Overview:

Here’s a clever Christian loophole: if you want a quick trip to heaven but suicide is against the rules, murder someone and ask for forgiveness.

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Consider the remarkable Christina Johansdotter murder case. She was executed in Sweden in 1740 after decapitating a friend’s baby with an ax. She readily admitted her guilt. In fact, her goal had been to be convicted and executed.

Johansdotter had been despondent after the death of her fiancé, and she longed to be reunited with him in heaven. Suicide was the obvious way to shortcut a miserable life in heaven’s waiting room, but the church had declared that anyone who died by suicide had sinned, and their soul went to hell. That was not where she supposed her fiancé to be.

So she went with plan B: murder someone, confess and repent of the crime, and be executed. With absolution, she would go to heaven on her death. And since children were sinless and went to heaven when they died, there wasn’t much to complain about from the standpoint of the murdered infant. Apologist William Lane Craig agrees that children go to heaven.

Johansdotter wasn’t the only one to exploit this suicide-by-state loophole, and enough people used it so that new laws were created to try to shut it down in Sweden after her death.

The other loophole, suicide as a quick route to heaven, had been closed off centuries earlier. One source explained the problem the early Christian church made for itself this way:

The more powerfully the Church instilled in believers the idea that this world was a vale of tears and sin and temptation, where they waited uneasily until death released them into eternal glory, the more irresistible the temptation to suicide became.

Christians from centuries ago bought into the Church’s story wholeheartedly. They proved it by paying with their lives, saying that suicide was worth it since life in heaven was much preferred to life here.

A similar case from modern times: Andrea Yates

In 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub, the oldest being seven years old. After her arrest, she told psychiatrists that she had to “save them from eternal hell” and that “they had to die to be saved.”

Despite the centuries that separated them, Yates used the same salvation logic that Christina Johansdotter used—children who die go to heaven. By contrast, Jesus said that only a minority of people lead a life on earth that gets them to heaven (Matthew 7:13–14). The logic is simple and unavoidable: death as a child guarantees that they’ll get into heaven, but if they take their chances with the lottery of life, they’re unlikely to make it.

Yates had been diagnosed with “severe postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, and schizophrenia,” so mental illness was the reason for this tragedy, but her salvation logic was still correct. Murdering a child did them a favor in the big picture.

Here’s where the stories of Yates and Johansdotter diverge. In Johansdotter’s time, her actions made sense. Her fellow citizens understood her motives, and many probably wished her well on her journey to be united with her fiancé. But Yates was alone. No one agreed with her; no one cheered her on. Observers pointed at her diagnosis of mental illness, not at Jesus’s explanation of how dangerous traversing an adult life could be.

Why the change?

More on that question in the conclusion.

If you can convince people things don’t have to make sense,
you can make them believe virtually anything you want.
– Neil Carter, OnlySky columnist

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...