Flickers of Conscience

One year ago this month, I posted an essay titled “A Seriously Warped Moral Compass“. In it, I highlighted the disturbing tendency of religious beliefs to twist and distort a person’s conscience to the point where they accept terrible evils as just acts, and, conversely, elevate harmless actions to the height of wickedness and sin.

But I do wonder sometimes if even the most thorough and relentless religious brainwashing can ever completely succeed. Are human beings infinitely malleable, so that with sufficient indoctrination we can be made to sincerely believe anything at all? Or do we have an irreducible core of conscience, that can be repressed or overruled but never completely silenced?

It heartens me to observe that in many cases – especially when it comes to that most wicked of all religious dogmas, the dogma of Hell – the answer is the latter. As opposed to some past believers, who eagerly anticipated witnessing the torments of the damned, many modern theists hasten to assure us that they’re not happy about Hell’s existence, that they don’t want anyone to be sent there. I believe that these protests represent flickers of human conscience, damped down by the religious impulse but not wholly suppressed.

One believer I’ve seen express these flickers of conscience is C.S. Lewis. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis writes about Hell that “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power” (p.119) and that “I too detest it from the bottom of my heart” (p.120).

This is an astonishing admission, considering Lewis’ main argument for Christianity hinges on his claim that humans have an innate moral sense which tells them the difference between good and evil. If that is true, then hasn’t Lewis essentially admitted that the moral sense condemns Hell as an evil thing? Isn’t this a concession that the moral sense, which he claims leads inevitably to Christianity, actually pushes back against one of that religion’s central ideas?

A theist blogger, the Internet Monk, writes in “Wretched Urgency” about his former affiliation with a fundamentalist church that believed much the same things:

Feeling badly about things was a key part of the Christian life in my church. We called it being “burdened for the lost.” The ideal Christian lived in hours of weeping daily prayer, interceding and travailing for the lost. (Weeping was very important.)

Evidently, although the members of this church were expected to spend their every spare minute bewailing the fate of the damned, they assumed they would instantly lose all this concern once they themselves reached Heaven.

Or take this comment left by a Christian visitor in the discussion thread for “The Power of Christ Compels You“:

Imagine how it must feel for me when I walk outside and I see hundreds of people, most who either do not believe in God or do not have a relationship with him, and I know that in my beliefs they will be going to Hell to suffer for eternity. It is awful. I think of all the children that haven’t even heard of God before, and I realize that kids will be going to Hell to be tortured and punished forever because they have not accepted Jesus as their savior.

It can’t be denied that this is a correct description of traditional Christianity’s end-times plan. Jesus himself says in the gospels that most people are going to Hell (Matthew 7:13). But it’s interesting that a Christian called this state of affairs “awful”. Why does he think it’s awful?

Isn’t this the outcome of God’s wonderful and perfect plan? And since God is omniscient, he must have foreseen and intended this from the beginning of time. Shouldn’t it be praised and glorified just as Christians praise and glorify all of God’s decisions? This commenter appears to be expressing the the, dare I say, heretical thought that an all-wise, all-loving God’s grand plan might actually have a deplorable or even evil outcome…

A feedback e-mail I once received used similar language, but put it even more bluntly:

In fact after I first became a Christian I threw up for six weeks straight, not because I was arguing with God but because I realised that he exists and that being true, then the awful fact that people are indeed going to hell made me physically sick.

The terrible suffering that these believers put themselves through suggests that, at some level, they recognize the immorality of their own beliefs. Their sorrow, their weeping, their physical sickness is external evidence of an internal battle, a rebellion of conscience against the cruel dogma of eternal damnation. They frame this turmoil as compassion for the lost, but don’t seem to realize that this amounts to a condemnation of the very belief system that consigns outsiders to the status of “lost” in the first place!

