Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On Being a Life-form

Watching David Attenborough shows hour after hour, getting really high. As I watch these wild animals going through their motions, I try to imagine what their inner lives might be like. A lemur eating a big, fat moth might feel an ecstasy like when I take a big bite of chocolate cake. A buck smashing his head against another's in a battle for females might feel the thrill of battle mixed with sexual lust. The band of howler monkeys singing their deafening chorus and performing outrageous threat displays against other bands might feel something like a mix of racial pride in their band and racial hatred toward all others.

(As I watch this particular frenzy, somewhat anthropomorphizing these crazed primates and thinking about how foolish they look, it occurs to me that there is one feeling that none of these animals would ever feel: shame. I wonder what it must be like to live a life driven by one's deepest passions, often most disagreeable passions such as hunger and fear, but never, ever to feel shame.)

The seal trying to escape the shark must feel a little bit of fear, but overall it must feel thrilled and and extremely, intensely focused. It cannot afford to feel panic. Panic causes emotional and creative shutdown. In a panic, one would immediately make mistakes or miss opportunities and be eaten right away. The only way to stay alive would be to really, really enjoy the experience at some level. Perhaps one would feel most alive when looking death right in the mouth like that.

I wonder about the pain a prey animal must feel. Some predators seem not to want the hassle of out-muscling their victims, and go for a quick kill. Many others rely on overpowering or tiring out their prey. When the end comes, it comes very slowly while the killers literally eat their prey alive. I wonder whether those dying animals feel pain. I think about the discomfort I feel when I try to hold my breath for a long time. I think about how long that discomfort would last if I were to deliberately strangle myself. I think about how long the dying wildebeest feels the lions tearing its muscles away from the bone. And I think about how it will feel to be in hell, unable to die.

I realize that it doesn't matter how long the pain lasts, and it doesn't matter whether the wildebeest can take the pain. It doesn't matter whether I can take the pain. The word unbearable is a terrible lie. It implies that suffering has a limit, though it has none. Suffering happens, no matter what. Whether it is more than I can take is fucking irrelevant. It can be more than I can take, it can be far, far more. That's a terrifying realization.

The Parable of The Beggar and The Mansion

Once upon a midnight there was a starving, homeless man, stumbling along a dark alley in a terrible snowstorm. Ahead in the distance he saw a light. He thought that perhaps someone was still awake and could help him, maybe give him something from their garbage. He resolved to use his last strength to try to reach the house.

By the time the beggar reached the sidewalk that ran in front of the house, he realized that it was a mansion, with many of the windows alight and full of joyful revelers. By now he was hardly able to stand, but just then, a very happy, very healthy woman came bursting out of the front door and ran up to greet him as he stood there on the curb. "Listen to my excellent news!" she burbled. The beggar was miserably cold and hungry, and was a little shocked not to get even the slightest bit of recognition of his condition. But he hoped that in exchange for listening, she would grant him a request for some food, perhaps. "Ok, I'm listening," he croaked.

"You are a worthless piece of filth and so is everyone else on the planet. God is perfect, and he made you, but you're imperfect because God couldn't or wouldn't prevent a woman eating an apple several thousand years ago, although preventing it could have solved the whole problem. Instead, God has allowed billions of people, including yourself, to be born, knowing full well in advance that the vast, vast majority of you will be thrown into a lake of fire, where not only will you all burn and feel real agony, you absolutely cannot ever, ever die."

Horribly, she stretched out these last three words with obvious, sinister glee. The beggar was almost convinced that a sort of pornographic leer had crossed the woman's face at that moment. He was absolutely terrified of her. How can she possibly think that this is good news? he thought to himself. He considered trying to run away, but he was so weak from hunger that he could hardly stand. The woman went on while he swayed.

"But you can be saved from this fate. All you have to do is gonelsar fiofuma alkenred rouledwaisnber, and you will be saved. Never mind about those billions of others, your beloved children, parents, friends, strangers the world over; they'll still be in hell, but they chose to ignore the good news, so it was their own stupid fault! Are you ready?" She held out her hand to the man, as though she wanted him to take it.

"Really, could you just give me a bite of food? I'm really hungry."

The woman looked at him in bemusement for a moment, as if trying to guess whether he had just said something vulgar, or not vulgar but perhaps in a foreign language. She finally said, "Ok, if you're ever ready to gonelsar fiofuma alkenred rouledwaisnber, let me know and you can come inside and take a hot bath and put on some clean clothes! See you!"

