Why does God punish people for sins they don't consciously decide to commit?

Why do atheists and agnostics go to hell and suffer eternal punishment, if they aren’t aware of the fact that they are committing sin against God? My question isn’t so much “why did God punish us for Adam and Eve’s sin”, but it’s this

A lot of people say that God punishes people in Hell because he’s a righteous judge. And that makes sense. But using that analogy, why does God punish people for doing things that they don’t know are crimes. An atheist or an agnostic isn’t aware that he/she is committing a crime against God’s moral law. So why is it just for God to punish them eternally?

Because they commit actions which violate natural law, the law written in their hearts and which can be known through human reason.

Paul addresses this in the first few chapters of Romans.

Rom. 2: 14 - 16 For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.

Where does the Church teach that God punishes anyone for sins they didn’t know were sins? Nowhere that I know of. Having said that, there are certain things that all people know are wrong, such as deliberately lying or stealing or murder. As Mary_Ellen cited, these are part of the natural law that is implanted in our hearts.

A lot of people say that God punishes people in Hell because he’s a righteous judge. And that makes sense. But using that analogy, why does God punish people for doing things that they don’t know are crimes. An atheist or an agnostic isn’t aware that he/she is committing a crime against God’s moral law. So why is it just for God to punish them eternally?

God is an eternal being, therefore, all sins committed against him are eternally there before his eyes. If a person truly doesn’t know they are committing sins God is not unjust enough to say that they must pay for what they didn’t know was wrong. However, how many people really can claim they don’t know that blasphemy is wrong? They probably do know, they simply won’t admit it. In any case, no one can fool God. He knows our hearts completely. What we did not know and could not know we are not accountable for, but what we did know and could know we will have to answer for, believer and unbeliever alike.

The God, I know and believe in, does NOT punish anyone who is unaware of committing a sin. Sin requires knowledge of the sin, and it requires deliberate action or neglect with knowledge of that sin.

God does not punish anyone for a sin they are ignorant of.

Three rules for sin (by Sister Mary Prudence)

  1. It must be a serious offense or rejection of God.

2, You must know it is a serious offense or rejection

  1. You do it.

Any one of the three rules missing…and its not a sin. :slight_smile:

If an atheists or agnostic don’t know that a particular action is a sin…then its is not a sin for them.

Sister Catherine Bernadette taught us that you do not have to actually commit the sin to be guilty of it. If Conditions 1 and 2 are fulfilled and you decide to commit the sin but are for some reason prevented from doing so, you are still guilty of the sin.

Just so no one gets the idea that this excuses sin, as if it’s a “get out of jail free” card for atheists and other non-believers, what they are is not culpable for the punish due for their sin. They would still have to pay for the consequences/damage done, if not in this life, in purgatory.

And the definition of your good Sister Mary Prudence is for mortal sin, especially the first definition. And the 3rd definition is more that one does it of ones own free will–please pardon me for being pedantic over definitions. :wink:

An agnostic or atheist that lives a good life and tries hard, but never had the chance to know God, should have no barriers towards heaven (with purgatory first, like the rest of us). Sure, believers have a head start, so to speak, but I don’t see why anyone who is good would be excluded.

On the other hand, if they know about God and reject Him, that’s different, right?

People experience different states and degrees of knowledge which could either compound or mitigate their guilt. This is explained in Luke 12 47-48

"*'The servant who knows what his master wants, but has got nothing ready and done nothing in accord with those wishes, will be given a great many strokes of the lash.

The one who did not know, but has acted in such a way that he deserves a beating, will be given fewer strokes. When someone is given a great deal, a great deal will be demanded of that person; when someone is entrusted with a great deal, of that person even more will be expected.*"

God does not punish people with hell. People who reject God in this life on earth have chosen to separate themselves from God and therefore have chosen hell for themselves.

There is no such thing as someone who “never had a chance to know God”, provided that man’s intellectual faculties are not impaired. Both Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, defined at the First Vatican Council, have taught that God’s existence can be known by natural reason alone. So, to willfully disbelieve God’s existence, or who believe God’s existence but that He does not care about good and evil, is unfailingly damnable.

Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas

Most (not all, but most) atheists in today’s American society have had, in one way or another, the chance to know God and simply refuse to. That is rejection and God will choose how much culpability they have in their choices. If one’s parents were atheists and told the person all their life that there was no God then that is one thing but if someone turns away from Christianity to atheism then that is totally different scenario.

Sins aren’t simply actions arbitrarily placed on a “forbidden” list! They are things that objectively do harm to souls. They damage our capacity to give and receive love.

You might just as well ask why God punishes those who step off cliffs without knowing about gravity by hurling them to their deaths against the rocks below?

You are only sinning when you have knowledge, or, let’s say, you have been told, that what you are doing is wrong. That is only evil, not a sin. For example: If someone has an abortion, but doesn’t know that it’s a sin, are they sinning? The answer is: no. They are still commiting an evil act even if they do not know it, though.

