Hell As The Absence of God

Robin: I know you don’t want to hear it, but Jesus loves you, Jaime.

Jaime: Yes, yes, a man who either never existed or who is long dead and rotted by now loves me—and will torture me in hell forever if I don’t worship him, of course.

Robin: He just wants you to love him but He won’t force you to do so.

Jaime: No, he’ll threaten me with hell if I don’t love him. That’s not coercive at all. Seriously, even if he was up there in some heaven, I could never love—let alone worship—someone who offered me the choice between loving him and being burned alive for eternity. I can think of fewer things more antithetical to true love. True love must be freely given, with no abusive threats of punishment if you don’t love as demanded.

Robin: Jesus agrees! That’s why He won’t force you to be in heaven with Him if you don’t want to be there!

Jaime: The other option is hell! That’s like some sick abusive husband telling his wife that she has two options—either she stays in the physically and emotionally damaging relationship or he “divorces” her—and keeps her chained up in the basement being subjected to non-lethal torture the rest of her life. And, as a bonus, he has the power and the unchanging will to make her live and continue suffering in that dungeon forever. By your definition, a woman who refused to be in this relationship would be “choosing” this torture. But this is ridiculous. For “choosing” your god to actually be “freely done”, under these circumstances, it is clear there has to be another option—we have to be able to be without your god and not suffering at all for it.

Robin: But you don’t get it, being without God is itself the punishment. To fix your analogy, it’s not like the husband tortures the wife physically if she leaves but rather it is that he’s not an abusive husband at all but a great one with whom alone she can be happy. And the wife suffers just by leaving him and living without him because she misses out on the one man who can make her life complete and fulfilling.

Jaime: I’m sure that’s what every bullying husband tells his battered wife—he knows she really needs him and is too stupid to understand that herself.

Robin: This isn’t about a bully, it’s about a perfectly good God.

Jaime: One who right there in the Bible is constantly having people killed for “disobeying” him? He drowns them in the story of Noah, he repeatedly subjects the Israelites to foreign invasions and captivities for choosing other gods, he orders genocides and the slaughter of all the first born of Egypt, and on and on. And then in the New Testament the threats of hell are not threats that people will just be without your god and feel unfulfilled—that’s only hinted at in 2 Thessalonians 1:9— the rest are threats of “eternal destruction” (also in 2 Thessalonians 1:9) in a pool of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43, Revelation 20:13f) or a fiery furnace where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Matthew 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41) because of unending pain. And there is no hope of ever being set free (Luke 16:19-31) having “learned one’s lesson” about how much one should really love your god. All of this sounds like real physical pain imposed by physical measures and not some “natural and inevitable emotional consequences of living without your god which are inherently painful to endure”. It sounds quite like your god does not think he will just be naturally missed if he leaves us alone, so he has to make people hurt in ways they do care about.

Robin: No, all that vivid imagery about fire is all just metaphorical, it all just represents being separated from God in a tangible way people can understand.

Jaime: Really? How do you know that?

Robin: Because when we’re dead we’re just spirits, we don’t have bodies you could torture.

Jaime: There are plenty of indications that your own Bible and influential Christian theologians teach that the dead are resurrected—and not that they simply become disembodied spirits. You do claim Jesus’s body came back to life, right?

Robin: Well, I just don’t think it’s consistent with God’s perfect goodness that he could physically torture people excessively and mercilessly like that. Even if they are physically resurrected, I think it’s just that they live without God and that itself causes inherent emotional pain. That’s people’s own doing. It’s like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had the choice to love God but when the serpent told them that they could be like God instead, they wanted that. They didn’t want Him, they wanted to be Him. So God let them have their desire—He kicked them out to rule their own lives and suffer the consequences of trying to live by their own foolish thinking rather than rely on His wise and perfect guidance. So, if we die still choosing to go our own way, God leaves us to our own way forever and that is our eternal misery if we have chosen not to love Him.

Jaime: But my life as an atheist not even believing in your god is not miserable. Why would it be any more miserable were I sent somewhere after life where I wasn’t around your god either? Why would this suddenly start eating me up inside then, when it certainly does not now?

Robin: Well, maybe you only think you’re not miserable now but deep down you really are.

Jaime: I would think it would be impossible to be miserable and not realize it! How could I be confused that I was happy when “in reality” I was secretly miserable? If I feel like I’m experiencing pleasure—or even just indifference, or even feeling, you know, just “blasé”—then how could that be misery unbeknownst to me. What do you even mean by misery if it’s something someone could not know they were experiencing. If hell is an eternity of thinking I’m as pleased as I am here on earth but “secretly” and “unbeknownst to me” being miserable then I’ll start packing for my eternal “suffering” in hell.

Robin: Sin has its own inherent consequences, even if you don’t realize it. Sin separates you from God because sin is the bad and God is the good. So when you sin it naturally takes you away from the good (G0d) and towards the bad. You will inevitably be empty and frustrated without the good, without God.

Jaime: Did you hear anything I just said—I don’t feel empty and I don’t feel frustrated.

Robin: That’s because you don’t know how full you could feel if you had God in your life or how much easier your life could be if you followed God’s ways rather than your own.

Jaime: I don’t know, I feel pretty damned fulfilled. And I feel like there is plenty of good in my life without your god. In fact, I would say I know there is plenty of good in my life without your god. Saying your god is identical with goodness and that all badness is identical with being separated from your god is meaningless. Sex is good—is your god sex? Food is good, is your god food? Power, respect, fame,  accomplishments, friendship, romantic love, and all the people themselves whom I love—they’re all good; are they your god too? What about all the virtues I have that lead to good things in my life without any need for your god’s intervention and which are themselves delightful to have? Is my generosity your god? Is my sense of humor your god? Are my powers to investigate truths your god? All these things are good and I can have them without your god because they are totally distinct and independent from your god.

Robin: Well, God is gracious, he gives so many of His good things even to ingrates who spit in his face and reject Him.

Jaime: So now I’m an ingrate?

Robin: I was speaking generally.

Jaime: No, you were speaking specifically. Now you’re speaking passive aggressively. Are you calling me an ingrate?

Robin: God has given you these gifts and you refuse to thank Him, but instead say horrible things about Him—that He’s a torturer or that He’s like an abusive husband. Does a “torturer” or an abusive husband give all the wonderful gifts of life and love and laughter that God has given us?

Jaime: There is no evidence your god even exists, let alone that it gave us those things.

Robin: But say He does exist and is the source of all these things—could you fault Him for feeling pained if those creatures to whom He gave such wonderful gifts refused fellowship with Him? And then how could you call it torture if He honored the choices of those who freely wanted not to be with Him by allowing them to go to some place without Him, even if that made them (and Him) suffer? He gives us all these gifts and even the right to be miserable by denying Him—if that’s our free choice.

Jaime: Not believing someone exists is not “refusing to be with” that person. I mean, seriously, Robin, why do you refuse to be with Aquaman? Why do you reject him so? Don’t you see how you will one day deservedly suffer emotionally forever with an Aquaman-shaped-hole in your heart after you die because of the ways you “deny” Aquaman in your life?  Why won’t you just accept that Aquaman loves you and that only in Aquaman will you find fulfillment? Why won’t you accept that all the good things in life that you currently enjoy are not nearly as good as they would be if you also knew Aquaman? Don’t you see how an eternity in which you have all of Aquaman’s gracious gifts except for the presence of Aquaman himself would be a terrible fate from which you should want salvation?

