What Do We Know About Heaven?

A couple years ago, I started receiving Christian magazines in my mailbox. (I guess anonymous Christians felt if I read them, I’d get converted or something. Who knows how they found my address…)

My favorite in the bunch was Charisma because I *facepalmed* through every issue. It was free entertainment. It would have been more fun if I didn’t know that actual subscribers actually agreed with what was in it. That was (and still is) frightening.

For example, their most recent issue is all about Heaven and Hell… they’re dedicating an issue to a subject no one can possibly know anything about because you would only know about it after you die and you wouldn’t be in a position to tell anyone ab—oh, forget it. You all know what I’m saying.

But that’s not going to stop them. They have “experts” weighing in on what goes on in Heaven.

(Spoiler: You’ll have a job after you die!)

I have a lot of problems with Christianity.

One of them is that Christians act like they “know” things when, really, they have no clue about them.

Does anything happen when we die?

Accurate answer: If you’re buried, your body will soon rot.

Christian answer: If you were faithful and accepted Jesus into your heart, you will go to Heaven. If you rejected Jesus, you’ll burn in hell for all eternity.

How did the universe begin?

Accurate answer: Evidence suggests there was a “Big Bang“… what happened before that? We may never know.

Christian answer: God created it.

Does God exist?

Accurate answer: Is it possible that a god exists? Perhaps — even many atheists will refrain from saying “God absolutely does not exist.” But there’s never been any verifiable evidence that a god exists.

Christian answer: I know God exists and I know what he wants for my life and he listens to my prayers and we have conversations.

I prefer the truth, even if that means I don’t have all the answers to the “big questions.” That’s why I’m an atheist.

What Charisma is doing? That’s pure dishonesty. And you’ll never see their readers calling them out on it.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Streets reportedly paved with gold, work till you’re dead and beyond, no time for your loved ones, feet firmly on the ground, lots of historical figures around, plenty of places to eat out….. Wow, sounds like London to me. I lived briefly in London and I can tell you that it is a great place to visit. I would not want to be stuck there forever though.

    I love how they keep refering to “evidence” like they are actually using any. :)

  • Mike-El

    To be fair, the dude does concede that no one knows what will be on the menu.

  • gharkness

    I certainly agree that after death, we will have a “body like Christ’s.”

    Dead.

  • keddaw

    Given that mankind supposedly rejected God once, what’s to stop us doing it again when in heaven? And if we can’t then do we have free will in heaven?

    If we will know our relatives and friends and they don’t believe, can we really be happy knowing they will be being tortured for eternity, even if they were great people but just couldn’t come to believe that Jesus dies for their sins (which he logically did not do if they are in hell!)

  • aerie

    A frakkin’ job? Haven’t we worked enough? Wonder what the hours will be there? Is human resources, like.. Moses’ job or is that Paul’s department? Multi-facepalms.

    Thanks, but I prefer oblivion. Just like before I was born sounds like heaven to me.

    But when you lie for jesus, it’s O.K.!
    My mom subscribed to that rag mag early in her fundy days. I remember it well.

  • http://hryun.com Vinícius Egidio

    Looks like a very boring place:

    * No sex (I’m sure this will be forbidden there – especially if we won’t be married)
    * No food also implies no drinking (a life without Big Mac, pizzas and without beer is a sad life)

    Why does anybody want to go there anyway?

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    And since we now know that animals can go to heaven there are bound to be plenty of pissed off victims of The Great Flood up there.

  • Einmaliger

    The article refers to “RSVP”. What does that stand for?

  • http://irreligiousperspective.blogspot.com prayforrain

    My heaven is beating Michael Jordan one-on-one. However, his heaven is never getting beaten. Que?

  • A Portlander

    I find these sorts of “inquiries” to be telling about the religious worldview’s bizarrely twisted understanding of the world. Let’s consider the question of whether the streets of Heaven are paved with gold; I know what the pseudo-authority in the article said, but let’s consider what’s necessary to even ask the question in the first place.

    If Heaven has streets, and those streets are paved with gold, and if the gold those streets are paved with is the same gold we know here on Earth, then we’re discussing a chemical element. We already know Christians don’t believe Heaven will operate according to the same boundaries of substance and force as the world they live in — there are streets, so people walk, so there is something like gravity, but there is apparently no entropy, since, for example, life is everlasting. In a Heaven with something like gravity, but with nothing like entropy, descriptions based on the physical laws of our universe are meaningless. So:

    If there is gold in Heaven, it is not a noble metal with 79 protons. If that is the case, but that gold is still supposed to be gold, then the querent believes there is some other essential quality of “goldness” besides its chemical composition. That sounds like animism to me, but the sort of Christian who is most likely to believe there is literally gold in Heaven is also most likely to take offense, quite possibly to the point of violent threats, if you called him an animist (once you explained the concept).

  • Evan

    I seem to recall pamphlets around my parent’s church when I was growing up that were nearly verbatim to this.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    This map of heaven has been posted here a couple of times before but I think it summarizes the popular notions of heaven quite well. Heaven as an amusement park.

  • aerie

    @Einmaliger:

    I’m sure that’s their ‘cute’ way of saying to RSVP by accepting Jaysus into your heart & become born again. “For none can get into the kingdom but thru him.”

    Yes, I saw how our beloved pets will be there too! Yippee!

  • ABinMN

    Einmaliger: RSVP is “Repondez s’il vous plait” – french for “please reply”.

  • GSW

    but please what is the first thing you see on entering a catholic church? And on most street corners in catholic countries?
    A whopping great carved image of Jesus aka God!

    BUT

    2nd. Commandment: ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’

    So one should take everything they say with a pinch of salt anyway.

    Hypocrisy is the basis for any religion.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Everyone is trying to get to the bar.
    The name of the bar, the bar is called Heaven.
    The band in Heaven plays my favorite song.
    They play it once again, they play it all night long.

    Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
    Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.

    The Talking Heads

  • Trace

    Grandma used to say we would eat honey cakes in Heaven. I hope “iaia” is enjoying hers.

  • Karen, RN

    It is entertaining, isn’t it? And, as you said a little scary…I am willing to admit it if I am wrong but I am not going to blindly trust that God exists. It really is this sort of “National Inquirer” sort of news that taints our culture with brutal acts of violence and intolerance in the name of God. But, Hemant, I am glad you read it…this is really the only way to know how to talk to someone who holds those beliefs…to know their terminology and use it to gain trust so that you can have those critical conversations. As a former Bible thumper I know how I would have wanted to have been approached…and when I was approach in that way it made all the difference in the world.

  • Angie

    They don’t know what’s on the menu!? Well, if Heaven doesn’t have chocolate lava cake, then I’m not going!

    In all seriousness, this vision of Heaven sounds very concrete and juvenile, although it’s a slight improvement over the Islamic heaven full of liquor and virgins. I was hoping for something more transcendent — union with the ultimate reality, ecstacy at coming face-to-face with the One, suspension of time and space, etc. If we’re going to make conjectures about the afterlife, let’s show a little more creativity, hmm?

    Of course, I don’t believe in an afterlife, myself. All the more reason to live a happy life now!

  • Ed S

    I think it would be hell being anywhere for eternity. Even with streets of gold.

