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Deferral of punishment and clandestine punishments

Discussion in 'General Religious Debates' started by A Vestigial Mote, Dec 7, 2018.

  1. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    The idea of this thread is to raise the question of the utility of deferring punishment, or secretly punishing people for crimes or sins committed that any god is claimed as the source for said punishment.
    • A deferred punishment would refer to any time it was within a god's power to bring swifter justice to a perpetrator, but waits, instead, for some appointed time (waiting until death of the individual, as an obvious example).
    • A clandestine or secretive punishment would be one in which the crime or sin is committed, and then something completely unrelated is cited as possibly being god's punishment for that crime (a tornado destroying someone's house, for example, or the "sinner" falling sick in some drastic way).
    In the case of deferred punishment, what is the proposed utility of this idea? Of what use is it to either the person being punished or the being/entity doing the punishing? One can't very well reform an individual's behavior within the context of life on Earth by waiting until they are dead to "teach them a lesson." And of what use is any "lesson learned" if the period of time for the punishment is eternity? We're also talking about punishing an act committed (again) within the context of life on Earth. And with that in mind, any "lesson learned" would necessarily be one learned about what is right and wrong within that context - which does not apply to many of the proposed "afterlilfe" models (heaven/hell/any-place-a-non-corporeal-being-might-find-itself). Also, if reincarnation is a reality, then the punishment and "lesson learned" from being punished, would only be effective if the individual were allowed the memory of their previous incarnation. I feel that the only thing that can be argued is that the god/entity holds the fear of punishment over a person's head while they are alive, making life akin to one big task that is met with punishment upon failure to produce the desired results. That is really the only function I can think of whereby deferred punishment might have some actual utility. However, for the god/entity doing the punishing it necessarily means constantly allowing criminal acts to occur, and only punishing when a particular, unrelated event (e.g. death) occurs. Just imagine if our justice system operated in this way.

    Which leads me to my second point: clandestine punishment. This is any case where a punishment is said to have been meted out, but the criminal is NOT informed by the agency doing the punishing what they are being punished for or they have no idea what the punishment will be. For example:

    Jim is cruel to cats, and shows extreme prejudice against people who say they like cats. One day, Jim is hit by a car that swerves onto the curb to avoid hitting a cat, and those who knew him swear up and down that Jim was "punished" for his attitude.

    Something akin to "karma," either within one lifetime or from one incarnation to another - either way, the punishment is not explained - it would be left to the person being "punished" to interpret the punishment as an actual punishment, and to figure out what their crime was in the first place, and tie those two items together. This idea also seems to lack utility. Again, it can't really be effective in reforming a person's behavior unless one could be sure they would "connect the dots", and even then, how sure can the criminal actually be that it was, indeed, "punishment" when they are given no cues from the actual source (i.e. god/the-universe/etc.)? Again, I ask that you imagine what you would think if our justice system worked in this way?

    Let's say a man embezzles a boat load of money from the charity he oversees (it's happened often enough), and when the "authorities" find out, they
    wait and secretly cut the brake-lines in his car just before he is to go on a drive through hilly countryside as a punishment for the crime of embezzlement. These are exactly the types of things that many people tie-together all the time in the name of "god" or "karma," and they seem perfectly fine with the idea as long as there is some "divine agency" thought to be at the root. I argue that it doesn't matter who (or what) is doing something like this... it's morally wrong and completely without intellectual merit.

    So what say anyone? Am I wrong about this? Can there be found any good reasons to propagate them or support these ideas? Is any agency that might be at work in such methods of punishment worthy of the reverence so often afforded them by many people?
     
    #1 A Vestigial Mote, Dec 7, 2018
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  2. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    This whole thread is based upon the faulty assumption that God is "punishing" anyone. God is in control of everything; we have no free will. It makes no sense to think of God "punishing" people for executing the life they were created to live (especially if those "punishments" are a part of the same life as it was created to be, in the case of what you call "clandestine or secretive punishments").

    If I bake a bunch of cupcakes, and I created five of them to preserve in lacquer and be on display as the centerpiece of a table, while the rest of the batch were created to be eaten by my guests, does it make any sense to speak of me "punishing" those that were created for destruction?

    Or if I'm carrying a tray of the cupcakes to the table and one slips off the edge and falls to the ground, would it make sense to say that I punished that cupcake--or was that cupcake merely a player in a system that involves gravity, friction and momentum?