Clearly, in the Christian system, God does not concern himself about these people. If he did, he could have saved them and not left them to such a fate. These believers’ actions show that they’re more ethical and moral than their own religion. They recognize this evil doctrine for what it is, even if they can’t consciously bring themselves to reject it. And this is a hopeful sign, for it means that all the religious teaching and indoctrination has not managed to erase their inner conscience. Perhaps, in due time, some of the people even now agonizing over this will grow into atheists who throw the whole sorry system of false dogma overboard.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • andrea

    I find it utterly bizaare when we have theists bewailing that they are oh-so burdened when they realize that their deity damns everyone who doesn’t get the formula right, not that any of them have any idea if they are one of those. “Imagine how it must feel for me” indeed. They chose the religion. They should be singing thanking their “god” for damning people. However, their humaness doesn’t allow it. They deserve all their unhappiness that they have wished upon themselves.

  • Jack

    Hey Ebon – I really appreciate your site as someone who in the past few years moved from being a devout evangelical Christian to an agnostic. Hell is definitely high among the list of concepts that pushed me here. I marvelled while in the church at how blithely people could talk about “the lost”, not ever stopping to contemplate what that term really meant – i.e., that the vast majority of humanity would spend literally forever and ever in intense, agonizing suffering. I went on a missions trip to Mexico City in college and remember as the plane landed thinking that most of the 26 million or so people in the city would be forever doomed because they didn’t believe my brand of evangelical beliefs. It was soul-crushing.

    It has been so freeing over the past few years to be able to interact with people and not immediately need to figure out “what category” they are in (saved or lost). When I see a crowd of people enjoying themselves, I no longer have to think that their enjoyment is but a temporary reprieve from the horrible fate that awaits them. Life is so much brighter without agonizing over a fiery pit waiting to swallow up humanity. How did I ever believe it in the first place?

  • mackrelmint

    I spent a few decades believing both that the unsaved would be damned to hell and that the god I worshipped was good, loving and always right, even in damning them. Yes, this was warped thinking, and reconciling these ideas was difficult at the time and never truly felt right, or entirely moral. But what did I know?, I would reason. I wasn’t an all powerful, all good and all knowing deity, so my only recourse was to follow the dictates of my religion (and my god) and do my best to “bring others to Christ” and truly did feel burdened and sad for unbelievers, even to the point that it was occasionally overwhelming. Now, from an atheistic perspective, and having left the influence of my church (and religious family) years ago, I can see just how distorted such thinking was.

    The thing is though, is that it truly didn’t seem that way at the time and there were so many restrictions imposed on my thinking and what could and could not be questioned that I think it hardly fair to suggest, as Andrea has just done, that I “deserve” the unhappiness I felt towards those I thought would be damned. That it was self-imposed, I would heartily agree with, but I think it incredibly unsympathetic and a bit mean to wish unhappiness on others for being so confused. I didn’t ever choose my religion, as I was brought up in it from bith, quite literally in fact, as my parents even administered our church from our home.

    I’m certainly not condoning those who rejoice in their perception of sinners being damned and do their best to make sure those same sinners know it. That can’t be excused either, but I wince whenever I encounter comments from atheists that wish harm or unhappiness on others, simply for being irrational.

  • Polly

    Too many people buy into, or are raised to believe, unconscionable things. “Evidence” is presented to make the deception complete and DEEP. They are also fooled by psychoreligious experiences that may serve to confirm for a less broadly exposed person that something supernatural and unique is happening to them (maybe that’s why so many oppose drug use, it’s competition). Even very intelligent people can be naive and foolishly sentimental. Finally, everyone around them will act as if this is all normal and honkey-dorey as if there’s something wrong with YOUR understanding of justice and goodness if you think the Bible-god is a PRICK.
    Thanks to the internet, it’s getting harder and harder to be insular and I think that’s a key. When xians see that they aren’t the only ones having these misgivings, AND I WAS CERTAINLY MADE TO FEEL ALONE IN MY CONCERNS, then maybe they’ll be strengthened to take that first step away from the fold.

  • Polly

    @Jack

    It has been so freeing over the past few years to be able to interact with people and not immediately need to figure out “what category” they are in (saved or lost). When I see a crowd of people enjoying themselves, I no longer have to think that their enjoyment is but a temporary reprieve from the horrible fate that awaits them. Life is so much brighter without agonizing over a fiery pit waiting to swallow up humanity. How did I ever believe it in the first place?

    Wow! My thoughts expressed word-for-word.

  • James Bradbury

    Jack, mackrelmint, Polly,

    Thank you for you enlightening comments. I think atheists who want to get their message across would do well to read your accounts carefully.

