What I am referring to is thinking too much about certain doctrines or propositions found within Christianity that, when brought to conclusion, lend themselves to some silly things that often make one sit up, give pause, and question the validity of the entire scheme. There are plenty of these we could look at, but this time around I'd like to focus on what happens when we combine some standard Christian assumptions about the afterlife and view the end result.
Most versions of Christianity will acknowledge the existence of an afterlife. The popular versions, particularly in my neck of the woods, will posit that all human beings have souls that will continue to have conscious existence in the afterlife into perpetuity. Most will even grant that those souls will one day be reunited with bodies and that both body and soul will continue in existence (usually either in a state of eternal bliss or a state of eternal torment). Now, some versions are annihilationist, and they will grant that while all human beings have souls, some of those souls will face the cessation of conscious existence while others will go on forever. I want to examine how the afterlife is populated and with whom within these paradigms.
First, some assumptions for this thought experiment. Let's assume that "human being" means any entity that these kinds of Christians would typically define as having personhood or possessing the Imgao Dei. As such, this would include human life at any stage of development, including zygotes. This is arguably both a standard Protestant and Catholic position on this, and is the foundational religious objection to things like early-term abortion and embryonic stem cell research. If you disagree with the scriptural arguments for "ensoulment" at conception put forward in those links, you're less likely to be subject to much of the absurdity that is to follow. Some of the mainline Protestants can probably check out here, but I'd be curious to know when exactly they think a human being acquires a soul that will one day find itself in the afterlife.
OK, having applied our parameters and defined our assumptions, let's proceed by asking a question. Given these assumptions, what kinds of human beings would we expect to populate the afterlife? According to the National Institutes of Health, around half of all human embryos die spontaneously. Half. So right out of the gate half of all human beings who have ever existed never made it out of the womb. Keep in mind this has only been measurable of late and among studies done on women within the developed world. Who knows what that number used to be? We can probably suppose that prior to the Industrial Age it was even greater than 50%. Perhaps much greater.
Next, let's look at infant mortality. This would be human beings that die within one year of birth. Prior to 1900, infant mortality rates (expressed as a ratio of the number of infants who die per one thousand live births) were between two and three hundred. This varies throughout human history and among different cultures and geographic regions, but most anthropologists will call two hundred a really good year for any civilization prior to a hundred years ago. What this means is that prior to 1900, at least 25% of those less-than-half of human beings that survived long enough to be born also died within a year. That number saw steady decline in the 20th century and is now down below 5% worldwide.
We could go on to look at the under-5 mortality rate both historically and currently, but I don't feel that's necessary for our little thought experiment. We've already established that well over half of all human beings die before they ever experience any conscious existence whatsoever. Think about that. Well over half of all human beings have no memories, no real conscious existence to speak of. None whatsoever. Over half. Understand? The majority of human beings. Ever. And this is the divine plan that God set in motion. This is the backdrop of the redemption story. These are necessary, collateral human beings. And they outnumber the rest of humanity. Really?
|This is how God planned it. Totally.|
So what does this do to how we split our afterlife demographics? Well, that depends on how you go about deciding whether people end up in smoking or non-smoking (or somewhere in-between). One thing remains, of course. In any non-annihilationist paradigm, most of it's inhabitants never experienced life on this side of things. In annihilationist paradigms, it ends up being the vast, overwhelming majority of those in the afterlife, since all the bad people who in other systems would go on to populate hell, merely get extinguished instead. In other words, shrink that blue part of the pie down considerably for them.
Let's start our heaven/hell breakdown by looking at the good ol' ad hoc "age of accountability." This is probably the most popular system of dealing with non-adult deaths in evangelicalism, despite the Bible being bereft of passages that even come close to spelling it out. Under this view well over a majority of human beings die and go to heaven automatically, having never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, hallelujah! I guess. I mean, divine redemption was an awful lot of trouble to go through when the default position for the majority of humanity ends up being a positive afterlife and they never even had to know about it. I suppose that means the majority of humanity gets to heaven and then learns of God and hears about what Jesus did for them? You know, in saving them from their sin so they could go to heaven, even though they never did a damned thing wrong in the first place. "Uh. Thanks, Jesus?" This sets up a scenario where God spares the majority of humanity from hell even though they were never given a choice in the matter. What happened to all that ado about free will? Turns out that stuff doesn't even apply to most human beings. That's kind of ironic since one of the features of the whole age of accountability doctrine is trying to preserve that whole free will thing to begin with.
And what of the folks in hell? Well, guess what, suckers. You were the unlucky zygotes that were in the minority that successfully implanted, survived birth, survived infancy, survived childhood and were given the glorious privilege of exercising your free will so you could rebel against God and suffer eternity in hell. Sucks to be you. Well, to whom much is given, much is required, I suppose. Oh, something additional of note that I forgot to mention about historic infant mortality: females were more likely to survive than males. This means that males more frequently got an automatic ticket to heaven, while more females got to run the risk of misusing their free will to reject God. Lucky them. If being able to live a conscious existence and freely choose God is so great, why did God set up a system in which most people don't get to do that?
Catholics have a couple of "speculative" options here. One is limbo. Take this option and you're still putting well over half of humanity in there. The implication being that God created humans knowing he'd be sending over half of them to some kind of eternal containment unit. Hopefully Walter Peck doesn't come around with a court order and shut down the grid. Seems a bit wasteful, though, don't you think? The other is that unbaptized infants attain heaven much like in the evangelical paradigm of "age of accountability" discussed above. The Catholic Church is not dogmatic about either position, so choose whichever silly scenario you prefer. Better yet, come up with your own! Whatever makes you feel better about God.
|"Now you either show me what is down there, St. Peter, or I come back with a court order."|
Now to the Reformed position. When it comes to the question of the smoking or non-smoking sections for this sea of humanity that never experienced conscious existence this side of eternity, the position can actually be pretty agnostic. "Elect infants dying in infancy" are saved. The rest are damned. What does that mean? Well, if the little zygote was elect, he gets a pleasant afterlife. If not, it's eternal torture. How do we know which ones are elect? Well, some will say the "covenant children" of the visible, professing members of the church are likely safe here. As for everyone else, who the hell knows? That's one of the "secret" things of God. I mean, it has huge implications for the majority of all the human beings that have ever lived, but Yahweh's keeping this one to himself.
Honestly, I doubt most Calvinists will have a problem with this. They're already crypto-maltheists who've acknowledged in their theology that God is a giant prick (by any reasonable human standard of what it means to be a giant prick, at least). They just don't dare call him that to his face. "Praise him for his glorious wrath!" Amirite? Their General Zod god could toss a bag full of kittens off the Empire State Building, swoop down and rescue one of them at the last second and they would sing of his marvelous grace and talk of how the whole bag surely deserved to perish. The real mystery is not why he chose to toss the bag of kittens off the building in the first place (they probably rebelled against his authority and kept wandering around mewing instead of worshiping him); it's why he ever chose to save even one. Besides, they were his kittens to do with as he pleased. Also, who are you, O puny earthman, to question Zod?
|You're already hearing his voice in your head. That's the sensus divinitatis.|
This is but one example of the sorts of things you begin to ponder when you stop trusting in the LORD with all your heart and leaning not on your own understanding. Or, you know. Thinking too much.