@RealAtheology is a first-rate curator of engaging philosophy of religion content on Twitter. In this article, I’m going to interact with one of those tweets:
..if Heaven is as good as any place can possibly be—and if human beings have severely limited freedom of action in Heaven, then there is at least some reason to think that morally significant freedom of action cannot be an overwhelmingly weighty good.
– Oppy, Nagasawa & Trakakis pic.twitter.com/W6siX9thjZ
— The Real Atheology Podcast (@RealAtheology) November 24, 2021
In this short excerpt, Oppy, Nagasawa, and Trakakis point out that heaven will lack morally significant freedom of action. Some people may find that counterintuitive: surely heaven cannot lack something as good as morally significant freedom? They might reason further, if the two cannot coexist, perhaps that constitutes an objection to the very notion of heaven itself.
I agree with the analysis in the tweet: heaven cannot host that kind of freedom. What is more, I don’t see that as a big loss; nor do I see it as presenting a problem for the concept of heaven itself. In this brief article, I will explain why I am not concerned about the loss of morally significant freedom and you shouldn’t be either.
To illustrate the point, let us consider a comparison between two adult men: Ted and Albert. Ted is sexually attracted to children but Albert is not. Ted has never acted on his sexual attraction to children because he recognizes that it is evil. As a result, the ability to molest children is a live option for Ted and his decision not to act on that desire constitutes a morally significant freedom of action. By contrast, Albert is not sexually attracted to children and thus he could never freely choose to sexually molest children. As a result, while Ted’s abstaining from the sexual abuse of children is the result of a morally significant freedom of action, Albert’s abstention from such heinous action is not: Albert simply could not do such a thing.
If the world were populated by people like Albert and had no people like Ted, it would lack the good of individuals who can exercise morally significant freedom of action by resolving to remain abstinent rather than to sexually abuse children as they desire. While that would be a loss, I suspect there are few people who would believe that loss is not significantly outweighed by the good of people like Albert who lack that degree of morally significant freedom of action.
The abuse of children is but one example of sin and evil. We can readily extend the principle to encompass endless other examples, the kinds of evils that populate our world. For whatever evil you might propose, I would say that while the loss of freedom to commit that kind of evil does indeed constitute a loss of the good of being able to exercise morally significant freedom in a virtuous manner, it is nonetheless arguably outweighed by the good of becoming a person of virtue who could not exercise that kind of freedom. And thus, a world that surrenders morally significant freedom of action to do evil is more than compensated by the fact that it would become a world of people with morally good character who now have innumerable opportunities to realize that good.
You might be wondering: “Okay, but if that end goal is really so great, why didn’t God start with heaven?” The answer that I give in a chapter in my book on heaven (which is only three bucks right now on Amazon!) is that there is intrinsic value in having a moral history in which one’s current character of virtue and goodness was forged through a history of exercising morally significant freedom in the right way. But that’s a conversation for another day.