“The arithmetic of good things cancelling out bad things”

Andrew Brown of The Guardian has written a column that people who wrestle with questions of faith and doubt and who try to make sense of justice and suffering, might well find useful. It doesn’t submit easily to the taking of excerpts, but here is a bit that conveys something of his approach.

This is why the idea of resurrection into eternity is central to Christianity: it makes sense precisely because it’s nonsense in earthly terms. We can’t imagine what it could be like.

It’s easy enough to imagine heaven or hell as a continuation of experience – for shorthand, look at the end of the Narnia sequence. But that can’t be right. Experience so far as we can tell depends on a physical substrate. No brain, no experience. (I might say that my recent flirtation with death convinced me still more that the idea of an afterlife is incoherent nonsense).

In any case, the idea of heaven or hell or purgatory brings us back to the arithmetic of good things cancelling out bad things; and as soon as you think about concrete cases, that’s absurd: how many millenniums in purgatory would Jimmy Savile have to spend to make right what he allegedly did to young girls? Even popes don’t presume to answer such questions these days.

What do you think of Brown’s consideration of these big questions. (And can you imagine a U. S. newspaper keeping someone on its staff to wrestle with these kinds of issues?)

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