    I would love to see my parents again, but as much as I love and miss them, I think we would run out of things to talk about after a few thousand years.

    Whatever pleasurable activity heaven might provide – wild orgies with angelic harpists, last supper after last supper, meaningful work (with no retirement plan) – will eventually become boring. What does one do for millions or billions of years? Suicide would certainly be impossible.

    Also, can you imagine being a historically important person, and having people who were born long after you died hunting you up just to meet you and talk to you – one or two would be interesting, but millions of them? Perhaps it will be possible to disguise oneself.

    I don’t think Christians have thought this through.

  • Silent Service

    If the streets in heaven are paved with gold, wouldn’t that make gold in heaven about as valuable as asphalt or concrete here? So if you break of a chunk of this heavenly roadway, it’s worthless debris from a pothole just like here, only sparkly.

    All the metaphorical crap about golden streets and rivers flowing with milk and honey was just bull crap to entice the uneducated masses into belief in the church. “Your life sucks here, but it heaven it’s golden streets and rivers of milk and honey. Just donate what you have to us here and we’ll hold a place for you there.” Evil bastards.

  • Johan Stuyts

    They’re building vast universities in heaven. That must mean they do a lot of science. Imagine that you can do science for free (if I’m correct there is no need for money in heaven) for ever and ever. There would be no limit to our knowledge and the things we can achieve. I definitely want to go now.

  • http://limadean.wordpress.com Nadine

    Also, if no one will be married in heaven, can we please stop freaking out about who can and can’t get married here on earth?

  • Nikki

    If Heaven exists, especially this version, I’m not interested. All the interesting people are purportedly going to hell.

  • Maliknant

    You definitely want to get into a good university in Heaven. Otherwise, you could end up stuck in a dead-end job at Deity Queen, Burger King-of-Kings, or Taco Not-Hell.

  • trixr4kids

    If they eat in heaven, does that mean they shit, as well? And if so, who cleans the toilets?

    Inquiring minds want to know, Charisma.

  • Mike-El

    Nadine wins the thread. In epic fashion.

  • Jeff

    Even though their holy book says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (Isaiah 64:4), they trust completely anyone who claims to have been there and back, as long as s/he validates their beliefs. When someone has an NDE and tells them that God doesn’t really care whether or not they accepted Jesus, that person has been deceived by the forces of darkness!

    This guy is making quite a buck, by the way, off the concept of hell: http://strang.imirus.com/Mpowered/imirus.jsp?volume=str10&issue=8&page=46

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    As far as we can tell, our “souls” (aka the neurological software that makes us who we are) needs hardware to run.

    On a second season episode of “Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles,” an artificial intelligence computer project was conversing with a human character about mortality and the human invention of religion to address concerns about mortality.

    “John Henry” (the AI project) has the following conversation with a human character:

    John Henry: I’d like to know if we do. The human brain is an amazing computer. It’s raw clock speed is 20 billion calculations per second. It’s storage is functionally infinite, but it’s flawed.

    Ellison: How’s that?

    John Henry: There’s nowhere to download it when you die.

    Ellison: Not exactly, no.

    John Henry: Your bible solves this problem by introducing the concept of heaven.

    Ellison: Yes.

    John Henry: Billions of souls with no bodies.

    Ellison: Okay.

    John Henry: Yet, all this (gesturing to a room chock-full of computers) is required simply to process the unique entity you call John Henry.

    Ellison: Yes.

    John Henry: It’s possible heaven has a hardware problem.

    http://terminator.wikia.com/wiki/Episode_221:_Adam_Raised_a_Cain

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    Ok,no one gets to be married, everyone is married to Christ… this really creeps me out. Who said Christians don’t support gay marriage and multiple partner married. Apparently they all get to be his harem.

    Glad I am not on the list for JC’s bitch

  • http://fivedollardayblog.blogspot.com Ruby Leigh

    Throwing out the fact that there is no basis for an after life using real evidence… as a former Christian… it is equally disturbing that even the “evidence” of heaven (ie the bible) is relatively unconclusive. Even people who take the bible literally disagree and or have no idea what is going on. Even when I was a “100%” believer I was bothered by these things… I mean why didn’t the bible tell us these things more directly. At the time, I just thought God was being irritating.

  • Kirk59

    Which one of me will go to heaven? The 90 year old who has lost most of my memory already? The 50 year old in my prime of middle age? The 20 year old who did not know much about anything? The answer is none of them, of course, since my individuality is only an illusion.

  • http://n/a Vern Weiss

    Also known as creationism, this is the theory that takes the place of evolution for fundamentalist Christians. In this paper I will show that creation as we know it, shows little intelligence. From the design of the human body to basic physics, it is clear that intelligence had little to do with the design of most of what we know. Now I know very little about the human body, physics or other science, but I can easily discern weaknesses in the design of almost everything that I see around me.
    Let’s start with the human body. I’ve been living with mine for 79 years now and believe me, there are design flaws galore! Take my backbone for example. The last time I had mine x-rayed, the doctor said to me “I have some good news and some bad. I can see nine vertebrae in this picture and one of them has nothing wrong with it! The other eight have either an injury, arthritis, osteoporosis or a combination!” My poor spine curves from the front to the back and also to one side. It gives me great pain, and I can hardly walk without the aid of a cane. It takes 4 different kinds of powerful pain medicine to get me through the day! Almost anyone who has reached an old age has back pain. Surely an intelligent designer would have designed a spine that was more durable. Mine started giving me trouble before I was forty years old. Why then, do we average well over 70? I can’t replace it, and can hardly bear to live with it!
    My heart, also gives me problems! What is the average pulse rate for a resting adult? 60 to 72/ minute, I believe. Well, the the little built in pacemaker in my heart was down to 40/minute. That’s like giving a Cadillac a 2 cylinder engine with about 30 horsepower. It might get good mileage, but top speed will be what? 20 m.p.h.? On March 13 ( Friday) I had a man-made pacemaker installed. On Saturday I was out of the hospital and went for a walk. It was like having that 30 hp putt-putt replaced with (well not a v-8) but at least a 6 cylinder 150 hp engine. I could already walk twice as fast! Now it’s broken in, and putting out a couple of hundred hp. My back still requires me to walk with a cane, but I can walk up the hill (Mt. Tabor) in 2/3 the time. Why should my intelligently designed heart be going haywire?
    Eyes are another problem. Almost everyone needs glasses or compact lenses. Surely an intelligent designer would have given us trouble free seeing. I have always been into outdoor sports such as fishing and hunting. Glasses are a terrific pain in the neck. They steam up in cold weather. Right now my glasses are bent a bit, so that they hurt my nose and behind my ears. Unless they are adjusted perfectly, I see double. I cannot use binoculars at all. A friend of mine makes huge, marvelous binoculars for astronomical seeing. It breaks both of our hearts that I cannot use them. Seeing double at 400 power is useless!
    I also take three different eye drops for glaucoma. My eyesight was pretty bad when I discovered that I had it. Almost everyone’s eyesight is less than ideal long before they die. As important as seeing is to us, why wouldn’t an intelligent designer see to it that our eyes lasted as long as the rest of our bodies?
    What was that you said? As I said, I’m 79 and my ears aren’t very good any more. My wife, Jackie’s, are even worse. Why don’t they last longer? Mine have some excuses for not working so well, such as shooting big guns and driving loud farm machinery when I was young, but Jackie’s do not, as far as I can see. Her ears were just the product of bad design! We both wear very expensive hearing aids, which do not work very well! Jackie just got new ones, super powerful, at a cost of $3200. Intelligent design my ass!
    To complete the of list the design errors of the human body would take hours, days, eons, even! But these four give you the idea. And the human body is just one small, if important part of creation. We represent just one small part of one tiny division of the mammalian division of the animal world. And if you think we have back problems, consider the poor giraffe! Or closer to us, the poor Basset Hound. I’ve never seen one over 4 years old that didn’t have back or hip problems.
    Now for some problems with the design of the rest of the universe. According to some Christians, the universe is designed to be the perfect abode of the human race. Again, some design job. The earth itself seems designed as much as a killing machine for man and his other living relatives. Landslides, earthquakes, bad storms, including tornadoes and hurricanes all pester and kill us off repeatedly. Meteors don’t kill us very often, but astronomers tell us that it is only a matter of when, not if, a big one gets us.
    Crops are designed to feed us. Yeah, right. Eat the wrong plant and that’s all, brother. I love mushrooms, for example, but it’s damned hard to tell delicious healthy ones from deadly ones. Intelligent design? Yeah, if you want to to kill us.
    I’ll quit here. To review the bad design in the rest of the universe would take a very large book, and I don’t have time for that.