"Wait, wait!" the beggar cried, but she had already run back inside. A moment later a very happy, very healthy man came out the front door and ran up to greet him. "Listen to my excellent news!" he burbled. The beggar involuntarily made a face of surprise and shock. Here was a second person, oblivious to his suffering, talking about good news. Before he could answer, the man began rattling off the same speech that the woman had pronounced. He repeated this "good news" word-for-word, leer-for-leer, until he got to, "But you can be saved from this fate. All you have to do is uyhogep inkejar vueyypoer jikerp, and you will be saved. Never mind about those billions of others, your beloved children, parents, friends, strangers the world over; they'll still be in hell, but they chose to ignore the good news, so it was their own stupid fault!. Are you ready?" He held out his hand to the beggar, as though he wanted him to take it.

"Look, I'm just cold and hungry. Is there anything you can do to help me? Please, I'm desperate."

The man looked at the beggar in bemusement for a moment, as if trying to guess whether the beggar had just said something vulgar, or not vulgar but perhaps in a foreign language. Finally he said, "Ok, if you're ever ready to uyhogep inkejar vueyypoer jikerp, let me know and you can come inside and eat hot food and drink warm drink until you burst! See you!"

He disappeared into the house just as the woman had. The beggar decided that he would not get any help from this household, so he turned away in despair, resigned to his fate. But then the door of the house opened, and a different woman came out to greet him, and for a reason the man could not explain to himself, he allowed himself to be sincerely hopeful in spite of his first two encounters. This new woman repeated the same horrifying speech that the first two had uttered, but when she got to the part about avoiding the torture and abandoning one's loved ones to their fate, she said, "All you have to do is noeiznen wulpkrukc uegfla gehtik jraghoifab, and you can come sit in front of a blazing fireplace and then sleep on a bed softer than you ever imagined."

At this point, something awakened in the man, a kind of outrage, a kind of indignation, and in spite of his weakness, a fire was kindled. Here he was, freezing and starving to death before the eyes of these young, virile people, and they were here mocking him and taunting him with tales of the wonderful life they were living, just yards away. He summoned up his strength and cursed. "Wait just a damned minute. You three are deliberately tormenting me! You each seem to be giving me a secret password for getting into the house, but your passwords are all different. I don't understand those words or what they mean. Why do I have to say those words? And since you all say different words, how can I trust any of you? Why did you have to come torment me with your weirdness, anyway? I just wanted some help!"

The woman was aghast. "How dare you, you filthy beggar? I came out here offering you something wonderful and you scorned me! Come back when you've learned some manners! And by the way, take a shower, cos you stink!" Then she kicked him, hard, near the bend of his knee, causing the man to fall into the icy water flowing into the storm drain. The starving man's life began to drain away, finally ending his agony. The last thing he ever saw was the trinity of his assailants through the front window of the mansion. They laughed uproariously at the ending of the story of his life being told by people who had no inkling that the end of his life indeed was the story they were telling.

I don't know. Sort of over the top at the end.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What is all this about, really?

I've wondered lately whether it's possible that I no longer really fear hell, but that my mind is clinging to the fear for some unconscious reason. I woke up this morning no longer able to access that feeling of fear. At the same time, I didn't rush to hang myself, which I thought I would do if I could ever possibly get past the fear. Now I'm confused. I know that just a few days ago I had a very real and terrifying vision of dying, thinking that peace is finally here, and then waking up to flames. Now I can't retrieve that vision or the fear that went with it.

I know that I did spend at least ten years utterly terrified of going to hell. I remember working at the barbecue restaurant, putting extra wood into the fire pit, looking at the flames and feeling sick at the thought of being in there but unable to die. But what about now, after all these years of studying evolution, cosmology, biology, even studying Christianity from a skeptical point of view? Do I still really worry about it? What have I been doing these past two months? Looking for permission--from believers--to stop believing? Yes, that, but is that all?

Why did I leave the church in the first place? I was about 25, I think, and I had always been ashamed to be a Christian. I had always felt that God's requirement on me was that I publicly and frequently humiliate myself by doing things like wearing religious T-shirts to work, taking my bible with me to work, making sure that everyone knew that I was a Christian. I was always quite ashamed of it, and the only time my shame was reduced was when I knew that everyone around me was also a Christian.

