Not just a Christian belief — I’m sure some other religions share this belief, and it’s just as offensive to me if they do — but I live in a majority-Christian culture, so Christian beliefs are what I’m familiar with.
In his most recent post, Richard wrote:
Christianity, of course, is not the only religion that thinks its truth is the only truth; most religions, in fact, do. So I am not here trying to suggest that Christianity, or at least the kind of Christianity promoted by The Salvation Army, is any worse than any other religion…
I disagree with Richard here — I do think that Christianity is worse than “any” other religion — Judaism, for example.
There are two beliefs held by many Christians that I find objectionable:
1) Non-Christians will burn in Hell, a place of eternal torment.
2) God is just and good.
I don’t find either of these beliefs, on their own, offensive. For instance, if someone believed that a depraved and unjust God had set up a system in which good Heathens burn in Hell, I’d find that a depressing belief, but not an offensive one. But the two beliefs combined indicate that I (atheist Jew that I am), nearly all my friends, and my entire family are going to burn in Hell — and that it’s just and good that we burn in hell.
This is a grossly insulting belief for anyone to hold — indeed, I can’t imagine a more insulting belief than “in a just universe, you burn in Hell forever.”
There is an iconic and painful story told of the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. Eichmann was the highest official in the Nazi hierarchy who was brought to trial after the war. His crimes were historic in their wickedness. The tales of horror that unfolded during the proceedings remain etched in the collective conscience of humanity. After he was condemned to death, a Christian pastor asked the Israeli court for permission to see him and encourage him to repent.
Do you mean, one of the justices asked incredulously, that if Eichmann accepts Jesus he will go to heaven, and yet all his Jewish victims will go to hell?
That, replied the pastor, is the miracle of salvation.
Nor is believing that non-believers go to Hell something all religions share. Jewish belief is that virtually everyone, non-Jews included, goes to Heaven. (Jews are also considerably less focused on the afterlife question than Christians.)
To their credit, large minorities of American Christians “take a non-exclusivist view of salvation,” in that they believe that any good person — even atheists, Hindus and Muslims — can get into Heaven.
Depending on denomination, some Christians implicitly reject their Church’s official beliefs by refusing to accept that a just and good God would set up a system in which good Muslims/Jews/atheists/Hindus to Hell. Those are the Christians I admire! As for the rest… I’ve had Christian friends who believe I’m doomed to burn if I don’t accept Christ as my savior. No one’s perfect, and I don’t demand perfection from my friends.
But it remains an ugly belief, and one I hope all good people, including my friends, will eventually reject.
My suspicion is that everyone gets what they think they have coming. Really strict atheists will dissolve into the ether. Self-flagellating believers will wind up in a hell of their own creation. Mormons get to go off and start new planets, or whatever the heck it is they believe.
Safest bet is to just hold on to a firm but vague belief that one should do one’s best to be a decent person, and things will work out in the end. Too much atheism and you might prove yourself right; too much judgment and you won’t pass your own tests.
I’m not a Christian, but I’ve always found this particular Christian belief to be somewhat logical, and even a little bit beautiful.
Given the construct of Christian morality (in which even thoughts can be sins), it is clear that all people sin. While some people might sin more and some people sin less, all people sin a pretty large amount. Given this, every human being deserves, on their own merits, to go to hell. It is not with a person’s power to be so good, so free of sin, that he deserves, on his own merits, to go to heaven. Thus, going to Heaven requires some particular mercy from God, extended to a person not out of any particular recognition of his or her own merits.
I mean, this can, I guess, lead to a sort of Unitarian-type belief that everyone goes to Heaven. But if you believe that all mankind is sinful, then there is no particular injustice in sending large swathes of it to Hell. That is where it deserves to be. That does not make God evil and unjust. It’s a sign of his mercy that he is willing to let anyone into Heaven at all.
As I said, I’m not a Christian, but I find it a little weird to get offended that someone’s made-up religion is going to send you to a made-up Hell after you die. I suppose it’s somewhat understandeable, though, in that this Christian belief can have consequences in this world, particularly when those Christians are the ones making public policy. However, I’ve interacted with a number of evangelicals who, implicitly or explicitly, thought I was going to hell, and I never found their behavior to be particularly objectionable.