    Vern L. Weiss

  • 5ive

    WAIT!! NUmber 3…. there will be marriage between christ and his bride… so that means 2 options.
    1. Only women will be married and Christ is a polygamist or…
    2. Gay marriage is perfectly ok and Christ will be a super-polygamist/polyandrist!

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    Kirk59, I seem to recall someone seriously arguing that you would go to heaven in your 30-year-old body, though I don’t remember what his rationale was for this assertion.

  • Tometheus

    Hmm.. I don’t know how #6 is even a question. It always seemed obvious to me that there would be eating in heaven and we knew what was on the menu. Otherwise, why would Revelation point out that the Tree of Life had an amazing selection of fruit (12 kinds!!) as well as always being in season (It bears fruit monthly! *gasp*) (Revelation 22:2)

    (It also seems that one will be forced to eat of the Tree of Life if there is to be no Death there, if I understand the Tree of Life’s purpose correctly.)

  • Spurs Fan

    Wait. Futuristic movies get flying cars and yet, in the realm of the supernatural, we have to rely on “streets”. Are these toll roads? If not, it sounds awfully socialistic to me and I KNOW that some of those heaven folks were more holy than others.

    If you’re in transportation, you’ve got an automatic scholarship to one of the “universities”.

  • jen

    They’re building vast universities in heaven. That must mean they do a lot of science. Imagine that you can do science for free (if I’m correct there is no need for money in heaven) for ever and ever. There would be no limit to our knowledge and the things we can achieve. I definitely want to go now.

    If they do the kind of “science” seen in “Christian universities” down here, count me out. It’ll be an exercise in twisting words and logic to “prove” what you “know”.

  • muggle

    (Spoiler: You’ll have a job after you die!)

    WTF!!! Seriously, don’t we all look forward to retirement? (OK, I concede I’m overgeneralizing there; though I can’t understand it, some people actually enjoy working.) Still, wasn’t work the punishment for sinning in the first place? And this is your heavenly reward?

    Satan, my soul is yours. It’s bad enough I’ve spent four decades of my life toiling for other people.

    I really don’t get what’s desirable about god belief. At all.

  • plutosdad

    This is about as useful as the arguments over how many angels dance on the head of a pin. They are being dishonest in more ways than one, since the bible isn’t as clear as a number of them are pretending, especially Alcorn.

    I tried reading one of Alcorn’s books on the problem of evil, I think it was one of the worst books I’d ever read. Nothing but fundamentalist claptrap and hiding his head in the sand refusing to acknowledge Greater Criticism at all or even history let alone science. “If you don’t believe in Adam you don’t believe in Jesus” I don’t see how christians that aren’t young earth fundamentalists can take him seriously. I sure hope they don’t.

  • NorDog

    I don’t see how all you atheists can stand to read even a little bit of that fundie crap. Hell, I’m a Christian and I can’t get through it

  • fritzy

    I wish I could totally make shit up, get paid for it and be known as an “expert” on the subject.

    Oh, wait, not I don’t. I have too much personal intergrity.

  • fritzy

    And just for the record, xtians do a piss-poor job marketting their heaven. You still have to work? I LOVE my job but I am still looking forward to retirement.

    The Muslims have done a much better job with their heaven. Well, if you’re a guy. Near as I can tell, if you’re a Muslim woman, I get the idea heaven is pretty much like a small, second-hand boutique that sells a lot of off-sizes.

  • Bill

    The amazing thing is how, with millions or billions of souls arriving up there over the course of 6,000 years, everyone sees people they know and famous people.

    Maybe the angels are alphabetized, and are up on shelves…? Perhaps you punch in the name of the spirit you want to visit, and a magic conveyor belt whisks you to the right place? And although Jesus and Bach would have thousands or millions of souls trying to monopolize conversation with them at the same time, they could magically make time for you and only you?

    Oh boy! I can’t wait!

  • jcm

    I prefer the truth, even if that means I don’t have all the answers to the “big questions.” That’s why I’m an atheist.

    That’s more satisfying than answering every question with “Goddidit”.

  • Pingback: “Heaven’s FAQs”? Oh, brother… « Black Jesus

  • ckitching

    I see no mention of one particular reward some theologists were fond of – relishing the eternal torment of the damned in Hell. I wonder why…

  • fritzy

    And don’t get me started on “streets of gold.” That’s paradise? For Elvis maybe. But the garishness of that notion clashes with my minimalist sensabilities. That would be a gaudy hell to me.

    And that’s the whole point really–the Bible didn’t go into too much detail about the nature of heaven because the authors were smart enough to recognize that the faithful would never agree on what their ideal paradise would be; so it’s left to the imagination–heaven is a a solopsistic mish-mash of wishful thinking.

  • A Portlander

    @ fritzy

    Great example of that principle (stood on its head, anyway) is Lovecraft — “the eldritch horror’s unspeakable, malignant visage was such an offense to natural sensibilities that my mind rebelled rather than twist itself to make sense of the anatomical blasphemy before me” is a lot scarier than “it was olive green with nine legs and an eyeball in its tongue”. The best showpeople know to let the audience do the heavy lifting.

  • Jeff

    I see no mention of one particular reward some theologists were fond of – relishing the eternal torment of the damned in Hell. I wonder why…

    Some of them are bright enough to realize talking about it in public makes them seem to be lacking in “Christian charity”. Of course, that’s only because we unsaved folks don’t understand the necessity of eternal damnation, and why it doesn’t make God a bad guy.

    For further clarification, read the article on hell in the same issue.

  • Jeff

    That would be a gaudy hell to me.

