[DISCUSS] The Horrors of Heaven

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As always, I was drawn into some comment threads today. On a particularly non-religious thread – specifically, a thread discussing Uruguay’s legalization of marijuana markets – somehow a man brought up going to heaven, making some obscure and ridiculous connection between the smoking of pot and going to hell. (…Don’t ask, I still don’t know how that happened…) His comment about heaven somehow evolved into whether people in heaven can ‘look down upon us’ here on Earth. Here is his full comment on the subject:

The Bible does not specifically say whether or not people in heaven can look down on us who are still on the earth. It is highly unlikely that they can. Why? First, they would sometimes see things that would cause them grief or pain, namely, acts of sin and evil. Since there is no grief, tears, or unhappiness in heaven (Revelation 21:4), it does not seem that observing earthly events would be possible. Second, people in heaven are so preoccupied with worshipping God and enjoying the glories of heaven that it does not seem they would have significant interest in what is happening here on earth. The very fact that they are free from sin and experiencing God’s presence in heaven surely is more than enough to captivate their attention. While it is possible that God allows people in heaven to look down upon their loved ones, the Bible gives us no reason to believe this actually occurs.

It occurred to me that this specific situation is one of the things which drew me away from the Christian concept of God, and specifically the Christian concept of the afterlife. My concern with this situation stems from my love for my father. As I’ve described before, my father is a very loving man, kind-hearted, self-sacrificing for the sake of others, and overall just someone you want by your side in life. I mean, he stopped once in the middle of downtown Baltimore on our way to an event (already being late as it was, mind you) to help an old man and his granddaughter change a flat tire, for no other reason than to be helpful and generous of his own time for the benefit of those people he found in need. He is one of the most genuine people I know, and he is not religious. I do consider him spiritual in his own way, but he takes no obvious interest in any specific religion, although he most certainly is respectful of religions and those who believe in them. A testament to this fact is that he is married to my Roman Catholic mother.

Being raised as a Catholic, my later years in life brought me to the realization that my mother was far from a role model of the teachings of Christ. Oh, she goes to church every week, and she says her prayers with head bowed low and passion in her voice. I know this brings her comfort in her life, and I have no qualms with that. But outside the church, when her head need not be bowed, her hypocrisy is painful at times. She is certainly her father’s daughter, a father who would curse racial obscenities at those pedestrians in the parking lot of the church on a Sunday morning, trying to beat everyone out to McDonald’s, and with his 7-year-old granddaughter in the car. Now, my mother does not go nearly to such an extreme, but her adamant disapproval of so many people for so many reasons, which devolve into insulting slander and politically-driven rants that can last for hours, it is comparable enough to me. She is by no means a terrible person, but if I had to choose which parent was the better role model, I would hands-down choose my father.

Leo_Biollo_-_From_The_Depths_Of_Hell_To_The_Gates_Of_Heaven_coverThe point of my above tangent is to say that, according to Christian doctrine, despite the goodness of my father and the hypocritical nature of my mother, my mother will be the one going to heaven, and my father will be going to hell. I’m not going to make this a personal gripe about how my daddy is too awesome to be in hell because he’s my daddy and I love him too much and all that jazz. What I am going to make this is an analysis of the personal divisions which the Christian God forces upon His human subjects.

Using my parents as an example, let’s say they both die and are presented before the Christian God. God tells my mother that, due to her unwavering faith, despite her shortcomings as a person, she is welcome into heaven. Looking upon my father, God says that, despite his constant goodness in life, he never accepted Christ as his savior, and so his good works are forfeit and he will be sent to hell.

Now pause for question #1 in this scenario: Will my mother be given the option to deny God for the sake of her love for my father? OR Will my father be given the chance to repent his denial of Christ, spend some time repenting in purgatory or some such place, and be ushered into heaven for the sake of his love for my mother? Addressing the second aspect of this question first, I would assume that the answer would be no, that God would not allow a second chance at repentance by someone who spent his entire life denying Christ as the only option of salvation, especially because that repentance is not based on actual regret of his life, but instead is, again, only for the sake of his love for my mother and his disinterest in be eternally parted from her. Going back to the first aspect of this question, I would also have to deduce that no, my mother would not be given the option to forsake God for the sake of my father, but I do not believe her decision would be completely voluntary. You see, one of the things I was taught about God was His ‘awesomeness,’ to use the word far more literally than as it is used in the common slang. The awe which God’s presence incurs on the common man is not comprehensible, and for someone whose heart is dedicated to God, it is irresistible. In this, my mother, being the dedicated Catholic and Christian she is, would be taken in by the awe of God, the ‘peace’ of heaven in God’s presence, and would forsake all worldly things, to include her love of my father, leaving him to hellfire. So, to conclude this question, no, God’s command on the souls of mankind are absolute and cannot be changed by those individual souls pining for those they loved in life.

[NOTE!: I am not saying the above as a commentary against my mother personally. This is an example of how I perceive the separation of loved ones in the afterlife of Christian mythology, and so should not be taken as a commentary against my mother’s love for my father.]

Question #2 and #3 – In heaven, is my mother conscious of the absence of my father’s soul, as well as conscious of his current state of eternal hell? AND In hell, is my father conscious of the absence of my mother’s soul, as well as conscious of her current state of eternal peace and bliss in heaven? To question #2, I’d refer back to the reasoning why my mother would not be permitted to go to hell with my father in question #1, and also make reference to the comment from the thread which started this whole train of thought. Heaven is meant to be a place lacking in torment, sadness, fear, pain, etc. All negative emotions are eliminated from the picture. Basically, it is a realm where the choice of evil is not available, and only good thoughts and good decisions can be made. This is due to, once again, the overwhelming awe of God’s grace present to all souls in heaven. All things which could invoke negative emotions is avoided and eliminated from the psyche. In this, we must assume that all the loved ones of those in heaven who did not make it to heaven must be eliminated from the psyche as well. For can someone live in eternal bliss and peace knowing the love of their mortal life is forever burning? I can’t comprehend that the souls of heaven can even acknowledge the existence of hell while in the perfect bliss of heaven. To take it a step further and know the people experiencing that hellfire would go against the all-good of heaven and God’s grace.