Robin: God isn’t Aquaman. God is goodness itself. You must believe in goodness. You have gone on and on about the goodness of this and the goodness of that. God is that eternal goodness itself.

Jaime: If “God” is just “goodness” then I already have plenty of “God” without any need for Jesus.

Robin: But God is a personal being with whom you need a personal relationship. And for that relationship to happen you need Jesus’s mediation, otherwise you will remain in sin and unable to have communion with God. We are born sinners rejecting God and incapable of doing good without God. God, who is goodness itself, is necessary for us to be good or have goodness.

Jaime: That’s empirically false. I have plenty of goodness in my life without your god and know plenty of good deeds carried out by atheists and members of other religions than the ones that worship your god. So, no, I don’t need a personal relationship with a fictitious deity in order to have goodness and you can’t go around rationally conflating an impersonal abstract universal like “goodness” with a personal being like “Yahweh” or “Jesus”. Abstract universals are no more personal than numbers are. And goodness and beauty and truth and love, and all other such things, are concepts which do not entail personhood in any way whatsoever. And the things in which these universals are manifest are entirely acquirable without any belief in your weird superstitions, your implausible supernatural metaphysics, or your bronze age myths and confusions.

Robin: But what if I’m right and Goodness is a personal being called Yahweh, who intervened in history and sent his Son Jesus to die for your sins. And what if He is also Truth and Beauty. Would it be irrational to say we should rightly love Goodness, Truth, and Beauty and that without them we would be in a hell of our own making—a hell which was not the fault of Goodness, Truth, or Beauty, but which just resulted by default when we chose to be without them—that is, without He who is these things.

Jaime: The Abrahamic God, as depicted in your own Bible and in the Muslims’ Koran, is evil in every possible way. He commands genocides, child sacrifices, infanticides, slavery, patriarchy, theocracy, and the death penalty for the slightest offenses. The writings he allegedly inspired are filled with falsehoods that make His most fervent of followers the most willfully unscientific and even anti-scientific people of all modern people. His deeds are ugly—and none is uglier than the gruesome child sacrifice in which he has his own son brutally crucified. To equate that being with Goodness, Truth, and Beauty themselves is not only to baselessly personalize these clearly impersonal things, but even to go further and contradictorily conceive of their personification in terms which make them tantamount to being the epitome of Evil, Falsehood, and Ugliness themselves.

Robin: Well, you can think that all you want but the God of Love still loves you whether you believe it or not. And I’ll be praying that that love floods your heart so you can no longer deny it no matter how much you want to.

Jaime: So you didn’t understand anything I just said at all. Nice.

Continued…

Your Thoughts?

More such fictional debates on Camels With Hammers:

Is It Just A Mystery Whether God Exists?

Examining Some Alleged Divine Attributes

A Debate About The Value of Permanent Promiscuity

Moral Perfectionism, Moral Pragmatism, Free Love Ethics, and Adultery

On The Ethics of “Sugar Daddies” and “Sugar Babies”

A Debate About the Wisdom of Trying to Deconvert People

Atheist Fundamentalism?

Bullying or Debating? Religious Privilege or Freedom of Speech?

Immoralism?

God and Goodness

 

  • Alverant

    Well done.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    I forgot you did these dialogues, and now that I do I miss them.

    I was reminded today of one of my favorite Twain stories, a mostly unpublished set of stories called “The Mysterious Stranger”. In it, an adolescent angel named Satan (“The Satan’s” nephew…angels reuse names like humans, you know) interacts with some boys in a small town in Transylvania. In it, Twain proposes that humans and supernatural creatures such as Satan and God cannot have a morality in common. First of all, the difference is too wide, and second of all human life cannot have value to being that can create ex nihilo.

    Twain uses a story about Satan having the children mold figures out of clay when they are animated to real life by Satan. Satan kills the clay figures with petty indifference, and the kids react in horror. Satan’s responds that he can bring them back if they’d like.

    If you’re taking reader requests, I’d like to see some exploration of the moral nature of the relationship between God and man. Though I really like the idea, I think Twain might be wrong, and that there may be moral accountability for God.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’m thinking of going in that direction actually as a follow up to where this dialogue left off. There is an opening in that the meaning of goodness itself and whether it can be defined apart from God or whether the God of the Bible can be judged according to our notions of goodness become the next logical step in their discussion. Had I not wanted to cut the dialogue off at my traditional ~2000 words, Robin’s next obvious reply to Jaime should not have been a reassertion of hope that God will save Jaime but instead should have been an appeal to how God’s wisdom is “foolishness to the world”, etc. This sets us up nicely for that next debate about whether Christians can both try to equate the transcendentals (Good, Beauty, Truth) with God to get metaphysical leverage and yet also hold on to their beliefs in the authoritarian voluntaristic personal god of the bible who seems incompatible with objective Goodness, Beauty, and Truth which are knowable by rationalistic means, apart from religious revelations.

    • Artor

      Holy crap! Were you listening in on my conversations with a born-again ex-girlfriend? Her name wasn’t Robin, but I’m sure you just changed that to protect the guilty.
      This is practically a word-for-word transcript of her arguments for why I should believe, minus the tearful exhortations of “I just don’t want you to go to hell!”
      Even the temptation of continuing to get laid couldn’t make me swallow that crap sandwich!

    • Stevarious

      Ooh, I’ve seen that video. Serious nightmare fuel stuff.

    • Stevarious

      Darn it. I forgot it was going to embed it. Sorry.

  • Jeff Dale

    Awesome.

    I like how the theist dances from one argument to another, instead of standing and facing the atheist’s arguments.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Do you think there were any places Robin danced away instead of using an available rational rejoinder that I neglected to give a fair shot to?

    • teh_faust

      None that I noticed.
      I think Robin was very far from being a strawoman.

    • opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces

      Oi, Robin’s a man’s name (at least, it usually is around these parts – don’t know if that applies on this blog! But “Robin” certainly sounds like he’s got the mansplaining vibe down pat to me :-) )

      re the OP; well put and well played, it all sounds too too horribly lifelike …

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      All characters in my dialogues are of unspecified genders and sexes. Their names all vary commonly enough as male or female in English speaking countries. Readers may interpret the characters however they wish of course, but the dialogues deliberately elide any explicit indications of sexes or genders and in my mind, I do not know any characters’ genders or sexes. Now, of course, I am myself unavoidably a man so the writing may inevitably tilt in certain directions, but theoretically anything any of them say could come out of the mouths of anyone.

  • Enkidum

    I always thought the point of these pieces was that both the interlocutors were making reasonable points, to force those of us one one side or the other to at least consider the other point of view. Which they’ve normally done very well, imho. But if that’s the point, this one is kind of a failure. Yes, this is about as reasonable as the Christian view of hell gets. But it’s still a dumb belief.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I did the best I could with the material Christians offer! Yes, I do hope in these to make neither interlocutor just serve the argument of the other but if I stick to equal balance as a rule I cannot explore certain positions that simply fail. And I have hopes that incorporating a theist into some of my dialogues will be a way of writing things where theists can see their positions get a robust defense and many of their arguments cycled through. I could have allowed Robin to just evolve positions and start rejecting Christian orthodoxy in this dialogue but I want the character to represent traditional Christian views going forward, at least for the time being.

    • Enkidum

      Fair enough. FWIW, I do like these quite a lot.