    God created some of us for salvation and some of us for destruction, but there is no "punishment" of which we can analyze the utility.
     
  3. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    Your comments and ideas strike me as being extremely close to what many theists say can be inferred within an atheistic perspective. That the universe is indifferent, cold, without "care" for its living inhabitants, etc. And I am completely in agreement with you about the cupcakes and their fates - none of them are being "punished." And I would also agree that anything that happens to an individual that is not the direct result of action taken upon them by another individual with their agency, cannot be considered "punishment" either. This was one of the points I was basically trying to make implicitly (calling out the idea that a "tornado" could be considered punishment, and how ineffectual that idea is). However I do not extend your analogy as far as you apparently do, in that I do not believe that human beings are "created". We are born... and there is nothing but the string of previous events that "control" the circumstances surrounding our births.

    Which it almost seems that you would accept, because you also seem to be making the case for hard determinism. Within this framework, I am surprised you hold on to a god concept at all. It seems to me that whether or not a god exists in the framework you have set forth is completely irrelevant to you as a human being. It would be like the chess piece contemplating and advocating for the chess player, without any ability whatsoever to impact the game itself, and with knowledge that the game's outcome has already been decided. What difference does it make to appeal to the chess player when such appeals are known to be ineffectual from all possible angles? I would argue that, in a system like that which you propose, and from a human perspective specifically, it may as well be that God does not exist.
     
  4. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    Well, yeah, that's the process of creation. I hope you didn't think that I believe we all just pop into existence out of thin air. That string of previous events was all purposefully created too.

    I'm not sure how you understand it, but from my perspective, the guy who did the determining in the first place seems central to the concept, and that matters to me as a human being.

    I agree with everything you said up until the last sentence, at least if I am understanding you correctly. I THINK you are using the phrase "appeal to the chess player" in the active sense of asking God to do things for you, right? (As Emo Philips put it in his "Generic Prayer": "Dear God, please change the laws of the universe for my convenience.") The other sense would be the more passive sense of just using the chess player as an explanation for the chess game, as in, "Christians appeal to the existence of God as an explanation for the universe."

    If you are talking about the active sense of asking God to do things for you, then I agree, there is no sense in that. I try to stick to the example for prayer given by Jesus in "The Lord's Prayer," in which He prays, "Thy will be done" (not "my will be done").

    But if you're talking about the passive sense of appealing to God as the sovereign Creator of all that is, as the reason for existence, then that makes a great deal of sense in terms of the comfort it brings believing that an omnibenevolent God is in control of everything. The positing of God's existence and intentional determination makes a great deal of difference over the positing of a rudderless universe blindly careening into infinity.
     
  5. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    This is the same sort of baseless assertion that has been spouted off for millennia. It makes it no more (or less) true now than when it was first stated. We simply don't know this, and can't know this.

    If there is such a "guy" then he has proven himself not to matter in the slightest to anything I do or witness being done. Even if he exists, if I am given no reason to care whether or not he exists, then I don't care. Put another way, if his existence makes no impact on my life one way or another, to the point that I can't even know whether or not he exists, then, rationally, I am nearly obligated not to care.

    No, not just asking God to do things.

    Yes, I meant ANY sort of appeal to his/her existence. Even if it is just to thank this God, or attempt to ask him/her for guidance, or to even use the idea of their existence in conversation with another "chess piece". What difference would any of that make if the playing field and all that was to happen on it was already predetermined? There would be no reason to make any sort of reference to "the player." It would be pointless. It changes nothing. In that type of system, all you could claim is that, if you did make such appeals, it was because "the player" had intended you to. Which still makes the action moot. In that case, you're not even taking the action... "the player" is. You've done nothing. You are able to do nothing. You are, in essence, just a proxy for "the player." And if that is your worldview in a nutshell, I would dare say this is even more bleak a prospect than anyone can claim an atheist's is. Believing this would bring me no comfort whatsoever. None. I would much rather be in the "rudderless universe careening into infinity." At least then there is a "way out." Otherwise you're nothing more than an (in my case at least) unwilling marionette in some ridiculous play - where all your lines are written for you... or even worse... you are being puppetted by a ventriloquist.
     
    #5 A Vestigial Mote, Dec 7, 2018
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018
  6. Curious George

    Curious George Veteran Member

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    I think most see these types as punishment as retributive not utilitarian.
     