This is a quick response, one I would need to research a little bit more fully, but I think what you say here about Judaism being more inclusive, and everyone going to heaven, etc. is true mostly if you limit the scope to what Judaism has to say about other monotheistic religions. I am not so sure it would hold true if you were to include religions that would be considered idol-worshipping, like Hinduism–and I am sure animism and shamanism would be included in that category as well. The Torah is pretty rough on traditions like those. I haven’t read or heard much about what contemporary halakhic authorities have to say, though.
RH, I specifically said that isn’t what offends me. What offends me is when someone believes that it’s just and good that I be sent to Hell.
There’s a really excellent episode of This American Life that touches on a lot of these issues – it’s one that has stayed with me since I first heard it, and I thought of it immediately when I read your post.
This American Life 304: Heretics
It tells the story of a pentacostal minister who, when looking at the suffering in the world, couldn’t reconcile the idea that good people in foreign places who were dying tragic deaths were automatically consigned to hell simply because they hadn’t been exposed to the concept of Jesus (much less had the opportunity to accept JC as savior).
I’m an atheistic Jew myself, but this might have been one of the most moving episodes of the show I’ve ever listened to. Highly recommended.
RJN, that is indeed a Jewish belief — although as is typical for Judaism, not every authority agrees.
I’d like to see a survey of what actual Jews believe (as opposed to what the various texts say), similar to the Pew survey of Christians I refer to in my post. My bet is that the large majority of American Jews believe that if there is a Heaven, then people of any religion could reach it.
I agree, certainly among the non-orthodox.
I am remembering as I write this a rebbe from when I was in yeshiva who said it was questionable whether a Jew could enter a Catholic church without falling afoul of halakhic proscriptions against idolatry, given all the statues and the fact that Catholics pray to saints. Seemed crazy to me back then. Seems crazy to me now.
I also remember trying once to explain to a Hindu man with whom I was sharing the kitchen when I was an undergraduate how it was that the Jews don’t consider the Torah an idol, when we stand up when it’s taken out of the arc, when we touch it and hold our hands, or prayer books–or whatever we touch it with–to our lips; or sometimes we kiss our fingers and then touch it. It was an odd and difficult conversation.
I think it’s inherently injust to to send any human to infinite punishment for finite failures, especially when those failures are unavoidably part of our nature.
It’s like sentencing someone to excruciating torture for unpaid parking tickets.
Except that no, that’s not bad enough.
It’s like sentencing someone to excruciating torture for the rest of all time for unpaid parking tickets.
But, then, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, so yes, I think that the concept of Hell is indefensible. I mean, sure people can always play around with things like, “Hell is just the absence of God,” as opposed to fiery lakes and demons with barbed whips and the like, but the entire reason that, “Hell is just the absence of God,” has such modern traction is because of how frankly morally repugnant traditional notions of Hell are. Christians started realizing that they were saying, “Our all-loving God will fuck you up forever over some minor shit,” and that if they wanted to maintain credibility, they should probably stop saying things that make them sound like hateful psychopaths.
Which is good! I’m glad they realized that! But that doesn’t change what Hell has always been.
The Catholic tradition I was raised in actually argued that one has to have known and accepted, then rejected, Christ to go to “hell”. Those who never held Christ in their heart, but live a “Christ-like” life (i.e. are good), do not go to hell. The concept of hell is also very different than the traditional hellfire and brimstone: hell is the absence of God, and heaven is being with God. So with that interpretation of heaven and hell, who doesn’t get there makes sense: they have chosen to be in God’s absence either through conscious effort or through action (i.e. sin, like, murder, etc.). This is a very common interpretation in more modern Catholic dioces in my experience.
The C.S. Lewis vision of Christianity has two interesting features: good people of other religions can go to heaven, hell exists eternally but you can choose at pretty much any time to reconcile with God and go to heaven.
Lewis went so far as to say (in “The Great Divorce”) that he could conceive of people who would be relatively happy in hell.
My bet is that the large majority of American Jews believe that if there is a Heaven, then people of any religion could reach it.
My personal experience suggests that the majority of American Jews are atheists. That aside, nearly every Christian believer I’ve talked to about atheism has essentially told me that I’m not the Hell type and that God will laugh at me after death for not believing but that would be the extent of the punishment. They also say, “Of course” when asked if a basically good* person of another religion could get to Heaven. So, regardless of the formal theology of the various Christian sects, I’m not sure that the on the ground belief, so to speak, is in Hell for all but believers.
