17. Another argument in favor of eternal punishment is the following:
“The fear of eternal punishment is a curb; if that fear were done away with, human beings would give free course to all their evil tendencies.”
Refutation — This reasoning would be justified if the non-eternal sins implied the elimination of any penal sanction. If the happy or unhappy situation in a future life were a rigorous consequence of Divine Justice, and the future situation of a good individual and a perverse one were equal, there would be no justice even though it was not eternal; the punishment would, nonetheless, be a torment. Moreover, the prospect of future punishment and this reality will necessarily be believed in, and consequently dreaded, in proportion to the reasonableness of the aspect under which it is presented. The threat of a penalty, in the reality of which human beings do not believe, has no restraining effect on their action; and the threat of eternal punishment is of this nature.
The doctrine of eternal punishment, as previously remarked, was natural and useful in the past; at the present day, it is not only inefficacious to restrain humanity from wrongdoing, but it causes them to disbelieve. Before holding up that doctrine before the eyes of men and women as a necessity, its advocates should demonstrate its reality, and they should also, as the most conclusive argument in its favor, show that it exercises a moralizing effect on those who hold it and who endeavor to uphold it. If it is powerless to restrain from wrongdoing those who say that they believe in it, what action can it exert over those who do not believe in it?