A Question of Human Ethics

My name is Michael and I have a very straight-forward scenario that I wish to pose to you all, if you can afford me your time. This idea has troubled me for many months and I have been unable to reconcile it in my mind. I have other similar scenarios, but I have chosen the following one because I think it provides a much clearer portrayal of the greater issue that exists regarding theism. Please take this purely as a hypothetical situation:

Let’s say there exists an island in the middle of the ocean that is populated by a small colony of humans. For arguments sake, lets say that this island has layed completely isolated from all modern human societies on earth for several thousand years. That is to say, the isolated islanders have never heard the name “Jesus” or “God” or even “religion”.

     A young boy is born on the island. As the islanders do not even know what "religion" is, the boy is not baptised into any faith. As he has no beliefs, he grows up taking his surroundings at face value. The boy learns through his experiences that when he is kind to his fellow humans, they are in turn kind to him. When he shares food with them, they share food with him. This behaviour makes sense to the boy as it allows everyone to survive happily in harmony with each other, and means that the boy does not have to waste excess energy hunting for all his own food and competing with the other humans for resources on the island.

    The boy has a happy and fulfilling life. He is kind to his fellow humans and is always willing to help them out with their problems. In return they are kind to him and are always prepared to offer him help. This system works very well for the islanders and allows them to live satisfying, prosperous lives.

    The boy grows up and becomes a man. He meets a girl of similar age. They fall in love, have children, raise them with loving care, and remain faithful to each other for the rest of their lives. They die having lived full, happy lives in which they always strove to do their best for each other. Using their adopted system, the islanders manage to maintain a small, working society on the island composed of caring individuals.

Now, according to the bible, all of the islanders from the above story are going to Hell. This is irrefutable and is made very plain throughout the scriptures. In fact, having no faith at all in God is considered to be an unforgivable sin which automatically warrants an eternity in Hell. There is ample evidence to support this, one of the main examples being the quote from John 3:18 - “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

So my question is as follows: Why is the bible (and God) so apparently intolerant of non-believers, even when some non-believers are clearly as kind and loving (if not more so) than actual believers? Going by the logic of the bible, there are literally billions of humans who are going to Hell regardless of the content of their character, simply because they do not know about the God of Catholicism. Dare I say it, this appears to violate even the most basic human ethics.

I understand that this is a long post, but I would greatly appreciate some form of clarification on this issue if anyone could please oblige me. This is an obvious and apparently gaping flaw in Christianity (and theism in general) that appears to go largely unaddressed. In fact, the more an individual dwells on this idea, the more it expands and spreads to form a fundamental crack through the very foundations upon which faith is borne.

Before I sign off I just wish to clarify that I myself am of a Catholic upbringing and am simply trying to make sense of this problem. Thank you very much for reading, it is greatly appreciated.

Yours faithfully,


this concern of yours is not as uncommonly addressed as you may think, i have actually had to answer this question numerous times before,

so for starters, you questions “Why is the bible (and God) so apparently intolerant of non-believers”
to imply “non-belief” implies choice, for someone to be a non-believer they have to be shown what exactly they don’t believe,
for example, lets say someone doesn’t know what snow is, they have never seen it or been told of it, but do they dis-believe in it? it is really not one way or the other, they do not believe or dis-believe, because they simply do not know.
it’s like, “do you believe in snow?”, “i don’t know, what’s that?” you see?

belief or dis-belief is by choice, and that is what the bible is referring to,
but even then it is not strictly those who do not believe, it is more strictly for those who know the catholic church is the true church, know the teachings in the bible are true, but then refuse to believe or obey.
God does not send to hell those who do not know they have done anything wrong, even those who commit what we know as mortal sins, if they do not know it’s a sin, then for them it is only venial, and will not send them to hell.
although it is all very personal, a persons judgment is between them and God, and really not ours to be concerned with or worry about.
but even the unbaptized we cannot say go to hell, although i can’t tell you what happens to each individual when they die, but we are also told of a place called limbo, in which those who do not deserve hell, but cannot enter heaven, go to to live in eternal peace without the beatific vision.

we are told that God expects more from those who know more, so what can we say that God expects from those who don’t know these things?
and we are also told in the bible that God is all fair, so when things like this arise, just remember that, if your thinking to yourself “Wait now, that doesn’t seem right, how could God do that?” chances are you are right, there is something wrong there, but it’s not with God or the bible, it is simple your understanding of the given subject or situation.

of course it’s good to have these kinds of questions, that’s how you learn, but just be careful not to make any decisions based on what you don’t understand.

ok, hope this helps you, tc.

The bible says no such thing.

Yes, it is refutable because no the Scriptures do not say this. And, the Catholic Church does not teach this.

