Posts Tagged ‘Hell’

Hat tip to Gundek.

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No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.

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“Here stranger, this’s none of your mix,” began Tull. “Don’t try any interference. You’ve been asked to drink and eat. That’s more than you’d have got in any other village of the Utah border. Water your horse and be on your way.”

“Easy—easy—I ain’t interferin’ yet,” replied the rider. The tone of his voice had undergone a change. A different man had spoken. Where, in addressing Jane, he had been mild and gentle, now, with his first speech to Tull, he was dry, cool, biting. “I’ve jest stumbled onto a queer deal. Seven Mormons all packin’ guns, an’ a Gentile tied with a rope, an’ a woman who swears by his honesty! Queer, ain’t that?”

“Queer or not, it’s none of your business,” retorted Tull.

“Where I was raised a woman’s word was law. I ain’t quite outgrowed that yet.”

Tull fumed between amaze and anger.

“Meddler, we have a law here something different from woman’s whim—Mormon law!… Take care you don’t transgress it.”

“To hell with your Mormon law!”

-Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage

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So, a rule of thumb might be that if you’re just about to go to heaven and you accidentally read an evil black book that casts you down to hell and there’s this terrible evil tower that reaches maybe almost back up to heaven but not quite, and you get up to the top by mostly pure luck, you probably shouldn’t rely on said evil book to get you the last little bit.

Because it won’t work.  It will trick you and you will turn into a demon or something.  Of course, if you wanted to become a demon, then by all means, go ahead.  That’s really the moral of the story here.  The other moral of the story is that Ronnie James Dio is fucking awesome.

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Like I said in my last post, I’m extremely hesitant to just come out and say that I flat-out don’t believe in God in the typical atheist sense.  This isn’t hedging my bet; I absolutely don’t believe in hell, I’m skeptical about an afterlife anyway (and even if there is one, I doubt very strongly that the particulars can be known), and a quick scan of the state of the world tells me that it doesn’t look like people who believe in God are getting all the breaks.  Part of it is an agnostic approach to epistemology: I don’t see how humans can know anything for sure at all.  All our sensory input is filtered through the double-filter of sensation and perception, and there’s no particular reason to trust that either one of those filters feeds us objective data.  We can’t really be sure that we’re not in The Matrix, so we certainly can’t be sure of something as attenuated from our direct empirical experience as the existence or nonexistence of God.

As far as we know, there is a God who is simply cleverly making the universe look to us like there is no God (I call this “Fossil-Hiding God”).  How would we know?  If an omnipotent or even mostly-potent supernatural being with more or less total control over the universe wanted to cover his tracks completely, I imagine he could do it pretty well.  Either way, like I said in my last post, I’m not actually convinced by the logical arguments of atheists for the nonexistence of God.  Despite all out efforts to reason him out of existence, I think it possible that he nevertheless exists–C. S. Lewis’s fantastic novel, Till We Have Faces, had a proufound the way I thought about the existence of deity and made me extremely reluctant to flat-out deny that the divine exists, even if it is totally unlike the traditional Judeo-Christian conetption of Yahweh.

So in terms of the existence versus nonexistence of God, I’m really more of an agnostic with a theoretically rebuttable presumption God’s nonexistence, at least inasmuch as we’re talking about God as a distinct transcendant supernatural personal entity, with or without a flowing white beard.

That’s not the end of the story, though.  the word “God” can be stretched to fit an amazing diversity of theistic and quasi-theistic concepts, many of which aren’t anything at all like the traditional Judeo-Christian conception of the supreme being, and it turns out that I actually do believe in something that if pressed, I could call God (although I would be reluctant to do so because the label “God” would confuse most people by implying that there’s a beard in there somewhere).  I think it’s worth explaining what I mean by all of this, especially since I’m actually trying to get to a point eventually, but I’m not going to make this post more confusing than it already is.  So hold your horses a bit and wait for the next post.

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Like most people, I think, I don’t like to be pigeonholed.  I don’t like people to assume things about me based on single facts, observations, or labels.

Yeah, I left the Mormon church.  I didn’t “get offended,” I didn’t commit adultery, and I was absolutely committed to the Church in a lifelong sense before I left (i.e. I wasn’t a fair-weather Mormon).  Many of my problems with Mormonism aren’t the same as other peoples’ problems with it.  I’m not a bitter, angry anti-Mormon, though sometimes I am bitter and angryabout some things, sure.  I’m not an ex-Mormon caricature.