    • http://www.twitter.com/jalyth Jalyth

      I liked this one precisely because it was more one-sided than the others. Perhaps I am reacting to the long day of work I just finished, but when the arguments are equal I have to think harder about which side I’m on. This was so clear and simple, but still could influence the way I talk to that one Christian friend I still have. If I made any sense.

    • Enkidum

      Yeah, but…

      when the arguments are equal I have to think harder about which side I’m on.

      That’s kind of the point, right? Making us examine our presuppositions and all that.

  • N. Nescio

    I don’t know how you didn’t get a headache putting yourself through the mental gymnastics required to make the ‘Christian’ argument.

    This is just my own personal preference, but I would have ended with “You didn’t actually listen to anything I just said, did you? Why do you expect me to give careful consideration to your position when you are clearly refusing to do the same for me?”

    It’s not a lack of understanding my counter-arguments that I typically encounter in my dialogues with believers, it’s their completely ignoring the counter-arguments and going on as if nothing happened. If they’re being intellectually dishonest, the best one can do is just call them out on it.

  • JJ7212

    I thought it was very realistic. It covers a lot of the vast range of stupid arguments that a seasoned proselytizing christian has! This story is a great example of things that an atheist, who might otherwise not be so outspoken, could say to a loudmouth christian. AND A loudmath christian who reads this might actually think about the clear arguments of the atheist’s reality and perhaps stay home tonight instead of ringing on my door bell after their ‘emotionally charged’ youth group meeting.

    Perhaps the next story will be about how annoying chrisian evangelism really is. Again, I think the atheist could win that argument easily. lol Good job, Daniel! Very well written!

  • laurentweppe

    I like how the theist dances from one argument to another, instead of standing and facing the atheist’s arguments.

    I never liked those little pseudo-debates, and this is the reason why:
    “Oh, look, the fictional strawman on my side is beating down the fictional strawman on the other side: Awesome!”
    Next thing Daniel should do is writting a novel were atheistic übermensch destroy civilization then create an utopia where religious people are kept as pets and rape toys, that way the world would witness the second coming of Ayn Rand.
    ***
    ***
    Anyway, Fred Clark did a much better job explaining why Hell the Eternal Torture Chamber made no sense from a religious viewpoint.
    *
    The problem with the “Hell is a fantasy for wicked, sadistic little perverts” argument is that while it is a great anti-fundie argument, one that demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of the Holier Than Thou crowd and a great illustration of the bloodlust which hide behind the religious reactionaries appeal to religious tradition; it is a horrendous anti-religious argument, one which can be made only by assuming that either:
    A. Fundies are the only Authentic Followers of the Abrahamic Faiths (also known as the Reverse Scotsman)
    or
    B. Every non-fundie Christian/Jew/Muslim/s are in fact secretly Fundies (also known as “Pamela Geller Favorite Form of Mental Masturbation”)
    *
    The problem with A & B both being lies, using Hell as an anti-religion argument an exercice in futility at best, and at worst an evidence of one guilt of being a Tribalistic Sectarian Douchebag approximately as honest in his endeavors than creationists and holocaust deniers.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’m sorry but is there a single place in the dialogue above where Robin comes off like a sadistic pervert or even someone with any kind of particular malice or ill-will beyond a little passive aggressiveness? Robin goes to great trouble to try to paint hell as being as non-physical and self-chosen a phenomenon as possible. There is no dehumanizing or demonizing of theists in the dialogue.

    • laurentweppe

      is there a single place in the dialogue above where Robin comes off like a sadistic pervert or even someone with any kind of particular malice or ill-will beyond a little passive aggressiveness?

      That’s precisely the problem: Hell as a place where the Almighty torture the people he has judged unworthy of his endless benevolence can only be believed and approved by people whose behavior and motive are completely alien to the Robin you created, who basically ends up defending a belief that is not his own because you needed to shoehorn a disagreement between your two strawmen.

    • Artor

      I disagree. As I commented above, this is almost exactly the conversation I’ve had with my evangelical ex-girlfriend. A number of other commenters have noted similar familiarity with the Xtian position. If you think Daniel has provided a strawman argument here, you can’t have really talked to Xtians that much.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Lauren I based Robin on John Paul II. See how he makes very similar attempts to mild the doctrine of hell as Robin does. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999_en.html If that’s a strawman of the Roman Catholic position, what is the real thing?

    • http://lifetheuniverseandonebrow.blogspot.com/ One Brow

      You did leave out one aspect. God currently provides all these goods in our life, but if we reject God, he does remove these goods. There would be no more joy in eating, sex, or any other physical thing, if such things even happened. All you would experience would be the absence of goods (constant hunger, constant loneliness, etc.). This is because God did not just set up this world and let it run, but supposedly sustains it in every ingle micro-second.

    • laurentweppe

      Lauren

      Laurent.
      ***

      See how he makes very similar attempts to mild the doctrine of hell as Robin does.

      Jean Paul II was playing politics: this was how close he dared get to “Hell makes no fucking sense except as an allegory” because, among other things, the fundies hated his guts and looked for any pretense that would have justified an open rebellion. What you’re telling me here is that you tried to make the exegesis of a Catholic Pope‘s texts, while ignoring the political subtext.
      *
      Urgh, now you’re starting to remind me my philosophy classes where the teacher insisted that we never introduced context in our analysis because he was a platonician and insisted that we treat any text and idea as purely abstract constructs. Did I mention that I loathed Plato, his vacuousness, his fondness for aristocratic sense of entitlement, his fucking dualism which most certainly made more to hurt Mankind than half of history’s religious nuts put together? I did, I think, but well, I’ll never say it enough: I loathe Plato and all the crap he produced which is still revered today as worthy achievments of the human mind.
      *
      And you know what: there are few things as dualistic, as anti-empirical, as platonician as treating the writting of a pope as purely theological. Also, it’s wrong, because popes’ writting are never, ever purely theological. In fact, I would not be the least surprised if it was revealed that the Vatican owns a time-traveling machine and uses it to preemptively kill in the past any pope who would have indulged himself in writing a purely theological or purely philosophical text.

    • sgaile-beairt

      It’s also identical to C. S. Lewis’s explanation of Hell in The Great Divorce.

    • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

      Oh how emmet (a Catholic arguing for the Hell is separation from God position) would have loved to get his hands on that document for this thread!

    • Enkidum

      Hell as a place where the Almighty torture the people he has judged unworthy of his endless benevolence can only be believed and approved by people whose behavior and motive are completely alien to the Robin you created

      Which is why Robin specifically denies that is the kind of hell she has in mind.

      You need to chill out.

  • Dunc

    Are you sure there are enough fish in that barrel? ;)

    Neither heaven nor hell make much sense (well, except in the form of virtual realities, as in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail) but surely there are better arguments out there? I mean, say what you like about the tenets of strict Calvinism, dude, at least it’s more-or-less internally consistent…

    Aside: Aquaman would totally breeze the whole Flood thing, wouldn’t he? :)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      If Robin’s arguments are weak, don’t blame me. I read a couple key writings of Pope John II and Thomas Aquinas and modeled Robin’s thought process on theirs, since I was focusing on a prevalent argument with specifically Catholic provenance. And then I just filled out their basic framework dialectically the best I could given the natural flow of the discussion.