    Then you certainly wont approve of this: http://www.raptureready.com/photo/mansions/mansions.html

  • flawedprefect

    Whenever I hear about what people think Heaven will be like, I’d happily flip the bird at St Peter as I head on down to Hell. That’s where the party is really gonna be at. Pretty much everyone who Xians proclaim is going to hell are who I want to hang out with. Think about it: gays will be down there, so it’s just gonna look FAAAAABULOUS. We’ll all be down there, so we’ll man the pubs and clubs and have the best writers, scientists, and general free-thinkers. Jews, Gypsies, Hindus, Buddhists will add loads of culture… the only thing it’ll lack is those boring Xians who got to the father by going through Jesus. I reckon they’re getting the raw end of the afterlife deal. :)

  • Neon Genesis

    So gay marriage is sinful in this life but we’ll be in a poly gay marriage with Jesus in heaven?

  • Claudia

    Why talk about heaven when you can talk about hell? The good folks at Charisma are accepting questions for a live chat with an author who will answer your questions about hell…because he’s been there himself.

    If I facepalm now, I’ll break my own skull.

  • Dan Covill

    Heaven as an amusement park.

    In one episode of “Waiting for God” (a British sitcom about people in a retirement home) there was a discussion of what heaven would be like. Tom said it would be like “an Albanian Disneyland”!

  • Kimpatsu

    Evidence suggests there was a “Big Bang“… what happened before that?

    Err… “before” the big bang? And what’s north of the north pole?
    Time began at the big bang. (But then, Stephen Hawking complained that our problem is that we’re describing 21st century physics concepts usng 19th century language.)
    Anyway, interesting how viewpoints change. Medieval English knights ate fish, not meat (like lamb–Q6), because they associated meat with carnality, and lust is a sin, so they reeasoned that fish was most likely the food of choice in Heaven. Doesn’t anyone at Charisma know their Xian history?

  • macabre

    Does anything happen when we die?

    Accurate answer: If you’re buried, your body will soon rot.

    not if you use modern burial practices-you wouldn’t necessarily rot as most people understand it, but eventually you do melt into a anaerobic toxic goo that will leak out of your steel coffin to pollute the water table and surrounding area…

  • charles

    Ebon Musings has an interesting essay on the topic of The Pearly Gates:

    Won’t hearing Moses tell the story of crossing the desert with the Israelites, or Noah’s description of the Flood, or even having Jesus preach a sermon at your dinner party, lose its novelty after the last few hundred billion times?

  • corner

    Reminds me of the old David Cross bit that I always loved. He would talk about how the local paper in Atlanta once printed a crazy response to the question of “will you know people in heaven?” The response was filled with similar oddness, including angels that double as heavenly taxi cab drivers.

  • Scott Welty

    I think one of the reasons many Christians reject evolution is because of heaven. At what point did we evolve souls? Are there Australopithecans in heaven? Java Man? Lucy? No, they don’t want heaven cluttered up with all those hairy types so yes to heaven and no to evolution!

  • Mike

    I’m with NorDog on this, but I believe I can answer his question about “how aethesists can read this stuff when he, as a Christian, cannot stomach it.” This type of “Christian” writing enforces the negative image of all Christians. While the aetheist can shake his/her head in disbelief, the progressive Christian must suffer the sting of embarrasment at being lumped in with the (unfortunately) majority of Christians who choose to check their brains at the door.

    The central message of Christ is about how to live our LIVES… I am not banking on some better life after this body fails. If it turns out that we keep our sentience after death, that will just be a very nice bonus!

  • Jeff

    While the aetheist can shake his/her head in disbelief, the progressive Christian must suffer the sting of embarrasment at being lumped in with the (unfortunately) majority of Christians who choose to check their brains at the door.

    Then do something about it. Enough with this Jim Wallis/Rodney King-esque “Can’t we all just get along?” If progressive Christians really mean it when they say, “These people don’t speak for us”, then get together and disavow them – publicly, loudly, forcefully.

    All of you, collectively – stop straddling the fence. Pick a side.

  • Robert

    Im curious why any atheist would care a bit about Heaven or Hell. You don’t believe in a soul and you think that once you die that is it, so why all the hysteria about either Heaven or the stated unfairness or maliciousness of Hell?

    To you it should not make a bit of difference.

  • Jeff

    Im curious why any atheist would care a bit about Heaven or Hell. You don’t believe in a soul and you think that once you die that is it, so why all the hysteria about either Heaven or the stated unfairness or maliciousness of Hell?

    I’m angry that I’m living in a world with hundreds of millions of people – Christians, Muslims and the handful of Orthodox Jews – who are perfectly content with the notion that billions of their human siblings will be tormented for all of eternity. It’s caused me to give up on humanity; I don’t see how beings like these can solve their problems.

    This is in addition to the fact that these same people have commandeered the political process, undermined our system of public education and turned us into the laughing-stock of the developed nations.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    To you it should not make a bit of difference.

    I think it should matter to anyone with a conscience. Hell is such an immoral concept, and it bothers me that innocent children are taught to believe in such a horrendous thing. Worse yet, they’re told that they’re “broken sinners” who deserve hell. The threat and fear of hell is designed to keep them in line. The fact that Christians don’t even perceive it as a threat (ie: they believe people choose to go to hell, and that none of the responsibility falls on their deity for creating it and condemning people to it) is evidence of that fear-based indoctrination. Basically, the whole thing is disgusting. I would even say it’s evil. The fact that the majority of people in 21st-century America haven’t been able to get beyond this type of thinking makes me want to weep for humanity.

  • Jeff

    Basically, the whole thing is disgusting. I would even say it’s evil. The fact that the majority of people in 21st-century America haven’t been able to get beyond this type of thinking makes me want to weep for humanity.

    Seconded. Emphatically.

  • Mike

    Then do something about it. Enough with this Jim Wallis/Rodney King-esque “Can’t we all just get along?”

    Not exactly sure how my comment was a “can’t we all just get along” statement.

    If progressive Christians really mean it when they say, “These people don’t speak for us”, then get together and disavow them – publicly, loudly, forcefully.

    Our voices are out there in about the same proportion as our existence. But we are caught in a catch-22. If we act loudly and forcefully, we are undermining the idea that we are not forcing our opinion on others. We act “loudly” in how we live our lives and interact with those around us (and yes, it is seen). We disavow these folks all the time in our conversations with others. This is not, however, something the media finds scintillating enough to cover.

    All of you, collectively – stop straddling the fence. Pick a side.

    So, progressive Christianity is not a valid point of view? We must either be aetheists or fundamentalists? I take great exception to this “us or them” mentality. I have taken a side and am living my life accordingly.

    Jeff, I apologize now if I misinterpreted anything you wrote.

  • Robert

    Why focus on Hell? That is only part of the equation. The same God you blame for creating Hell, also created Heaven and gave you the ticket to get there. So all of these children who are being taught about Hell are also being taught about Heaven.

    Jeff how in the world have Christians undermined the education system? I would argue its just the opposite. Religious based universities have been the hallmark of our education system since this country was founded. For years, schools taught reading from the Bible.

    What has really destroyed our education system is a lack of parental responsibility, single parent homes, teachers unions who hy-jack the system and don’t want accountability and political correctness.