    In order to kindle that flicker of conscience, to tempt people to compassion and curiosity, perhaps we need to let people know that they ARE NOT alone in their concerns. As Polly says, the Internet can help a lot with this. I’ve sometimes wondered if I should go along to a church group or alpha course to ask (as politely as possible) those awkward questions that other people might not dare to. My hope would be that the questions I’m sure many people have but never voice are out in the open so others know they are not alone.

    A friend of mine is an enthusiastic (but thoroughly decent) Christian. In response to my questioning why a loving god would send lots of people to be tortured he claimed that the literal hell does not exist. He cited some bibble verses where its mention is omitted and they speak only of “death” for non-believers.

  • Jack

    James – I’m not sure that going to an alpha course or church group would be the way to go. Believe it or not, I used to be in charge of something similar to an alpha course, and I knew intellectually all the questions you would probably ask but was deft at evading them. I don’t think that most people who are Christians are really into it because they have searched high and low for truth and have found Christianity to be the ultimate embodiment of that Truth. In the same way I’d argue that most “nonchristians” are not unbelievers because they carefully weighed the evidence for Christianity and found it wanting. People in general are not philosophically inclined. They’re looking for a community where they can belong, and will adopt (perhaps halfheartedly) whatever beliefs happen to hold sway over the community that they find themselves a part of. That’s part of the reason why so many “church kids” leave the faith in college – they find other communities that are not faith based and have no problem leaving their old beliefs behind to be a part of them.

    I stayed somewhat active in my church for about six months after I admitted to myself that I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I just didn’t know where to turn for a new group of friends. You may be able to help Christians see the intellectual problems with their faith, but I don’t think many leave until they become convinced that there’s a new circle of friends waiting for them.

  • mackrelmint

    James,
    As Polly mentioned and as you recognized, feeling isolated and alone in these concerns is a problem for Christians who are questioning and absolutely, letting people know that they are not alone is important. I was lucky in that an older sibling of mine had done much of the same questioning before me and so I could go to her for private, and nonjudgemental discussion.

    Your idea of attending a church meeting to facilitate raising these questions is an interesting one, but I’m not sure that it would be successful, or very pleasant for you. Your purpose in attending will be immediately questioned, and if you admit that you aren’t really there to learn more about god, in the way the others are (or that becomes apparent), you will be viewed as the outsider that you are and your raising of the difficult questions will be likely more malevolently viewed as assisting in an “attack by the devil”, or some such thing. Any other attendees that may be there, and in other circumstances be amenable to such questioning, will be under immense pressure to conform and to not be seen as aligning with you.

    I think it is much more important to be there for your friend (to whom you are not a stranger, with all the unknown threats that entails) and to facilitate, as gently as possible, the questioning that needs to occur. Helping them to find secular resources that investigate these questions, including internet sources will also be helpful, as Polly mentioned.

    It occurs to me that in another way, the internet is a wonderful resource because with the push of a button to clear the browsing history, there can be no direct evidence of such questioning. This may be important when family members disapprove and the finding of the “wrong” reading materials may lead to conflict. (During my undergraduate degree in biology, I had to hide the fact that I was taking a course in evolution from my family. I wish I could forget the family conflict that resulted from the discovery of my course textbook by one of my parents. I never allowed myself to possess any secular books dealing with religion that could be found by my family until I had moved out of my parental home.)

  • James Bradbury

    Jack – I think you’re probably right. Thanks for your response.

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    Isn’t this the outcome of God’s wonderful and perfect plan? And since God is omniscient, he must have foreseen and intended this from the beginning of time. Shouldn’t it be praised and glorified just as Christians praise and glorify all of God’s decisions? This commenter appears to be expressing the the, dare I say, heretical thought that an all-wise, all-loving God’s grand plan might actually have a deplorable or even evil outcome…

    From interviews that I’ve seen with Shirley Phelps-Roper (of God Hates Fags fame), this is exactly WBC’s “theology” (how I hate that word). The despicable protestations they excel at are a small part of it, but appear to be merely showboating “to the glory of god” in lieu of anything actually productive to do: conversion doesn’t appear to be part of their schtick.

