

  • Brad

    I’d smack Judy, and then ask her to help rehab me. Do that enough times, and she’ll get the picture… :)

  • Andrew Ryan

    Well Brad, at least you’ll be following in a long tradition of Christians using violence to persuade people. I guess when you don’t have good arguments on your side, force is your only option.

    Just a joke? Great, violence against women as a source of humour… Still, at least I wouldn’t say you deserve eternal punishment for it.

  • Brad

    Andrew, my guess is NO argument would be deemed “good” in your eyes…therefore trying to even present one doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? For one who’s already made up his mind (i.e. you), arguments usually aren’t very persuasive.

    But think about it for a second. If “Judy” believes in no punishment, only rehab, then given that view, shouldn’t one be able to do ANYthing they want to Judy, without fear of punishment – only fear of rehab? If that’s the case, then smacking Judy should be ok, right? Sure, I’ll need to be “rehabbed”, but even in her view, I shouldn’t be punished, right? All I’m saying is, let’s see if Judy REALLY believes that, once she starts having it done to her. My guess is she’ll change her mind. Argument is the same for one who says there should be no laws, or that truth is relative. The end is the same. Without a moral “baseline”, then anything goes.

    And while you can try to make this suggestion seem cruel, you and I both know it’s only figurative. Of course, in Judy’s mind, violence against women (or ANYone), only deserves rehab, so does it really matter? Think about it a bit, Andrew…

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    My four million cents on this post: you guys are GROSSLY oversimplifying the idea of “punishment versus rehabilitation.”

    But think about it for a second. If “Judy” believes in no punishment, only rehab, then given that view, shouldn’t one be able to do ANYthing they want to Judy, without fear of punishment – only fear of rehab? If that’s the case, then smacking Judy should be ok, right? Sure, I’ll need to be “rehabbed”, but even in her view, I shouldn’t be punished, right? All I’m saying is, let’s see if Judy REALLY believes that, once she starts having it done to her. My guess is she’ll change her mind. Argument is the same for one who says there should be no laws, or that truth is relative. The end is the same. Without a moral “baseline”, then anything goes.

    And while you can try to make this suggestion seem cruel, you and I both know it’s only figurative. Of course, in Judy’s mind, violence against women (or ANYone), only deserves rehab, so does it really matter? Think about it a bit, Andrew…

    …do you even have a serious comprehension of what the term “rehabilitate” means?

    It does not mean simply lack of punishment. In fact, rehabilitation can come alongside some form of punishment, or it can be a punishment in itself. For example, there is a women’s drug rehabilitation facility just a few miles from where I work, where women who have gotten into criminal situations due to drug addiction are given a chance to go to rehab and get clean instead of just rotting in prison. During their stay, they are kept on a strict regimen where they are closely monitored most hours of the day, are not allowed to have relationships with the opposite sex, and are not allowed to take *any* drugs which are not necessary for their immediate survival. They are carefully trained and conditioned to overcome their addictive behaviors and hopefully rejoin society as successful people. They are sometimes given several opportunities to do so; if they show no desire to be rehabilitated, they are threatened with serving their full prison sentences.

    It is darkly ironic to me that you, a Christian — supposedly, someone who believes in “forgiveness” and “second chances” — would prefer that these people be ruthlessly “punished” with some draconian sentence, without any consideration for their basic humanity or potential for rehabilitation.

    And yet, it is your religion which blatantly promises that even the most vile, disgusting, heinous murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and torturers can and will be awarded with eternal happiness in heaven, if only they accept Jesus.

    Now, whose beliefs are more unjust — the woman who believe that everyone has the potential to change? Or the Christian who believes that nobody should ever be forgiven, even in the afterlife?

    “Punishment” as you and Mr. Pratt have described here is not “just” at all. Let me give you an example of a god that I would consider “just.”

    In Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, an alternate history is presented wherein God punished Cain for killing Abel by forcing him to remain suffering on earth forever, unable to die and pass on to heaven. He was continuously reincarnated with all of his memories intact. Thus, Cain lived for thousands of years, plotting to get revenge against God for punishing him. The idea was that God basically gave Cain eternity to repent for his crime; if at any time Cain acknowledged his sin and asked God to forgive him, God would release him from the curse and allow him to die at last. If Cain refused to repent, however, he would spend the rest of eternity in a continuous cycle of reincarnation, tortured by his rage against a God against whom he was powerless to exact revenge. Thus, Cain’s character becomes a textbook example of God’s justice in that continuity — God is simply keeping him at arm’s length until he learns his lesson, and in the meantime his own rage against God is his punishment, because he is tormented by his impossible goal of “defeating” God. So Cain is literally punishing himself.