No, I don’t believe in God right now.  That doesn’t mean I think Richard Dawkins is a prophet.  It doesn’t mean I’m angry or I hate God or anything.  It also doesn’t mean it’s a done deal.  I don’t really want to stay an atheist.  I never did.  If I can find a way to believe in God and still feel like I’m being intellectually and emotionally honest with myself, I will probably return to theism.  If not, I will probably stick with atheism.  Whatever your official definition of “atheism” is, and whether or not you think I should really be classed as an agnostic, is completely irrelevant to me.  I don’t affirmatively believe in God because I do not recognize any affirmaitve evidence for God (even subjective evidence).  I’m not an atheist caricature, and I’m also not a very good poster child for the journey into atheism, because I don’t necessarily plan on sticking around anyway.

And when I was a Mormon, I wasn’t a stereotypical Mormon.  I believed that homosexual marriage should be legal.  I had my own spin and my own interpretation for many doctrines.  I strongly disliked some of the General Authorities (Gene R. Cook, I’m lookin’ at you).  My gut always leaned in a little more of a pluralist direction than the party line espoused.  I was never interested in the Work and the Glory, and I thought a lot of Mormon art, music, and film was really, really lame.

If I become a Christian, I won’t be a stereotypical Christian.  I won’t be a fundamentalist caricature.  I won’t blithely abandon rational thought.  I won’t start lobbying for the Ten Commandments to be put up in courtrooms.  I’ll never claim that I can logically prove Christianity.  I won’t start reading Left Behind books.  I probably won’t vote Republican.  I certainly will never believe in Hell.

The thing is, I shouldn’t have to feel like I have to qualify myself like that.  I wish I could just say “I don’t believe in God” and then enter into a real dialogue where people actually listen to what I am saying instead of assuming they know where i’m coming from already.  Especially since I’d just as soon believe in God.  I’d prefer to be religious, actually.  But when I tell people I don’t believe in God, they either 1) assume that I’m a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris clone and begin to argue with me or write me off accordingly, 2) try to convince me that I should label myself differently than I do because they don’t agree with my definitions, or 3) congratulate me heartily on growing up and leaving silly religion behind.  None of those approaches comes close ot the mark, and all of them subtly influence how I perceive myself.  So like I said, I’m mildly irked.

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As I’ve said before, I do not deny the existence of God, but there are some things that I do deny. Many of them actually assume that God exists, so what I mean then is that “if there is a God, I deny that he is like x.”


I deny the existence of hell. That an even marginally good god would damn people to eternal punishment and torture for finite sins committed in virtual ignorance is absolutely preposterous. That some people do believe this makes my mind boggle.

I deny the infallibility of the Bible (or any other religious text), of human religious leaders, of religions, and of philosophies. The claim of infallibility is unbelievably arrogant, and reality usually shows the truth.

I deny the existence of Fossil-Hiding God. What I mean by that is that I deny that God would create a world that looked like he didn’t create it as some kind of test of faith. I deny that God would say x, and then purposely hide all evidence of x and in fact plant all kinds of counterevidence against x. “Test us,” my eye.

I deny the existence of any one “chosen people.” I deny an ethnocentric God.

I deny that morality is based on God’s decree. I deny that the only line between moral and immoral is the whim of deity. I deny a moral system that is ultimately based on “because I said so.” That’s elementary school morality. God is certainly better than that, if he indeed exists. And we have the potential to be better than that, and I hardly believe that God simply wants us to behave according to the lowest common denominator. At the very least, it would make God an arbitrary and capricious God, and that takes me to two sub-denials:

I deny arbitrary commandments, i.e., things that are not inherently, intuitively immoral. This is of course a subset of the above denial, because the only thing that makes homosexuality immoral, for example, is “God said so.” Or tea and coffee in Mormonism. Being harmful to people doesn’t naturally equal immoral (otherwise getting in a car would be immoral), and the only thing that would make the Word of Wisdom a moral issue would be the fact that God said do. And I deny that God ever said such a thing.

I deny an arbitrary God. If God exists, he certainly doesn’t predestine some people for heaven and some for hell. That’s cruel capriciousness. Being the supreme being doesn’t mean he can just do whatever he wants, and if it does, then I deny the existence of a God who would just do whatever he wanted even if he could.