Now, mind you, it is another question all-together whether God intentionally eliminates the memories of those in heaven or if God’s presence is enough to permanently distract the souls of heaven from their mortal memories and their possible acknowledgment of hell. It could be assumed that the awe of God would be enough, but we being the tricky humans we are, it is possible that God would take an extra step and simply remove the possibility that the souls of heaven could remember such people as their lost loved ones or such places as hell.

dawn_of_eternity_by_natieboyMoving on to question #3, I take an even more terrifying deduction and say yes; my father, as an addition to his eternal torment in hell, being denied the eternal experience of God’s grace, would also live in the eternal torment of being separated forever from his beloved wife. I would even take an assuming step farther and say that he would even know that my mother no longer had a recollection of him, and so would never love him again, even if she saw him face-to-face. If this is not the will of God Himself (and assuming that Satan is the lover of all things torturous and evil which Christianity portrays him to be), certainly Satan would make it a point to contribute this tidbit of knowledge into the torturous eternity of my father’s torment.

So, what does all this have to do with my long-since-past leaving of Christianity? Simply this: if the god of creation puts us in the position to live a life among other men and women, encourages us to fall in love with one particular person, live a dedicated and unquestionably loving life with that person, to the point of having children and growing old together, and then expects us to forsake that love because our mortal life is over, why encourage that love in the first place? To me, to be Christian is to put so much weight on one’s relationship with God, there is no room for any other relationship, despite how much the church encourages just that. And even if one finds true love in life, what of it? That love, despite the passion and here-and-now, is not eternal, no matter how much you assume it to be. Even in the Christian marriage rites, the bride and groom say in their vows, “…’til death do us part.” So this love for our significant other means nothing after death? And the love we have for our fellow man, our friends, our family, is just as forsaken in death, simply because God’s love trumps it out of existence?

This is simply another example, for me, of the lack of ‘unconditional love’ by the Christian God, emphasizing all the more to me how unlikely this image of god is to being the truth about a creator. Of what purpose can this life be if all things not-god must be forsaken and abandoned as if irrelevant to ourselves after death, simply because our creator is greedy for our full attention? To me, this is no life to live if that is the result. I love my fiance more than anything on this Earth, more than my parents, more than my Elkhound, more than candy and hockey and anime and all the other petty and not so petty things I care about in my life. To think that, in death, we would be parted so far, so needlessly wasted our lives on a love that would not be permitted to last forever, breaks my heart to tears. The best consolation I have in the possibility of the Christian God being the truth is that my fiance is as far from Christian as I am at this point. I cannot accept such an image of god, and if that god be the truth, then he can send me to hell right alongside my love, and we will burn eternal, middle fingers held high to the sky.

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19 thoughts on “[DISCUSS] The Horrors of Heaven

  1. To me, to be Christian is to put so much weight on one’s relationship with God, there is no room for any other relationship,

    Yes indeed. It is so hard to be human at times when trying to serve God. When I found out one of my relatives was gay, I had a very hard time seeing him as God wanted me to. I didn’t care, I wanted to just move on, but felt compelled to warn him of his fate.

    • Alice,

      If you don’t mind, a few questions
      1) Have you ever wondered why god would either a) create someone gay or b) allow someone to choose to be gay and then be upset with what he either created or allowed to be chosen? Does that not strike you as an incredibly ridiculous proposition?
      2) Has it ever occured to you that your gay relative doesn’t believe what you believe and doesn’t care to listen to you “warn him of his fate”? I am assuming that you’re a Christian (but correct me if I’m wrong) and that you’d likely not heed any “warnings about your fate” from a devout Muslim would you?

        • Alice,

          Well then forget all of the questions I asked as those questions only apply to a theist. Congratulations on being a new de-convert and welcome aboard!
          I am genuinely interested to know and I’d like to ask a few questions.
          1) How long did the de-converting process take? Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back or did your faith just gradually slip away over time?
          2) Have you suffered any fallout from this de-conversion? Loss of friends or family or anything like that?
          Now answer as many as you like (or none at all). I’m not trying to pry but rather would just like to know for my own curiosity. I’ve been asked by a few people on this blog about starting my own blog and I think one of the themes I’d focus on would be to point out the ridiculousness of religion and get people to discard the superstitious and supernatural and to think for themselves. To that end, I was wondering what causes people to lose their faith in the first place.
          Actually, I would consider this an open question to anyone who’s read this and would like to reply.

          • For question 1- I would say about 3 years when I “really” started to question things. It was very gradual and I think started long before I realized what was happening.

            2- I’ve lost some bloggy friends, and possibly a former church mate or two- most family don’t know and I am quite frankly dreading that.

            I did a whole series on my spiritual journey on my blog over the last couple of months in order to deal with the things I was going through, so I think blogging can be a great way to “get it out there”.

          • Alice,

            Well good luck with your family. I hope all turns out well. I’ve never had that conversation with anyone in my family but I don’t really intend to. Religion plays a very small role in my parents lives and they would never ever dream of using a religious motive to justify anything so in that regard, there’s really nothing to talk about. I sometimes get into arguments with my brother, who, oddly enough is not religious and describes himself as agnostic but has almost adopted the apologists approach to arguing about religion and religious topics. Things like “you can’t paint everyone with the same brush”, “religion inspires people to do good things too, therefore it’s not all bad”, etc.
            Anywho, It’s very nice to meet you and hope to see more of you on here.

        • lol Well, welcome to the fold of ex-Christians then. XD I have to ask, your original comment about finding out your relative was gay: I am to assume that this situation happened while you were still Christian. What are your views on that same situation now? How would you have addressed getting that kind of news now as opposed to your want to ‘warn’ him before?