  • Javaman

    Crusing YouTube, I came across a Bill O’Reilly clip trash-talking atheists, his main point being that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao historically were atheists and slaughtered millions of people. His conclusion was that atheists have no moral compass and atheism always leads to wholesale state-sponsored murder. These four individuals were not humanistic atheists; they just replaced themselves and their form of government as the new religion that the citizens had to follow. (This is a point made by Ebon.) What is God’s excuse? If God is supposed to be the exemplar for humans to follow, where is the compassion, the loving kindness? If God, through floods and plagues, etc. kills humans who disagree with him, isn’t he then in the same league as the four above-mentioned madmen?

  • Alex Weaver

    Communism is arguably a nontheistic religion (like Buddhism), as are personality cults of all sorts. Hitler, however, was definitely not a communist or an atheist.

  • Yoyo

    It was the concept of hell that pushed me away from religion at the age of 13, that and an awakening feminism. The idea taught to us children was that all the relgious of other groups, even isolated communites, even babies, would burn in fire and undergo mediaeval tortures. It was a sick idea and even as a child i recognised its injustice. The group i had the fortune or misfortune to join was the Bethel baptists, (they had the best social group) but the filthy torture videos they showed us about hell were definately child abuse.

  • http://verwide.net/blog/ Moody834

    Apposite to your post, I think….

    If you have not ever read C.G. Jung’s Answer to Job, you might want to. He makes the point that “God” is [to radically paraphrase, but accurately] morally blind. Jung posits that Job is morally superior to “God”. An interesting quote from the book [source]:

    The invasion of evil signifies that something previously good has
    turned into something harmful . . . the ruling moral principle,
    although excellent to begin with, in time loses its essential con-
    nection with life, since it no longer embraces life’s variety and
    abundance. What is rationally correct is too narrow a concept to
    grasp life in its totality and give it permanent expression.

    And again [source: vide supra]:

    From the ancient records we know that the divine drama was
    enacted between God and his people, who were betrothed to him,
    the masculine dynamis, like a woman, and over whose faithful-
    ness he watched jealously. A particular instance of this is Job,
    whose faithfulness is subjected to a savage test. As I have said, the
    really astonishing thing is how easily Yahweh gives in to the
    insinuations of Satan. If it were true that he trusted Job perfectly,
    it would be logical for Yahweh to defend him, unmask the mali-
    cious slanderer, and make him pay for his defamation of God’s
    faithful servant. But Yahweh never thinks of it, not even after
    Job’s innocence has been proved. We hear nothing of a rebuke or
    disapproval of Satan. Therefore we cannot doubt Yahweh’s con-
    nivance. His readiness to deliver Job into Satan’s murderous
    hands proves that he doubts Job precisely because he projects his
    own tendency to unfaithfulness upon a scapegoat. There is reason
    to suspect that he is about to loosen his matrimonial ties with
    Israel but hides this intention from himself.

    They sure don’t talk about this sort of thing in Sunday School.

  • Valhar2000

    Mackrelmint wrote:

    [...]but I think it incredibly unsympathetic and a bit mean to wish unhappiness on others for being so confused.[...]

    I have said things liek that too, often in fact. I don’t know if Andrea’s motivation is the same as mine.

    The fact is, it hurts me to see people who are doing unbeleivable damage to themselves, and to know that I cannot stop because I do not know how to explain it to them in a way that they will understand. Then, exhibiting a little irrationality of my own, I simply try to convince myself that they deserve it, which takes the edge off somewhat.

    Yeah; even atheists are not above acquiring comfortable delusions, every now and then.

  • Goyo

    This was also one of the problems I faced when I was really into Xtianity. I spent many hours thinking about my friends and family that were doomed if they didn’t accept my interpretation of the scriptures. It also caused me to feel superior in a crazy way, because I could look at all the other people that I came into contact with and imagine them in hell, knowing that my place in heaven was guaranteed.
    (Once saved, always saved, you know). I even got into analyzing the particular theological differences that the denominations practiced, (the trinity, baptism,etc…)and concluded that I was one lucky SOB for having been born into the correct denomination.
    Like Jack said, I can now look at the world and just accept it for what it is.
    Atheism is true freedom!