In 1991 I had a job that I liked, and I liked the people I worked with. They seemed like "cool" people, and I wanted them to accept me. I didn't feel like they accepted me as a Christian. That's really what it all came down to: I left the church because I wanted my co-workers to accept me. Their approval seemed more valuable to me than the approval of my brethren, and even more valuable than the approval of God. Why would I do that, knowing that hell would be my reward? Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that I was never confident that I'd avoid hell. If my memory serves me at all, I was simply hoping that God would save me, but never sure of it. I was a Christian based only on a very shaky hope; I had convinced myself at age 13 that I would go to hell, and I spent my entire career as a Christian trying vainly to convince myself otherwise.

After I left the church, I started dating Diana. I worried a lot about God's opinion on our sex life, given that we weren't married. I remember trying to talk myself out of worrying about it, trying to justify it somehow, telling myself that surely God wouldn't mind me having sex with my girlfriend. But I was never convinced. While we were still dating, out on a camping trip once, some Mormon missionaries approached us, and before they could say much, I said, "There is no god." I didn't believe it. I just wanted to say it. I wonder how much of my railing against God is simply me rebelling against Edd, against the time that he spanked me because I had told my older sister that I didn't care what Edd's rules were.

Since then I've read so many scientific and skeptical books, and they all ring quite true to me, yet somehow the arguments against the existence of God and the veracity of the bible just don't seem to work. I'm sitting here reading "The God Delusion" again, and finding that while the arguments make logical sense, they don't settle anything for me. For some reason, I have a Murphy's Law attitude about it all. I can remember in gym class once, when we were supposed to jump on a trampoline. I opted out of the activity because my mother had always told us kids not to jump on trampolines due to them being very dangerous. I argued with myself briefly, saying that she would never know, but then I had a vision of her showing up at school by coincidence, or just finding out through the grapevine (or directly from me, due to my own guilty conscience) that I had done it. That feeling is very similar to the hellfire vision I had a couple of days ago.

Is it possible that my fear of hell is totally a manifestation of childhood fears concerning getting into trouble? The fear that I'm screwed no matter what, because in the house run by Edd I was always screwed no matter what?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Broken, the series

Another one of those moments where I realize just how broken I am, and have been for so long.

I haven't thought about this in a long time, and I've never really looked at it or articulated it. Lately I've spent a lot of time going back to that fateful day when I was 13, when Edd told me that hell is a place of eternal agony. I've been recounting the experience to myself and thinking about how it, among many other disasters, has affected my thinking, my entire way of being, for 30 years.

When Edd told me about hell, I was absolutely terrified--I had always assumed that I'd go to hell, because heaven is only for good people, and I certainly didn't think of myself as good enough. But my hell was a little kid's hell: you live an orphan's life in a poorly lit underground cavern, you don't get dessert, you have to wear a devil suit, and you have to pray before you go to bed (good kids don't have to pray). That was my childish view of hell, and it didn't seem like such a bad place, so I never thought about it. Until Edd redefined it for me: flames, agony, no dying allowed, for all eternity. That scared the shit out of me.

The first thing I remember doing is running, in terror, to find a bible. I did happen to have one, I think given to me at a church where I had gone to Sunday school with a friend years before. I hoped that I could read something there that would teach me how to stay out of hell. I skipped the Old Testament, because, well, it's old, and therefore probably of no value, right? Sadly, the first book of the New Testament is Matthew, and that book served only to intensify my agony, especially the verses of Matthew 5:20-30:

Verse 20: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Who the hell were the scribes and Pharisees? I had no idea. I ran in desperation to my mother to find out who these people were, and how righteous they were, and how I could be more righteous than they. My mother's response was, "Robbie, I don't know." I interpreted this to mean that the answer is unknowable, because they were ancient people and their ancient wisdom is now lost. My conclusion was that I probably could never know how to be more righteous. Fucked.

Verse 22: ...whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

I called my younger sisters fool all the time. Fucked.

Verse 28: ...whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

I didn't know what adultery was, but I could tell from the context that it was bad. I certainly did know what lust was. By this time I was adolescent, hormonal, and extremely horny, and of course had received no moral guidance whatsoever, except Edd's "guidance" about how to please a woman sexually and how women are useful as sex objects and nothing else. So I'd committed quite a bit of adultery in my heart by this time, whatever it was. I had to look up the word in the dictionary to discover that I'd already committed adultery with my mother and my oldest sister. Jesus never said anything about how you might be excused if you did it at your parents' bidding and were only ten years old. Fucked.

