“I don’t know”

This point is so important to me that I am going to write it again, and post it again.

There are some questions that may have answers that are totally beyond our current perspective. In that case, saying “I don’t know” means “there is probably an answer that is compatible with my point of view.”

But in some cases, there are a finite number of answers from one’s point of view. To the Christian: am I going to hell?

Yes, or No.

You don’t get to say “I don’t know.”

Are you OK with me going to heaven?

Are you OK with me going to hell?

The intent of “I don’t know” in these cases is to avoid answering a tough question. It implies that some alternative, unknown answer may be more satisfying. However, if you know all the possible answers, and all of them are unacceptable, you must address that.

This question of heaven and hell is a good example. There are a finite number of end results to the Day of Judgement Scenario, from a Christian view (2^N, where N is the population). There is not one of those that I would find anything less than absurd–and I don’t have to think about them all individually to know this.

Next time you’re about to answer “I don’t know” to one of these tough questions, please consider the possibility that you do know, and just don’t want to think about it.

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7 Responses to ““I don’t know””

  1. Or you may be over-interpreting the answer. I for one have given exactly this answer on various occasions and meant exactly what I said. Sure, you are going either to heaven or to hell and if to heaven either directly or via purgatory. But which is it? I don’t know and I can’t know and it’s none of my business to try figuring it out. I’m not even sure where I am going myself. That doesn’t mean you might go somewhere else entirely, just that I don’t know. As a secular analogue I don’t know what you will eventually die off, but that doesn’t mean I speculate on you being immortal.

    As for you finding all possibilities absurd: What alternative would you not find absurd and by what standard do you judge the difference?

  2. I must be missing something here. I thought God does all the judging on judgement day, not any given Christian human on earth. It is valid to be unable to predict an outcome even if all outcomes are known.

  3. My point is that there are finite outcomes, and none of them are acceptable (or at least, none of them are anything less than absurd to me), because when you look at everyone and get to know them, it does not make sense under any circumstances for them to be sorted into one of those two locations.

    Why don’t people defend the hypothesis that I’m going to hell? Obviously because they find this difficult to believe. They also find it a bit hard to admit that I’d be going to heaven at this point, so they say “I don’t know.” In doing so they are ignoring that both of these possibilities seem really hard to believe. Since one of them must be true, in their minds, they should be comfortable defending one of them–but they aren’t.

    The reason that it seems absurd, to me, to sort the world into heaven and hell is that people are not actually either “seeking God” or “choosing evil,” they’re mostly a mix of a handful of very tangible human qualities to different degrees, and if you line them all up on a gradient of everything (including religious sincerity and trust in God, etc.) you end up with a very smooth scale over tens of billions of people, with a sharp line drawn between two people who are pretty much the same as each other. To say that they are actually quite different in a “hidden” way (“only God knows the heart of those two people”) is to suggest that there is more to judge in people than the things people can even know about themselves, which I do not agree with by definition.

    Only if you are a true Calvinist can you argue this point by saying that God’s choice is unconditional and arbitrary. But then you still have this problem of why the differences manifest in people on earth do not seem to reflect this at all.

    Finally, if you’re Christian I think you are supposed to know where you’re going. If you sit (i.e. if one sits) around believing that it’s possible you may go to hell, and you aren’t constantly disturbed by this, then it’s my view that you either haven’t thought about it enough or you don’t really believe it.

    Now, if I say “I don’t know what happens when I die,” that is different. There might be things that I haven’t even thought of, or can’t think of. I don’t have to come up with a scenario that I don’t find absurd because I’m not promulgating anything.

    Wabasso: see above.

  4. Now it’s normally your former tribe that tells this to the likes of me, but it’s all about the relationship with God.

    So perhaps one can look at it with an analogy to marriage. Some strained marriages end in divorce and some in reconciliation. And there will be some differences between the spouses. And at some level someone will be divorced who could have reconciled if they had been a tiny bit different. This doesn’t change the fact that they either make it work or don’t. The highness of the stakes makes this frightening but the fright doesn’t make it untrue.

    Similarly everyone either will or won’t make their relationship with God work and this is rightly frightening, but I don’t see how it is absurd.

    As for your final point, I have two answers on different levels. On the dogmatic level, no I’m not supposed to know that, see here, canons XIII-XVI. On a more personal level, yes it does disturb me to some extent. But then no, the fear is not so all-consuming as to disturb me “constantly”. As a more worldly analogue, it is totally in my power to become an alcoholic, destroy all relationships I value and then die painfully of various organ failures. I can’t give an absolute guarantee I will never do this and I reckon many who did it previously thought it was impossible for them to do so. But I don’t spend too much time worrying about this possibility. I know how to do better and I wish and hope to do better and with the human mind working as it does that is enough for me not to get desperate over the possibility.

    But yes, even if I didn’t believe in an afterlife the stakes of life would be terribly high. That doesn’t make me shut my eyes from what can happen in this world and neither should it for the next one. Still, most of us don’t panic about it. We’re paradox animals.

  5. The absurdity is derived from looking at real people. It seems absurd to me to suggest that there is a line that can be drawn anywhere between them all (and it is a very sharp line, too sharp to be based on something subtle).

    Well the stakes are infinitely higher in this… but you get points for calling us “paradox animals,” since we are.

    However, while I carry *some* paradoxes, I avoid them unless absolutely necessary, because they are indicative of real problems.

  6. I still don’t get why it should be absurd specifically for this one relationship (to God) when it clearly is the same for all others. Because other relationships too either do or don’t fail and in the marginal case the differences between people who’s relationships (friendships, marriages, whatever) fail and people who make them work out is very subtle. Why would one expect the relationship to God to be the only one for which it is totally different?

  7. That’s a good question… but on reflection, I am not sure I can accept the analogy because:

    – You can actually see, touch and have discussions with other human beings. They talk back to you. They tell you if the relationship is going badly.
    – Broken human relationships can be fixed
    – It is impossible to be in a real relationship and have long discussions at night about whether your relationship exists
    – Human relationships are all about two-way blame and praise–when they get too one-sided, they inevitably dissolve
    – If a relationship with a person is going to fail, you know the reasons, consequences, and possible methods of prevention ahead of time (unlike many people who do not know about or believe Christianity is actually true).

    And most importantly:

    – Nobody goes to hell for failing to make a human relationship work!

    In fact, I think this supports my point about it being absurd. Human relationships rarely fail based on the True Condition of a person’s immortal soul. They fail for dumb, absurd, capricious reasons.

    The only relationships that consistently fail in non-absurd ways are those that were not meant to be.

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