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  7. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    Well of course the only thing we can KNOW with certainty is that we exist. All other "facts" are based in faith, but being based in something means that they cannot be "baseless."

    I don't know if you have faith in science or not, but if you do, the discipline of physics in general (and Einstein's theories of relativity specifically) have shown us that space and time are but two aspects of the same thing. So for those who have faith in a God Who created all of space, as well as faith in the science of spacetime, God also necessarily created all of time in the same creation--every moment of time just as deliberately structured as every millimeter of space.

    So those would be a couple of bases for my assertion that every string of events was purposefully created. There are also scriptural bases, but I'm guessing you don't want to hear them.

    Well, if you don't count determining everything that you do or witness, but yeah, outside of that, not in the slightest.

    I do agree with that. God reveals Himself to those whom He wants to know Him; if you haven't had a personal experience of Him, there's a good chance you were probably created not to care about having one.

    That is exactly the case; no action has any meaning outside of that which God has determined it to have. We are just agents, vessels, tokens on the playing field of a game with a predetermined outcome. From our own vastly limited perspective, of course, we cannot specify what the consequences of our predetermined actions will be--what "difference" they make, what their meaning may be--but believing that everything that exists exists because it is one mecessary little cog in an intricate design of universal scope is a great sense of awe, comfort and contentment for a vast portion of the population.

    Well of course not. It would be cruel of God to create you to seek comfort in something you were not created to appreciate in the first place. Those of us who were created to find comfort in God's sovereignty, do.

    Given that God probly knows a lot more about His creation than I do, I'm perfectly fine with recognizing His suitability in determining my actions.
     
  8. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    But this still has its problems in that a god seeking "retribution" invariably means he/she has some stake in humans not doing those particular things, or that offense is taken at those actions being taken - to the point that god is seeking reparation on some sort of punitive damages. Which also means he/she has a problem with those actions in the moment they are being undertaken. And so the reason or utility of the "deferral" of punishment is still a mystery that, I feel, cannot be explained rationally.
     
  9. Curious George

    Curious George Veteran Member

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    This begs the question by assuming utilitarianism. In a retributive system utility does not matter. I am not sure a retributive system assumes a stake. While you can make that argument, (largely because such a sentiment is rather vague), it is not necessary for a god to have a stake. A person is punished because justice says they are deserving of such a punishment. It is not necessarily about making the victims whole, or about serving any purpose. The idea is that each person is entitled to the consequences of their actions. While those consequences are arbitrary, that is what the idea of many gods encompass--an arbiter.
     
  10. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    This, I suppose, is true, if only superficially. I could make the statement "unicorns exist." and by my very statement, it becomes true that (even if only in my mind) there is some manifestation of unicorns. But again... this is extremely superficial, and is more just a play on words, meanings and geared toward toying with people's emotions and pulling strings. In the end I feel it must be admitted that the statement "unicorns exist" is mostly without value.

    Your bases seem to boil down to presupposition of the details. Which, I admit, so do my interactions with reality. There is quite a bit we must presuppose in order to get on with our lives. However, the details in our lives and reality are something we come in contact with, and are made aware of constantly. God, on the other hand, has no such consistency, or presentation. We get other people's words and assertions... and that's about it.

    Easy for this to be said... impossible to provide evidence for. Therefore I feel completely justified in ignoring the point entirely.

    That you feel comforted by this level of control, that you do not feel yourself an individual worth anything outside of what God has ascribed... I find this sad and troubling. It seems that, with an outlook like this, if you were some day to come to a place where you knew God did not exist (either by revelation, or by some change in your ideas), then you would find yourself without worth. However, I can only hope that you would realize, instead, that you are no different with God than without. That is... your worth (either to yourself or to other) is in no way predicated on the existence of God. This is something I can say that I know... mostly because I have never once had a God to treat as a reference point for my worth, and I wholeheartedly recognize that I am worth a great deal to both myself and specific others.

    And I would never be.
     
  11. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    But this then begs the question - why do the arbiter's decisions on what should be judged tend to conform to people's contemporary (as a sort of continuum) ideas of right and wrong? This is where the idea of God "having a stake in" human affairs comes into play. I would grant you what you are saying if the consequences were truly arbitrary... but they are not. The system is, and always has been, geared toward the agenda of human beings.
     