That’s all I can think of. There are more nit-picky things I deny, but those are specific religious doctrines that I reject, as opposed to these kinds of overarching universal denials.

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Today I read Ebon Musings’ very excellent All Possible Worlds.  It’s an essay explaining the argument from evil, which is an arguyment I typically pooh-pooh.  Normally, the person proposing the argument is not resting on good logic.  They have religious-like faith in the solidity of their assumptions, and they fail to see how any possible refutation could even come close to undermining their argument.  Trying to explain that the assertion that “a morally perfect god would not allow evil” is too simplistic to be a given is often an exercise in watching water flow off a duck’s back.  Too often, the person making the argument is clearly substituting their own sense of idealized morality and expecting that God would unquestioningly abide by it.  Which is silly.

In contrast, Ebon Musings carefully considers a truckload of strong and weak positions against the argument from evil, and he rejects them carefully.  I don’t necessarily think that in the end the whole thing proves the existence or nonexistence of God, but it is hard to argue with the author’s very reasonable conclusion that the evidence seems to be strongly in atheism’s favor.

Incidentally, this is one of the features that I like best about Ebon Musing’s work.  He (she?  I don’t really know, so look how I make sexist assumptions!) isn’t arrogant, and he doesn’t claim that his reasoning proves more than it actually does.  He fully acknowledges the possibility of being wrong.

Anyway, my brother (Racticas) read the article and said that he felt it neglected some possible explanations.  Chiefly, what if there is indeed an omnipotent and omniscient God, but he is a mean son of a bitch.  What if God is evil and capricious, and the exact opposite of “morally perfect?”  Ebon Musings suggests that such a God should be opposed, not worshipped.  But what if such opposition is completely impotent.  This evil god is omnipotent and -scient, after all, so you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

The conclusion seems to be that in such a case, it would be best to simply grovwl and serve evil god in the hope that he will not kill you horribly and damn you.  Of course, there’s no reason to expect that evil god would deal with you justly; in fact, there’s every reson to expect that evil god will be definitively unjust.  It would be like working for a super-villain.  You never know when he’s going to capriciously kill his own minions.

And how would you know that evil god doesn’t like a good fight, or favor those mortals with the cajones to oppose him?  You don’t; that’s the problem!  You know nothing!  You have no reliable standard on which to base your actions in regard to god, since you have no reason to imagine that im- or amoral god won;t be capricious and arbitrary.

Thus you’re left functionally in the same position as the atheist.  Since there’s no basis on which to decide how to serve or placate god, you may as well simply ignore him.  This might seal your doom, but it might not.  You have no idea, really.

In discussing this with my brother, I said “you know, if there’s no god, or a totally unreliable god, you may as well do whatever suits you best in regards to god.  If you want to be an atheist, whatever.  If you want to worship your stuffed animals or something, whatever.”

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Often when you say you don’t believe in God, but you believe in right and wrong, you get the “well, then how can you possibly have a basis for right and wrong without God?”

Let me translate: “an action’s moral rightness is determined solely by the whim of an authority figure.”  Or, more simply: “what makes something right or wrong is that the guy in charge said to not do it.”

What are you, six years old? Right and wrong determined solely because “I said so,” and because you get punished for doing what’s wrong? Give me a break. Child development time.

Lawrence Kohlberg posited a theory of moral development that I think is spot-on. It involves stages that a child progresses through while they develop morality. There are three stages that each have substages. The three stages are pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional.

The pre-conventional stage is broken up into first Obedience and Punishment Orientation, and then Self-interest Orientation. When babies start out, right and wrong are determined by what you get punished for. Then, right and wrong are determined by what reward you get for doing the right hing or refraining from the wrong thing.

Next come the conventional stages: Interpersonal Accord and Conformity (the good girl/good boy attitude), and then Authority and Social-order Maintaining Orientation (law and order morality).  In other words, as you develop, your sense of right and wring is determined by the way others perceive you: being seen as a “good boy” validates you personally and gives you personal satisfaction, so you act accordingly.  From there, you develop into a stage where morality is based on its functions- an authority figure dictates the rules, and everyone is happy if they obey them, because society works smoother and life is easier when we are obedient and follow the rules.