    • Dunc

      Yeah, I know that this is a pretty fair and accurate portrayal of the standard “arguments”, but still… Not so much shooting fish in a barrel as nuking fish in a barrel from orbit. ;)

    • Artor

      It’s the only way to be sure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/darthelghast jjkrenek

    The conversations are like this every. single. time.

  • FredBloggs

    Why is it whenever I have a conversation of this type with a theist I feel as though I’m talking to a heroin addict?

    How can you live without (god/heroin) in your life?

    With (god/heroin) my heart is filled with ecstasy.

    I can’t imagine a universe without (god/heroin)

    I couldn’t live without (god/heroin)

    You don’t know how good you would feel with (god/heroin) in your life.

    etc etc etc.

    • Monimonika

      Hey, at least heroin can actually be physically seen and obtained. And since it does have an actual physical/chemical effect on levels of happiness, it logically flows that heroin=happiness=good (depending on what kind of “good” is being aimed for).

  • Steve

    To paraphrase a popular “sixties” writer (Richard Brautigan?) arguing, debating, discussing on this type of topic with theist is like “loading mercury with a pitchfork”. Pointless, and at this stage in my life (71 yrs) I’ve had enough.

    Enjoy your blog though.

  • http://www.yagottamoo.com Matt Meeks

    Are you sure it’s fictional? I’ve had online conversations that were nearly identical.

  • Beth

    When I was teenager still living in my parent’s home, my mother tried a form of Robin’s argument on me. (That argument is even older than me!) I responded much as Jamie did. If Heaven is nothing more than hanging out singing God’s praises, and Hell was being without God, Heaven sounded more like eternal torment to me than Hell did. My mother was quite upset with me that day.

    I now belong to a very liberal church that sings the following every Sunday morning. This doxology has been sung at many churches for many many years. Not just Christian churches either, it’s also used at some UU churches.

    Praise God, the Love we all may share,
    Praise God, the Beauty everywhere,
    Praise God, the Hope of good to be,
    Praise God, the Truth that makes us free.

    It’s not hard to argue against the concept of a personal god, and there are many reasons to reject such a conceptualization. But if God is defined as Love, Beauty, Hope and Truth then the argument that being without god is it’s own punishment makes more sense.

    Of course, this definition isn’t okay with fundamentalists – the fundamentalist church I grew up in never sang that doxology. But not all churches are like that. The church I belong to welcomes agnostics and atheists as well as those with more traditional beliefs about God and Jesus. If it didn’t, I couldn’t be a member. Beliefs about God and the Bible are considered a private matter for each individual to decide for themselves.

    It is a creedless church – i.e. there is no specific creed that members much affirm in order to belong. Belief in anything supernatural is NOT required and there are other members, besides me, that do not hold such beliefs.

    While the Bible is used as the main text that lessons are drawn from, it isn’t the only one. For example, Robert Frost poetry was used yesterday in addition to a couple of scriptural verses.

    My point is that your arguments often seem directed against religion in a general way but are specific to only a subset of specific beliefs. This kinda bugs me.

    Your dialog is a fairly good argument against those specific literal beliefs and also points out the inconsistency with taking some biblical stories literally and others metaphorically, but it’s not an argument other conceptions of God and/or non-literal interpretations of the bible.

    • sqlrob

      But if God is defined as Love, Beauty, Hope and Truth then the argument that being without god is it’s own punishment makes more sense.

      With that definition there’s no need of worship. What’s the point of religion, and even God with that definition?

    • Beth

      To help people live better lives and appreciate the Love, Beauty, Hope and Truth that they currently have.

    • sqlrob

      None of which needs worship, just community.

    • Beth

      I agree that it isn’t required. You asked what the point was. That there may exist other routes to accomplishing the same thing does not invalidate that reason.

      In fact, my understanding is that the most commonly given reason for belonging to a church/religion is the community. I know that is true for the church I belong to.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      I think I’ll just sleep in on Sundays.

    • eric

      But if God is defined as Love, Beauty, Hope and Truth then the argument that being without god is it’s own punishment makes more sense.

      No, it still doesn’t. Either humans have access to those things right now, in this life, or we don’t. (1) If we do, then loving or being with God isn’t necessary for them since atheists feel love, beauty, etc. too. (2) If we don’t have access to those things right now, then hell is just more of this life and the whole ‘its horrible, you really want to avoid it’ argument goes out the window. The only pro-belief response is the one Robin gives: believers experience these things, but non-believers don’t, even if they think they do, followed by the claim that non-believers don’t and can’t know what they’re missing until they believe.

      There’s some variations, but none of them really work for the theist. For example, there is (1a) Humans, even atheists, can feel these things now since God is letting us do so. But when we die, this ‘middle ground’ disappears; we must either choose both God and these feelings, or neither. As others have pointed out, this variation makes God punitive and not at all consistent with our concepts of love or mercy, since it presumes he has the power and capability to continue to allow atheists this current middle ground after death, He just chooses not to.

    • Beth

      But if God is defined as Love, Beauty, Hope and Truth then the argument that being without god is it’s own punishment makes more sense.
      No, it still doesn’t. Either humans have access to those things right now, in this life, or we don’t. (1) If we do, then loving or being with God isn’t necessary for them since atheists feel love, beauty, etc. too. (2) If we don’t have access to those things right now, then hell is just more of this life and the whole ‘its horrible, you really want to avoid it’ argument goes out the window.

      If you define God as those things then, if you have access to those things, you are ‘with God’ by that definition. If you don’t have those things in your life, well that seems a pretty good definition of hell to me.

      As far as the ‘its horrible, you really want to avoid it’ argument goes out the window.

      That isn’t an argument that fits with that definition of god. In fact, that’s true about all of the arguments you detailed. So why would someone who defines god that way care if those arguments go out the window? They aren’t using them.

    • KG

      “But if God is defined as Love, Beauty, Hope and Truth then the argument that being without god is it’s own punishment makes more sense.”

      But then your talk of “God” to outsiders is systematically dishonest unless you preface it b:y “By ‘God’, I don’t mean a person, or anything like a person. God in my sense of the world does not love us, has not given us anything, and does not care what we do.”, because in English, “God” is commonly understood to be personal, both by theists and by atheists. Moreover, there is no justification for the initial upper-case letters you give to “Love”, “Beauty”, etc. These are, in grammatical terms, common nouns, not proper nouns; while “God” with an upper-case “G” is a proper noun, specifically a personal name.

  • plutosdad

    When you say “all of Aquaman’s gifts but not Aquaman”

    I think the theist would counter with “you are not miserable now because God IS in your life, whether you realize it or not. Once he’s completely out, you will be very miserable”

    That is how I always argued it when i was a theist. God’s a part of your life in this world, like it or not.

  • Anri

    Your dialog is a fairly good argument against those specific literal beliefs and also points out the inconsistency with taking some biblical stories literally and others metaphorically, but it’s not an argument other conceptions of God and/or non-literal interpretations of the bible.

    No, but the questions “Why believe only in the bits of the bible that make you smile?”, or “Why is god only wrong when he disagrees with you?”, work pretty well.

    Either the bible comes from a higher power and therefore should be believed and obeyed or it doesn’t and can therefore be ignored as a moral authority.
    To put it another way: Once you have accepted that your book of morals is a faction, what elevates it above, for example, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

    • sqlrob

      To put it another way: Once you have accepted that your book of morals is a faction, what elevates it above, for example, Star Wars

      No Jar Jar.

    • Anri

      Heretic!