Also, atheists and agnostics can go to Heaven! As it states in Lumen Gentium:

“The non-Christian may not be blamed for his ignorance of Christ and his Church; salvation is open to him also, if he seeks God sincerely and if he follows the commands of his conscience, for through this the Holy Ghost acts upon all men; this divine action is not confined within the limited boundaries of the visible Church.”

I hope I answered your question. God bless, and have a good day! :thumbsup:

Some people seem to think that God is just winging it, so to speak, whereas God has had a Plan since before creation.

God becoming One of us and taking all of everyone’s sins upon Himself on the cross is part of His Plan and as it is written, “It is GOD’S WILL that ALL be saved”.

None of us know all of the details but at least some of us have heard it said that when God-Incarnate was asked to teach us how to pray, part of that prayer was “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, we can at least pray for “God’s Will to be done”, don’t you think?

Lots of people speak of God’s Justice, seems as if quite a few less speak of God’s Mercy.

God’s Justice and God’s Mercy are so intertwined as to be one and I, for one, am thankful for that.

Jesus died for us and our sins, Jesus asked us to “Come follow Me”, does this give anyone a clue about what Jesus was speaking of when He said that there was “work to be done”?

God is NOT a loser, satan is a loser, a tie between God and satan, I would consider a loss.

I, personally, am not rooting for a loss, are you?

maybe for a Buddhist it would not be a sin to dont go to mass, but there are many stuff they could be judged with, good or bad, altough i wonder if He could judge them by stuff their religion tells its bad but in ours it isnt.

There are two important distinctions here - whether a person really is rejecting God (as in, has he/she really heard the Gospel, or a caricature of it, or not at all), and why that person is rejecting God.

I mention the latter because things like abuse (be it emotional, physical or sexual), lack of compassion, condemnation (especially when the person is not even sinning) etc. from outwardly devout family, parish members, or even worse, a priest, can rob someone of their faith. Those people make the Gospel into a caricature, and the resulting apostasy often happens unwillingly. In those cases, I think the people guilty of that robbery should worry more about their own salvation, than that of the apostate, who may still have his or her faith buried somewhere.

As for remote cultures where other religions (or in some cases lack of such) are dominant, I think most people aren’t guilty of rejecting the Gospel. Take Japan as an example - even if the Church has existed there for centuries (albeit underground for some of those centuries), the average Japanese person is close to clueless about what Catholicism is. It seems to be very popular in media etc. because of its foreignness, but people are still completely (and in some cases hilariously) clueless about the content of our Faith. But in any case, if that person seeks good, and maybe even some concept of God, I can’t see any reason why that person should not be saved. In many ways, I fear they are less guilty of rejecting God than many Protestants (who reject the Church, even despite knowing better, in some cases), and even some Catholics (who really should know better :slight_smile: ).

As for Augustine’s view on the salvation of remote peoples who have not heard the Gospel (in case someone brings it up, hehe), I think that view is proved incorrect simply by actually interacting with them. His main intention was to counter Pelagianism, and rightly so, but he seems to have thrown the baby out with the bath water, so to say. At the same time, not even Feeney was condemned as a heretic (the excommunication was for other reasons, and was lifted without any renouncement of his theology, if I remember correctly), so there’s a large spectrum of apparently valid (if non-heresy equals validity) conclusions here. I won’t hesitate to say Feeneyism, and even Augustine’s view, is wrong, though.

I completely agree. We all have the natural law written on our hearts. I do not presume to know what a person feels or thinks, but, objectively, if an atheist refuses to acknowledge God because of his hardened heart, then there is no guarantee of Heaven for him.

We are all obligated to seek the truth with an open heart. Even faithful Catholics should continue in this genuine seeking for God’s call.

Sean

Very good reasoning here. I 100% agree that those of us with certain amount of knowledge having an escalating obligation to seek and follow the truth.

As for Augustine’s view on the salvation of remote peoples who have not heard the Gospel (in case someone brings it up, hehe), I think that view is proved incorrect simply by actually interacting with them. His main intention was to counter Pelagianism, and rightly so, but he seems to have thrown the baby out with the bath water, so to say. At the same time, not even Feeney was condemned as a heretic (the excommunication was for other reasons, and was lifted without any renouncement of his theology, if I remember correctly), so there’s a large spectrum of apparently valid (if non-heresy equals validity) conclusions here. I won’t hesitate to say Feeneyism, and even Augustine’s view, is wrong, though.

Agreed for the most part. However, these people have the natural law written on their hearts as well. They still must SEEK God with open hearts. If they don’t, I’m not sure their ignorance saves them (since the ignorance gets more and more willful instead of invincible). But I’m not qualified to decide that.

We must remember that God does not think like we do. We may say something seems unfair, but, in God’s perfect judgment, it may be TOTALLY fair. He gives us countless chances to follow him. Only he knows how many times one may have rejected those chances.

Sean

Infinite punishment in Hell is just because God is a judge who has to punish sin. A judge who lets a criminal go free and without punishment is not a just judge.

For the sake of argument, let’s compare sin with a crime.

Is it just for a judge to punish somebody for a crime they didn’t know was a crime?

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