          • It did happen while I was still a Christian-probably during the pinnacle of my fundamentalism. Today, I am totally okay with it. I have tried to tell all those involved that my feelings (not my feelings, but my world view) has changed dramatically since then.

    • Alice,

      I am sorry to hear about your situation. I didn’t have to deal with quite that much conservatism in my family, but it was hard to tell my grandmother who is a Mennonite. I don’t have much advice for you, but I can tell you that you should be proud of yourself to have the strength to take your own spiritual journey and have the courage of your own convictions. I am glad you are blogging because that is an excellent way to explore your thoughts and feelings towards life’s bigger questions. The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep learning and try your best to be happy. To me that’s the easiest way to remain brave should you have to confront your family about the path you have chosen in life. Because when the world finally makes sense to you, and you are happier and a better person because of it, there is no greater feeling of confidence in the world. 🙂

  2. Thoughtful and well written post Rana! I agree with your assessment about heaven. There are a ton of things that seem contradictory, your analsyis being some of the many. My mother, who is Christian (and a wonderful one at that), wasn’t very good at explaining the divine though. She said that just because you go to church, or even pray, or even say you took Jesus as your savior doesn’t get you into heaven. You truly have to follow Christ and it’s not that you won’t sin, but you have to be truly repentant of those sins and actually not keep committing them over and over again. I know many Christians like your mom and according to my mom, your mom wouldn’t go to heaven. It’s all silly of course. But what that told me is that 90% of the world population is probably going to hell. Because it’s not enough to be Christian you actually have to be a good Christian. Even if somehow we could decide what that actually meant. Most people wouldn’t qualify. At least according to any one of the many denominations. And yes I pulled that 90% out of my ass a bit, but with all the people who are not Christian at all, and then all the people who really aren’t good examples of Christians, the number has got to be small. So then I always wondered “Why would God create man, let the flourish into the billions just so 90% of them could burn forever, given that a good portion of them grow up in some other religion that is taught by their parents and in which they wholly believe in? It doesn’t make any sense. I wouldn’t be having kids if I knew that there was a 90% chance it was going to suffer painfully every day of its life. It would be irresponsible. To me it’s irresponsible to design a being that has a 90% chance of burning in hell.

    The other thing that never made sense to me was the time factor. Having 75-80 years to decide where to spend eternity seems like a raw deal. I mean in comparison with infinite time, 75-80 years is nothing in order to try and figure out what the truth is about the universe. Then on top of that God throws in there evidence that makes it appear that creatures evolve, throws in radioactive elements which can tell us the age of things, throws in physical laws that are reliable and testable that allows us to see out into this infinite universe, analyze the microscopic, and make advances to create the computer chip which teaches us through simplicity, complexity can arise. Then we have problems of language. The bible was written in a langauge that no longer exists, it’s been translated many times in its history and translating between languages is extremely challenging to maintain the exact same meaning. It seems wholly inefficient to have your message only in one language and then expect the exact meaning to translate through the ages, when even words themselves take on different meanings with time. Then on top of that we have all the knowledge that history provides. Being able to compare religions, learning about religions of the past that have passed into myth, seeing the similarities in stories from one religion to the next. If all that is the work of the devil than he seems to be far cleverer than God. It seems terribly uncool to throw all that in your face, give you about 75 years and say, you must believe in this 2000 year old book written in a dead language, you can’t see or hear me, and you have to ignore all evidence that is contrary to me and simply have faith. If we treated our actually children like that, we’d probably be considered unfit!

    • Swarn,

      You’ve done an excellent job of sketching out my objections to the doctrine of Christianity. It’s contradictory, it’s thoroughly incoherent and it’s exactly what you’d expect of a book that was written over the course of many centuries by fearful ignoramuses who were making up *&^% as they go. The only honest, lucid option is to discard it as the nonsense that it so clearly is.

      • I’m afraid you are not going to like me too much since I at least lean a little towards your brother’s mode of thinking. lol Don’t get me wrong I share your level of frustration, but there are two things that I have learned. That A) belief is part of how are brain evolved. It is tied to how we learn and so we simply can’t expect people to simply stop believing because it is in their or societies best interest. It’s best to try to understand why we believe and what critical thinking skills we can teach to help people not rely so much on belief as a way of knowing things about the world. B) Is that the art of convincing somebody to your point of view is no easy task. It certainly doesn’t work by belittling people for having a certain worldview even if it is completely incorrect. I blogged about this a couple months ago based on an article I read. http://cloakunfurled.com/2013/09/01/game-set-and-match/

        Since you say you’ve read Dawkins I am sure you know about memes (not the way it’s defined on facebook which is not how Dawkins coined the term). Religion is an extremely powerful meme at uniting people. Especially in a time when you could disseminate information easily. Thus having a belief system so that everybody sort of thinks the same way has some advantages, but of course also has some disadvantages. The birth of Sikhism, Christianity and then later the Reformation are good examples of how religion was used by a group of oppressed people to rise up against their oppressors and move towards a better way of life. I am sure many religions have similar beginnings. In the hands of powerful people, religion can also be an instrument of mass oppression and of course history is much more full of those stories. But what is clear is that religion represents a set of cultural values that can be passed on across generations and help preserve that selfish-gene. Ever try to organize secular people? We are trying to start a Secular Students Society on campus and getting a bunch of agnostics, atheists, humanists together is like herding cats. Nothing organizes and gathers better than religion. Which certainly can be frightening but there are times when it is positive as well.

        I think another problem is the sort of biblical literalism strain that is going through North America right now. It’s important to remember that the initial writers and creators of the bible wanted an inspirational story…not a story that was meant to be taken literally. This was the prevalent attitude towards religion at the time the bible was assembled, but at times it was taken very literally to usually harsh consequences.