  • http://molotovcocktailparty.net Discount Deity

    Jeff how in the world have Christians undermined the education system?

    -Intelligent Design

    -Abstinence-only Sex Ed.

    …also, it seems that they’re not very good at teaching proper usage of commas.

  • Jeff

    @Mike,

    Not exactly sure how my comment was a “can’t we all just get along” statement.

    I meant in general. It’s the sort of thing I’ve been hearing from the Sojourners crowd for years, which is why I threw in Jim Wallis’ name.

    Our voices are out there in about the same proportion as our existence. But we are caught in a catch-22. If we act loudly and forcefully, we are undermining the idea that we are not forcing our opinion on others.

    So, progressive Christianity is not a valid point of view? We must either be aetheists or fundamentalists?

    You don’t have to become atheists. What I meant is – either side with them, or with us.

    I view this reticence about being too loud or forceful as an appeasement strategy. You identify as Christians, so you don’t want to alienate your fundamentalist brethren. At the same time, you’re embarrassed by their antics, so you apologize to atheists and people of other faiths – when the fundies aren’t watching.

    I see the same thing among Orthodox Jews all the time. The Modern Orthodox, who embrace secular culture, are embarrassed by the fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox, but, at the same time, they regard them as brothers and sisters. However much they may agree with non-Orthodox Jews about non-theological matters, at the end of the day, they still feel a kinship with the ultra-Orthodox. A liberal Jew can never really be “one of us”. Also, the Modern Orthodox spend a great deal of time glancing furtively back over their shoulders at the U-O; they harbor a suspicion that they really do, in fact, represent “real” Judaism, long secretly for their approval and communicate this subliminally to their children. It’s been a serious problem for the past two or three generations.

    I describe this because I think there’s a parallel here. As much as liberal and progressive Christians claim to be shocked and appalled by the fundies (and I believe you are), I think there’s still an underlying insecurity about your position – “What if they’re right?” Also, the conservative evangelicals are something we can never be – your brothers and sisters in Christ.

    This is why I don’t completely trust Wallis. He’s a wonderful man, and he’s done more to help the urban poor than I’ll ever do, but he wants to bring everyone to the table (I’ve heard him say as much), refuses to recognize their utter incapacity for reason, and, if push ever comes to shove – I believe he will take their side against us.

  • Greg

    Robert said:

    Im curious why any atheist would care a bit about Heaven or Hell. You don’t believe in a soul and you think that once you die that is it, so why all the hysteria about either Heaven or the stated unfairness or maliciousness of Hell?

    To you it should not make a bit of difference.

    I’m curious why you should think we should only care about something if it has direct consequences to ourselves. That should be obviously untrue at even a cursory glance I should have thought.

    But anyway…

    You wouldn’t have a problem with being told that you deserve to be tortured for eternity? You wouldn’t have a problem with people around you not only sincerely believing that but actively preaching it to other people? You wouldn’t have a problem with these very same people who claim that the highest moral action is to impose infinite punishment for a finite crime (and usually no crime at all) and to reward a finite good activity with infinite pleasure; having a say in the laws of your society?

    If someone genuinely believes that you should be subject to absolute eternal agony, whilst they should have absolute eternal bliss, are you honestly going to tell me you would not be concerned as to what is the ‘just and moral’ thing they might believe concerning you in the here and now?

  • Jeff

    Greg, Robert won’t see it that way. His response will be that we all deserve eternal agony; he’s just honest enough to admit it (or, if he’s a Calvinist, God chose him to).

    @Robert: Jeff how in the world have Christians undermined the education system?

    Creationism. If you don’t see that, or think it’s overblown or a non-issue, I’m certainly not going to argue with you about it.

    The same God you blame for creating Hell, also created Heaven and gave you the ticket to get there. So all of these children who are being taught about Hell are also being taught about Heaven.

    I will leave it to others, who have more patience, to respond to this, if they care to. My feeling is that the mere fact you can make this statement, and that it makes sense to you, demonstrates your inability to “get it”.

  • Greg

    Jeff – that is possibly what he believes, but his beliefs have nothing to do with what an atheist believes which is what his question was about.

    Besides, it wouldn’t get past the problem of infinite reward for a finite good, anyway.

  • Jeff

    Besides, it wouldn’t get past the problem of infinite reward for a finite good, anyway.

    It’s like this – if you go to heaven, it’s a gift on God’s part. All you have to do is to unwrap the package, in the form of accepting Jesus.

    If you go to hell, you’re getting what you deserve.

    See how easy?

  • Jeff

    also, it seems that they’re not very good at teaching proper usage of commas.

    They are, however, as we frequently see, very good about teaching them how to use the CAPS LOCK KEY.

  • Greg

    It’s like this – if you go to heaven, it’s a gift on God’s part. All you have to do is to unwrap the package, in the form of accepting Jesus.

    I know that’s the claim, but that doesn’t actually address the problem – which is whether or not it is moral to offer such a ‘gift’ like that. It remains an infinite reward for a finite action, however it is dressed up, and that is the crux of the issue. To take it away from heaven and hell for a moment:

    Is an infinite response to a finite action ever appropriate/just/moral/etc?

    In your explanation, heaven is still an infinite response, and ‘unwrapping the gift’ is still a finite action, so the problem remains.

  • Robert

    Neither intelligent design, creationism, nor abstinence only sex ed is taught in schools. So how could they have been the downfall of our education system?

    As for our laws, I am not concerned that the concept of Heaven and Hell are a bad influence. I am more concerned about the idea of moral relativism dictating how our laws are written.

    Now to your argument regarding an infinite response to a finite action- Let me ask you a question- Do you love your children unconditionally? If you do, you have given them the unending gift of your love for no action on their part. How is that anyway immoral?

    The answer of salvation from a Christian perspective is based upon the grace of God. Yes we do believe that the wages of sin are death. We also believe that we all fall short of the glory of God. But we also believe that Jesus took the weight of our sins and paid the price for them through his crucifixion. He has paid the price so we don’t have to. All we have to do is accept this gift of grace (to use your phrase). There is nothing we can so to earn it through our works or good deeds. So it is not a reward for anything we have done in that sense.

    What I see on this board most often is a preoccupation with Hell from people who have rejected the gift and do not like what we believe the consequences to be. Its a way of saying “don’t condemn me for the decisions I make in my life”. I’m sad to say that this feeling most likely comes from the mistreatment they have had from Christians who have come with a “holier then though” judgmental attitude instead of an approach based upon love and grace. We Christians have a real problem with that I’m afraid.

  • Jeff

    @Greg: In your explanation, heaven is still an infinite response, and ‘unwrapping the gift’ is still a finite action, so the problem remains.

    Right – my point is merely that that’s how they rationalize it.

  • Jeff

    @Robert: Neither intelligent design, creationism, nor abstinence only sex ed is taught in schools.

    You are utterly clueless.

    As to the rest – it says far more about the state of your self-esteem than it does about divine revelation.

    We Christians have a real problem with that I’m afraid.

    You have a real problem with rational thought.

  • Greg

    Jeff, very true!