*No one is entirely good, but most people are basically good. IMHO.
While point #1 (non-adherents go to hell) gets most of the attention, there’s also a very interesting Jewish literature discussing point #2 (whether or not God is just and/or omnibenevolent) — much (but not all) of it stemming from post-Holocaust Jewish theology. I wrote a paper as an undergraduate entitled “Dystheism and Judaism” (that I’ve always wanted to expand into a publishable work) that explored the extent to which Judaism is or isn’t committed to viewing God as just or (at least sometimes) unjust.
Lewis went so far as to say (in “The Great Divorce”) that he could conceive of people who would be relatively happy in hell.
Well, if the fundamentalist view is correct, in Hell you would meet people like Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, and Samuel Clemens. In Heaven you’d meet Jerry Falwell, John Edwards (the author of “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, not the presidential candidate), and Oral Roberts. Gee, which one’s more appealing…
I’ve definitely encountered Christians who believed everyone who didn’t accept Jesus was going to hell, or that everyone who didn’t accept their version of Jesus was going to hell, etc. Some of them seemed fine with it, but when I was a kid, I occasionally encountered other kids who were really tortured by the idea that the people they were meeting, who they liked, who were trying to be just and good, were going to have to endure eternal torment.
I haven’t encountered any adults who were quite as raw about that feeling… but I imagine it would be difficult to sustain walking around with that kind of rawness for your whole life. I’d imagine one either dulls the belief in the hell (as per Lewis) or becomes inured… but then again, maybe it’s just that most adults I know are much more tempered in sharing their convictions than children, and wouldn’t let me know.
A number of my friends went from Christian to atheist as young adults, and for every single one of them, the attempt to justify hell as good was their first breaking point with belief.
This view encompasses the idea that a person’s afterlife is not a reflection of God’s judgment (on “Judgment Day,”) but rather a reflection of each individual’s choices. As Calvin Miller wrote in The Singer,
Perhaps I’m unduly influenced by Huit Clos (No Exit), but I kind of like the idea that Hell is other people. That is, the afterlife is a place in which we all encounter everyone else, know everything about everyone else, and know that everyone knows everything about us, too. We’d all feel shame. We’d all feel pride. We’d all come to understand others – and ourselves – from a perspective we cannot see today. And, with this understanding, we’d likely all come to forgive others, and ourselves. After all, we’d have all the time in the world to work through our feelings. Ultimately we’d achieve nirvana when everyone’s feelings about everyone else were resolved. We’d have closure, empathy, entropy. No need for change, no desire for change, no desire. Fade to black, roll the credits.
Thinking positively, I note with fascination the various sci-fi stories suggesting that today’s web-connected, surveillance-state world is coming ever closer to — well, heaven (and/or hell )-on-Earth!
The problem with that belief is that God made up the whole system in the first place. How is it beautiful that God creates a system in which it is impossible to be virtuous enough to deserve Heaven, and then decides to benevolently bestow Heaven upon the lucky subsection of the unvirtuous human race that happens to be Christian?
This isn’t beautiful to me. Its blackmail. It’s hateful. It brings to my mind the worst kind of harassment, akin to a boss saying he’ll only hire women who have sex with him, because they certainly aren’t worthy of jobs on their own merits.
If God were truly just, he’d rework the system so that the requirements for Heaven weren’t impossible to meet.
I mean, seriously, God is pretty much just saying, “I have impossibly high standards, but if you suck my cock a little bit you can come in, I guess. Maybe.” And Christians are saying that this is just and right! And you are saying it’s beautiful.
Wow, that’s a profoundly cynical view – religious belief as a kind of cosmological hedge fund.
I say this as someone for whom cynicism could well be said to occupy part of the space where my religious belief once lived. (The other bedroom is occupied by a deep-seated idealism. Belief that people generally want to be good is a regular couch-surfer.)
I don’t know that much about Catholic theology (see above re: atheistic jew), but from what I’ve always been able to garner, it’s not necessarily catholics who hold the most restrictive views re: acceptance of Jesus – it’s the more conservative protestant (evangelical, born-again, etc.) sects that seem to have the most restrictive views about who gets to go to heaven.