Verses 29-30, the coup de grace: And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

This one was devastating, and it ruined my life for many, many years. I spent a long time trying to imagine some way of chopping off my hands. I knew that it would be unbearably painful, and I knew that I would not be able to live a normal life without hands, but I didn't want to go to hell. I even worked on the logistics of it: I could chop off one hand with an axe, but then how would I chop off the other hand? I decided that I needed to get a long sword or a big meat cleaver and set it up on a stand of some kind, and then slam my wrists down on the blade simultaneously in order to sever both hands at once. But of course, just before that, I had to gouge out both my eyes.

I knew that I would never have the courage to do these things to myself. Fucked.

Also, I had some pretty weird ideas about love by this time. I believed that I was required to love god, and I believed that my unwillingness to mutilate myself in this way was proof that I did not love god properly, a manifestation of deep cowardice, an indicator of what a contemptible, unworthy creature I am. I spent a long time looking around at other people in outrage, wondering how they could get through life knowing that they had to cut off their hands and gouge out their eyes. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to ask anyone about it, except maybe that my mother's answer to my first question filled me with despair over being able to get an answer. Not only that, but I was a very neglected, very alone kid: no one had ever told me about the thousands of years of interpretation and tradition surrounding the bible. At the time I gave the bible the same weight as a technical manual.

I carried this horrid fear with me for many years. Before long I learned that I could make money by working. I decided that I just needed to get a good job so I could make a lot of money and eventually hire a surgeon to perform this terrible operation on me. Years later I heard, through bible study probably (I don't remember exactly), that you're not supposed to take the bible literally. This did not really help me at all, because I never have been able to figure out people's rationale for deciding when the bible is literal and when it's figurative. Everything I've ever heard about making this distinction sounds like self-serving, cowardly, intellectual maneuvering.

Now that I sit here thinking about all these things, it occurs to me that perhaps my persistent fear of going to hell is rooted in these verses about gouging and amputating. Maybe I never could believe any of the other things I read in the bible, and never could believe any of the interpretations I heard from other people. Maybe I just "knew" in my heart that if I didn't love god enough to mutilate myself, he would never have me.

Now I have to wonder: what effect would these thoughts have on a 13-year-old boy who has just discovered the intense pleasures of lust and masturbation? I can see only the most obvious effects so far: what it made me think, how it made me behave relative to "sin": I prayed constantly for strength to resist touching myself. Naturally it hardly ever worked, except for a very difficult period of about three months where I really did abstain. This was a result of thinking that I could sort of bully myself into behaving: I prayed to god, "Help me not to masturbate any more, and if I do, then just throw me into hell." For some reason I believed that god would heed this prayer. When I finally gave up three months later, I knew that my fate was sealed.

What I am only just now beginning to see is that it made me a very strange person in some ways that might seem unrelated. For example, being chronically pissed off at everyone else for showing no sign of the terror that I felt. How could they get through their lives? How could they even get themselves out of bed? What would be the point, if, having hands and eyes, they were going to hell? Being so tormented as a teenager made me a little bit nuts, I think.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Punishment is a malfunction

This is my mantra for the day. I'm acutely aware of the fear of hell at the moment, because of the mini-vision I had a few hours ago. I was just sitting here trying to think of a way to talk to myself about it, and out popped the idea that love and hell can't coexist. I started with a thought about how god can't exist, because a real god who is loving would not put people into hell. That's a good one, but it's a little tired; I've heard it before and it has never managed to move me, perhaps simply because it was given to me by someone else rather than being my own.

I have recently discovered some new clarity on Yahweh's brand of morality. I find that the concepts of sin, evil, punishment, virtue, etc. (the morality accepted not only by Christians but by most people throughout time, from what I can tell) are totally repugnant to me. I realize now that when a parent punishes a child beyond what is helpful to the child, or in a way that harms the child, the parent is failing miserably in his duty. Thus, a punishing god is a malfunctioning god, not worthy of any praise whatsoever. That alone gets me only so far as to say that Yahweh is a terrible deity. But I look at the bible, the only source of "information" we have about Yahweh, and see that he claims to be loving and merciful. That makes him a liar at best, more likely a psychopath.

The good part here is that I see that such a god must be an invention of tormented, malfunctioning humans. No way would a being that far above us have such sick concepts rolling around in its head. Well, I was more confident of this when I first started writing this entry. Damn, it slipped away again.

Three small steps forward, one big step back

Yesterday I realized that the book of Revelation in the bible seems like mostly bullshit to me. This didn't hit me quite as powerfully as the creation myth realization. I think that I still fear that there may be some little truth to Revelation. Not sure yet. That's my third step forward so far.