    Now to your argument regarding an infinite response to a finite action- Let me ask you a question- Do you love your children unconditionally? If you do, you have given them the unending gift of your love for no action on their part. How is that anyway immoral?

    I do not have any children. Yet, anyway. As a result, well… I have my own feelings as to what would be moral in that situation, but I do not feel it would be fair to comment.

    Regardless, I do not need to answer to show that it is not a very good analogy, and thus not really relevant to the subject at hand. Just a couple of many problems with it:

    We aren’t talking about unconditional anything as regards god. Getting in to heaven is clearly conditional. (Otherwise we’d all be going there, no matter what, and hell would not exist.)

    The second blatant problem with the analogy is that eternity is an amount of time. We are talking about infinite bliss for an infinite period of time. Your analogy tries to examine unconditional (not having any conditions is not the same as infinite) love for a finite period of time.

  • Robert

    Jeff- Tell me one public school system that teaches creationism, intelligent design or abstinence only sex ed. Then tell me the studies that have been done to show that it is these programs that have led to the downfall of the education system. Or do you just want to resort to irrational insults?

    Greg- The analogy is solid. The love of your children, if unconditional, is based upon your relationship to them. That is the same with God. Do you think there should be a limit to his grace or that it should be a merit based system? If so, I would argue that such a system would be unfair. You would never have the assurance of salvation.

  • Jeff

    Google Texas SBOE.

    And I’ll tell you – I’m really not too concerned about not insulting someone who thinks I’m going to be tortured for all of eternity. I’m funny that way.

    Mike, if you’re still reading – here’s an opportunity to put your money, so to speak, where your mouth is.

  • Robert

    Jeff you are wrong. Texas doesn’t teach creationism. I live here and have children in the public schools. And assuming they did, Texas also has some of the best schools in the country, so the idea that teaching creationism in schools led to their downfall is simply irrational.

    Frankly, I don’t care if you are not concerned about throwing insults, I just point it out to show that is the limit of your argument.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Why focus on Hell? That is only part of the equation. The same God you blame for creating Hell, also created Heaven and gave you the ticket to get there. So all of these children who are being taught about Hell are also being taught about Heaven.

    As someone else said, your response indicates that you simply don’t get it. The fact that you’re able to rationalize hell and don’t see it as fundamentally immoral no doubt reflects the indoctrination you received as a child, and the mental contortions needed to justify your beliefs are quite beyond me. You don’t seem to understand our point of view at all, and you’re ascribing emotions and motivations to us that we simply don’t have.

    What I see on this board most often is a preoccupation with Hell from people who have rejected the gift and do not like what we believe the consequences to be. Its a way of saying “don’t condemn me for the decisions I make in my life”. I’m sad to say that this feeling most likely comes from the mistreatment they have had from Christians who have come with a “holier then though” judgmental attitude instead of an approach based upon love and grace. We Christians have a real problem with that I’m afraid.

    I have no more of a preoccupation with the Christian hell than I do with the Zoroastrian hell. If it comes up in conversation, I’ll denounce it, but I don’t spend my time thinking about it otherwise. And I certainly don’t worry about the “consequences” of my belief system. I was born an atheist and have always been one. I have zero emotional ties to your religion, and Christian scare tactics don’t frighten me. Your assumptions are wrong, by the way. I have never been mistreated by Christians. Indeed, I have had very little to do with evangelicals or fundamentalists. My family and friends are pretty much secular or have quite liberal beliefs, and they’ve never mistreated me for not believing in a deity.

  • Greg

    Robert – you have merely claimed the analogy is solid whilst ignoring the two (I thought) clear things I brought up that show it is not. Did you actually read my objections?

    I’ll try one last time (because I get irritated when I write things and they are completely ignored…), and then stop. So if you aren’t going to address them, don’t expect a further reply.

    Okay. Sorry, but to get me to accept your analogy you are going to have to show:

    a) That the condition of believing in your god to get to heaven is an example of something that is unconditional.

    and

    b) That an unconditional (no reason to believe infinite) granting of a specific emotion for a finite period of time is equal to an infinite granting of a specific set of emotions for an infinite period of time.

    And once you’ve managed those two logically impossible tasks, I’ve got more for you.

    If you can find a better analogy, then great, but the one you are currently using has virtually nothing to do with what we are talking about.

    I don’t want this to sound like I am not open to your point of view, because I am, but one of the caveats to me being convinced is that the arguments being presented to me are sound: I’m going to point it out if they aren’t.

  • Robert

    Greg-

    The point of my analogy was to address your contention that it is immoral for there to be an infinite reward for a finite act. Your objections to it and now your most recent posts change the focus of what the analogy was trying to address.

    But in an attempt to answer them-

    Loving your children because of their position in your family is unconditional in the sense that they did nothing to earn that love. When you are a member of God’s family you are given this love unconditionally. Your works have nothing to do with it. It stems from your position.

    The reward of unconditional love your child receives merely by being in your family of course is finite in that it will end when either you or your child dies. But that doesn’t render the analogy invalid. Your child still received something for as long as humanly possible for nothing he did other then to be a part of your family.

    With that in mind let me ask a more basic question- why do you consider it immoral for God to grant eternity to those that believe in him? By whose definition of morality do you judge those actions? At what point would the reward be moral in your judgment?

    For the flip side in regard to punishment or consequences- would it be immoral for a child to burn his hand after he has been told by his father not to stick it in a fire, but the child did anyway because he chose not to believe that he would get burned?

  • Robert

    Anna,

    Of course not everyone on this board was mistreated by the christian community. But I do see alot of anger that seems to stem from mistreatment. I am glad that it does not apply to you.

    As for Hell, I don’t see the concept of Hell immoral in light of the rest of the story. If you simply ascribe to Hell and forget the rest of the equation to determine what is moral or not, then you are not giving the whole Christian perspective.

    Would you argue that it is immoral to put a man in prison? I doubt it. I am sure that you would not make that argument without knowing what he did and how he could get out. That is like you arguing against the morality of the notion of Hell without taking into account the reason it exists and the get out of jail card.

    Look at the question I just asked above. Do you find that consequence immoral?

  • Greg

    Robert – you confused me by immediately going on to talk about your view of God, heaven etc., and I thought the two paragraphs were related.

    I apologise.

    Although… well, the odd thing is, the basics behind my objections essentially still stand. Because if you read what I said, the objections centred around the fact that unconditional love is not an infinite reward.

    Unfortunately, whilst you say you attempted to answer them, you haven’t actually addressed what I was saying.

    Maybe I’m just not explaining them well enough. I’ll try to keep them short and snappy.

    Unconditional is not equal to infinite. Infinite also implies eternal (as infinite means unlimited, and time imposes a limitation). (as in b)

    Also, your analogy does not involve any act or reward. (as in a)

    In fact, if you think about it, if something is unconditional, then by definition it cannot be applied to the problem I stated:

    It is immoral to give an infinite reward for a finite act.

    (The reward is conditional upon the act.)

    The immorality, incidentally, is because such an act is inherently unjust.

    Just to quickly show why I say you haven’t addressed them (probably because we seem to have our wires crossed there):

    Loving your children because of their position in your family is unconditional in the sense that they did nothing to earn that love. When you are a member of God’s family you are given this love unconditionally. Your works have nothing to do with it. It stems from your position.