Sam, these days, that is basically correct. It was not always so, but in living memory the Catholic Church has liberalized a little bit theologically, but quite a lot in the interpretation and expression of the theology. Protestant mainline churches have liberalized a whole bunch, in both theology and interpretation, but have also shed members like crazy. The growth and energy in the Protestant churches has been largely (though not exclusively) among hardliners and serious fundamentalists.
The stakes are very high. Why would I not apply the best rubric I know and min-max the game?
The middle ground is also where you get the comforts of faith without having to alienate all your friends by holding unpleasant fundamentalist opinions.
If it turns out that God hates metagamers I’m in trouble but from what I can see he rewards us richly.
The Catholic doctrine of “invincible ignorance” — you don’t go to hell just because you don’t believe in a God (which includes Christ) whom you’ve never heard about — is very old. (So are the so-called “Baptism of Desire” and “Baptism of Blood”, in which people who are formally non-Christians could attain heaven.) Those aren’t new or liberal doctrines, but ancient ones.
“Invincible ignorance” contrasts with “vincible ignorance”, which means that you could have learned the truth about God, but avoided the truth in a way that makes you culpable for your own ignorance. Ordinary culpable ignorance includes (in the secular realm) things like sleeping with a minor and claiming that you didn’t know that she was under the age of consent; there’s no reason for you to not be able to discover both the age of consent and the age of your sex partner, and there was reason for you to believe that sleeping with someone under the age of consent was illegal, so no judge is going to let you get away with pretending that you couldn’t have found out.
There’s some question as to whether invincible ignorance extends to people who heard lousy explanations about God and rightly rejected what they heard.
Robert – just don’t come crying to us if one of your investments turns out to have been rated by the guys who issued it, and you wind up spending an eternity in a boiling lake of urine, or, er, really annoyed that you spent all those Sundays indoors.
I wonder if the nub of this is proselytising. If everyone else is going to an unspeakably awful place it increases the impetus of the faithful to ‘save’ them.
It turns persuasion into a moral imperative.
I think that is what disturbs me the most about the christian belief in hell. It’s not that I feel threatened by the idea of hell itself. I’ve had a number of Christians tell me that they thought colonialism and the residential schools and eugenics projects were good things based on their belief that Christians of European decent had an obligation to convert as many indigenous people as possible. They basically said ‘sure kidnapping and torturing children and forcibly sterilizing women is unpleasant but over all it was for their own good because they got to hear about Jesus’. If a ‘just’ god can send people to hell for being different then his followers can justify making earth hellish.
Hell, specifically Judas in Hell, was one of the things that turned me away. I used to pray for Judas to be forgiven when I still believed. The idea of an angry God who sanctioned His son to die, but tormented the instrument of His will was too much for me.
Side note: I also hated the prostitution/proselytizing of faith – the idea that you should tell everyone about your relationship with God to me was lewd. They didn’t belong in there; your relationship with God was personal and something akin to what went on behind a closed bedroom door. But, the Pledge of Allegiance used to bother me, too – I hated the “under God” thing as a kid because I just didn’t want to talk about it, let alone swear it every day in public.
From what I can tell, Islam also condemns non-believers to Hell.
I am a Christain, and after reading this I feel as if you have presented us in a very negative light. All religeons could be made to seem monsterious/unfair if written a certain way. The main belief of Christianity is that we all deserve to die and enter eternal punishment. The way to enter heaven is to accept God, and believe Jesus died for you. That is the only way…your actions and practices are not what decide where you go after, it is that belief. One could go to church, read the Bible, and teach Sunday School, but if they don’t truely believe and accept what they are teaching…then they too are not true followers of Christ. Christ died for you, and all in return he asks is that you belive in him..thus believing in him leads to believing in his word thus following his teachings. If one truely repents (and doesn’t intend to go back doing what he just apologized for) he is forgiven. One may say…”That is so awful that a person like that could go to heaven!”
But think about what that means to the other person, knowing that he is forgiven for what he has done. It is diffecult to think about, but that is an example of true mercy and acceptance for all who wish to follow him. There are Christians who haven’t followed this teaching, and exclude those who had sinned in the past. They are wrong, and are not following the very practice they are “preaching”. They will be delt with later on, since they have given the world such a terrible view of the teachings of Christ. I am very sorry for those who have met Christians whose ways are corrupt.
I am a Christain, and after reading this I feel as if you have presented us in a very negative light.