        So what I say is love the believer and hate the belief. Beliefs should be challenged like any other idea. I don’t think we should back down, especially when those beliefs are used to cast fear or discriminate against a group of people. But I think we have the best chance of letting reason win out over beliefs when we try to understand people and reach out to them in a positive way instead of being demeaning to their world view. The ridiculousness and hypocrisy of many belief systems however fires me up at times too. Sometimes you do just have to shake your head. 🙂

        • Swarn,

          After having read through your last post, I’d like to critique it a bit and point out things that I both agree and disagree with
          Yes it’s true that we are so-to-speak “hard-wired” for belief. In my opinion this comes from our fearful nature – especially our fear of death. We’re scared of that so we make up nonsense that makes us feel better and comforts us. We’re also a conceited species so we like to think we’re special and the universe is all about us. Religion has something to offer on both of those fronts and that’s why it appeals to so many people.
          “Religion is an extremely powerful meme at uniting people.” – here I must disagree. Yes, religion can be used as a tool to unite people but I think that is far outweighed by its power to divide. From pitting Christian against Christian (Catholic vs Protestant), Muslim vs Muslim (Sunni vs Shia), Muslim against Jew, Muslim against Christian, Christian against Jew, etc. It’s done far more harm than good. I will grant you yes that it unites people – say to try and prevent gay people from getting married, opposing stem cell research and so much more that I can’t possibly name everything, Religion has retarded the growth of human civilization for centuries.
          As for love the believer and hate the belief – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to follow you there. Religious moderation and toleration are the reason why religious extremism flourishes. What do I mean by that? I mean that the pope shouldn’t be saying that he takes the side of those who don’t want to be offended when a senile theocrat issues a death sentence against Salman Rushdie for writing a novel. Maybe demeaning someone else’s world view is not necessarily the way to go, but I do know one thing that absolutely will not work, and that is respecting crackpot beliefs so that we make sure we don’t “offend” anyone.

          • Life is a matter of scales. If I say religion is good for uniting a group of people you can always find a second group, zoom out thus pointing out conflict. I mean even if it was realistic for everyone on the planet to share the same belief system we could say hey it united us all and we agree on everything…and then we could meet our first alien species and all of a sudden we have reason to disagree with another group. For better or for worse religion has unifying effect. It just tends to not be so good for those who don’t want to be part of the group. Evolution didn’t plan for us to be 7 billion people, nor did it plan for us to be for 700,000. We are a social creature and we survive in groups. How big those groups are is only really important from the perspective of having enough DNA variations so we don’t all start marrying our first cousins. And it is quite natural that as groups spread out around the world different environmental pressure will lead to different decisions about the best way to live life. A belief system that works for that group is not really helpful for some other group and may even become a source of conflict. That doesn’t change that the belief system worked well for the group that came up with it. Most people I know who seek a religion to belong to, do so for a sense of community. It can be a really blessing when it’s on your side and supports you. It can be a real bitch when it’s not. Groups have advantages to those who agree with the group, and disadvantages when you don’t. But groups are natural to our species so the idea that cultural belief systems could develop as a way of keeping a group united isn’t so farfetched.

            If you haven’t already I encourage you to read more about evolutionary psychology. I’m sure you’ve gotten a bit from Dawkins, but Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works was an amazing book to read as well as Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain. Your view on why we believe isn’t really supported by the scientific literature. Both Pinker and Shermer present evidence from numerous experiments that show belief is part of learning. In humans belief would have actually been a favored evolutionary trait. Since most of our history as a species was in the wild, the wild is a dangerous place. If you hear a rustle in the bushes it could be a lot of things. Low probability probably that it is a lion that wants to eat you. Maybe it’s only a 5% chance. But the one who decides to run anyway survives, where is the one who shrugs it off and says, most likely it’s not a lion, will eventually get eaten. So you are better off believing it is a lion even when it’s not, then playing the odds. Humans behave this way all the time and it can be extremely helpful when someone is feeding you true information, detrimental when someone is not. Especially when you are a kid and your belief system is at full capacity. You’ll believe anything an adult tells you. Jews are bad, Santa Claus is real, etc. The child however is actually learning, even if he/she is learning bad information. To separate belief from learning is not possible, particularly at young ages. Religion is clearly a more organized form of belief. Institutionalized and thus more dangerous I agree. But it’s clear that much of a religious doctrine is an attempted model at how the universe works and how to live our lives. When you look at a book like Leviticus under that lens you can see that the whole chapter is mostly about avoiding illness. There are all sorts of rules in there, the one about laying with another man is but one of many rules (and that one is most likely actually referring to teenage male prostitutes that were in the region, not a consensual relationship). There is a whole chapter devoted to how to avoid skin diseases and what to do if you’ve got one. Stay away from a woman during her period. Probably because coming in contact with another person’s blood was generally a bad idea. There is a chapter on what foods to eat and what to avoid. Probably based on food borne illnesses associated with them. It makes sense to avoid pork in a desert. Pork spoils easily, but more than that pigs take a lot of water to keep since pigs actually don’t sweat and need to wallow in mud to keep cool. So wasting a precious resource like water on pigs probably wasn’t smart. In India they don’t eat cows. Most likely because it was the main source of calcium in the area and so in a place that has always had one of the highest population densities it doesn’t make sense to kill all your cows. Clearly because God will be unhappy with you is not the reason why you shouldn’t do these things, but they didn’t have microscopes to analyze bacteria, so they just coded rules into their belief system.

            I am not for religious moderation or even tolerant when it comes to using belief systems to dictate law and policy. I fully agree that when you are accepting of a belief system that is immutable and unchangeable, even if that person or that group is peaceful and productive there is always a spectrum that broadens from there with a small percentage to become extreme and that is unacceptable to me. But when you say “but I do know one thing that absolutely will not work, and that is respecting crackpot beliefs so that we make sure we don’t “offend” anyone”, can you tell me what makes you different from let’s say the Westboro Baptist Church in regards to how you approach convincing people that your point of view has more value or merit? Sure you are right and they are wrong no question. The problem is they believe that they are right just as strongly as you. I have gone toe to toe (not with Westboro) with an evangelical gay basher who came to our campus and he said the EXACT same thing you have just said. They don’t have to respect anyone’s beliefs because they are right and they speak the truth and can’t be blamed if the truth is offensive to anyone. Look at the great people who have affected real positive change in the world, they were firm in their convictions but they didn’t intentionally belittle or offend anyone. My argument to this evangelist was, how do you know that your approach is the best way to convince people to your point of view. He had never converted anyone who was gay to his side, only got more homophobes to join his cause, so this “love” he claims he has to save gays from their eternal damnation is not being shown in the most productive way. He had no answer other than he was doing what he believed God was commanding him to do.

            My mother is a devout Christian and a good person. She thinks she is a good person because God works through her. I know this not to be the case, but what should I do tear her beliefs away simply because she is wrong about the divine? But I will argue with her about issues in which science has something to say. I’ve had good debates with her about abortion, about adultery, about evolution, and homosexuality. And over the years she has moderated her views and been less vocal about things she thought she firmly believed. I grew up watching my dad who is an atheist berate her for her beliefs and demean her and all it did was make her retreat into the bible even more so that she could find comfort. People tend to hang on to their beliefs even harder when attacked. Psychologically the most effective way to reach someone is to try and understand them. Allow for a chance for the person to see what you have in common first and then why they view things through the wrong lens that makes the hate gay people, or black people or whatever they seem to hate. I have just as much passion for the importance of science and secular thought as you. Don’t mistake my peaceful demeanor for one who will not fight for reason and rational thought to rule the day over superstition and fear. I simply try to take the more compassionate path towards the goal. Most people don’t even know why they believe in something anymore, they just do because their parents taught them. How can I not have sympathy for someone who was only doing what they were told was right and wrong and weren’t given a good education or an opportunity to value critical thinking? Listen, I understand your anger, there is much to get angry about when it comes to religion, but there are better ways of spending your energy than into anger.

          • Swarn,

            Some of the books that you’ve recommended are actually on my list of books to read – particularly the Michael Shermer one. As far as the scientific evidence about what we believe and why, yes – guilty as charged – I don’t have much of a background there. However there is no doubt in my mind that there are 3 big reasons why religion flourishes. It’s based mainly on fear, wish-thinking and ignorance. The more people learn about the natural world and how things actually work scientifically, the less likely someone is to be religious. This is reinforced by the fact that 93% of the scientists at the National Academy of Science are non-theist (atheist or agnostic). I have also done some research and have found may articles that conclude that the more intelligent one is, the less likely they are to believe in god.
            Now I struggle with my dilemma (if you can call it that) often times too. Sure, I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about talking to RT the way I do. He’s what’s wrong with this world and unfortunately there are a LOT of people who think and talk like him. Unintelligent, willful ignoramuses that are causing real harm and really setting back the growth of human civilization. On the other hand, there are religious people with full hearts and the best of intentions who use their faith to do good in the world. In that regard however, I would tend to suspect the motives – are they doing what they’re doing for its own sake, or are they doing in the hope of a divine reward or for fear of avoiding a hellish punishment? Why do they need faith to be doing what any secular humanist could be doing? I’ve listened to many Christopher Hitchens debates. I was listening to a particular one that he had with Eddie Glaude jr on radio show – probably 5 or 6 years ago now. Eddie’s arguments didn’t seem to hold any weight with me at all. Eddie’s arguments were essentially that its possible to have different interpretations of texts (say the bible in his case) and bring a critique to bear on other’s interpretations. He actually stated that there are Christian grounds for arguing against the opposition to homosexual relationships (being in favour of them). I’ve read the bible and I’d love to know where he found that! Christopher kept referring to them as “white noise” or “babble” and I found that I couldn’t help but agree. “You can make up anything you like and call it Christianity as far as I can tell”. And I guess that would be my whole point about all of this. As long as people use religion or belief to justify anything or as a motive for anything, there’ll never be a right or wrong answer to anything because they’ll have their personal interpretation of a holy text that comes from a source that is above reproach.
            Now as far as your going toe to toe with an evangelical gay basher that said EXACTLY the same thing that did, here I must completely disagree. I disagree because he didn’t say exactly the same thing that did. Yes we can take the same stance in that we don’t have to be respectful of anyone else’s beliefs, but where we diverge (and this is a HUGE difference between that person and myself) is that I don’t claim to be in possession of a “truth” that is backed up by a supernatural belief. I don’t claim that if my “truth” offends anyone, well that’s just too bad because I have a holy trump card that is the absolute knock-down argument winning clincher. The only REAL way to settle a dispute about gay rights, is to use the secular humanist approach and discard appeals to supernatural solutions good or bad. I’ll never be convinced that anyone’s claim that their god is tolerant of gays is any more or less valid than someone else’s claim that their god is intolerant of gays. Take god out of the equation and let’s figure this out on our own. If doing it that way “offends” someone or makes it otherwise impossible to debate and come to a decision because they just can’t leave god out of the equation, then that person has just declared him or herself incompetent to take part in the debate and the decision making process.

  3. Rana

    You have a very well thought out argument. I have never considered the Christian’s concept of heaven, nor have I heard anyone speak of this heaven, to be anything but a place of joy and rest and comfort, as described in their scriptures. So I must thank you for bringing this alternative view to my awareness. Since this view is previously unknown to me, I hope you will not be offended if I ask you a few questions regarding your argument for I would like to know how you addressed these concerns/observations in reaching your conclusion that the Christian’s concept of heaven, as described in their scriptures, would be a horrible place to spend eternity:

    1. “And even if one finds true love in life, what of it? That love, despite the passion and here-and-now, is not eternal, no matter how much you assume it to be. Even in the Christian marriage rites, the bride and groom say in their vows, “…’til death do us part.” So this love for our significant other means nothing after death?

    Do you not suppose that in the marriage vow, what is being referred to is the marriage institution itself (the agreement between the man and the woman to have sexual relations with no one else and to support each other’s needs), and not the love that both individuals have for each other? I think you take a wrong turn when you deduce that the death of the body brings an end to the feelings of affection and goodwill that exist within the heart/soul…the very essence of a person that is supposed to continue its existence after the death of the body. Are you certain you have not confused physical love (sexual passions) with the higher form of love – when one harbors nothing in his heart but good will towards another?

    2. “And the love we have for our fellow man, our friends, our family, is just as forsaken in death, simply because God’s love trumps it out of existence?”

    Are you certain this is not purely speculative on your part, as I don’t see any basis for it in the Christian’s scriptures? To say that one can only possess love for the god and none other seems to me to be a contradiction. The Christian scriptures teach that their god is himself the essence of what love is, that his followers are to emulate love, and that love possesses the following characteristics: is patient, is kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, and never fails. Therefore, if the soul that is rewarded with eternal life in this god’s abode (heaven), can have no love for anyone else…doesn’t that necessarily infer that none of the inhabitants of heaven could exhibit love towards each other? And if no one can exhibit love towards each other in heaven, wouldn’t that mean that each soul would have to possess the qualities which are the reverse (absence) of love? (i.e. impatience, unkindness, envy, pride, boasting, delighting in evil and failure)

    3. “Moving on to question #3, I take an even more terrifying deduction and say yes; my father, as an addition to his eternal torment in hell, being denied the eternal experience of God’s grace, would also live in the eternal torment of being separated forever from his beloved wife. ”

    Though you didn’t state why it is that your father is an atheist, the fact that he, as you said, knowingly married a theist implies that he has no problem with being separated from his wife in an afterlife. They are opposites, and so it would be illogical for him to assume that they will remain together, in the event that his beliefs are wrong and your mother’s beliefs are correct. If your father’s beliefs are correct, however, they will both cease to exist upon death and so neither will remember the other anyway, and all you concerns of love persisting after death are meaningless. Therefore, the only option they seem to have if they truly love each other and wish to remain together in the event an afterlife exists, is to both be of one mind in their beliefs. That would seem to me to be the only way to ensure they both end up in the same place. The fact that they reamain divided in their beliefs implies that they each love something else, more than they love each other…and they are apparently BOTH fine with that. Do you not agree? In fact, I would be very curious to know what their response to you would be if you sat them down together and discussed with them your terrifying deduction. But perhaps I am wrong and one or both of your parents has not considered what will happen to their relationship when they die. In that event, perhaps your bringing that concern to their attention will be enough to persuade one of them to change their beliefs in order to be in the same place as their beloved.

    4. “The best consolation I have in the possibility of the Christian God being the truth is that my fiance is as far from Christian as I am at this point.”

    If you believe at all that there is a possibility of the Christian’s god being the truth, then I find this statement to be a disturbing contradiction. I cannot fathom how one person can claim to love another so deeply and passionately as you claim to love your fiance, and in the same breath claim they will take comfort that their beloved might possibly suffer the same immensely unbearable and tormented death as themselves! How does this demonstrate love, rather than selfishness? This brings to mind the parable Jesus spoke regarding the rich man and Lazarus…perhaps you have forgotten it. If I remember correctly, it goes something like this:
    Having lived a wicked life, the rich man was sent to hell where he was tormented. Suffering immensely with no hope of relief, the rich man cried out to Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his loved ones who were still alive, and convince them of the torment that awaits them in the afterlife if they don’t change their wicked ways.
    In this parable, the rich man clearly demonstrates a love for his family and friends by hoping to prevent them from suffering alongside himself. Because his desire is for their well-being, he clearly takes a greater comfort in the knowledge that they would be anywhere but the same place as himself.
    So I ask you, if you should die before your beloved, and find yourself in the same place Jesus describes as a place of grievous torment and suffering, how is that your spirit will truly take comfort in knowing he may soon be writhing in unbearable anguish and pain and suffering as much, if not moreso, than yourself? For someone who truly loves another, I do not think it can be done.

    5. “I cannot accept such an image of god, and if that god be the truth, then he can send me to hell right alongside my love, and we will burn eternal, middle fingers held high to the sky.”

    If the Christian’s god is the ruler of both heaven and earth, and has an established government, as all rulers do, why do you reject the idea that the laws which he has established should be enforced? Doesn’t every government which man is the head of do the same? And if the laws are not enforced, how can they, by definition, be laws anymore? Laws which carry no penalties for transgressing them are not laws, but mere recommendations.

    From my previous conversations with you, I have learned something about the god that you have deduced within your own mind. Correct me if I’ve misunderstood, but you indicated that you worship an unjust god who is not a ruler, for he has no laws by which to govern men. Because he has established no laws by which man must live, every man is left alone to do what is ‘right’ in his own mind without fear of punishment for doing evil, or hope of reward for doing good. Thus, in the afterlife to come, both those who have indulged in wickedness and those who have shunned evil and practiced righteousness, will live together with your god and enjoy all the peace and serenity and joy that your god’s afterlife has to offer. No justice will be served; no consequences apportioned. All the innocent victims who were ever harmed will dwell right alongside their unrepentent perpetrator; the child molester, the rapist, the mass murderer, the kidnapper, the thief…Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff, Jack the Ripper, Caligula, John Wayne Gracy, etc., etc.. Since we will all live happily together, we must deduce that your god will either have to restrain the wicked man’s desire to continue his evil deeds, which he loves to do and indeed derives his very joy from harming others, or he must take away his freewill and turn him into a robot. We might also deduce that your god must erase the victim’s memories of being harmed, so that thoughts of vengeance and/or fear do not arise when the victim is reunited with his assailant and they can embrace each other as brothers and sisters.

    The reason why I have brought your god into the discussion, is because of the statement which you made about not being able to accept the Christian’s concept/image of a just and righteous god who has established himself as a divine ruler; meaning there is none more powerful or knowledgable or wise or just as he. Unless you are an anarchist, I would assume that for the nation in which you currently live, you would prefer law and order and justice over lawlessness and chaos and injustice. And governments, whether established by man or established by a god, function on the same principles, do they not?…laws are established which provide order and peace, and a justice system is created to punish those who trangress the laws and thereby harm others. How then can you say that you cannot accept the image of the Christian’s god? You accept the image of government when presented by men, but reject the same image of government when presented by a god. I do not understand. But perhaps you are an anarchist, I do not know. However, you have led me to believe that you hate the idea of a god who has etablished law and order and justice and prefer to love a god of anarchy and chaos and injustice. Is this what you are saying, or have I missed something?

    • Hi Geddy!

      Let me start by saying I’m not offended in the least if you choose to question anything I post here. As in my last comment to you, I simply don’t expect to only be questioned without gaining some kind of knowledge from you, as I provide knowledge to you. Now that I recognize that it is not expected in your eyes for you to share your own views as a contribution to the discussion, I will say the same that I hope you do not find it offensive if I ask about your own views on the subject as part of the overall discussion. That being said, here are my answers to you.

      I would first, before delving into the answers, say that I was not in the least expecting you to say you have not considered the Christian form of heaven. Can I take that to mean you are not Christian? Or do you simply have a different approach to the Christian god than the existing sects take?

      1) I do not merely speak about those who marry as those who love each other. There are certainly people in the world who are not ‘married’ or not religiously married under a banner of a god, who are life-long partners in love and dedication to one another. You said, “I think you take a wrong turn when you deduce that the death of the body brings an end to the feelings of affection and goodwill that exist within the heart/soul…the very essence of a person that is supposed to continue its existence after the death of the body.” I did not intend to make it sound like I was making this deduction. I am suggesting that, under my understanding of the Christian god and the Christian view of heaven and hell (many such views of which are not supported by the scriptures themselves, but are assumed doctrines based on writings and stories which come after the establishment of the Bible itself), that there is no room for individuals to have love for each other, as they are so enamoured by ‘God’s’ presence and greatness, that love for one another is simply not of an individual’s concern. The love for ‘God’ and ‘His’ glory is overpowering to the human soul, and so it takes up all their mind and heart. Now for a believer, this is something expected, and something cherished, to dismiss one’s human needs of faulty love and want for the greater love of ‘God,’ but for me, this suggests that the love we have on Earth is moot and, on an eternal plain, useless. Even the marriage vows directly saym “…’til death do us part,” suggesting to me that the bonds of marriage (not sexual, but emotional and loving bonds) are restricted to this lifetime, and need not apply once we are dead. My question would then be, why does individual love for another matter to ‘God’ in this life if it is to be dismissed in death?

      2) As in my last answer, I don’t base this image of heaven on scripture so much as the doctrine under which I was taught as a child and the doctrine which I have come to understand through some other Christian sects, such as Baptist and Lutheran. In this, absolutely, it is speculation on my part as to the nature of this heaven, and it partially a combination of all the different suggested conditions I’ve come to understand from other believers. The conclusion I come to, this separation of loved ones and the possible ways this separation comes about, are all speculative. But technically the entire concept of heaven and hell is also speculation in my opinion, as no one has come back from one or the other to directly explain the conditions of these places. Revelations is the closest we come to this (or what little Christ references) in scripture, and I’ve always considered Revelations in particular to be a book to take with a grain of salt, even as a believer in my younger years. To your question about souls in heaven not being able to express love to each other, I would consider that, under my understanding that the soul is overwhelmed by the presence of ‘God’s’ grace, that it would be possible the souls would have no direct recognition whatsoever toward the other souls around them. That in worshiping ‘God’ with all one’s mind, heart, and soul (or what of those things one would have in heaven), that there would be no room to recognize anything else. This would again suggest that all recognition of evil would be eliminated by default, and would extend even to one’s neighbor in heaven itself. All souls would ‘choose’ to be in awe of ‘God’ because they lived their lives under the belief in ‘God,’ and so, to each soul, they would be choosing ‘God’ without realizing they have no recognition of any other choice. Again, a speculation based on my observations of doctrine.

      3) I’ll note first that my father is by no means atheist. He certainly has a spiritual mindset, and at most I would call him agnostic, if not some kind of very private and non-practicing form of Christian. I can’t speak to what my father believes in regard to an afterlife, nor his concerns about my mother and himself both getting to the ‘good afterlife’ so to speak. I do know, if I sat them both down to discuss, that my father would likely discuss with me his views, while my mother would spend 5 minutes ranting on both my father’s and my soul’s doom in hell for not converting to Catholicism, and then just walking away from the conversation in tears. (Consider this an assumption based on previous events, in which my discussion with her about my not going to mass anymore had the exact same result). I believe, knowing my father, that he would be willing to forsake his beliefs for my mother’s sake, while my mother would never do such a thing.

      4) I was actually going to edit this section at one point, but you commented before I got the chance. You are absolutely right, it is a very selfish thought on my part to suggest that my fiance and I would both go to hell, and I would be happy with this situation. I would certainly find a comfort in his being there, but at the same time, I am sure that the idea that he was suffering would trump such a feeling. If he had the option to go to heaven, I would beg him to take it. I would want the best for him. In knowing that he would not know me anymore, and would not comprehend my suffering in hell, I would again feel some kind of comfort in that, while being tortured in the thought that we would never be together again. I would want the best for him, regardless of my own fate. Just as I would take a bullet for him in this life, I would give him up to his happiness in heaven for his sake, regardless of the pain it would cause me.

      *Since this comment is getting a bit long, I’ll address #5 in a new comment. 🙂

    • (cont.)

      5) I’ll start this response by saying that I do not ‘worship’ the image of god which I have previously described on this blog. It is, just as you have said, a speculation based on my observations of themes which resonate throughout all different religions, ideas of a higher power which is beyond human comprehension in our current lives, and when that god be put in the concept of an actual entity (as opposed to an energy like the Tao or chi), it is considered omnipotent, all-powerful, and all-loving. That does not mean I hold this image of god to be anything more than a possibility, one which I consider a personal concept, and not a provable concept worth considering as a truth. I have a personal hope that this image may be close to the truth, but that does not mean I treat it as such.

      To go through your points as best I can, I’ll start with this: “If the Christian’s god is the ruler of both heaven and earth, and has an established government, as all rulers do, why do you reject the idea that the laws which he has established should be enforced?” This is to suggest that god (not the Christian god, but god in a general sense) considers itself a ruler over man, and has established such rules which it suggests we follow. To me, this is a reflection of humanity upon god. Humans feel the need to rule humans. It is inherent in our social structure to have a government organize rules for us to live by. Religions do the same thing. They become tools of control and power, of justice and punishment. I make the suggestion in my image of god that such things are only earthly, that we punish ourselves for transgressions we define. We experience suffering and punishment in this life, there is no question of that. The question becomes, suggesting that there is a god, if our punishment and suffering in life is enough, or if this god wants to punish us and make us suffer more under its own stipulations, despite whether we lived knowing about those stipulations or not. I have heard the argument from Thunder that one’s ignorance of the laws of god do not make one excused from the punishment of breaking those laws, just as is the case with the laws of man. Well, the problem here is that the laws of man are directly and openly available to all people not only to the people of that region (city, state, country, etc.), but are not presented in a way that could bring into question the authority behind those laws. The law of man is presented by the lawmaker, in clear language, for all people to see. The laws attributed to god are written down by man, and man is the one who claims these rules to come from god. God does not have an official sign of approval for its laws to man, again assuming that this is the Christian god we are talking about. People can say, “It’s in the scripture, and scripture is written by men under the influence of God, therefore it’s God’s law.” Well, any man can say such a thing. What proof is there besides that man’s word that he is influenced by the true god? And if so many have said such a thing before, but presented different rules, or different exceptions to those rules, then who is to be trusted? (Apologies, this is a bit of a tangent from the main point, I got into a stream of thought there. 🙂 )

      Regarding my image of god, keep in mind that the premise of this image is not based on a ‘ruler’ model, but a ‘parent’ model. A parent, when their child gets to be a blooming adult (college years, the dreaded 20’s timeframe), is not a ruler anymore, but a bystander and optional guide. The parent has already presented rules for the child to live by which are in line with the human rules of society, and it is left up to the child whether to follow those rules or not. The parent does not present those rules just for their own rewards and punishments, but presents them for the sake of their child’s contentedness in life. The child goes out, learns life lessons on what happens when they follow or disobey the rules, experience rewards and punishments, goodness and suffering. When the child returns to the parent – either with experience and now a balanced understanding, or with experience, but without learning from it, and not realizing that they are making themselves miserable by insisting on going against the rules of the world – a truly loving parent still loves the child, no matter which state the child returns in.

      To go on a bit of tangent on one of your other points, “All the innocent victims who were ever harmed will dwell right alongside their unrepentant perpetrator…” Well, who is to say there is will such instances even in the Christian heaven? If a man rapes a woman at some point in his young life, then fully repents later on in life, and both the woman and the rapist get to heaven, that woman must still experience that man’s presence. How does his repentance to ‘God’ and even to her allow for her to get over this? Does she forget it happened? Does she sincerely forgive him, despite his complete intent at the time of raping her, and despite all the trauma she experienced during her life as a result of his raping her? Even in the Christian heaven, these situations of the sinner and the victim will exist. The only answer to avoiding issues in this, as I see according, again, to the speculation of my understanding of the Christian heaven, is that they both are so in awe of ‘God’s’ grace that they cannot consciously acknowledge their pasts and the evils they once experienced. Just as you suggest that my image of god would require an absence of free will (which in a way is true, as free will is the option of choice between good and evil, and in the realm of a god of pure love, peace, and balance, neither good nor evil would influence such a being or a place, allowing choice to be unnecessary, but only knowledge and unconditional love to reign), so too, in my speculation, would the Christian god be forced to remove free will in order for all people to be at peace with all others in heaven.

      To your last paragraph about accepting the Christian god, I believe that law, order, justice, are all purposeful in a realm which is bound by the conflict of good and evil. With our perception of good and evil, and our existence within this conflict, rules, laws, and restrictions are required to keep order at some basic level. My personal image of what god may be if it is beyond good and evil suggests that order is inherent, because balance is inherent. Rules and regulations attempt to balance the world. In a world inherently balanced, rules and regulations are not necessary.

      And it is not that I hate the concept of a god with rules and regulations, a god bound to the conflict of good and evil just as we humans are. What I never understood was this god’s insistence to exist on his terms, to live our lives according to his rules, and yet never making his rules universally knowable and acceptable to man. The excuse is always that ‘God’ does not exist or influence us on our terms, but ‘His’ terms, yet even those terms are obscure and vary to extremes from sect to sect, let alone all of the other religions of the world which don’t claim that particular god’s existence. I have not been presented with an understandable explanation as to the ‘justice’ of the Christian ‘God’s’ way of addressing us as flawed beings. Additionally, I have no personal evidence to justify to myself that any specific concept of god (to include the Christian ‘God’ and my own image of what god may be) is worth dismissing all other versions of god as possibilities. The fact that I don’t understand how the Christian ‘God’ is ‘just’ and ‘loving’ doesn’t mean that I hate the concept.

*Insert your thought here*

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