    This is a very different image of God than what you present, however; if, for example, I killed someone, your God would give me a finite amount of time to repent, and if I was unable to come to the realization that I was wrong, I would spend eternity without the chance to repent. I would never get a “second chance.” Even if, after that point, I decide that I really do honestly regret what I did and I want to repent for it, your God will not accept it. To me, that is not loving or forgiving at all (and certainly not infinitely so). Whereas in the prior example, Cain really was punishing himself by his refusal to humble himself before God, in the case of your God, it is actually God that is punishing me, not myself. I no longer desire the punishment of hell, but God will not forgive me. So it’s not as easy to say “I am choosing this fate for myself,” because I am not — God is.

    Ultimately, whether it’s God in heaven or us here on earth, it’s stupid and asinine to say that punishment exists for any other purpose than one or more of the following:

    -) to deter (both the perpetrator and future offenders);
    -) to protect the innocent (those who have not offended).

    If innocent people were not hurt (in at least some way) by the commission of these crimes, then punishing them would be pointless.

    I think we can all agree that a system of punishment which allows people to try and correct their behavior is infinitely better than a system which punishes people, permanently and inescapably, for the sole purpose of “exacting revenge” for the commission of finite crimes. The former system would actually produce more, better people, because it would still restrain unrepentant criminals (for the protection of the innocent) but it would also allow people to correct their behavior and become valuable contributors to society, as opposed to simply destroying them and removing any chance for future contribution.

    There are many stories of people — Christians included — who, upon commission of a violent crime, ‘repented’ and ‘became better people’ and returned to a life of productive, positive behavior after being brought to rock bottom by their behavior. If those people were simply executed upon commission of a crime, then I think it’s impossible to deny that the world would be worse off for their lack of contribution to society later in life — either way, their crime was still committed. Just that in one case, the punishment was death, and in the other, the punishment was having to learn to correct one’s behavior and turn a bad thing (criminal activity) into a good thing (a valuable life lesson).

  • Andrew Ryan

    Brad: ” If that’s the case, then smacking Judy should be ok, right? Sure, I’ll need to be “rehabbed””

    How is this different from saying “what’s to stop me punching Brad and just asking God for forgiveness afterwards”?

    Let’s compare your two viewpoints:

    You say slapping Judy gets you an eternity of he’ll fire, she says you should be restrained from slapping further and ‘rehabbed’. Why does your position make more sense?

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    How is this different from saying “what’s to stop me punching Brad and just asking God for forgiveness afterwards”?

    You know what’s funny is, I didn’t even notice this glaring logical discrepancy! But that’s a good point.

  • Brad

    It’s different, Andrew, b/c it’s not MY point of view. The problem is with Judy’s point of view – remember, SHE is the one who believes in only rehab, not punishment. I’m pointing out that that view, when taken to its logical end, leads to a point that I doubt she is willing to go. What’s different than saying “punch Brad and just ask God for forgiveness afterwards”? Other than that being Judy’s logical end…a lot. But it would take a better understanding of God for you to realize that.

    Do you, or Tim D., REALLY want to understand that? No, I don’t believe you do. You’d rather argue about it, b/c your minds are already made up. So I wish you well in your search for truth, and hope that you find it in Jesus Christ, b/c that’s the only place where it is found.

    God bless!

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    SHE is the one who believes in only rehab, not punishment.

    And you are the one who does not understand what “rehabilitation” is. Rehabilitation is not a slap on the wrist and an admonition not to do it again. It involves restraint and motivation to change one’s behavior. You are grossly oversimplifying.

    I’m pointing out that that view, when taken to its logical end, leads to a point that I doubt she is willing to go.

    Clearly, she *is* willing to “go.” Hence, her words.

    Why do Christian apologists so often seem to assume that they understand other people’s views better than other people do? Do you really think other people just haven’t thought it through? Or could you simply be mistaken about what they believe?

    What’s different than saying “punch Brad and just ask God for forgiveness afterwards”? Other than that being Judy’s logical end…a lot. But it would take a better understanding of God for you to realize that.

    If I did not believe before that there is no difference whatsoever between the two, I certainly do now, after reading your response.

    Do you, or Tim D., REALLY want to understand that? No, I don’t believe you do. You’d rather argue about it, b/c your minds are already made up.