Actually, it’s because so much of the times, Christians themselves have presented Christianity in a negative light. I’m saying this as a Lutheran Christian.
That is the only way…your actions and practices are not what decide where you go after, it is that belief.
That belief is an action/practice, though!
It is diffecult to think about, but that is an example of true mercy and acceptance for all who wish to follow him.
True mercy is unconditional. Why not believe that Jesus’s mercy is for all people, not just those who are lucky enough to live in a region where most people are Christian?
Do you feel that it is just and good that I go to hell because I am an atheist?
If so, then well, you know, your feeling that it’s unfair that other people point out that this is a cruel and obnoxious made up thing that you’ve chosen to believe in… fails to move me.
Do you feel that it is just and good that I go to hell because I am an atheist?
It kind of depends on what you mean by hell, and on why you go there.
Hypothesis A: after death there is heaven (union with God), there is hell (continued spiritual existence, but cut off from the divine), and there is nothingness (oblivion/final destruction of everything Mandolin)
Obviously you don’t want #1.
I should imagine you wouldn’t want #3; having been surprised (“damn, that bus came out of nowhere…hey, how am I still thinking even after being turned into a pancake?”) to find there is existence after death, I wouldn’t think that you’d immediately want to give it up and merge with the black (though maybe I’m wrong); that leaves hell. Which, rather than being a place of direct torment, is a place where you can do what you like, alone – and doesn’t foreclose later shifts in location to either heaven (“I’ve thought it over, and apparently God does exist, so let’s give that a shot”) or the void (“this sucks and nobody returns my calls, so fuck it”).
That seems like the justest and goodest place for you to go, at least at first.
Hypothesis B: Hell is a lake of fire where you’re tormented for all eternity.
Sending you there seems a little bit harsh.
Robert, logically speaking, if there is nothingness and oblivion after death then there is no “hey, how am I still thinking” moment. If we’re basing this discussion on the “you get what you expect” premise, then people who expect oblivion get exactly what they had foreseen.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think Mandolin is totally and irrevocably committed to the idea that there is absolutely nothing which survives the body. She strikes me as more the moderate-atheist type; someone that committed to “there is no God and I WILL PROVE IT” wouldn’t even engage with the question of where other people think the someone will go after death.
Ya think? I do believe in an immortal soul, yet I’m quite willing to engage the question of what people who don’t believe in it mean. Look, here I am, speculating about it. Does that mean that I don’t really believe what I claim?
Given the universe you describe, that’s reasonable and certainly not offensive. In my comment to Robotpanda, I had indeed meant to refer to the hell-as-eternal-torture model, and should have been more specific.
I can’t prove that there is no God, nor can I prove that nothing survives the soul after death. However, I do feel that these claims that would require proof. (Invisible pink unicorn argument: I can’t prove there aren’t invisible pink unicorns, but without proof, I don’t default to an assumption that they therefore exist.)
Unlike PZ Myers, I am willing to cede that there could be proof, although it seems unlikely (but of course it seems unlikely to me; that’s sort of inherent in my position).
One of my husband’s evangelical coworkers (who seems like a nice fellow, under most circumstances) was very worried about Mike being an atheist and going to hell. So he asked Mike what it would take for Mike to believe in God, and they agreed, over conversation, that if the events of the Rapture take place exactly as they’re supposed to in the Christian mythos, then it would be probably be parsimonious to believe in God. Mike’s coworker believes that the Rapture will happen during his lifetime, so he feels better on a day-to-day basis knowing that Mike is pre-coverted, and thus that he doesn’t have to worry about Mike going to hell.
It’s a pretty good deal for everyone, actually. Since from our perspective, we get what we want–Mike’s coworker not to have the anxiety of worrying about someone he knows going to hell, and also preferably we want Mike’s coworker not to proselytize in an ongoing fashion. It seems unlikely to us that there will be a Rapture in our lifetimes; every generation of Christians has believed the Rapture would occur in their lifetimes, and none of them have been right so far. But if Mike’s coworker is correct, then he’ll get what he wants (and we’ll be in a better position than we would be otherwise). And if we’re correct, then we get what we want out of the situation (the coworker’s anxiety to be soothed, and a minimum of proselyzation).
