Heaven and Hell

Heaven, hell, and the entire idea of an afterlife is an intriguing concept.  A solid stretch of my life, when I was a child I attended Awana and church service every Sunday.  I remember memorizing a ton of bible passages and getting awarded neat patches that my mom would then iron onto my Awana vest.  But in addition to that (and this was a bit later when I was older) I also distinctly remember being incredibly impressed with the entire concept of there existing an afterlife.

In economics, we learn that humans are generally treated as rational actors and then when faced with choices, we’ll usually behave in ways that maximize our self-benefit or whatever utility function we care most about.  So either satisfying ourselves, caring for our families, fighting for our country, etc.

Where economics fails though is that it assumes the rational human cares about what happens immediately in this corporeal life.  Meaning:  If you go rob a bank or murder a ton of innocent people, you’ll go to jail for probably the rest of your life or face summary execution by lethal injection (or the firing squad in Singapore).  And that lifelong imprisonment or threat of capital punishment is generally enough of a deterrence to prevent folks from doing bad things.

But what if you believe in an afterlife?  Now the entire calculus has changed because the time horizon for the consequences of your actions have been stretched way out into the future, beyond even this corporeal life.  Now, if you commit a massive crime, like flying airplanes into the towers, because there is an afterlife in which you’ll be rewarded for your behaviors, you no longer fear whatever might happen in this corporeal life.  This material existence we’re currently living is incredibly transient, a mere blink of the eye in the grand scheme.

The entire concept of an afterlife really screws with economics.  Or at least it should.  In order for society to function,  which it mostly does, peace is predicated on people generally not believing in heaven and hell actually existing.  As long as we care/fear about what happens in this life, then societal peace and order will be maintained.

But if there is ever a day when God or Jesus or Mohammad or whomever descends from the heavens and shows us that divine power does exist, then civil society will basically crumble overnight.  So, basically:  The entire wellbeing, safety, and health of human civilization rests on human beings never en masse witnessing any miracles that affirmatively prove God’s existence.  The fate of our species depends on it.