    You probably say that to everyone who disagrees with you, don’t you?

  • Andrew Ryan

    Brad, I agree with Tim: you have no answer as to what the difference is. You interpret Judy’s position in a certain way, and say you find that position ridiculous, but your own position has exactly the same logical result.

    Again, You say slapping Judy gets you an eternity of he’ll fire, she says you should be restrained from slapping further and ‘rehabbed’. Why does your position make more sense?

    “I’m pointing out that that view, when taken to its logical end, leads to a point that I doubt she is willing to go.”

    And you clearly don’t ‘want to go’ where your view leads either, where Hitler gets heaven as long as he repents before he dies.

  • Brad

    Tim/Andrew, good luck in your search for truth. I do hope you eventually find it!

    God bless!

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    Tim/Andrew, good luck in your search for truth. I do hope you eventually find it!

    God bless!

    I rest my case.

  • Al Mahadaya

    Why we are here? This question is answered in the Quran and infact in the early scriptures however, a lot of us do not believe or even bother looking into it. God said in the quran that God created man to submit to him and leave by the guidance that he sent through the prophets. It is stated that all prophets follow the same religion that is the religion of Abraham. In the life of the last prophet (Mahamada), he wage war against the disbeliever of God and conquer most part of the world and bring people in the religion of God and there is no Christian, Buddha, Islam, Jewish etc. at that time. There is only one religion and on that time it is either you are religious or not.
    Why there is suffering in this world? Because man is created by God and God knows what is best for his creation. That is why we must live by what is asked by God and live by the holy soul that each of us have. Our souls comes from a holy place in heaven and our body(Adam) is from earth. So, whoever that disobey God is actually an enemy to himself. mahadaya-asalama.blogspot.com

  • Pingback: A Few Questions About Hell | Tough Questions Answered

  • Susan

    The problem this woman has and people like her is that they don’t believe EVIL EXIST THEREFORE they DON’t NOT BELIEVE HELL OR PUNISHMENT SHOULD EXIST. SORRY but if this woman is reading this EVIL is very very real and so is Satan! The proof is he has deceived you!

  • David

    I would tell “Judy” that she is right. The Hell that most of us think of today is really a medieval creation and was not present in the early Church. In Eastern Christianity, Hell is simply separation from God. We are separated from God of our own choosing, and by that separation, we punish ourselves. That punishment is being in the presence of God, but not being able to enter into His love.

    Without going into a long litany here, I’ll just simply offer a couple of links that explains what I’m trying to say much better than I could in my own words:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Christian_theology#The_Concept_of_Hell

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-simpson/understanding-hell-as-the_b_705988.html

    http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/misc/timotheos_evil.htm

    http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/misc/bitar_forgiveness.htm

  • http://Www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    David,

    I agree with your take on he’ll.

    As for Judy’s comments in regards to the need to rehabilitate people, I would suggest that that is exactly why Christ came, i.e., to rehabilitate mankind. However, our ability to be rehabilitated in Christ is contingent upon our willingness to participate, and, unfortunately, not all are willing. Thus, the result in the end of separation from God.

  • http://Www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    I’m in Grand Junction, CO typing on my iPhone and I always make mistakes. It’s self correcting feature drives me crazy at times. I meant I agree with your take on “hell”.

  • Brad

    David, do you believe hell is a real place? That there will be actual punishment there? If not, what (or maybe where) is it, in your view?

  • David

    Hi Bill,

    I believe hell is just exactly as it is described in the Huffington Post article. The punishment is being in the presence of God, but not being able to enter into His love and then His love becomes an all consuming fire. As St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote:

    “God is fire and when He came into the world, and became man, He sent fire on the earth, as He Himself says; this fire turns about searching to find material — that is a disposition and an intention that is good — to fall into and to kindle; and for those in whom this fire will ignite, it becomes a great flame, which reaches Heaven. … [T]his flame at first purifies us from the pollution of passions and then it becomes in us food and drink and light and joy, and renders us light ourselves because we participate in His light.”

    And St. Isaac the Syrian says:

    “It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it.”

    To further quote from the article:

    “Hell in this view is understood as the presence of God experienced by a person who, through the use of free will, rejects divine love. He is tortured by the love of God, tormented by being in the eternal presence of God without being in communion with God. God’s love is the fire that is never quenched, and the disposition and suffering of the soul in the presence of God who rejects him is the worm that does not die. Whether one experiences the presence of love as heaven or hell is entirely dependent on how he has resolved his own soul to be disposed towards God, whether communion or separation, love or hatred, acceptance or rejection.