It is not my assumption that I will survive death. If I were to survive death, though, that would certainly be cool (at least as long as I’m not encountering a dystopia afterward). I’d actually quite like to believe in an eternal soul, and I do think it would be comforting. But I don’t see any evidence of it. Mike’s mother says she knows there’s no evidence that the immortal soul exists, and even concedes that she thinks it’s unlikely, but she says she believes anyway because it makes her feel better. I don’t really understand that; I can’t practice the kind of self-deception necessary for me to seriously believe in things that I simultaneously don’t believe in.
But in my utopian world, there would definitely be a life after death. And a possibility for some of the people I’ve known who’ve died so sad to find a way to be happy. It just breaks my heart to think about my grandfather (agnostic) who was always such a bitter, sad man, coming to the end of his life after a horrible six months of illness, and dying with a tear running down his face, unable to speak to his son who had just arrived.
I like to imagine him as extremely stubborn animals. The caterpillar WILL get that leaf. The woodpecker WILL get that tree. Purposeful and determined and single-minded and someday happy, too.
Proof seems unlikely to me as well. Although I do believe in life after death, so if proof comes it won’t surprise me on the facts, just on the process.
I wonder how much agnosticism is fueled by the frauds like John Edwards (not the phony politician, the phony medium). My wife is a big believer in mediums; after literally years of rationalist proselytizing and demonstrations of cold reading, she’s just about willing to concede that this one guy is dishonest, maybe…but all the other ones are legit. It is to sigh.
What I mean by fostering agnosticism is, if you already think X is not a real phenomenon, and then you see a bunch of obvious charlatans exploiting the gullible by concocting faked proofs of X, your disbelief in X has to be hardened. Mine sure would be, even though I know logically that there is no necessary connection; you can concoct false proofs of real phenomena just as easily as fake ones.
I don’t even know him but your one sentence description kind of breaks my heart too. If I were God I would find some way for people in that situation to continue to make progress, so I have to imagine that a much greater and wiser God than me would as well.
Moderate atheist? Is that like a moderate alligator? Either you’re an atheist or you’re not.
Also, anybody claiming, “There is no God and I WILL PROVE IT,” is ignorant of the problems of proving a negative. I believe that position that you’re intending to depict is, “There is no god and no evidence will ever convince me that there is one or more.”
Speaking of hedging your bets, Robert, have you started putting away towards your post-mortem decapitation and head freezing?
And either you’re a virgin or you’re not, but there’s a difference between the guy who had sex once back in high school and nothing in the thirty years since, and the guy who Bill Clinton calls up to get sex tips from. Some atheists are “I don’t believe in God, but who knows” and others are, say, P.Z. Myers.
Yes, I know that it’s difficult to prove a negative, dear boy. That was rhetoric to indicate the strength of the held belief, and to indicate that Mandolin does not present as that type of fire-breathing hardcore-to-the-verge-of-unreason atheist.
As I had written before, I do believe that Christians have presented themselves in a negative light. There are many Christians out there who have no idea what to be a Christian means. for goodness sake look at the ku klux klan!
I had also written that if one believes in God, they will believe in his teaching, and follow his teaching since they thought it was true. What I am trying to say is that going to church, reading your Bible..etc..will not send you to heaven.
Mercy is given to everyone…I do not think God would judge one who has heard of Christianity again and again and yet ignored it the same in comparison to one who has never heard of him.
If you do not believe there is a God, then why are you offended over this since it doesn’t matter to you in the end? I do not think anyone was trying to “move”/convert you..I was was just expressing my own personal opinion in response to this post.
Hell is the absence of God, which in turn is the absence of all that is good. It is being alone forever without relief.
See, here’s where the hand-waving logical fallacy part comes in. Why does every human being deserve eternal suffering? Because we are imperfect, it is just and right that after death, we should spend forever in a lake of fire? You’re going to have to explain that logic to me, because it makes no freaking sense.
I’ve never understood the idea that we rabble would remain undecided on God after the rapture. If all the Christians suddenly disappear, and suddenly some guy is running a one-world government and requiring me to get a “666” tattoo, then yes, I’m going to rather suspect that the millennialists were right, and then I’ll have to decide whether to convert.
Whether to convert, you say? Well, yes — because unfortunately for me, if God made me, He made me with free will, and that will has led me to ask simple questions, like “Why is it fair that gay men and women should be persecuted?” And it’s let me to simple answers, like “It isn’t.”