  • Kierkegaardian Christian

    The real difficulty you guys have is not the doctrine of Hell, but the doctrine of man’s freedom plus God’s omnipotence. The doctrine of Hell is no more than that mankind is free to destroy himself. Why would God allow it?

    Let me ask you a question: Are you totally objective when you face the question of your own death?

    Aha! Trick question – Objectivity is when you consider a question as though you weren’t involved in it – And you’re intimately involved in the question of your own death. You have to be subjective about it, or you aren’t really considering the question.

    I think you’ll find that the paradox of man’s freedom/God’s omnipotence is only effective when considered objectively. But since it’s a question that, in the end, is really about what will happen to you, personally – (Life or death? Joy or despair? Heaven or Hell?), it’s totally improper to consider it objectively, as though you weren’t involved.

    Christianity claims that this paradox is fundamental to human nature – And when you consider it objectively, you disconnect yourself from human nature, which is your own nature.

    I urge you all to consider subjectively – personally – what it would mean to you if it was true that God is good and powerful, and yet that you yourself in freedom have destroyed yourself. See if that paradox doesn’t match up with something deep within you. Aren’t you yourself torn between two such extremes, whether or not it seems possible objectively?

  • http://www.anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    KC, why would a supreme being require that we believe in its existence as a litmus test to determine whether or not we spend an eternity in heaven and hell?

    Besides, there is no evidence for life after death. No one can demonstrate the existence of a soul that lives apart from the body. No one can provide a location for heaven or hell. These are all merely abstract concepts and not real places or things, so to base my life on it is ridiculous.

  • Polly

    The real difficulty you guys have is not the doctrine of Hell, but the doctrine of man’s freedom plus God’s omnipotence. The doctrine of Hell is no more than that mankind is free to destroy himself. Why would God allow it?

    I am not deciding to destroy myself. Name one thing you think I’m doing to destroy myself and let’s see if it makes sense that, absent the deliberate actions of a tyrant, it would lead to my destruction. If I go to Hell, it will be because I’m being thrown in against my will at the hands of a sadist who opposes dissent.

    The Bible says that god created Hell – prepared it, actually. Why would he create such a place? Why create a Lake of Fire? (If indeed you believe such a thing) Why create any place where people, or even spirits (fallen-angels), can be tortured forever?
    Why? torture? anyone? Forever?

  • Alex Weaver

    KC:

    1) What people want has no bearing on what is.
    2) “Objectivity” doesn’t mean what you think it does.

  • heliobates

    I urge you all to consider subjectively – personally – what it would mean to you if it was true that God is good and powerful, and yet that you yourself in freedom have destroyed yourself. See if that paradox doesn’t match up with something deep within you. Aren’t you yourself torn between two such extremes, whether or not it seems possible objectively?

    I urge you to consider that this is not the first time we’ve encountered Pascal’s Wager. Even dressed in fancy clothes, it’s still a penniless wastrel.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    The doctrine of Hell is no more than that mankind is free to destroy himself.

    KC, I suggest you read my essay “Divine Blackmail“:

    When you die and stand at the judgment seat, are you confronted with one door filled with glorious white and golden light, clouds floating serenely by in the background, the harmonious sounds of an angelic chorus drifting out, and with a sign reading “HEAVEN” over it in pure white light, and another door filled with flames and the screams of the damned and a sign reading “HELL” over it in flickering red neon, and God invites you to pick one? If this is not the case, then the situation is no different than the Mafia enforcer claiming that, by not paying protection, the old man is “choosing” to have his shop burned down.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    My fundamentalist relatives feel this way about me and my parents, and it has caused no end of grief in my family. One elderly relative says that she and her friends discuss this at her retirement home: how can it be heaven if our children aren’t there? How can we enjoy our afterlife knowing that our loved ones are suffering eternal torment? I try to imagine how she must feel, looking at us across the Thanksgiving table and thinking, if only she said the right words, she could save us. It would be monstrous for her not to try, given what she believes.

    I spent so much of my life getting angry at them for preaching at us, but now I just feel so sick and sad for them. One of the supposed “benefits” of religion is that it should bring people together, and give you comfort in your old age, but in my family I just see it making people miserable in their twilight years, and driving a wedge between people who ought to care for each other.

  • http://www.beyondfundamentalism.net Matt

    Matthew 7:13 does not state what the post claims. It says ‘many’ will take the ‘path of destruction.’ Even if we accept the assumption that this refers to eternal damnation (maybe it doesn’t), ‘many’ is not ‘most.’ In fact, a very small number could be considered too many, if we are talking about such a terrible end.

    It is false to say that Jesus taught that most people will go to hell.

  • Polly

    Hi Matt,

    I understand that that is one interpretation. It seems to be the less popular one. The confusion seems to arise from the different verses that seem to indicate that Hell is eternal and for all non-believers and even some who are ostensibly believers.

    But, that’s not my point.

    It’s the belief in Hell (which is widespread) that causes a LOT of grief for both believers and unbelievers. Even if they are wrong (by your understanding) it makes no difference. People remain separated. It’s a terrible wall that separates believers from non-believers and, at a personal level, I have found this to be the worst of meddlesome doctrines. The wall extends between acquaintances, the closest of friends, and spouses and even whole communities.

    I am not really anti-religion (insert the usual caveats). But, if I could eradicate the doctrine of Hell from human consciousness, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

    Today, I made the argument to my wife that John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in the Bible, rules out Hell with the word “perish.” I am “liberalizing” her Xianity. :)

  • OMGF

    KC,

    I think you’ll find that the paradox of man’s freedom/God’s omnipotence is only effective when considered objectively. But since it’s a question that, in the end, is really about what will happen to you, personally – (Life or death? Joy or despair? Heaven or Hell?), it’s totally improper to consider it objectively, as though you weren’t involved.

    Christianity claims that this paradox is fundamental to human nature – And when you consider it objectively, you disconnect yourself from human nature, which is your own nature.

    Are you really saying what it looks like you are saying here? You seem to be saying that it is a paradox, but we should ignore that and believe that it isn’t because it feels good? What rubbish. Please tell me that’s not what you meant.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt,

    Many (just about anyone) will not get into heaven according to Jesus.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzzORZhnCao

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “Christianity claims that this paradox is fundamental to human nature – And when you consider it objectively, you disconnect yourself from human nature, which is your own nature.

    I urge you all to consider subjectively – personally – what it would mean to you if it was true that God is good and powerful, and yet that you yourself in freedom have destroyed yourself.”

    KC, you seem to have forgotten one thing. In defining god as perfect, christian theologians have defined god as being both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. Leaving aside for the moment the contradiction inherent in those two concepts, I shall simply point out to you that perfect mercy seems to be a ridiculous notion when we notice this eternal pit of fire doled out to us for a mere lack of faith or fealty.

    Then again, for all I know, you’ve grounded your kids for life for disregarding their curfew by a few hours. :P

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    A somewhat delayed reply, but I’d like to address this:

    It is false to say that Jesus taught that most people will go to hell.

    Matt, please read the whole verse again:

    “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

    The verse clearly means to contrast the “many” who enter the gate of destruction with the “few” who enter the gate of life. There’s no way to read it other than that the former are considerably more numerous than the latter. Unless you believe there’s a third option, I don’t see any way to interpret this verse other than that most people will go to Hell.

  • Kierkegaardian Christian

    Well, I can’t provide an answer to everybody. But here’s a few arrows that might hit some kind of mark, and might help provide for mutual understanding at least, if not agreement.

    1) Christian doctrine is not that you go to Hell for failing to believe a particular doctrine. Christian doctrine is that you go to Hell for failing to have faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is a kind of passion – It’s “being certain of what we do not see” – And no objective doctrine can make you certain of what you don’t see, because the more objective you are, the more you’re focussed on what can be seen. Certainty just can’t come from a doctrine – It has to come from a passion. This is why it’s so important that each person take time to examine his or her passions.

    2) Objectivity may not mean what you think I think it means, but here’s what dictionary.com thinks it means:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/objectivity (see meaning 2)
    and http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/objective (see meaning 5, 6, and 8)

    3) Pascal’s wager is very different from what I’m putting forward, which comes straight from Kierkegaard, and, if I’ve communicated it correctly, should have nothing to do with the relative desireability of heaven vs. hell, which, I believe, is what Pascal’s wager depends on. See http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/pascal/pensees-a.html#SECTION%20III (I believe it’s pensee #233)

    I have to go to bed now. Maybe I’ll stop by again later on.