Unfortunately, I took a big step backward today. I sat and tried to imagine a universe in which the end of my life really means the utter end for me: oblivion, not hell. I visualized dying, the feeling of going to sleep, and then nothing. But then, against my will, the vision continued: I suddenly wake up, and for just a brief moment, it's peaceful, bright, a kind of nondescript whiteness. But then the flames start. That's the most powerful vision of hell I've had in a long time. I worry that either I'll always fear hell, or worse, I'll get over the fear of hell and then find myself there anyway after my death. Curse you, Edd Poindexter.


I have only recently begun to get a really good look at just how broken I am. I think that I still don't see it completely. Perhaps it will take a while, or perhaps I'll never see it fully. Every once in a while, I'll compare myself, my way of thinking, my way of being, to that of others. Instead of the old thought that I'm pretty much like everyone else, or that maybe I'm just a different kind of thinker, it now appears to me that I am so utterly broken that I can't even come close to having anything in common with most other people.

A brief review of Rebecca Goldstein's new book, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, has this to say:

...the cosmic reason for my personal ultimately just a contingency of the universe...most human beings will never accept this, and so they will turn from reason to religion.

This jumped out at me as one of those surprising new indicators of my brokenness. I have never cared much about the cosmic reason for my existence. I can't imagine needing to turn to religion for that. I suppose that many atheists would say the same thing, but I sense that they would have at least sought a reason, and then decided that no reason is necessary. I have never sought a reason for my existence. I'm not sure that I've ever cared why I'm here. The only reason I ever cared about religion was because Edd told me when I was 13 that I'd burn in hell forever. If it hadn't been for that, I would never have cared about Jesus.

I sense that I am far more disconnected from "normal" people than I've ever realized. I have a feeling that this is going to be a long road of unpleasant discovery.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I see you, Friend

To my best friend, C (I'd spell out your name but you'd be embarrassed, I bet): if I survive this, it will be largely due to your efforts on my behalf. You have often worried that you aren't doing enough, that you can't do anything to help me. No one can help, given that I'm not even sure what help means at this stage. I've visited every point on the continuum between wanting help to live, and wanting help to die.

I know that I have been incredibly heavy for you at times, but you are there. I have publicly humiliated myself numerous times in my weird, bipolar-style rages, and almost everyone has abandoned me since that last one, but you are there. I have so often come closer to killing myself than I ever had thought possible--I've even written a handful of goodbyes to important people in my life--but whose potential grief stopped me? Yours, Love. Yes, everyone else's grief was usually there, but even when I could tell all of them to fuck off, I couldn't say it to you.

Maybe it's all rooted in believing that you need me. I don't think anyone else does, not even my daughter. Somehow, being needed by you moves me more than anything else. I can't promise you that I will stay. But if I do, you and your needs should get a huge part of the credit.

I see you, Friend.

Maybe I am an atheist after all

I think I had my first real atheist experience today.

A few weeks ago I tried a direct route to becoming an atheist: I took a good, hard look at the thing in my mind that I call God, and (refusing to talk to it as I always have before) said to myself, "That's not real." That seemed like a good step, but I couldn't sustain it. I got tired of repeating it to myself.

Today I had an experience that sounds more like what I've heard from other atheists, who say that they just sort of noticed one day that they didn't believe any of their religious indoctrination. I realized today that, if nothing else, the creation myth in Genesis really is a myth, and I haven't believed in that myth, or any other kind of special creation, for a long time. This was not always the case. I have trouble remembering what my exact beliefs were in the past, but I remember a couple of points very clearly.

I remember discussing the origin of life with some religious friends at around age 25, and being quite convinced that life could not have arisen spontaneously. I remember being sure that a living thing would have to possess a "will to live," as I so unimaginatively said it back then. I also remember being very sure that the human eye is an excellent example of irreducible complexity. This one stuck with me and disturbed me even after years and years of reading about evolution and trying to be irreligious. I remember the relief I felt, maybe seven years ago, when my daughter's babysitter of all people told me about a science show she had seen in which a plausible story had been told about the evolution of the eye. I now understand that eyes are downright easy: they've independently appeared and evolved at least 40 times. I hear that squids' eyes are way better "designed" than human eyes. Something about the convoluted route that human optic nerve impulses take to the brain.

Now I have no problem believing that we really are descended from primitive life, that life originated spontaneously and hopefully has in many other places besides Earth, and that the universe really did start from nothing. Sure, this last one is hard to grasp intuitively, but I don't need to use God to explain it. I can just leave it unexplained (or perhaps just unintuitive--physicists probably can explain it).

