What Ever Happened to the Last Judgement?



Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho (ngieruidaho.edu)


See also "Last Judgment
and Self Jugdment: Kant, Autonomy, and Divine Power

and "After Death
Experiences in Zoroastrianism and Tibetan Buddhism



The judge within will pronounce a severe verdict. . . .
The inner reproaches of conscience plague vicious men more relentlessly than the

–Immanuel Kant


I believe in a future state of
rewards and punishments, but not eternal.

–John Adams


When I’m not rushed, I enjoy
reading the obituaries.  Now that families have the option of writing their own,
it makes for much more interesting reading.  What blows me away, however, is the
overtly religious families believe that somehow their dearly departeds are
already in Heaven.


I learned something quite
different in Sunday School.  I was taught that at the end of time Jesus would
harvest his human crop, and just as the farmer separates the weeds and the chaff
and destroys them, so, too, will Jesus throw the wicked into a "furnace of
fire." Only then, not when they die, will the righteous "shine like the sun in
the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:43).


As a Unitarian Universalist, who
rejects the Trinity and the existence of Hell, it appears to me that,
ironically, many who reject us outright may have joined us in committing the
heresy of universal salvation. Or more accurately, these Christians have
preempted God’s prerogatives in deciding who will be saved and who will be
damned.  Surely, that is God’s decision not ours. In my mind, the latter offense
is far worse than the former.  Even the closest families could not claim to know
the hearts of their nearest kin.


The issue of good deeds is of
course a moot point if you are strict Calvinist believing in predestination. 
Calvin was so keen on preventing anyone from earning their own salvation that he
took an obscure passage in Ephesians�"even as [God] chose us in him before the
foundation of the world" (1:4)�to imply that your wicked neighbor is going to
Heaven and your virtuous life has meant nothing.


If one reads the Old Testament
carefully, however, it looks as if all of us are destined for Sheol, the Hebrew
equivalent of Hades. The author of Ecclesiastes sums it up well: "The fate of
the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. . . All go to one place; all
are from the dust, and all turn to dust again" (3: 19-20).  Job despairs of any
hope for resurrection: "Before I go, never to return, to a land of darkness and
gloom [Sheol]" (10:21).


Inspired by the Tibetan Book of
the Dead, I would like to propose that we take the Last Judgment seriously, but
we should reformulate it in terms of self judgment.  Both the Tibetan lamas and
those who report near death experiences speak of moving through a dark tunnel
with a great being of light at the end. Christians identify it as Christ, and
Buddhists of course say it�s the Buddha.


Consistent with Universalist
belief, this great being is not judgmental but filled with compassion.  A life
review commences and spiritual pilgrims embrace their good deeds and struggle
acknowledging their faults.  Tibetans who fail to come to a full accounting of
their lives are destined to yet another life in the karmic cycle.


I personally have a lot of
problems with the concept of reincarnation, so what I suggest is something that
John Adams hinted at this cryptic remark: "I believe in a future state of
rewards and punishments, but not eternal." What I infer from this is that Adams
did not believe that finite sins require eternal punishment and that humans
should be able to atone for their shortcomings and be released from punishment.


I would also like to borrow a few
ideas from Jean Paul Sartre’s play No Exit.  In our earthly lives, we can
get away literally with murder and we can easily deceive ourselves about how bad
we are sometimes.  But in the afterlife it is different: Sartre’s shifty
character Garcin admits that "we’re naked, naked right through, and I can see
into your heart."  And he speaks the famous line: "There’s no need of red-hot
pokers. Hell is other people."


I’m more optimistic than Sartre. 
I believe that most of us, without the protection of our normal deceits, will
eventually own up to everything that we’ve done and finally be a peace with
ourselves.  At this point we will have reached Nirvana and that will be the end
of it. 


Last Judgment is self-judgment,
because as the German Lutheran Immanuel Kant said: "The inner reproaches of
conscience plague vicious men more relentlessly than the Furies."


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *