Where do the criminally insane go after death?

Bob loses it. He takes his gun and starts shooting people down in the street. He steals a car and runs over children crossing the street. The police finally arrest him. He is deemed mentally irresponsible and is institutionalised. He is treated with therapy and medication. He is kept of the streets to protect society. Years later, he dies. Does he go to heaven?


If someone is insane, cannot distinguish right from wrong, our judicial system recognises even the most violent criminal as irresponsible of his acts. He is treated, not punished.

What does god do?

If he sends him to hell, how can that be just, since he is incapable of knowing better. Even if he is somehow responsable at some level, how is that fair compared to someone who had all his wits.

If he sends him to heaven, how is any better? If crazy people get a free ticket to heaven, isn’t that the greatest deal there is? Why doesn’t god make us all crazy.

Where is the cutoff line between heaven and hell?

Bob isn’t really a good person. But he hasn’t committed any serious crimes either. At some points in his life, he has tried to turn a new leaf, but has always lapsed back to his old ways.

Joe is generally a good person. He helps his community, gives to charity. He will give to a homeless person and go out of his way to help an old lady cross the street. He has been unfaithful to his wife for years now. She doesn’t suspect.

Bob and Joe die in a tragic car accident. They are judged by god and one is let into heaven, with eternal bliss, while the other is sent to hell to burn for all time.


In the grand scale of things, these two men were very close to the cutoff line. A little will power might have saved one, but an extra slip up might have damned the other.

Punishment

In our family, in our society, we thrive to find the right punishment for each bad act. How can we accept an all or nothing view of heaven and hell?

Our whole judicial system is based on punishment proportional to the crime. If you speed on the freeway, you get a fine. If you steal for the first time, you could get a suspended sentence. If you premeditate murder, you can spend your life in prison. Even the most horrific crime won’t get you tortured. A lot of thought goes into defining the punishment that fits the crime. We are shocked when a killer gets of with a slap on the wrist, but even more so when the punishment is too severe.

Reward

On the other end of the spectrum, maybe surprisingly, good deeds are often their own reward. We might be threatened with punishment to avoid bad actions, but we are not paid for good deeds. It takes the good out it if we get paid.

God’s system is much more simple. One slip up and you will be tortured for all eternity. There is no middle ground, either you are perfect and win the jackpot or else your punishment will be infinitely painful and never end.

What would you think of a friend who only did good, only helped others, for a reward? Would you be as proud of him?

Say, when you were a kid, you stole some candy from the corner store. What would you think if your parents beat you every night for a year? A year isn’t very long compared to eternity…

It seems that the goal is to not do evil, more than to do good. The ten commandments do not include « be nice ». If you live a good life, dedicated to helping others, but slip up and steal, will you go to hell?

With such a binary system, there must be some cutoff line. More good than bad, heaven, more bad than good, hell. Or any bad, hell. Whatever the line, there will be people who are pretty close. Two people who have been equally good all their life. One goes to heaven. The other slips up, once, and burns in hell for all eternity.

How do you rationalize heaven and hell?

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Bob goes to heaven. What does he do all day?

Bob goes to heaven. What does he do all day?


Heaven, in one form or another, is one of the basic pillars of religion. Believing in God is believing in « a better place » after your death. Heaven is perfect. You will always be happy with all your friends and family. The sky will always be blue.

But what could a perfect place actually be like? Even if you forget the idea of sitting on a cloud playing a harp, what could heaven be like?

Let’s stop to think about perfect. Perfect cannot get better. So perfect cannot change.

But think about your perfect day.

  • Playing hokey.
  • Going on an adventure.
  • Meeting someone new.
  • Getting that job.
  • Getting married.
  • A great mystery novel or movie.
  • Working in your community.
  • A walk on the beach.
  • A crazy party where you drank too much.
  • Winning the game.

Cheating, anticipation, (a little) fear, discovery, accomplishment, promises, suspense, helping, sharing, excess, success…

Change.

In heaven, with everything perfect, how could there be change? Cheating seems out of the question, along with fear and excess. If everything will always be perfect, how could there be suspense? What would be the point of promises? If everything is already perfect, how can you accomplish anything, who is there to help? Winning the game usually means someone is loosing. Even sharing is a transition from something not shared…

Take that perfect moment at the beach. Half asleep in the shade. A little breeze in your hair. A cool drink at your side. A good book. A loved one. Would you want that every day, forever? Forever is a really long time. How could you imagine a heaven where you wouldn’t be bored out of your mind?

It is hard to picture yourself alone in heaven. You don’t get to meet new people, or only for a while. It doesn’t take eternity to meet everyone. You would be with your favorite people. Are your favorite people the same as the favorite people of your favorite people? Are your favorite activities the same as the favorite activities of your favorite people? Does everyone like the same things? Is there only one heaven?

A better world today?

Since we are who we are, our perfect world is a better world. Could heaven be our world, just better? No more disease, hunger, accidents, natural disasters. No more crime, injustice, discrimination, fear. Every child having the opportunity to become what he or she wants.

Isn’t that the world we are trying to build today?

What does your heaven look like?

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Is it better to die when your soul is at its best?

Bob is a carefree child. He doesn’t think much and gets into a lot of trouble. He isn’t really bad, but he always makes pranks. He doesn’t realise that everyone does not find them as funny as he does. Bob is hit by a car. The clerk at the pearly gates goes through his history of mischief and adds up the good, the bad, and the inconsiderate. Bob is lucky, he gets in.

Alternatively…

As a teenager, Bob gets caught up with the wrong crowd. He becomes a hardened criminal, hurting many people. After shooting a store manager and assistant, the police gun him. Bob takes the express elevator down to hell.

Alternatively…

Bob ends up in jail for an armed robbery that turned bad. His prison sentence makes him think. He gets counselling and reads a lot. He regrets his actions and sincerely apologizes to the families of his victims. When he gets out, he is a new man, a concerned citizen, he helps his community. When he dies, St Peter praises Bob’s atonement and greats him in heaven.


The soul is our essence, the intelligent agent puppeteering our body and mind. It is who we are, our identity, our memory, our character, our feelings. It is supposedly the immortal self, the connection with god.

Who we are changes with time and events. We are not the same person as we were as a kid. Life events change us, we grow and develop. Or we are victim of trauma and stumble and struggle. A brain tumour can change one’s personality, erase one’s memories. Our body is a strong part of our self image and an accident can change our outlook, if not our personality.

Which “us” is our soul? Do you want to live for all eternity with who you are today? The best favour someone could do to you is to kill you when you are the sanest, strongest, happiest, most innocent. Just as well choose the soul you will get to keep.

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