So maybe I am becoming an atheist just by continuing to think. I hope so. It would be nice never to fear hell again.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On Discovering Fangs

You singled me out
You weighed my depth
And saw weakness
Too bad for you

I prepared for serious battle
You are formidable
But pitted against me
A drunken circus bear

In a wink, I slashed you
You hardly knew it had happened
Until you noticed the blood


Now you came again
This time with some respect
But still you had not learned

--I had not learned!--
What I am

Until you came for me
I never knew
Just how dangerous
How ferocious
I truly am

Gleefully I tore your body open
My claws loved ripping you
My teeth loved slicing you

Ignorant fool
What were you thinking
Coming after me

You thought that you had something to prove
You proved me to myself
I am a cruel monster
I delight in crushing you

Watching you drag yourself away
You pretend that you limp not
Pretend you have some dignity left

I laugh inside
I mock you
I am so much more than you
I laugh at your feigned composure

You know that I know
That you're overjoyed
To be free of my terrible jaws

Now I feel sad for you
Now I lose my will to attack
Whence happiness now
When savagery was my only joy

No, wait, there it is
It faded in my spasm of sympathy

I release you
Go, nurse your wounds
Now I am ready for all

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I don't know why I want to publish this

I've been thinking lately that it's really stupid for me to do all this writing. It's all about trying to get approval and sympathy from someone. It's embarrassing. I just re-read an email I sent to a Christian last night, and I was so proud of such excellent writing that I thought, "I should publish that!" But really, who gives a shit. No one cares. No one can care. Everyone has their own shit to deal with. Still, I'm publishing it, just because it sounds cool and matches my mood.

...I will slam shut all of your rhetorical escape routes, and corner you to make you bring out the savage teeth of your truth. I am sick of the dodging and the evasion. I want to know why you think you have something, and if you do have something I want to know what it is, and I'm willing to rip it out of you intellectually if you make me.

I am going to hell. That makes me desperate and amoral. I have no sympathy for you whatsoever. Even if I had some sort of mental power over you and could drive you mad until you tell me, your pain would still be less than mine, because yours would end with your death, and you'd be with god in bliss.

Don't tell me to eat the bones and rinds that have fallen off your rich table up there in your warm mansion in front of the fireplace, while I sit out in the cold shivering. Don't yell out your window at me in the street and tell me to eat cake. I want the real stuff.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Would you still love him if 7-year-olds go to hell?

This one is particularly horrifying. Look at the answers from Christians, especially.

There seems to be no consensus, but I am alarmed and sickened by the number of you who believe that 7-year-old kids can go to hell, to burn in agony, for all eternity, with no hope of dying or escaping. This makes me sick to my stomach.

Obviously, those of you who already think that there will be 7-year-olds in hell, you've figured out a way to love that god anyway. I have to say, you people are monsters.

But those of you who don't see 7-year-olds there: what if it's true? Would you still love God if, on judgment day, you saw him throwing 7-year-olds into the fire? Would you still praise him 24/7 for eternity? I ask because if I'm going to hate you people, I want it to be for a truthful reason; I don't want to invent a reason for hating you. Think I'm ugly for using the word hate? Try really, really imagining a 7-year-old burning in fire, not even able to burn to death, just screaming and flailing and begging for mercy, like I did when I was a little kid being tortured.

Do you have the courage to face what your god will do at the judgment? Those of you who have never seen or experienced genuine suffering, I bet you won't have the nerve. When you get there, and see me being thrown in, I challenge you to remember this post. You don't realize that you're hiding behind the most disgusting version of the Nuremberg Defense that ever existed.

Answer from "Rene O", appallingly chosen by the Answers community as the best answer!

Only those who reject Jesus go to Hell. If a 7 year old rejects Jesus, sure, they, too can go to Hell. God knows our heats and they are evil!

Note that this was so horrifying that I thought that "Rene O" must be joking. I double-checked with her personally. She really believes this. I cannot believe that anyone would follow such a god.