After that come the post-conventional stages, which are Social Contract Orientation and then finally the apex of Universal Ethical Principles.  At the social contract orientation, your morals are based on societally agreed-upon norms.  it’s like the law and order orientation, except it relies on a general consensus instead of the dictates of an authoirty figure.  You follow the rules we have all more or less agreed on because we have all agreed on the rules, and life/society/everything is better when we play together well, and we can expect and rely on reciprocal adherence to the social contract.

At the top is the idea of universal ethical principles, which mirrors Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  In other words, morality is defined by its universality.  It’s not morality-by-committee and it’s not democratic.  It’s acting morally based on principles that can be applied universally.  If it would be okay for anyone to do it, it would be okay for you to do it.

The other way to formulate it?  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Fear of hell and a wish for heaven are pre-conventional morality and I reject the idea that God, the highest of all beings, if he even exists, functions on the basest level.  “It’s wrong because God said it was wrong” is at best, conventional morality.  It’s mediocrity, nothing more.  If God exists, I likewise reject the idea that he is not the highest, most advanced of all beings.  He invites us up to his level, not the other way around.  In other words, he invites us up the the supernal realm of universal ethical principles.  The funny thing is, once you get to post-conventional morality, morality is no longer dependent on an authority figure, e.g., God.

But ditto for the Golden Rule.  If it’s true, it’s not dependent on the will of deity for force and effect.  It’s simply true because of its universality.

So, does post-conventional morality, not needing God for morality, mean we don’t need God?   I don’t think so.  That presumes that the only function of God is to dictate morality to us, and I think God is a lot bigger than just that one role, if there is a God at all.

A good argument can be made that God and morality are malleable enough so that no matter what our own moral development is, we can still no right and wrong.  In other words, heaven and hell are there for people who need to be scared into doing what’s right,  and lists of commandments are there for people who never quite make it to post-conventional morality.

There’s something to be said for that, since it’s avery inclusive view, and since Kohlberg’s theory assumes that not everyone develops all the way up to the post-conventional stages.  If not everyone can reach post-conventional morality, then it makes sense for God to fashion a system that still compels those people to act morally.

What doesn’t make sense, though, is the idea that God would invent commandments and punishments at those lower levels that actually conflict with post-conventional morality.  No universal ethical principle is violated by homosexuality.  Homosexuality does not implicate the Golden Rule at all.  So if God operates on Universal Principles, it would makes sense for his conventional commandments to be in line with those universal principles, not arbitrary ridiculous stuff.

If some people need commandments in order to act morally, then it would make sense for those commandments to be things like “don’t rape people,” i.e., things that are also universal principles.  Not things like “don’t drink coffee,” that don’t even come into the Golden Rule’s analysis.

And I have spoken my peace on it.

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I woke up in a horrible mood this morning. I’m mad at God. In general, I think that “being mad at God’ is a lame crybaby excuse, unless your life is really, really horrible. And mine isn’t. Honestly, my life is pretty good. I have a place to live, my material eneds are met, I’m in law school , I have a sweet and hot wife and a cute kid. So ostensibly I have no reason to be mad at God.

But I just don’t know what to do about religion. I think agnosticism is a cop-out, but I don’t know if I’m going to be left with any other option. I’d like to have a religion, to have a faith, but it seems like it’s just too hard, and I don’t know why it has to be that way.

I don’t know if it’s possible to really know. But I’ve let go of the religion I grew up with and for now I am not interested in going back at all, so I can’t just fall bak on tradition and custom. I remain unconvinced by Christianity, as much as I’d theoretically be open to being convinced. And I’m too chicken to go anywhere but Christianity for fear that Christianity is actually true and my life will go to crap if I turn my back on Jesus, and then when I die I will go to hell.

So I don’t know what to do. I get excited about a faith or a religious idea one day, and then I wake up the next day and think it’s ridiculous and feel goofy for lending it credence the day before. It’s a crazy rollercoaster of religiousity that gets me nowhere and I don’t know how to get off of it, other than just by throwing my hands up and walking away from the whole thing.

And I don’t want to do that.

Anyway, I’m pissed at life, the universe, and everything, and that includes God, because this stuff is just too hard. I’m not making it hard on purpose; I’m doing this the only way I can.

I got a life that most would love to have,
But sometimes I still wake up fightin’ mad
At where this road I’m heading down might lead;
I guess that’s just the cowboy in me

-Tim McGraw

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