If the God of Falwell and Robertson and LeHay is truly the God of the Universe…then send me to the Pit forever. I would rather roast in Hell than cheerfully agree that women should be subservient to men; that gays and lesbians should be forced into heterosexuality; that sparing the rod spoils the child; and that those who do not believe these things deserve infinite and eternal torture.
If that’s the reality of the world, then somehow, I’ve managed to become a far more decent, kind, and yes, moral creature than the God of the Bible.
Fortunately, I don’t believe that. Like Myca, I’m a UU, so I don’t really know what I believe, but I can’t believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Whatever force animates the universe, it’s not so simpleminded and shallow and downright evil that it would torture children for eternity for the crime of being born to atheist parents.
However, I do think this belief — that God is the ultimate amoral bastard — is vital in keeping fundamentalist Christians in line. After all, if you believed, truly believed, that to fall outside of God’s grace meant not just sorrow or pain, but unending sorrow and infinite pain forever and ever, then you’d toe the line, too.
Your description of Christianity and the God you believe in presents Christianity in a more negative light than anything else in this thread.
Yes, like Mandolin, I believe that your beliefs are factually wrong, so I don’t fear for my future as a result of your explanations, but I do believe that people believing what you believe has been the justification for uncountable horrors inflicted on the world, and that you are choosing to believe something monstrous on the basis of nothing except that it (or a larger structure of which it is a part) pleases you and feels right to you. If you believed that it would be a beautiful thing if everyone had one of their eyes put out with a red hot poker, even if you didn’t act on it or ever intend to act on it, it would still be a repugnant belief. Believing that it is a beautiful thing that Mandolin and I should suffer the horror of absolute isolation for all eternity is not markedly better in my opinion. I don’t think absolute isolation is a noticeably preferable fate to burning in a lake of boiling sulfur.
UU Christianity has all the beauty of eternal damnation Christianity minus the pathological hatefulness. Even Robert’s (Lewis’s) Christianity with its fluffy bunny Hell that only lasts as long as you choose to reject God has all the beauty of your eternal damnation Christianity, minus most of its pathological hatefulness. If you don’t want to have your Christianity seen in a bad light, you only need to reject the hateful part.
Hell is the Absence of God.
Robopanda said, “Hell is the absence of God, which in turn is the absence of all that is good. It is being alone forever without relief.”
If you believe the teachings of Jesus (which you claim is the one and only thing needed to avoid Hell), then this description of Hell is not accurate. Jesus explicitly says in Matthew 25:41 that Hell is an “everlasting fire.” It seems to me that many Christians recognize–maybe without realizing it–that the threat of Hell is a horribly unfair thing. Thus they try to minimize what Hell is even though Jesus was very clear about it.
My personal feeling is that any eternal punishment is unfair as it is out of proportion to the act being committed. Even worse is eternal punishment not for acts but for inherent condition (which is what you describe). Even if I were a believer, I could in no way consider a god that would create such a system either fair or just.
It is striking to me that the “God” of most religions frequently display the sort of vile, ego driven, psychotic and unbelievably cruel behaviors that invariably occur when any human animal is given nearly unlimited power over others–the story of Job says it all.
The bible states that God created humans in his image, yet it is abundantly clear that the opposite is in fact the case.
I’m seconding Mandolin’s story recommendation. Besides being relevant to the discussion at hand, Hell is the Absence of God is just a really good story; it’s actually the story that got me hooked on PodCastle. :-)
I don’t agree with everything Heinlein says, but he nailed it with this one:
“Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.”
This is, ultimately, why the various Gods are, for want of a better word, evil — because mythology is a human creation. We tell ourselves stories of What God Is, and God inevitably ends up being exactly what a human would be if given unlimited power — vain, churlish, vindictive, petulant, violent, and remorseless.
One of the reasons I tend to reject dogma is that so often it misses what a God who was truly wiser and more compassionate than humans would be. I’m not saying there is no God — I’m not qualified to make such a decision, and I do tend to feel in my bones that there is some purpose to this universe, even if I’m as capable of understanding it as a paramecium is of understanding me — but if a God or Gods or something supernatural exists, I find it impossible to believe that It would be the reflection of an abusive father that the western God seems to be.
Wait, you live in Minnesota and you have a hard time envisioning a cruel God interested in punishing us?