Answer from "Red"

who cares what you think? who are you? god is the judge, a just and loving god who created everyone and he says he'll judge rightfully and fairly. i trust him and his judgment. what you have to say and think aint didlysquat

Answer from "cloudyskys3841"

You are forgetting, God knew us before we were born
He knows who is going to accept him, he is all knowing
You have to be able to accept the fact, that he is in control and knows best

Finally, a sane answer from "<3"

Well, I don't believe in God. But IF I did, and I saw that, I would choose to go to Hell. I wouldn't want to be in Heaven if that kinda stuff happened up in there.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Let's face it: if hell exists, God hates us

Let's say we adopt the most defensible explanation for hell we can think of. (This is one that I've heard from plenty of Christians, so don't think that I'm making it up.) The idea is that the infinity of God's righteousness is of such a nature that such a payment for sin is demanded. In other words, hell is necessitated by rebellion against God's infinite righteousness. So the fact that Lucifer et al rebelled, and the fact that Adam ate the apple, together simply require that hell be in place to receive the unredeemed. So let's assume that hell does exist, and in the only form that I care about: something of "I" will suffer some less-than-entireley-desirable experience throughout all eternity. Some part of my consciousness, or my soul, some part of me that can experience suffering, will suffer, eternally.

Given that simply living forever is arguably a torment in itself, I reject the foul aspirations of Christian soft-pedaling that I've smelled before, along the lines that hell is not actual flames, but instead is the far less hideous-sounding "separation from God", from which exudes the noxious odor not only of denial, but also smugness: the certainty that they will not be there anyway, so they don't really have to think about it. This rich parfum is often topped with more than a hint of "sinners deserve it anyway, so callously rejecting Christ's love."

Let's assume, for the bible tells me so, that Jesus loves us. Most Christians do. But let's back up to Yahweh, the name we use in English to denote the God, the father of Jesus, who somehow is also Jesus. Confusing doctrine aside, we back up to Yahweh, because Yahweh is also Allah, the god of the Muslims. Muslim doctrine also says that there is a hell. Yahweh is also the god of Judaism (although they prefer not to name but to denote him in writing as "G-d"), but Judaism, while just slightly nebulous on the afterlife, is almost clear that there is no hell.

Two of the main religions in the world believe that there is a hell. All three believe that God, whatever we happen to call him, loves us. I can accept both of these propositions simultaneously. There is a very obvious prediction one could make on accepting these propositions as true: that God would have made a way for us to avoid going to hell. It would be impossible to accept the proposition that God loves us while simultaneously accepting that God created us for the sole ultimate purpose of throwing us into hell. I would venture to say that everyone in the world who subscribes to the doctrine of eternal damnation is still in full agreement with me. Surely God has given us a means of avoiding hell.

The point where I differ from everyone who subscribes to eternal damnation is here: in my estimation, the prediction can be made far more specific than simply that God will give us some instructions. Accepting hell and love as coexistent, I predict that God will make devastatingly clear, such that there is no question whatsoever, how to stay out of hell. I claim that if God doesn't make it so clear, then one of the other two propositions must be false.

If hell is a lie, then God is a liar. Christians and Muslims clearly believe that hell is real, so God is not a liar. The only conclusion is that God hates us. That is the only explanation for the convoluted, impenetrable instructions God has left us for avoiding hell. For every person in the world who would claim that he/she knows very precisely how to avoid hell, there is at least one other person in the world who could claim that the first claimant is dead wrong. Even if they piously intoned that they can't judge one another, and no one knows the heart of man but God, still, their beliefs about how to avoid hell are flatly contradictory. At least one of them is going to hell. Guaranteed. Think I'm exaggerating? Ask a Christian and a Muslim how to get into heaven. You will get contradictory answers. Neither one will have the courage to say that the other will go to hell (well, you could get many Muslims to say so, and maybe a few Christians).

So the instructions are obviously flawed. If God loved us, he would have given us instructions that would lead to everyone getting the same answer. It's simply not love to give instructions that can be misinterpreted by a sincere seeker. And there are plenty of sincere Christians and sincere Muslims.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Are gods real?

It's a big question. It needs a big answer.

Thomas Jefferson said that ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them. What he meant was that you can't discuss an idea until you have thoroughly defined it. The problem with the question, "Are gods real?" is that no one has really settled on the definition of "gods". Sometimes people are referring to the fictional characters of ancient Greek myths. Sometimes they mean Yahweh, the god described in the holy writ of the Jews, Christians, Muslims, Rastafarians, and a few others. Sometimes they mean a sort of non-descript benevolence in the universe.

