Have They Got It Coming?

Question from Shanoon:
Do you really believe the people like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Poy, Mao and all those terrorists, Rapists, killers, and suicide bombers are considered to be criminals and as such should be judged and punished one day?

1- If the answer is NO, then they are innocent. ( and they are not only supporters but promoters of these kinds of innocent (!) evils.)
2- If the answer is YES then how?

Answer by SmartLX:
Some of those you list have been punished, some haven’t, and some won’t be punished ever in their lives for certain things (for instance, way too many rapists get away with it). Without going into horrible detail regarding their crimes, I’ll simply agree with you that there are people in the world who deserve to be punished. Religious and secular ethics frequently agree on cases like these, because the same conclusion is reached multiple ways.

Therefore, if there is no God or Hell then some people who deserve to be punished will never be punished at all, no matter how hard we try to enact justice. This isn’t a happy thought, but if it’s true then there’s nothing we can do about it, except to work to ensure justice is served whenever it IS possible. But the fact that the implications of a state of affairs are unfortunate does not support the argument that it’s not the case, and the alternative isn’t true just because it would be better (objectively or otherwise). An argument from consequences is essentially an unsupported argument, and the only reason to accept it is that it makes you feel better.

8 thoughts on “Have They Got It Coming?”

  1. I completely agree with most what has already been answered; that we are not justified in accepting that there exists some cosmic justice in the place of our imperfect ability to catch and punish criminals and wrongdoers. And that we can only take the steps to improve our justice system. But as a social group that depend on each other, we are already motivated to do this. It is completely natural for a social group to take actions to stop the individuals who act damaging and counterproductive to the health of the group. Both in animals and humans. So the motivation is there, the problem is strictly practical.

    However, I have to comment on one thing SmartLX said:
    “Therefore, if there is no God or Hell then some people who deserve to be punished will never be punished at all, no matter how hard we try to enact justice.”
    Well, regarding the god, that depends entirely on the god. People have believed in tons of gods that were not concerned with human justice. And regarding the hell, justice is hardly non-existing. For many reasons.

    First of all, the idea of hell is deeply immoral and unjust from start to finish. Having all wrongdoers being punished equally with the same punishment is counterproductive and unrealistic. This idea that you could split humanity in two black and white groups is completely unrealistic. Plus, it invites more crime. If I have killed one person, and I am going to eternal punishment in hell like Hitler, who had millions of people killed, then nothing would be stopping me from continuing my crimes. The punishment can’t escalate either way. Plus, the idea of eternal punishment for a crime that happened in this world and therefore can only be finite is unjust. And this list is long. And if we are going to punish people for the things they do, it has to be done appropriately and justly.

    But, second of all, most religions and god-concepts that include the idea of a hell also include an idea of a forgiving god or a merciful god or one that offers salvation. This is true for both Christianity and Islam. It is the backbone of these and probably some other religions that God is a merciful god who offers salvation and forgiveness. And that is the contradiction in these religions. Mercy absolutely contradicts justice, yet these religions try to have both. They can’t. Many people want to accept these ideas of cosmic justice, but without realizing it they have accepted the absolute opposite. Because it is absolutely the entire foundation of religions like Christianity and Islam that people are not necessarily going to be punished justly for their crimes.

    So the difference between the system of punishment by humans and the system of punishment by many theistic gods is that we humans are willing and motivated to punish everyone that justly deserves it, but not necessarily able to, and God is able to punish everyone that justly deserves it, but not necessarily willing or motivated to.

    1. Absolutely, Jillum. The concept of Hell is rotten to the core, and the existence of a God doesn’t guarantee justice will be done in any case. But we’re talking about an argument from consequences here, so the fact that it doesn’t follow doesn’t matter. If God exists and behaves exactly as Christianity describes, then sinners will be punished after death, and if not then they won’t, so wouldn’t it be better if He did? That’s the extent of the “logic” in play here.

  2. Why should anyone “deserve” to be punished, if we live in a causal universe in which magical free will (free will which ignores or breaks cause and effect or natural law) isn’t possible? Does a tiger “deserve” to be punished if it eats a human being? Or is the tiger just following its own nature within the context of a particular environmental context? Everyone who lives experiences pain and ultimately faces the death penalty in this universe. There’s no one who doesn’t “sin,” so that punishment is completely “justified,” although the punishment often appears to be too severe for the crime. Still, the moral retribution is there. Are there really people who deserve punishment? Are there really people? I mean, what are “people”? Aren’t they just very tiny regions of the universe? So, ultimately, we’re talking about some very tiny regions of the universe being punished for being what they are by other very tiny regions of the universe, or by the universe as a whole (just being itself), or by something outside of the universe (just being itself). Sh*t happens. Humans have a strong evolutionarily-shaped tendency to lay blame and seek retribution, but sh*t happens, and it happens following natural law in the only way it could possibly happen. That we can imagine it happening in ways which defy causality and natural law doesn’t change anything. In cosmic terms– in absolute moral terms– does anything or anyone really “deserve” punishment? For being what they are: a region of the universe following natural law in the only way it can, within the contextual setting that it is placed.

  3. God does not punish those in hell. Hell is God saying “have it your way, then”. Hell is not a place where God tortures people. Hell is a place where God just isn’t. If you do not want the concept of God, then you could only logically want hell – because hell is, by definition, a place without God. I still don’t understand why all of this ranting against hell exists.

    1. In the Biblical narrative, God is the source of all love, compassion and anything good at all, and God knows this because God knows everything. To deliberately withhold that from people is to leave them deprived of joy for all eternity, which is most certainly a punishment.

      Incidentally not believing there is a god isn’t necessarily the same as not wanting there to be a god, but if you also don’t believe that a god is the source of good things there’s far less reason to want one to exist.

    2. I could sin once in my life, not ask forgiveness for it, and therefore go “to hell”. Hitler killed millions, and therefore he goes “to hell”. We both get the same punishment. Sound fair to you?

      Of course the judge in all this loves everyone unconditionally, as long as you follow all the conditions it laid out…

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