    This doesn’t really address either problem. It may be a claim that heaven is not a reward, but unless hell is in that case a punishment (and thus the problem still stands) then the decision as to whether someone goes to heaven or hell would necessarily be arbitrary.

    The reward of unconditional love your child receives merely by being in your family of course is finite in that it will end when either you or your child dies. But that doesn’t render the analogy invalid. Your child still received something for as long as humanly possible for nothing he did other then to be a part of your family.

    Sorry – you admit that it is finite, and yet you still try to claim than analogising it to an infinite reward is still valid? It’s hard to know how to respond to that. The essence of my claim relies upon the concept of infinity, and you are trying to use an analogy which you admit does not contain infinity.

    Just to make this absolutely crystal clear:

    My claim could not be made without the concept of infinity. The reason the punishment/reward is immoral is precisely because it is infinite.

    Last time I got involved in the ‘whose definition of morality do you use’ style discussion with a theist on the net, I swore never to do it again. It tends to be like banging your head upon a brick wall – at least in real life you are able to gauge a person’s expressions as to when you should stop, and thus save hours of wasted time for all parties.

    Let’s not get into it unless we absolutely have to!

    I just want to quickly point out that you first have to prove your particular god’s existence before I can accept your morality to be true (if it relies upon your god). Just so you are aware before you consider attacking where I get my morality from.

  • Robert

    Greg, we do seem to be crossing wires and I apologize if I misunderstood. I’ll set the analogy aside for the moment.

    I’ll admit I am really confused about your idea that an infinite reward is immoral because it is inherently unjust. Isn’t that just another way of saying its immoral because its immoral? Such a statement would obviously be based upon a subject belief as to what is moral or not.

  • Anna

    Johan Stuyts Says:

    They’re building vast universities in heaven. That must mean they do a lot of science. Imagine that you can do science for free (if I’m correct there is no need for money in heaven) for ever and ever. There would be no limit to our knowledge and the things we can achieve. I definitely want to go now.

    Well, according to C.S. Lewis (in The Great Divorce), in heaven all your questions are answered, so those of us who delight in searching for answers and like having mysteries left probably wouldn’t enjoy the prospect of heaven. In fact, the character like this in his book just stayed in limbo for a presumed eternity.

    (Sorry to stick a non-sequitur in the middle of your argument, folks.)

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Anna, Of course not everyone on this board was mistreated by the christian community. But I do see alot of anger that seems to stem from mistreatment. I am glad that it does not apply to you.

    True, although disgust and anger are not the same thing. I think you could be mistaking the two emotions, since their expression can come across in similar ways. I am saddened and disgusted by much of Christian theology, but I wouldn’t say my reaction rises to the level of anger. That implies that the theology has hurt me personally in some way; it hasn’t, unless we’re talking about its effect on politics. It does bother me that people believe it because I feel sorry for them and think it has a negative impact on their lives and on society. I believe most atheists would agree. However, there are people who have been hurt by it, so I think their anger is justified. If you see actual anger from some atheists here, it’s likely because their lives were negatively impacted by Christian theology.

    As for Hell, I don’t see the concept of Hell immoral in light of the rest of the story. If you simply ascribe to Hell and forget the rest of the equation to determine what is moral or not, then you are not giving the whole Christian perspective.

    Well, that’s the problem. You don’t see it as immoral because you were indoctrinated not to see it that way. Since I don’t subscribe to the idea that religious belief (or lack thereof) is a conscious choice, it’s not even your fault. You might not be capable of seeing it any other way. I’m not angry at you for that. I am bothered that people perpetuate the belief and teach it to innocent children, but they’re only doing that because of what they themselves have been taught. It’s what I would consider a dysfunctional and vicious cycle, but it’s hard to be angry at the people involved since I consider them victims of indoctrination.

    Would you argue that it is immoral to put a man in prison? I doubt it. I am sure that you would not make that argument without knowing what he did and how he could get out. That is like you arguing against the morality of the notion of Hell without taking into account the reason it exists and the get out of jail card. Look at the question I just asked above. Do you find that consequence immoral?

    We’re not talking about a prison sentence. We’re talking about torture. Eternal torture. Torture (in any form) is immoral. I know you try to justify it because of what you’ve been taught, but I’m not going to argue about it with you. As I said before, the kind of mental contortions required for people to declare torture acceptable and good are simply beyond me. I’ll leave that to other people if they want to tackle it.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    The following is the proper analogy to heaven and hell…

    Consider a maze that has one safe path from start to finish where you will not get hurt. At the start of the maze is a present with the instructions of how to safely transverse the maze (if you choose to open it). If you make a wrong turn, poisonous snakes and spiders will bite you causing excruciating pain for weeks ending in a horrible death. All you have to do is open the present at the beginning to find the true path.

    Is there anything immoral about this?

    I say yes. The psychopath that set up the whole situation to start with.

    Thank goodness the heaven and hell concept is just imaginary.

  • Greg

    I’ll admit I am really confused about your idea that an infinite reward is immoral because it is inherently unjust. Isn’t that just another way of saying its immoral because its immoral?

    Robert – not really. Justice is not the only thing to take into account when it comes to morality – is it just to give a badly wounded stranger aid? Is it moral?

    Justice is all about fairness. By definition, a just action is one which gives a proportionate reward to an action.

    For example, none of us would think that the death sentence is a just punishment for a jay walker. (Remember, I’m talking in real life, here, not theologically.) The punishment would be an astronomical over reaction.

    Likewise, it would hardly be a just reward to hand someone immense riches for correctly answering the question: “What does 2 plus 2 equal?”

    (If you are a consequentialist, you might arguably be able to set up an elaborate scenario where these are just, but that would be missing the point I am trying to make – for the sake of argument, there is no elaborate scenario!)

    The thing about infinity, is it is not an actual amount, or an actual number. Basically infinity never ends. What that means is that no matter how big the finite number you have, it is so insignificant compared to infinity, it might as well be 0.

    For argument’s sake, let’s imagine we can rank crimes, and punishments. Let’s say that jay walking is a ’1′, stealing is a ’5′ and murder is ’100′. Let’s say that a caution is also a ’1′, jail time is ’5′, and execution is ’100′. The exact numbers are unimportant, really, what’s important is that they are all finite, and that each crime has a proportional punishment at the same number.

    The thing is, heaven or hell don’t get given a number: infinity isn’t a number, it is a concept to represent unending-ness. We could give it a number like 99999999999999999999999999999999999999, but that is just as far away from infinity as 0 is. That is how big infinity is – no matter what number you take, you could double it, and still be no closer to actually describing how big it is.

    You know I said by definition a just reward is one that is proportionate to the action that caused it? Well you can’t even get a proportion between a finite number and an infinite number, the two are so far apart.

    (Edit: given that justness is a moral quality according to Christianity, I don’t think we really need to debate whether or not justness is moral. It is something we both agree on, anyway, so there is no real need to get into whose moral system is sounder.)

  • Robert

    Greg,

    Thanks for the explanation. Now for the Christian response- I would think you would agree that because we are discussing God’s plan, that we should include all of his attributes and the elements of his plan. You are using a definition for morality based upon our own subjective sense of right and wrong.