Without first deciding what you're talking about, this kind of question is unanswerable. Unfortunately, the more you try to decide what you mean by "god", the more slippery the concept becomes. For example, say that by "god" you mean the aforementioned Yahweh. What does it mean to ask whether Yahweh is real? Does it mean "Is Yahweh a truly supernatural being who can suspend the laws of nature as we know them?" Or does it mean "Is Yahweh a perfectly natural product of the universe who just happens to have excellent technology, and perhaps a brain structure that makes him naturally far more powerful than we?" These two questions in particular show another problem: there is no way that humans could distinguish between a supernatural being and a very powerful natural being, which again means that the question is ultimately unanswerable. We could meet Yahweh in person, and allowing that he (it? Who says that our intuitive notions of male and female would apply to a supernatural god or an extraterrestrial?) is powerful enough to alter reality (or just alter our minds to perceive reality differently), we could never know whether he is a god or not, and therefore his existence and presence even before our very eyes could not be used as a basis for answering your original question.

Even if we could nail down the question as, "Is Yahweh, as precisely identified in the bible, real?" we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Do we mean, "Is Yahweh real in a scientifically testable way?" Or do we mean, "Is Yahweh real in a way that we could not test but could still affirm to be true?" Most people would mean at least one of these two questions.

Science has historically proceeded by consensus among people all using the same publicly available knowledge and mostly the same set of intellectual tools for determining truth. Most scientists and laypersons who subscribe to the scientific method consider the possible evidence for Yahweh to be sketchy at the very best, and conclude that there is no compelling reason to believe that Yahweh is real in any meaningful sense.

Also, many people who examine Yahweh closely via the bible find him to be quite the immoral character, especially in the old testament (the near-extermination of all life on Earth in the Great Flood, the near-sacrifice and permanent psychological scarring of Abraham's son Isaac, etc.), and conclude that the bible's claims that Yahweh is loving and merciful prove conclusively that Yahweh cannot exist, simply because his description in the bible is grossly self-contradictory.

If we go with the non-scientific form of the question and just ask whether Yahweh could indeed exist in a way that makes no sense to us whatsoever, then we must admit that the answer cannot take a form that would be of any practical use to us in day-to-day life (one may object that there are spiritual and/or moral implications in the answer, but those points are subject to vigorous debate, so they cannot be discussed usefully here). If a person asks you, "Is it safe to sit in that chair?" then a yes or no answer would be very pragmatically useful. The person asking could make practical decisions based on your answer. But if a person asks you, "Is Yahweh real in a way that can't be fully comprehended by human understanding?" the answer is irrelevant to any practical decision that could be made. Note that some might say that the answer could help one to decide whether to pray or not, and that would be practical. But the practicality itself of prayer is open to debate; it is not useful to use prayer as an example of practical behavior.

The only other practical benefit of the answer to this question is whether one's relationship with Yahweh determines one's eternal fate. One's eternal fate is definitely not a question of day-to-day existence, but it of course is a very important question, perhaps the most important that any human will ever ask. Therein lies both the use and the meaning of the question, "Is Yahweh, as described in the bible, real?" The real meaning of the question is, "Might I suffer even after my natural death, and if so, is there a way to avoid the suffering?"

It is obvious that this question cannot be answered scientifically, and therefore must rely on the type of mental representation known as "faith". Here I'll refer to it as faith-knowledge, to distinguish it from other aspects of faith, such as the trust aspect, as in, "I have faith that you will honor your promises to me." Faith-knowledge is a tricky concept. Some religious believers think of faith-knowledge as a body of proposals that is described in their religious doctrine. Others think of faith-knowledge as something infinitely more fluid than any particular religious doctrine. The only reasonable conclusion that one can make about faith-knowledge is that there is simply no way for any human to claim that his own faith-knowledge is more valid, more true than anyone else's faith-knowledge, even when the faith-knowledge of two persons is completely contradictory. Therefore, faith-knowledge must be a wholly individual kind of knowledge based on childhood indoctrination, personal inclinations, or even conscious choice, therefore entirely subjective.

Therefore, the answer to the question, "Are gods real?" depends on whether you mean per human reason or per faith-knowledge.

Per human reason, the answer is that we don't know, and any facts that might suggest an answer are in principle unusable, as we have no way of distinguishing between a supernatural being and a very advanced natural being. In the scientific, humanistic sense, there is no way to arrive at a meaningful answer in the affirmative. Therefore, "no", or at least "probably not", seems to be the safest bet.

Per faith, the answer is that you must decide for yourself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Humans, how do you cope with the loneliness

How do you deal with it when you realize that no one hears you? You can't even find their ears. You shout and shout, and they finally glance up and you try to sign and mouth words, but their gaze doesn't pause; they didn't see you; they were looking past you at something in the distance. What do you tell yourself to explain the darkness, the trampling feet that never slow, never veer from their path over your body, no matter how much you cry out for help, for mercy. Why do you allow your heart to keep beating? Why do you bother to take that next breath?