CCC 847:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

See Lumen Gentium, chapter 1.

It is not God or the bible that is in error, it is your interpretation. Please study more about this with the guidance of the Church. The Catechism, Lumen Gentium, Dominus Iesus, and other Church teaching can help you understand this correctly.

Let me point out that although God does not operate this way, and nothing in Church teachings indicates he does, if he did then you must remember that He is God.

He sees things from the God’s eye view, which we do not. He is the author of all life, and therefore every single being is in existence because of him and we are all subject to his authority and his justice. If things did indeed work the way you propose, then that would mean it was *perfectly just *because God is perfect Justice. You might not understand it in your limited view of the universe and eternity and what “justice” means, but that would in no way mean it is unjust only that you don’t *understand *justice from God’s perspective.


read on the subject of Natural Moral Law your answers are there.

The fact that over the centuries theists have pinpointed all the logical fallacies in faith, strove endlessly until some form of loophole has been found for them, and then painted over the irreconcilable ones by offering things like “God works in mysterious ways” or “humans cannot possibly understand the mind of God”, is not a logically sound method for convincing me of the truth of the bible. Using this method, you are taking a biased approach to the problems. What I mean is, you are setting out to acheive a desired outcome. In this case the “desired outcome” is finding a solution that is consistent with our desired image of a loving God.

There is no harm in having some confidence in ourselves as a species, as long as this doesn’t go down the route of arrogance or carelessness. We have all been born into a universe that is, by all accounts, very strange and bizarre. Throughout our lives we are surrounded by people who claim to know the “one true answer” to what all this is. There are of course thousands of versions of this “answer”. If I had been born in Saudi Arabia, I would most likely be a Muslim. If I were raised in China, I would most likely be a Buddhist. Instead, I happened to be born in Ireland, where Catholicism is the predominant “answer”. If I had spent my entire life raised in a Muslim environment, where my family and friends told me every day about how Allah is the one true answer, and that all other “answers” were stories conceived by evil spirits to fool me, who would I be to doubt them? Childrens minds are set up to trust and learn from those who raise them.

Of course I was no exception to this. I was raised in a Catholic environment and so I became a Catholic. Some people convert between faiths but the vast majority do not. It seems very plain to me that those who believe in Allah and reject the Christian God, according to the Christian bible, are going to hell regardless of their personal characters. If you say to me “it is not up to us to understand how God judges”, that is not fair. That is a cop-out. That brings the discussion to a non-conclusion. If every paradox is greeted with “that is for God to know and us to find out”, we are effectively being taught to be satisfied with ignorance, and that is not right. In this sense faith is not a virtue, it is pot luck. Some people may be satisfied with waiting until death for answers to these questions. Quite frankly, I have one life here on earth, and I am not willing to wait for death to find out if I have won the “faith lottery”.

When so many potential “answers” are floating around society, the only logical means of getting through life without being taken in by a hoax is to ask questions. We cannot afford to accept certain things on blind faith. The cost is far too high, and the cost is very real. I have employed this system for as long as I have been old enough to think on my own, and it has never served me wrong. Not being afraid to ask valid questions is a strong virtue that provides actual, tangible results and avoids unnecessary mistakes. This universe is logic-based. Things happen in a way that can be measured using physical laws and principles. Logic helps us understand complicated problems and weed out misleading ideologies, through the power of reasonable doubt. It boggles my mind that something so sensible and fair as reasonable doubt is often treated so harshly by religion. Surely, if religion was sound, reasonable doubt would show it to be so. I fear what a weak hope religion may be if it cannot stand strong against the doubt of another.

I could literally spend a week elaborating and refuting but I think I should just end here. I have great respect for your beliefs and your entitlement to those beliefs, but I will just say that I am enjoying a perfectly happy and fulfilling life in which I spend each day in sheer awe of the vastness and majesty of a universe that is, by all human observations thus far, completely devoid of any intelligence other than our own. By asking many questions, and always maintaining our reasonable doubt, perhaps we will find out what this is all really about. Thank you for an interesting discussion.

Just remember the statement " It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" rich may include rich in mental capacity - think about it.

Have you read [size=][size=2]FIDES ET RATIO[/size]?


