Hindus reject the idea of hell. Instead, they believe in reincarnation, where people return to this world in another form after their death and are given another opportunity to work off the bad karma they generated in their past life and move toward enlightenment.
"Wouldn't reincarnation be a rational way for a loving God to give people a fresh start so that they might repent the next time around and he wouldn't have to send them to hell?" I asked. "Wouldn't this be preferable to hell?"
"Remember, we don't decide what's true based on what we like or don't like. We have to consider the evidence. I don't know any other way to decide whether something's true except by looking at the evidence," came Moreland's reply.
"Yes," I said, "but isn't there evidence for reincarnation-specifically, individuals who have memories of prior lives or even speak in languages that they wouldn't otherwise know?"
"I think the evidence for reincarnation is weak for several reasons," he said. "For example, it's incoherent. Let me give you an illustration of why. The number two is essentially even. If you were to tell me you're contemplating the number two but it's an odd number, I would tell you, 'You may be thinking about three or five, but you can't be thinking of two, because I'll tell you one thing that's essential to it-it's got to be an even number.'
"Now, it's not essential to me that I'm five-foot-eight. It's not essential to me that I weigh one hundred and sixty-five pounds. But it is essential to me that I'm a human.
"If you were to say, 'J. P. Moreland is in the other room and he has lost five pounds,' most people would say, 'Good for him.' What if you said, 'J. P. Moreland is in the other room and guess what? He's an ice cube.' Most people would say, 'That can't be J. P. Moreland, because if there's one thing I know about him, it's that he's human. He's not an ice cube.'
"Well, reincarnation says that I could come back as a dog, as an amoeba-heck, I don't know why I couldn't come back as an ice cube. If that's true, what's the difference between being J. P. Moreland and anything else? There's nothing essential to me. And just like being even is essential to the number two, so being human is essential to me-and reincarnation says that what is essential to me isn't really essential after all."
"Therefore," I interjected, "it's incoherent."
"Exactly," Moreland said. "Another reason I don't believe in reincarnation is because most of these evidences you've suggested-things like supposed memories of past lives-can be explained better by other means.
"There can be psychological explanations-people seem to remember certain details, but they're vague or lucky guesses, or there could be demonic explanations for some of this activity. Actually, when you carefully examine the research, you find it fails to support reincarnation.15
"Finally, I don't believe in reincarnation because there's an expert on this question, and he's Jesus of Nazareth. He's the only person in history who died, rose from the dead, and spoke authoritatively on the question. And Jesus says reincarnation is false, and that there's one death and after that comes the judgment. His apostles, whom he instructed carefully, reiterated his teachings on this."
Instead, Jesus taught about the reality of hell. In fact, he discussed the subject more than anyone else in the Bible. "It's ironic," I pointed out, "that many atheists embrace Jesus as having been a great teacher, and yet he's the one who had the most to say about hell."
"Yes," said Moreland, "and remember this: the evidence is that Jesus and his followers were virtuous people. If you want to know how to view the poor, you ask someone who's like Mother Teresa. You don't ask Hugh Hefner, because a person like Mother Teresa has got more character than he does. If you want to know whether hell is ultimately fair, you ask Jesus. And here's the thing: he saw no problem with the doctrine.
"I think we're on thin ice when we compare our moral sentiments and moral intuitions with Jesus'. We're saying we have greater insight into what's fair and what isn't than he does. And I think that's not the kind of arena we want to step into."
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