    I love you guys! This is so much fun!

  • Kierkegaardian Christian

    Oh, never mind, never mind, heliobates, you’re totally right! This is great! I’d never considered the question from that angle before. Thanks!

    Of course, subjectively there can’t be anything like the wager, since you have to abstractly consider the two possible beliefs and the four possible outcomes. However, if you view what I’m saying through objectivity, it comes out to be something like: “Christianity is the only worldview that could possibly account for my current doubleminded state, and Jesus in His doubleness is the only One Who could save me – All other worldviews leave me destroyed – So I must believe in Him.”

    Which is a lot like Pascal’s wager. Nice!

    But it’s not really a valid expression of what I’m trying to say, since it’s viewing a very subjective, personal experience through an objective lens that can’t comprehend it at all. Subjectively, it’s more like a drowning man reaching for the one thing he sees that can save him.

    Am I the only one here who realizes that we’re all drowning? Doomed to die unless we get help? I have this deadly dilemma: “Help! I am in a place with no air! I must breathe!” (That’s the dual nature of man) Atheism says: “Get used to dying”. Buddhism says: “Learn how not to breathe” Islam says: “Hold your breath and you can have air later”.

    Only Jesus says, “Here’s some air”.

  • Dawn Rhapsody

    But it’s not really a valid expression of what I’m trying to say, since it’s viewing a very subjective, personal experience through an objective lens that can’t comprehend it at all. Subjectively, it’s more like a drowning man reaching for the one thing he sees that can save him.

    On what basis do you claim that death is a “very subjective, personal experience”? I would claim that it is an objective, physical phenomenon, and that it is no different for humans than it is for plants or bumblebees (who, as far as I know, neither God nor Jesus offer the chance to enter heaven). The difference is that as a sentient species, we know that we will eventually die — so, naturally, some frantically search for anything that might possibly let them escape it.

    What I am consistently understanding, KC, is that you also share this fear of death. And like most other theists, you pray to be saved by someone you’ve never met, someone you never will meet, someone who you’ve only heard about because someone else told you, someone who exists based only on the word of others and a fuzzy feeling you call faith.

    Am I the only one here who realizes that we’re all drowning? Doomed to die unless we get help? I have this deadly dilemma: “Help! I am in a place with no air! I must breathe!” (That’s the dual nature of man) Atheism says: “Get used to dying”. Buddhism says: “Learn how not to breathe” Islam says: “Hold your breath and you can have air later”.

    Only Jesus says, “Here’s some air”.

    This may come as a shock, but Christianity is not the first religion to promise “air” to us “drowning” humans, and nothing separates it from the countless hundreds of other deities and their promise of eternal life except the number of believers.

    Otherwise, I agree with your analogy of the drowning man reaching for something to save him — well, almost. He can’t actually see anything that could save him, but he heard on the grapevine that it’s there — it’s just invisible.

    Great to see you’re enjoying a good debate.

  • OMGF

    Am I the only one here who realizes that we’re all drowning?

    How ghastly. No, I don’t see myself drowning at all, and I feel sorry for you if you do indeed feel that way. That is part of the hateful teaching of Xianity.

  • shifty

    It’s funny, I had one of those JW’s at my door recently, trying to sell me a watchtower, and in the course of our discussion he asked if I wanted to live forever. And I mean in the literal sense. I thought about it for a brief instant and replied not at all. I couldn’t think of anything more horrible. The implications were alarming. This earth can barely sustain us now, can you imagine how hard it would be if noone died? No, I’m not drowning. I quite love my finite life. The beauty of my surroundings, my family, my parents and my children. I exalt in everything around me. I feel privileged that I am here, will do everything in my power to be a good caretaker and to leave my world in better shape for those who come after me to enjoy. Am I drowning? Hell no! I’m enjoying the water. I’m splashing and swimming. I’m playing water polo. I’m living, and soon it will be time for others to do so too.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Shifty –

    In a sense, our evanescence lends our experience a beauty it would otherwise lack, much like a beautiful daybreak which compels you to set down your gardening for a moment and look, because you know it will not last. The ennui of an eternal existence seems pretty overlooked by most Christians.

