Imagine that you love some child very much. Imagine also, contrary to John Lennon, that there is a Heaven of endless happiness and a Hell of endless misery. You are probably going to be doing everything you can to ensure that the child you love goes to Heaven. Unfortunately for you, you cannot guarantee that your loved one will qualify for Heaven; you can raise them right and teach them all you know, but they still might make poor choices and condemn themselves to Hell. It’s an agonizing fact, but you try to live with it.
Then one day, a talking snake comes up to you and says: “If you act soon, there is a way to ensure that your loved one will never be damned.”
“How?”, you ask. “Children are naturally innocent”, the snake replies. “If they die young, then they die in innocence, and God will not fail to save them. So, the surest way to save someone’s soul is to find them as a child and kill them.”
“What?!”, you shout. “You want me to murder a child? You’re mad! I could never do that!”
“Not even to guarantee them an eternity of perfect happiness?”, asks the snake. “The pain of death only lasts for a moment, after all, but Heaven is forever.”
“But…”, you stammer, “but that’s murder! Killing a child is a terrible sin! I’d go to Hell for sure!”
“Ah, yes, I forgot to mention the price”, says the snake. “You’d be damning yourself, that’s for sure. But you’d also be saving your loved one. A fair trade, yes?”
“No! I’m going to let them live, and teach them right from wrong, and we’ll both do what’s right and we’ll both be saved!”
The snake laughs. “I suppose there’s always that possibility, if you feel like gambling with your loved one’s soul. But isn’t also possible that you’ll be saved and they’ll be damned? Surely you’ve seen good parents whose children went astray?”
“Well, yes, but – “
“And if you asked those parents if they’d be willing to trade places with their damned child, wouldn’t a few of them say yes?”
“Of course, you might both fail and end up in Hell together. That happens, too. But there’s a way out of all this uncertainty. Give up on yourself, kill them now, and they’re saved forever. And that’s not even the best part!”
“What? What is the best part?”
“You can do this for any child you meet! If you have any degree of fondness towards a child, you can guarantee them a place in Heaven just by killing them. You could save hundreds of people that way!”
You say nothing, unsure of how to reply. The snake begins to slither away, but it turns back to say: “You can start at any time. One soul lost for hundreds saved is not a bad trade-off, if you ask me. But maybe it’s none of my business.” And with that, the snake leaves you alone with your thoughts.
Now tell me, dear reader: what will you do? Will you slay your loved one? Will you go on to kill other children, sending them back to God? Will you preserve your own soul, and hope that your friends and loved ones can avoid damning theirs? What do you think God would want you to do?
I can tell you what I would do: I’d reject the snake’s proposal, confident in my belief that there is no Heaven or Hell, and that killing someone is the exact opposite of saving them. Of course, I might reconsider my disbelief in Heaven and Hell if a real live snake started talking to me about them…
EDIT: As you might expect, other people have considered this question before me, and one of them was nice enough to say hello. Check out Justin Paul Walters’s piece, Whether or Not You Believe in the Age of Accountability, You’re Wrong Either Way. There, you will find further food for thought (and an appreciation of DOOM if you read his other posts).