      Everyone knows that the True Meaning of the Gospel According to Star Wars began with A New Testament Hope!

    • sqlrob

      OK, I amend my comment to no Ewoks :-P

    • Stevarious

      Hey now. The Ewoks fought bravely and won the battle against impossible odds, defeating a vastly superior force in fair combat. They earned the right to be adorable and use severed stormtrooper heads as bongos.

      The Gungans, however, were annoying and stupid and deserved to die. They promoted idiots like Jar-Jar and Boss Nass (that big slobbering dude) to positions of leadership. They were guilty of implementing their resources in an incredibly stupid and inefficient manner – seriously, you have an advanced technological society, powered underwater vehicles and incredible force field expertise, you can make these blobs of pure, instant-robot-disabling energy jelly, and the best you can do with it is slings and catapults!?
      You didn’t deserve that ridiculous glowing orb at the end of the movie. You didn’t even deserve the deus ex machina of all the robots inexplicably shutting down when the ship blew up. You deserved to be gunned down to a man by merciless robot hordes (Seriously, who makes a great big unfeeling robot army then programs them to accept enemy surrender? The whole point of a robot army is that you don’t have to worry about morale! It’s really difficult to accept that the Trade Federation as ‘evil’ when they are so bumblingly stupid.)

      Seriously, comparing Jar-Jar and the Gungans to Wicket and the Ewoks is just plain unfair to the Ewoks and their courageous sacrifices. It may well be what Lucas was aiming for. But he really, really missed the mark.

      Gah, every time I get thinking about just HOW BAD episodes 1-3 were from a storytelling point of view, I want to SCREAM. I can’t think of a single major plot point in the whole lot that Lucas didn’t fail at.

    • N. Nescio

      DAVID SLUNG FIRST.

    • Beth

      No, but the questions “Why believe only in the bits of the bible that make you smile?”, or “Why is god only wrong when he disagrees with you?”, work pretty well.
      I find the response “Because the Bible was written by fallible humans and it’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves what is good and right and true.” to be an effective response.

      Why do you have a problem with those who do not take the bible as literal truth and written by God himself?

      Either the bible comes from a higher power and therefore should be believed and obeyed or it doesn’t and can therefore be ignored as a moral authority.

      There are more than those two possibilities. That you can choose to ignore the Bible as a moral authority does not require that must do so. For example, one could believe that the bible was written by humans and also consider the words of Jesus, whether he is believed to be a man or myth, a “moral authority”.

      To put it another way: Once you have accepted that your book of morals is a faction, what elevates it above, for example, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

      Tradition and the purpose for which it was written. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are fascinating works of art, but their purpose was entertainment, not moral guidance. However, if the small cults that worship those works survive, thrive and go on to become religions that last for centuries, then your argument works quite well. The Bible isn’t inherently better IMO. But for me, living here and now, the argument doesn’t work.

      I also think the Bible has historical value. Not everything in the Bible is fiction and it provides a window into the moral thinking of the people of that time and place. Since they ended up contributing significantly to the moral values of our time and culture, I think it’s a good to have access to that sort of documentation of their values and concerns.

    • Beth

      Sorry, I messed up the italics. The last two paragraphs are my response to Anri

    • sqlrob

      For example, one could believe that the bible was written by humans and also consider the words of Jesus, whether he is believed to be a man or myth, a “moral authority”.

      Which is different from viewing Yoda or Gandalf as a moral authority exactly how?

    • Beth

      I’m not sure that it is.

    • Anri

      I find the response “Because the Bible was written by fallible humans and it’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves what is good and right and true.” to be an effective response.

      Then why bother with the bible in the first place? A god who is either incapable of or uninterested in proofing his eternal word to his beloved people isn’t someone worth worshiping.

      Why do you have a problem with those who do not take the bible as literal truth and written by God himself?

      I don’t (so long as they don’t then try to tell me they accept the bible story).
      But the bible does, as it claims to be just that. If you refuse to accept the bible’s divine origin, you’re refusing the entire premise. So again, why bother?

      There are more than those two possibilities. That you can choose to ignore the Bible as a moral authority does not require that must do so. For example, one could believe that the bible was written by humans and also consider the words of Jesus, whether he is believed to be a man or myth, a “moral authority”.

      But unless his message is both clear and worthwhile, there’s no good reason to do so. The biblical Jesus is neither.

      Tradition and the purpose for which it was written. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are fascinating works of art, but their purpose was entertainment, not moral guidance. However, if the small cults that worship those works survive, thrive and go on to become religions that last for centuries, then your argument works quite well. The Bible isn’t inherently better IMO. But for me, living here and now, the argument doesn’t work.

      The Turner Diaries, then – clearly written for moral instruction.
      Once again, if you only agree with the bible when it says what you already think is good, why do you need it? If you’re using an outside standard to judge what of the bible to accept as moral, why not just apply the outside standard and discard the fairy tale?

      I also think the Bible has historical value. Not everything in the Bible is fiction and it provides a window into the moral thinking of the people of that time and place. Since they ended up contributing significantly to the moral values of our time and culture, I think it’s a good to have access to that sort of documentation of their values and concerns.

      There are any number of holy books from around the world that meet these criteria – many far better than the incoherent ahistorical mess that is what we call the bible. Why not revere them equally? Why value the bible over the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or the Qu’ran, or the Analects, or the Illiad?

      Why value a moral story that has god-figure(s) over one that doesn’t?
      And without god/sprirts/faries/whatever, why call it a religion?

    • Beth

      Then why bother with the bible in the first place?

      For some people, it’s because they simply love the book. For other people, because it’s the one they were raised with and they have knowledge and familiarity with it. There are probably other reasons. I suspect for some people, it’s merely a matter of convenience and/or tradition. Why do you ask?

      If you refuse to accept the bible’s divine origin, you’re refusing the entire premise. So again, why bother?

      I’m not clear what you are asking here. Why bother with what?

      The Turner Diaries, then – clearly written for moral instruction.

      I’m not familiar with that work, so I can’t comment on it. Are there people who use that work as a basis for their religion?

      Once again, if you only agree with the bible when it says what you already think is good, why do you need it?
      I don’t think it is has to be the Bible. I think having some recognized source of authority is helpful to human beings living or working together in a community. Clearly the Koran and the Torah also serve that function for the communities that use those texts, so it doesn’t need to be the Christian Bible.


      If you’re using an outside standard to judge what of the bible to accept as moral, why not just apply the outside standard and discard the fairy tale?
      That can certainly be done. Many people have done so. It’s simply that not everyone chooses to do so.

      Why not revere them equally? Why value the bible over the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or the Qu’ran, or the Analects, or the Illiad? I’m not sure it’s possible to ‘revere them equally’ assuming that you revere any of them more than zero. But, if you are really just asking why choose the Bible over those other holy books, please refer back to my answer at the beginnning of this post.

      Why value a moral story that has god-figure(s) over one that doesn’t?

      Why value a moral story that doesn’t over one that does? Why does it matter which one is chosen?


      And without god/sprirts/faries/whatever, why call it a religion?
      Not all religions involve a god or other supernatural spirit. For example, scientologists are atheists. They don’t believe in god or other supernatural beings. Some strains of Bhuddism don’t invoke any gods or supernatural elements either.

      Would you claim that Scientology or Bhuddism aren’t religions? You can, but I would simply disagree with that categorization.