  12. Curious George

    Curious George Veteran Member

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    Well i can hardly argue with that. I think that religious belief in punishment is just another piece of evidence that points toward the religious narrative as a fabrication. This idea is beside the point.

    When analyzing what is the reasoning behind religious notions of punishment, we are can only look within that religious narrative. A god that punishes does so because that god has judged the person deserving. The god said do not do x. Doing x is then wrong because that god decreed it so. Sure we can look outside the narrative and point put that the declaration "conveniently" coincided with what Hammurabi or some other individual wanted, but that is deviating from our intended purpose of fimding the reasoning for punishment within the narrative.

    So, given a deferred or covert punishment, we are left to conclude that utility was not rhe driving reason. Without that, we can conclude that the reason is retributive. We needn't infer a stake of a god. We only need to say that a person was judged as deserving by a god.
     
  13. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    While it's true that "space and time are just two manifestations of the same thing" and "unicorns exist" are both statements that are ultimately based in faith, the former seems to be based in a pretty well-established system of faith--namely science--whereas the latter seems to be a relatively arbitrary axiom, which, as you pointed out, has extremely limited value. My point is that the latter is more "baseless" than the claims I made about creation being determined across both space and time. In other words, predestination is LESS "baseless" than claims we might commonly consider to be baseless (like the claim that unicorns exist).

    Some of us have faith in our personal experiences of God as well--not scientific evidence, to be sure, but more than just faith in the testimony of others. If you have had no such experience (yet), then it could be that you were not created to know God, or it could be that you were created to know God at a later time in your life. In either case, I cannot argue against the notion that at this time in your life, it would be reasonable for you to conclude that God does not exist.

    It seems so funny to me to read that, because I feel just the opposite. In my belief, everything that I am and everything that I do is for a reason--the time it took me to pick up my car keys when I dropped them getting them out of my pocket might just have provided the window of time it took for an accident to be prevented on the freeway--I might have played a part in saving the life of a child because of that momentary inconvenience!--and all because God planned it that way. I don't see any way that I could be worth MORE than I am as an integral part of God's universal plan if I were to establish my worth on my own merits.

    But ok, you were predestined to find it sad and troubling; who am I to resist God's will...?

    Again, just the opposite. If I found out that I was some kind of hyperintelligent studmuffin because of my own efforts and not simply because God had predestined me to be one, I would probably get quite the ego boost.

    I know that sounds kind of contradictory--first to say that I couldn't feel more important than I do as a part of God's plan, and then to say that if I knew I was not predestined to be a hyperintelligent studmuffin, that I would get an ego boost from being able to take credit for making myself into one. But I guess it's just a way of saying that if God exists, then my value lies in what He has made me, and if God does not exist, then my value lies in what I have made of myself.

    And in any case, it's no more contradictory than your original suggestions that I should feel no sense of personal worth outside of what God has ascribed to me if He does exist, but that I would also find myself without worth if I found out that God does not exist. You find reasons for me to feel worthless in either case, I find reasons for esteem in either case.
     
  14. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    Then you are better off than I would have expected.

    I hear so often from theists that, without God, there is no reason anyone should (as a more common example) remain a moral agent, but then when posed with the question of whether or not they would become a non-moral agent, and therefore commit atrocities that they like to say atheists should be committing based on nothing more than their being an atheist - they are reticent to answer at all. In fact, I am not sure I have ever once experienced a theist answering that question without instead dodging or ignoring it entirely. Not once.

    So it is refreshing, honestly, to hear you relate plainly that you would retain your feeling of worth even if you were to find that God did not exist.
     
  15. Axe Elf

    Axe Elf Prophet

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    Yeah, I've never really understood that "God is the only basis for morality" argument myself.
     
  16. A Vestigial Mote

    A Vestigial Mote Well-Known Member

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    I guess where I net out is that, based on what we see and encounter here on Earth, provided God exists, He seems to either have no capability/interest in enacting punishment for sins immediately following the crime, and even less capability/interest in preventing crimes that He will end up punishing. Unless He is enacting such punishments secretly as described in the OP - in which case He is not acting in a way that displays an active interest in logical, demonstrable justice. And as such I am forced to conclude that His activities in the matter of justice are apparently not in the best interest of humanity

    Under your assumptions, I feel that God would be completely indifferent to all sin and crime until the moment of death. And this makes absolutely no sense. Perhaps God doesn't care about making sense either - fine... but none of this seems worthy of any sort of "worship."
     
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