    And, Kierk –

    To extend your analogy, it is god who removed the air in the first place. I’ll turn blue before I worship any deity who’d treat his own creations as sadistically as this one is reputed to have done.

  • Kierkegaardian Christian

    All I hear is “Get used to dying”

    “Get used to dying”

    “Get used to dying”

    Anyway, Dawn, you said,

    “This may come as a shock, but Christianity is not the first religion to promise “air” to us “drowning” humans, and nothing separates it from the countless hundreds of other deities and their promise of eternal life except the number of believers.”

    You all are making the mistake of confusing Christianity with Islam. Christ doesn’t promise to give us air. He gives us air. I’m breathing right now.

    I mean, if you’ve never breathed before, I won’t be able to explain to you what it’s like. I actually have eternal life right now.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Kierkegaardian Christian,

    Christ doesn’t promise to give us air. He gives us air. I’m breathing right now.

    Yet another claim made with no evidence. As I promised before, I’m not going to debate points of faith anymore because faith-based thinking doesn’t listen to reason or evidence; I’m just going to deny them. You’re wrong; we have air to breath because of reasons that don’t require a god.

    You all are making the mistake of confusing Christianity with Islam

    We’re not confused; they’re both nonsensical religions, making essential many of the same outragous claims with no evidence. The only real difference between the beliefs is over the specific, yet fictional, details.

  • Mrnaglfar

    And some additions:

    We don’t breath air because that’s what jesus wants us to breath; we breath it because it’s what and how we evolved to breath; same way plants “breath” Carbon Dioxide, and fish will “drown” without water.

    All I hear is “Get used to dying”

    “Get used to dying”

    “Get used to dying”

    We know we’re going to die; that’s observable. Everything that has lived is dead, and everything, at least so far, has continued that pattern of eventually dying. Call me a cynic, but it seems that we too will eventually die. I guess it’s too bad I don’t live in fantasy-land where I get to have really great picnics (read sit in heaven and worship) with Jesus for the rest of forever. And that whole dying thing? It’s not real – we don’t actually die! Same with evolution – we didn’t evolve, that’s scientific jerk-off crap; jesus made us this way!

  • OMGF

    Get used to dying? Are you for real KC? How does one get used to something that will happen once?

    You all are making the mistake of confusing Christianity with Islam. Christ doesn’t promise to give us air. He gives us air. I’m breathing right now.

    What did all the people who lived before Jesus breathe?

    I actually have eternal life right now.

    You do? How do you know that? First, you’d have to know that you have some sort of eternal soul. Do you have evidence of such? Second, you’d have to know that god exists. How can you possibly know that? Third, you’d have to know that god has chosen you to be “saved” and again, how can you possibly know that?

  • Damien

    KC, can we drop the whole “air-eternal life” metaphor? (Or possibly simile; I always did confuse the two.) It’s confusing the heck out of me, and it’s not working for anybody else. Let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No”. It’s easier on everybody that way.

    There, now that’s out of my system: You’re essentially saying that Christianity is the only belief system that makes people immortal? Have I understood you correctly? Because if that’s the case, then you’ve still got to answer OMGF’s question about “How do you know you’re immortal?”, and possibly Thump’s point that God, by making us all mortal and then only allowing a few of us to become immortal, is cruel and unworthy of worship. (Especially if we were immortal originally, as Christianity claims.)

  • Damien

    Mrnaglfar: Take a deep breath and calm down. If you end up having a heart attack because of KC, nobody wins that one!

  • Valhar2000

    Well, I guess KC is one of the unfortunates who had his morality destroyed by theism. Or else, he doesn’t really believe it, but it makes him feel good to think it and to tell others about it.

  • Virginia

    I have seen a lot of KC equivalent. One of them even got a PhD, but this friend of mine got converted at junior high, sort of has lots of sentimental attachment to it, and plus this person’s type is a “Feeler” type in the Type Talk thing, so a lot of the talks are “feeling” oriented, not refined or very logically inclined, just like KC.
    Organized religions provded a community where a lot of “Feeler” types, who needed a lot of relating to human emotions will find attractive — add to it a few psychoreligious experiences — boom — you got yourself a spiritual person…..


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