    • Anri

      For some people, it’s because they simply love the book. For other people, because it’s the one they were raised with and they have knowledge and familiarity with it. There are probably other reasons. I suspect for some people, it’s merely a matter of convenience and/or tradition. Why do you ask?

      Because I am of the opinion that none of those are good reasons to think that falsehoods are true, or that atrocities are moral.

      I’m not clear what you are asking here. Why bother with what?

      With taking the bible as a moral authority. Or, indeed, as an authority on anything.

      I’m not familiar with that work, so I can’t comment on it. Are there people who use that work as a basis for their religion?

      I hope not – its a fictional account of a white supremacist takeover of the US. I don’t doubt that some people use it as a moral authority, though.

      I don’t think it is has to be the Bible. I think having some recognized source of authority is helpful to human beings living or working together in a community. Clearly the Koran and the Torah also serve that function for the communities that use those texts, so it doesn’t need to be the Christian Bible.

      It could also be something a lots less immoral and inaccurate than those three, of course. Which would have the added bonuses of, yanno, truth and morality.

      That can certainly be done. Many people have done so. It’s simply that not everyone chooses to do so.

      And that’s…good? Bad?
      You don’t have an opinion?

      I’m not sure it’s possible to ‘revere them equally’ assuming that you revere any of them more than zero. But, if you are really just asking why choose the Bible over those other holy books, please refer back to my answer at the beginnning of this post.

      I handled it at the beginning of the post.

      Not all religions involve a god or other supernatural spirit. For example, scientologists are atheists. They don’t believe in god or other supernatural beings. Some strains of Bhuddism don’t invoke any gods or supernatural elements either.

      Would you claim that Scientology or Bhuddism aren’t religions? You can, but I would simply disagree with that categorization.

      There are a few small sections of some religions that have evolved into merely cultural references, yes.
      I would describe these as philosophies, not religions.
      There are atheistic self-described Buddhists, yes, but I imagine the vast majority believe that karma is a universal force (it isn’t), Buddha was reincarnated (he wasn’t), and that they will be too (they won’t).
      Scientology started off as a scam, and grew into a personality cult, and finally had enough spiritual trappings shoehorned into it (Xenu, thetans, etc) to become a religion. The idea that there’s nothing supernatural or mystic about liberating souls from bodies by death is incoherent, sorry.

    • Beth

      Beth: Why do you have a problem with those who do not take the bible as literal truth and written by God himself?
      Anri: Then why bother with the bible in the first place?

      Beth: For some people, it’s because they simply love the book. For other people, because it’s the one they were raised with and they have knowledge and familiarity with it. There are probably other reasons. I suspect for some people, it’s merely a matter of convenience and/or tradition. Why do you ask?

      Anri: Because I am of the opinion that none of those are good reasons to think that falsehoods are true, or that atrocities are moral.

      How did reasons why people who don’t take the bible as literal truth but still choose to ‘bother with the bible’ turn into reasons to think falsehoods are true or atrocities are moral? I’m afraid I’m not following your thought processes here.

    • plutosdad

      Why do you have a problem with those who do not take the bible as literal truth and written by God himself?

      Because then they are either unknowingly picking and choosing which parts they believe are from God and which are not, or they are merely reflecting their cultural morals and ascribing it to God.

      Any”good god, who wanted to make sure you knew its will, especially if there is risk of eternal damnation, would make certain you knew its morality better, rather than so many poorly written and contradictory books that espouse evil as much as they espouse good. How can the average human communicate better than God can, if he is really as powerful as claimed?

      Secondly, what constitutes good would not change throughout history. If slavery is evil, then it is evil. God could have made a commandment to not own slaves, people would balk but he could still have said it. But he did not and we are told either it’s because humans wrote it down ignoring God (see the paragraph above) or because God himself didn’t say so because “we weren’t ready”.

      This topic – difficult rules that God still wants us to follow – is even covered in the New Testament. After a sermon when the disciples said to Jesus “who can possibly follow these rules” (paraphrased) he said “with man it is impossible, with God all things are possible”. So Christian Theologians have no excuse saying that morality was different in the past, or that we just “weren’t ready” to hear the truth. Truth is truth.

      So either the commandments and laws and ideas in the Bible were lies by men, or they were lies from God. Either way, Christians ask us to trust in lies, and that future revelation will help to refine God’s morality. Yet this revelation and change to Christian morality is curiously always reflects the rest of culture, or is even behind it.

      Thirdly, if the Bible is so filtered through humans as to be completely self-contradictory and indeed even advocating pure evil in parts, then there is no reason to believe other “holy” works are not also from God. There is no reason to believe in the Christian God. Sure most religions do not have propitiatory sacrifice, but many other religions and ethical systems would also say that propitiatory sacrifice is ghastly and horrible.

      So why focus on the one that our culture pushes, and instead not look into others as well to try to know God better? After all if he can speak through men that barely know or understood him he can speak through anyone.

      It’s then, after we start studying other religions, that we see Christianity start to fall apart. The evilness of its morality compared to, say, Taoism or even Buddhism (which can be pretty bad) becomes evident. The similarity of its miracles to other sources and indeed how miracles seemed to occur almost every day in the ancient world, ascribed to all manner of beings, glorifying all those other beings.

    • Beth

      Beth asked: Why do you have a problem with those who do not take the bible as literal truth and written by God himself?
      Plutosdad replied: they are merely reflecting their cultural morals and ascribing it to God.
      This is a problem because…?

      then there is no reason to believe other “holy” works are not also from God.

      Yes. Some religious people who believe in god share this aspect of your opinion. In particular, those who do not insist on the literal meaning and infallibility of their own book often also recognize that the others are equally viable.

      There is no reason to believe in the Christian God.

      But this conclusion does not follow from your previous statement.

      So why focus on the one that our culture pushes, and instead not look into others as well to try to know God better?

      Because it is the dominant one in our culture. If all religion are believed to be paths to god, then Christianity is as good a choice as Islam and, for most U.S. Americans, it has the advantage of being the religion they were raised in.

      The evilness of its morality compared to, say, Taoism or even Buddhism (which can be pretty bad) becomes evident.

      Frankly that claim is far from evident. I’m not sure how you can make that comparison in the first place, but I’m really not clear on how you can judge the morality of people who are, as you put it, merely reflecting their cultural morals and ascribing it to God as being more evil than Taoism or Buddhism.

    • KG

      But the Bible (that does need an upper-case initial letter, as it’s a proper noun) is systematically vile. It endorses, genocide, racism, slavery, misogyny, submission to authority, belief without and even against the evidence, vicarious guilt and vicarious atonement, child abuse, collective punishment, religious intolerance, and torture. It’s also, for the most part, remarkably boring and poorly written.

  • quarky2

    So my question is: if god exists, and he is loving, what is the point of bringing the dead back to life simply for the purpose of suffering? Wouldn’t it be more loving just to leave them dead and skip all the punishment, especially as it does absolutely no one any benefit?

    • http://lifetheuniverseandonebrow.blogspot.com/ One Brow

      There are groups who believe precisely that (hell basically being the state of being dead awaiting resurrection, the Lake of Fire being a state of permanently dead).

  • Lester Ingram

    Such a typical exchange.

  • Tony

    I have been the atheist in this very conversation more times than I’d like to admit : This type of squishy, touchy-feely, postmodern theology is ridiculous on its face. It is quick to dispense with the traditional omni-anything qualities of god because they’re too easily attacked. So now, god is all-powerful in the sense that – while he can’t do absolutely everyhing (esp. paradoxical things) – he can do anything that CAN be done without contradicting himself, etc, etc ad nauseum.