Modern philosophy clearly has the great merit of focusing attention upon man. From this starting-point, human reason with its many questions has developed further its yearning to know more and to know it ever more deeply. Complex systems of thought have thus been built, yielding results in the different fields of knowledge and fostering the development of culture and history. Anthropology, logic, the natural sciences, history, linguistics and so forth—the whole universe of knowledge has been involved in one way or another. Yet the positive results achieved must not obscure the fact that reason, in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them…

Great argument until you get to the “according to the bible” part. Ike just gave you the documents from the catholic church (who does not go by bible alone) that shows your argument is better served up to the non catholic christians.

i am under the impression that before you asked your question, your mind was already made up.

it is all fine and good that you have these thoughts and ideas, but you are making decisions based on a lack of understanding, the answers are out there, God does not call us to believe blindly, and does not wish us to either, our belief should be reason based, God does give us good reason to believe what He teaches,
what God asks us to do is trust in Him and have faith in Him regarding our lives,
when there is something we do not understand about our religion, we look for the answer, either for our sake, or the sake of teaching others, which we can learn by spiritual reading, talking to other well educated catholics, or even just by prayer and meditation.

you may be content with your life now, but you clearly have alot of learning to do, and i would suggest reading the lives and writings of the saints, especially saints like the cure of ars, st. Francis de Sales, st. Thomas Aquinas, and other doctors of the church,

knowledge is important, but knowledge without wisdom is useless, and to seek answers with no intention of using those answers to better yourself is also useless…what good is knowing anything if it helps no one? when we die with nothing to show for our lives we will be forgotten,
you may feel content, but do you feel fulfilled? God can be pleased with both those who do good, and those who only think they are doing good, but those who do nothing at all are useless and don’t earn for themselves anything.

i’m sure you or anyone else could go on and on about the millions of different circumstances in the world with each individual life and situation, but it really means nothing and proves nothing, except that everyone is different, and we can’t possibly know even by statistics how many people believe what they are brought up with or convert or believe blindly or whatever path they choose…everyone is different, it is not scientific, it is purely divine.

i have no doubt you are intelligent, but i can’t say you seem very wise,
try asking yourself in any given situation or thought, “is this really important? does this benefit me or anyone else in the long run?” just try and find out what is really important in life, then you will begin to understand God and His teachings.

“What does if profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul”
nothing else matters…i could care less if i lost all i own, my soul is all that matters in the end…you can guarantee your heaven simply by following Gods commandments, no gamble involved, just by doing what God asks of you, even if you are mistaken on something, all that God asks is that you try.

Your story was so cute and cuddly…then you spewed this nonsense.:rolleyes:

This follows the same path as the shallowly clever idea of the irresistable force meeting the immovable object…

I tell you what. Go FIND this idyllic paradise island culture you adore. Good luck, because it doesn’t exist! ALL humans are good, but fallen. We retain some of the goodness God placed in us by making us in His image. But we are flawed and unable to live in harmony with one another because of our fallenness. We are flawed to the point that, left to the power of merely our own will to be good, we will construct horribly flawed societies that contain terrible injustice and suffering.

Some arrogant atheists today have made the fallacious leap of assuming that religions is the CAUSE of human bad behavior. Poppycock, and demonstrably so. No societies in human history have been as brutal or opressive as those that have formally denounced religion and declared God to be dead (or imaginary).

What Scripture and Tradition have always affirmed is that without the GRACE of God, we cannot be saved. There have been many today and in the past who, indeed, have had incomplete understandings of just HOW God offers us Grace and attempted to limit God to ONLY the ways he has revealed to us through Christ. There is a nugget of truth in what you say, though badly distorted. Those who have never heard of God, Christ and Grace ARE worse off than those who have. If this were not true, Jesus would not have commanded us to spread the gospel. But this does not mean that God does not offer Grace in hidden ways to those who, through NO fault of their own, never heard the gospel.

No offense, but you sound more like a fundamentalist protestant than a catholic.

EDIT: Seeing your location, you might just want to check out what catholicism actually teaches rather than relying on what the local priests and nuns always told you. Irish American priests were once sometimes known for preaching a gospel rather harsher than the one proclaimed by the church, not sure if the same affliction occurs in the homeland… (Oh, not you Fr. Duffy, RIP…)

I would look to the historical evidence to see what’s true. Christianity has the most reliable historical evidence and the most reliable eye-witnesses. Since the apostles were willing to die for their beliefs, that shows that they clearly believed it was true. But that just shows they believed it was true, right? No, the apostles would have known whether or not it was true. They would have actually seen Him risen from the dead.

Answer, PART ONE:

In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”, states the following:

Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

**But it also states this: **

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.


Answer, PART TWO

  1. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues; But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

Please read the entire document which can be found here:


Hello… are you talking to *yourself *or do you plan to enter into a conversation with others?

The Church does not teach this and Scripture does not say this. I have given you three references that properly explain Scripture and Church teaching.

Ah, so your questions were rhetorical.

Please state this clearly at the outset next time so I won’t waste time actually providing answers.

SJ, your profile says “agnostic”. Sure you aren’t a closet Catholic? :smiley:

Sounds like his mind is made up, doesn’t it? perhaps he just needed to vent.

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