    Hell, then, is not primarily a place where God sends people in his wrath, or where God displays anger, but rather, it is the love of God, experienced by one who is not in communion with him. The figurative, spiritual fire of God’s love is transcendent joy to the person purified and transfigured by it through communion in the body of Christ, but bottomless despair and suffering to the person who rejects it, and chooses to remain in communion with death.”

    Since we know from Scripture that God will destroy Satan and all evil on the Last Day, then I suppose we could conclude that those who will not be saved will also be destroyed. It’s a hard pill to swallow to think that God will destroy part of His creation that has fallen away from Him, but this is what we find in the Bible.

    Until then, Hell is that torment of not being able to accept and enter into God’s love for us because of our unrepentance.

  • David

    Brad:

    Sorry I called you Bill in my earlier post.

    Let me go on to add that not all of the Church Fathers hold the same view as the above. Many describe hell as a real place of torment and suffering.

    St. John Chrysostom:

    “For now what takes place is for correction; but then for vengeance. And this also St. Paul showed, when he said, “We are chastened now, that we should not be condemned with the world.” …. But then the punishment from God shall be manifest, when the Judge, sitting upon the fearful tribunal, shall command some to be dragged to the furnaces, and some to the outer darkness, and some to other inexorable and intolerable punishments.”

    St. Polycarp:

    “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but thou art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly.”

    St. Justin Martyr:

    “No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments.”

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem:

    “We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. …Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past.”

    St. Gregory of Nazianzus:

    “I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to hurl upon the earth and He Himself is called fire in words anagogically applied….I know also a fire that is not cleansing but avenging, that fire either of Sodom, which mixed with a storm of brimstone, He pours down on all sinners, or that which is prepared for the devil and his angels, or that which proceeds from the face of the Lord and burns up all His enemies all around. And still there is a fire more fearsome than these, that with which the sleepless worm is associated, and which is never extinguished but belongs eternally to the wicked.”… its is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be sent to the torment to come, when it will be time for punishing only, and not for cleansing.”

    St. Jerome from the 4th century:

    “There are many who say there are no future punishments for sins nor any torments extrinsically applied, but that sin itself and the consciousness of guilt serve as punishment, while the worm in the heart does not die, and a fire is kindled in the mind, much like a fever…These arguments and fraudulent fancies are but inane and empty words having the semblance of a certain eloquence of speech but serving only to delude sinners; and if they give them credence they only add to the burden of eternal punishment which they will carry with them.”

    St. Basil the Great:

    “The voice of the Lord divides the flame of fire. I believe that the fire prepared in punishment for the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord. Thus, since there are two capacities in fire, one of burning and the other of illuminating, the fierce and punitive property of the fire may await those who deserve to burn.”

    I think we would all like to believe that somehow, or at least many people would like to believe, that in the end God will save all of us, but Holy Scripture and the Fathers tell us that is not the case.

  • mike

    this is totally truth, every person should be rehabilitated instead of being eternally punished

  • A friend

    I wouldn’t tell her anything, I’d ask her what she thought hell was. Clearly shes under the idea that it is a torture room where God sends mortals to be punished for sins, and that heaven is the only alternative.

    I grew up with a Johovahs Witness father and a pagan mother, but as I was growing up I became very angry with religion. I was an atheist, but even more than that I was an anti-theist. However I came about my non-denominational Christian religion because of a simple suggestion to try and pray when I was in need.

    I fear hell, and I fear how far from God I was, and to this day I still have trouble. I am a strong believer, I know God exists, but I fail Him. I am young yet, however. With every passing year I become more of what I wish to be and less of what I was.

    I believe that her idea in no punishment is a nice one, but ultimately a flawed one. All people contend with demons in their soul, their own selfish arrogance. Hell is reserved for those who wish to have nothing to do with God. They are left alone without Gods love, because they rejected it. If even they thought of God, even if they like me are troubled men and sinners, but still try to be like Christ, then there is hope. It is not God punishing sinners, but sinners being given a choice and they made the choice to continue their path. Through our lives and through the fire that burns the foundation of our souls, we are given that choice. At Judgement day, we are asked once again to repent, as Christ saw hell and returned to life, then ascended to heaven.

    What she does not believe in is a kind God. She believes in a cruel God, and does not wish him to exist. Or so I gather. This is what I believe, for what little this may mean to her or anyone who reads this.

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    Love me! Or else…

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline