Eternal Rewards + Punishments

August 2, 2011

Growing up I was warned to stick to the business at hand… and NEVER discuss religion, politics or personal beliefs with colleagues. Perhaps that’s good advice. For the record, I have little respect (actually none) for beliefs or subjects deemed too taboo to question. In fact, I encourage everyone to question most, those deemed most unquestionable. That said, in the spirit of harmony… and to not alienate readers, I’ve bowdlerized this post. Yes, showing restraint and hitting the delete key can sometimes be painful : )

Recently, I posted this question on Facebook, “To live a moral life, do people require the promise/threat of eternal rewards or punishments?”

It received many interesting responses… several were sent to me personally. For pantheists, atheists and others, my question posed little challenge. While some religious practitioners suggested eternal rewards and punishments were extra incentives, the majority claimed they would continue living a moral life, regardless of afterlife consequences. While concepts of heaven and hell appear in many religions, I’m limiting my discussion to monotheistic religions of the Abrahamic tradition, since many FB responders identified themselves as such.

I must confess, this subject intrigues me. My grandfathers were evangelical preachers… need I say more? I’ve spent many years discussing theology, studying religion, philosophy… and pondering life. But like Odysseus, I’ve ordered myself tied to the mast as to stay on topic during this post.

If the promise/threat of eternal rewards or punishments have little (if any) influence on people’s moral behavior, why do they exist? In the early Bible, the concept of heaven, hell or Satan didn’t exist. Should someone have referenced these subjects with a Hebrew from the time of Moses, they wouldn’t understand. What changed? Why propose such an idea? No doubt, such questions will generate countless responses. Let me propose one—it explains why those who follow God’s law are sometimes punished on earth while those who don’t, are sometimes rewarded. It offers the promise of retribution. With this belief in place, the just find earthly injustice more tolerable. While a perceived problem is sometimes an unseen solution, the opposite can also be true. The intended and unintended consequences of believing in eternal rewards or punishments is readily evident. Just pick up a history book or turn on the TV. Read more