    Likewise with the genocidal, wicked god of the OT. I hear things like, “Well that was a brutal time in history” or “Those are just metaphors.” So they get to turn everything distasteful into metaphor, and keep everything that’s warm and refulgent as literal (or literal enough). Another one I like is “Well, there’s more than one way to read that particular passage.” Yeah…of course there is.

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

    This was touched on by plutosdad in a previous comment, but I found my former theist self wanting to jump in and “save” Robin’s argument on more than one occasion. This makes me think that the theist argument here is incomplete- that it can be waved aside by many Christians as being “how atheists (improperly) interpret scripture and theology”.
    I’m surprised that Dan would have missed the presuppositional argument that atheists “know” God exists and choose to deny this fact.
    You also miss the “end around” to the moral God argument- that what is moral to an omnipotent being is unknowable to people whose morality is “nearsighted” by a temporal view of the cosmos.

    Whether or not those arguments were set aside for the sake of brevity, to make the post accessible to the layperson, or for the sake of a more topical rejoinder- it leaves myself, at least, feeling that there are significant “missed opportunities” in the theist position.

  • daenyx

    I’ve *had* this argument. Nicely done.

  • http://www.l-a-s-h.blogspot.com Eric

    Who is this “Aquaman” and where can I find him……

    Sorry, jk. It is a good debate that actually stuck with the flow and specific topic. Unfortunately no matter what Christian you debate will always have this cyclical type of form. It’s like that because that’s how the religion was designed. See my article The Virus in Religion (www.l-a-s-h.blogspot.com/2011/12/virus-in-religion.html)

    You cannot reason with an unreasonable person. As Reginald Foster said in Religulous, “You just gotta let’em live and die with their stupid ideas.”

  • Tony

    Also this “Hell is the absence of God’s presence” crowd reminds me a great deal of the whole “Heaven is here and now” crowd. Just a lot liberal theological contortionism.

  • laurentweppe

    this is almost exactly the conversation I’ve had with my evangelical ex-girlfriend

    Sure, there are a lot of religious people who get that Hell the Torture Chamber is an undefensible idea, but never tried to build a long argument about the why, what and how:
    But Daniel expressed intent is to recreate a meaningfull debate between two people of opposed viewpoint but similar skills in rhetoric, not a clash between an atheistic ideologue caught up in minutiæ and jargon and a christian layperson interested in generalities (and no, paraphrasing John Paul II does not make Robin more of an ideologue) who both end up talking past each other.
    *
    Also, the main problem with this text remains as I said the implicit (and therefore conveniently never aknowledged) postulate which ensue from Jaime’s claim that Hell is an essential part of Christianity: since only revanchist fundies can believe in Torture-Hell, then either fundies are the only authentic Christians or non-fundie Christians are secretly fundies: a proposition which is wrong, false, anti-secularist, and possibly the sign that lack of firepower is the only thing stoping team Jaime from declaring void the modus vivendi between moderate believers and atheists.

    • Enkidum

      Given that there isn’t a single mention of hell in the Bible (or heaven, for that matter), it seems odd to claim that only fundamentalists can believe in it. Various fundie groups (e.g. the Jehovah’s Witnesses) don’t believe in Hell, at any rate, and an awful lot of non fundies do believe in Hell, in one form or another.

      At any rate, on the off chance you’re willing to actually try to engage someone rather than just trolling, what would you consider an acceptable/fair/representative/whatever argument for a non-torture version of hell?

    • laurentweppe

      Given that there isn’t a single mention of hell in the Bible (or heaven, for that matter), it seems odd to claim that only fundamentalists can believe in it

      It’s not odd at all: fundies only pretend to follow their religious text to the letter, like Teabaggers only pretend to be absolutists of the US constitution. Torture-Hell is only believable by fundies because it taps into violent revanchist fantasies peculiar to them, not because of a theological imperative
      ***

      At any rate, on the off chance you’re willing to actually try to engage someone rather than just trolling

      Talking about the elephants in the living room that you and most other commenters refuse to acknowledge is the opposite of trolling.
      Playing dumb by not acknowledging said elephants to save face, on the other hand…
      ***

      what would you consider an acceptable/fair/representative/whatever argument for a non-torture version of hell?

      My version would be a partially sartrean hell, where one is forcingly made aware of all the anguish, pain and misery one has caused while the usual defense mecanisms of self-righteousness, dehumanization, fatalism, narcissistic self-absorption, etc, are broken down.
      Of course, one could argue that such a version of Hell would barelly be less painfull than the Eternal Torture Chamber, but you were talking about fairness.

    • Enkidum

      Talking about the elephants in the living room that you and most other commenters refuse to acknowledge is the opposite of trolling.
      Playing dumb by not acknowledging said elephants to save face, on the other hand…

      I’m going to assume you’re being sincere. Here’s the problem: no one understands what the hell you’re talking about. The “elephant” is something that is incredibly obvious to you and totally mysterious to everyone else. You’ve been aggressively attacking everyone for failing to discuss something that they have no idea exists, which is ridiculous and unfair.

      At any rate, the elephant which all your comments seem to miss is that millions (billions, maybe) of non-fundies can and do believe in a Hell, and many of them believe in one in much the same way as Robin. I’ve talked about it to these people. You’ve talked about it to these people. What is wrong with trying to summarize their thought processes?

    • Enkidum

      Also, I didn’t ask you what kind of hell you believe in. I asked you what you think would be a fair and representative argument for the kind of hell that people actually believe in. What is it about Daniel’s presentation you object to as unfair?

    • Brad

      laurentweppe said:

      Also, the main problem with this text remains as I said the implicit (and therefore conveniently never aknowledged) postulate which ensue from Jaime’s claim that Hell is an essential part of Christianity: since only revanchist fundies can believe in Torture-Hell, then either fundies are the only authentic Christians or non-fundie Christians are secretly fundies: a proposition which is wrong, false, anti-secularist, and possibly the sign that lack of firepower is the only thing stoping team Jaime from declaring void the modus vivendi between moderate believers and atheists.

      According to this 2004 Gallup survey, 92% of weekly church attenders (in America) believe in hell, which was defined as “where people who led bad lives without being sorry are eternally damned”. (Figures are 74% for those who attend “nearly weekly” and a surprisingly high 50% for those who attend church seldom or never.)

      Sure sounds to me like this is pretty standard orthodox Christianity. It’s certainly what I’ve been taught all my life in my Evangelical church, and eternal reward/punishment is definitely considered a “fundamental teaching”.

      At the very least, it’s certainly a widely-held position, which makes it fair game for Daniel to rhetorically take on in this dialog.

      I’m not quite sure what you’re arguing in the remainder of your paragraph: are you defending Christians who don’t believe in a literal hell?

  • Sarah

    Robin: But you don’t get it, being without God is itself the punishment. To fix your analogy, it’s not like the husband tortures the wife physically if she leaves but rather it is that he’s not an abusive husband at all but a great one with whom alone she can be happy. And the wife suffers just by leaving him and living without him because she misses out on the one man who can make her life complete and fulfilling.

    Jaime: I’m sure that’s what every bullying husband tells his battered wife—he knows she really needs him and is too stupid to understand that herself.

    This is where Jaime starts being intellectually dishonest. “It’s like a good thing that the absence of is bad for you.” – “Yes, I’m sure that’s what all sorts of bad things would claim” – Yes, yes it is. But that’s irrelevant. His claim was that Hell is a threat of torture, which it of course isn’t if it’s merely the choice to have the absence of a good thing – whether or not other bad things are claimed to be good is completely irrelevant.

  • Anri

    The ‘reply’ buisness is getting hard to read, so I’ll start up a new opening, with everyone’s indulgence.

    How did reasons why people who don’t take the bible as literal truth but still choose to ‘bother with the bible’ turn into reasons to think falsehoods are true or atrocities are moral? I’m afraid I’m not following your thought processes here.

    Because the bible teaches facts that are not true and atorcities that are presented as moral. To take the bible seriously as a source for morality, we must either accept it as an accurate reflection of the real world (it isn’t), or assume that it has an authority beyond a real-world origin (it doesn’t). When I asked why bother with the bible, given this, your answers seemd to pretty much be ‘tradition’, ‘it’s nice’, and undefined ‘other reasons’. I don’t find that a convincing support for citing the book as a moral authority.

    It seems as if you’re saying that the bible is a perfectly fine book once you ignore all the bits involving Iron Age morality. That may well be true, but that sounds like regarding Treasure Island as a good book if you ignore all the bits involving pirates – you’re not left with much.
    If you’re looking for a book free from Iron Age morality, the bible is a rotten place to start.

    • Beth

      Because the bible teaches facts that are not true and atorcities that are presented as moral.

      Since this is not true for non-literalist readers of the bible, it isn’t a reason to conclude that choosing to ‘bother’ with the bible implies thinking falsehoods are true or atrocities are moral. I’m afraid I’m still not following your thought processes here.

      To take the bible seriously as a source for morality, we must either accept it as an accurate reflection of the real world (it isn’t), or assume that it has an authority beyond a real-world origin (it doesn’t).

      This is a false dicotomy. If you believe these are the only two options, your conclusion above makes some sense. It’s still not a correct conclusion though.

      When I asked why bother with the bible, given this, your answers seemd to pretty much be ‘tradition’, ‘it’s nice’, and undefined ‘other reasons’. I don’t find that a convincing support for citing the book as a moral authority.

      You didn’t ask for reasons why the bible should be considered a moral authority, you asked why non-literalists ‘bother’ with it. The reasons for one are not going to be the same as the reasons for the other.

      BTW, what would you consider convincing support for citing ANY book as a moral authority?

    • Anri

      Since this is not true for non-literalist readers of the bible, it isn’t a reason to conclude that choosing to ‘bother’ with the bible implies thinking falsehoods are true or atrocities are moral. I’m afraid I’m still not following your thought processes here.

      Ok, then, I’ll bite:
      Since you appear to accept that the bible is both an incorrect and amoral book, in what way does your church use it?
      To come at it from a slightly different angle, since your church seems to welcome both belivers and nonbelivers, how is the god-story from the bible presented – as true or as metaphorical?

      This is a false dicotomy. If you believe these are the only two options, your conclusion above makes some sense. It’s still not a correct conclusion though.

      Ok, what are your criteria?

      You didn’t ask for reasons why the bible should be considered a moral authority, you asked why non-literalists ‘bother’ with it. The reasons for one are not going to be the same as the reasons for the other.

      I’m trying to figure out why someone would bother with the bible if they didn’t think it was a moral authority. I still don’t have an answer for that (other than what you listed: ‘tradition’, ‘I like it’, ‘um, other reasons’).

      BTW, what would you consider convincing support for citing ANY book as a moral authority?

      Well, at a minimum, tracking the real world accurately and not containing glowing descriptions of the morality of atrocities would be a good start.
      From there, we can move into seeing if it recognizes the worth of human life and freedom (the bible doesn’t), and acknowledges its own potential fallibility (not so much, the bible).
      Most importantly, though, is a real-world test: if you build a society around the principles outlined in the work, do you get a good result? If you, and the people around you, live according to the work, are you happy, healthy, sane? How about the people over the next hill? Do your interactions with them tend to leave them more happy, healthy, and sane – or less so?
      To put it another way, what morality story of the bible does your church find instructive: the fire-and-brimstone petulant sky god of the Old, or the world-denying pacifist mysticism of the New?

  • http://www.cigarettespub.com/camel Camel

    While the Bible is used as the main text that lessons are drawn from, it isn’t the only one. For example, Robert Frost poetry was used yesterday in addition to a couple of scriptural verses.

    My point is that your arguments often seem directed against religion in a general way but are specific to only a subset of specific beliefs. This kinda bugs me.

    • Anri

      I’m not certain if your post was directed at mine, or elswhere, but I’m going to respond.

      While the Bible is used as the main text that lessons are drawn from, it isn’t the only one. For example, Robert Frost poetry was used yesterday in addition to a couple of scriptural verses.

      Was the Frost taught as divine relevation? Was the biblical verse taught just as an example of Iron Age religious literature? If the bible was given special status, why?

      My point is that your arguments often seem directed against religion in a general way but are specific to only a subset of specific beliefs. This kinda bugs me.

      No sweat – tell me what you believe and I’ll confine my arguments to that.

      In the meantime, know what kinda bugs me?
      When every argument an athiest makes must somehow simultaneously by universally true for all religious beliefs everywhere, and perfectly refuting the exact argment being put forth at any given time.
      It bugs me when a theist seems a refutation of someone else’s faith as the time to say “well, that’s not what I believe”, rather than “Hunh, maybe religion itself is bunkum”.
      It bugs me when ancient books discussing Middle Eastern sky gods are used to ruin people’s lives, and this is ignored or shrugged off as ‘respect for faith’.

  • Theodore Seeber

    If you are fulfilled in Hell on Earth, then why would it bother you to be in Hell for eternity?

  • John Mc

    Interesting article and comments. But I think Jamie is a bit confused on a couple of issues. His point is that he is doing fine without God in this life… so why would he have any need for God in the next life. If God didn’t create Jamie, and didn’t hold him in existence every second of every day, then the question makes sense. But Christians believe that God not only made Jamie, but also holds him in existence every second, endows him with free will, and is the ultimate source of every good thing in his life.

    God created a world we don’t fully understand, and He gave us partial knowledge of Him. The purpose of this life is to use our free will to seek Him out, and to enjoy God’s goodness, and to align our will with His. God wants Jamie to find Him. He wants Jamie to freely seek Him out in love.

    To me the atheist vs theist arguments don’t make sense because only rarely does God reveal himself to those who do not seek him out. This life is an opportunity. To seek God and find Him. If God revels himself to Jamie, like he is doing in this thread, but Jamie ignores Him, and wants no part of Him, then God will not force himself on Jamie. Because we are in a world designed to seek God, we continue to have the opportunity to find God right until the day we die.

    Once this life ends the opportunity to seek and find God also ends… we have made our decision. Either we say to God your will be done, or God says to us your will be done. In either case we are the ones making the decision. Hell isn’t punishment. It the result of our choice to reject a relationship with God.

    Jesus is preparing a place for heaven for those who love God and desire to do his will, and Satan is preparing a place for those who reject God, and want nothing to do with Him.

    To me… it makes sense to work long and hard trying to find God… and to find His will for me. Rejecting God seems like a very dangerous spiritual adventure, but His mercy is ALWAYS available for those who ask.