    Part of the equation that is missing from God’s plan is mercy and grace. From his perspective the worst thing is sin that separates him from us. That seperation would last for an enternity. So the finite act in our life of accepting or rejecting him has infinte consequences.

    The wages for those sins is the same regardless of the degree we would put on them. But the reward is equally the same when we repent and accept Jesus as our savior. Through grace and mercy we are treated equally which is very just and moral.

    So the concept of God’s morality and the justness of his plan for salvation cannot be discussed without including the greatness of his Grace. God’s grace is not a concept that comes easy to our way of thinking but if we are going to discuss why God’s gift of an infinite reward is just for a finite act, it is certainly part of the equation.

    And if you think about it, it really could not be any other way. If our past and our degree of sins were measured into whether we would be accepted or not by God, then we would never know if we had been too bad or not good enough. It is only through His grace that we have the assurance of our salvation.

  • Jeff

    If our past and our degree of sins were measured into whether we would be accepted or not by God, then we would never know if we had been too bad or not good enough.

    Again – and this will be my last comment, because I have better things to do than to keep going ’round and ’round with this nonsense – this has nothing to do with divine revelation. This is a function of human psychology – particularly, in this case, your (collective) negative self-esteem.

  • Robert

    Jeff my self esteem is just fine and very positive.

  • Robert

    Jeff P- your analogy is flawed. To correct it you need to add that at the start of the maze you are already on the path to the snakes and spiders. The gift with its instructions to get off that path are available to you if you chose to read them. If you chose not to, knowing that they will lead you to safety and you decide against it, you will stay on the path you are on.

    I don’t see that as immoral in the least bit.

  • Greg

    Thanks for the explanation. Now for the Christian response- I would think you would agree that because we are discussing God’s plan, that we should include all of his attributes and the elements of his plan. You are using a definition for morality based upon our own subjective sense of right and wrong.

    First part first. No – I don’t agree actually. They are just distractions that have nothing to do with the actual question. My contention is not solely about god, or its ‘plan’. It is about any such action.

    Again, the contention is that:

    It is unjust to give an infinite response to a finite act.

    As for the rest… Urgh – I really don’t want to get caught up in the morals conversation. Sigh.

    Ok – quickly. If god is the creator of morality, then morality by definition is subjective. It is subject to god’s will.

    If god is not the creator of morality, then morality may or may not be objective. (As just one example of objective morality without god, see Utilitarianism.)

    There is no good reason to suppose that a morality created by god is inherently better than any other morality. You can make appeals to authority, or might makes right arguments, but, obviously, they aren’t good arguments.

    Part of the equation that is missing from God’s plan is mercy and grace. From his perspective the worst thing is sin that separates him from us. That seperation would last for an enternity. So the finite act in our life of accepting or rejecting him has infinte consequences.

    That is merely restating the problem.

    The wages for those sins is the same regardless of the degree we would put on them. But the reward is equally the same when we repent and accept Jesus as our savior. Through grace and mercy we are treated equally which is very just and moral.

    The wages, and rewards, both being given by god, and also both being infinite does nothing to address the problem. You still have god giving infinite responses to finite acts. It basically just means he is acting unjustly twice.

    So the concept of God’s morality and the justness of his plan for salvation cannot be discussed without including the greatness of his Grace. God’s grace is not a concept that comes easy to our way of thinking but if we are going to discuss why God’s gift of an infinite reward is just for a finite act, it is certainly part of the equation.

    Again, this does absolutely nothing to address the problem. Whatever attributes your god has is completely irrelevant to how it can be just to give an infinite response to a finite action.

    Remember, the problem is not the reasoning god might use to come to his decision, the problem is the decision itself.

    As I showed in my previous post – an infinite response to a finite action cannot be fair, or just, because it can only be disproportionate. The point is that the action itself is intrinsically unjust whatever the reason for doing it.

    Now, if you like, you can try to argue that justice is not an integral part of morality. However, given that the Bible, IIRC, claims that Yahweh is just, I don’t see why you would wish to do so.

    That, of course gets into the whole morality argument. :(

  • Robert

    Greg I appreciate your responses, but we are talking in circles. I do not agree with the premise that you can call God or his plan for salvation immoral because it gives an infinite reward based upon a finite act. God is dealing with souls, which are infinte in nature.

    To claim that such a reward is always immoral always requires the use of a subjective determination of what proportion would be moral. All you are really saying is “that is unfair because i don’t think its fair”.

    And I understand you may not accept it, but when you are talking about the ultimate issue which is heaven and hell and God’s plan for salvation (which is where this all started and what you are claiming is immoral)grace is a required element in this discussion. Grace is what makes the difference and what makes God’s plan not only just, but moral regardless of the standard used.

  • Greg

    Robert, whilst I agree we are getting nowhere, I’m afraid I don’t think we are talking in circles – I think you’re dancing around the issue without actually addressing it.

    To claim that such a reward is always immoral always requires the use of a subjective determination of what proportion would be moral. All you are really saying is “that is unfair because i don’t think its fair”.

    That’s not what I am saying, and I’m starting to suspect you aren’t trying to understand what I am saying.

    And I understand you may not accept it, but when you are talking about the ultimate issue which is heaven and hell and God’s plan for salvation (which is where this all started and what you are claiming is immoral)grace is a required element in this discussion. Grace is what makes the difference and what makes God’s plan not only just, but moral regardless of the standard used.

    If we were discussing the reasons behind the existence of heaven and hell, etc. then that may well be (first you’d have to show that all three of heaven, hell, and god existed but that’s another topic…) – but it is not relevant to this particular discussion. How much more do I… Oh forget it.

    Let’s call it a day.

    Just one thing I want you to bear in mind – you started this conversation by asking why heaven and hell irritated atheists. I’ve been trying to explain one of the many reasons why. You’ve, perhaps, been too busy trying to justify their existence to remember that.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Robert,

    In my analogy, the maze is analogous to the existance of heaven and hell. God would have to create the destinations of both heaven and hell. These are not places that just exist independent of God. What you did before the entrance to the maze would represent your mortal life on earth. The existance of the maze itself is due to God.

    Another analogy is a trap from one of the SAW movies where if you don’t do things “just right” (to get out of the trap) you will die a horrible death. Even if the Jigsaw character (analogous here to God) were to write helpful hints on how to get out of the trap, he is still a sadistic psychopath for building the trap in the first place.

    Christians are basically worshiping some imaginary entity more evil than Jigsaw.

  • Mike

    Wow! Go out of town for just 36 hours…

    I just spent 30 minutes reading and trying to digest everything since my last visit.

    Jeff – You invited me to step up to the plate. But, odds are you will simply re-accuse me of attempting to play both sides or attempting to pacify everyone. I do, however, have a number of thoughts on the conversation(s) above.

    The parent/child “analogy:” I am certain that we have all heard this statement about the relationship between God and man many times. Like all analogies, however, it will break down if pushed too hard—which is what occurred above. But, if we view this as “emotional illustration” rather than an analogy, it helps us point our finite minds in the right direction of this (dare I say it) infinite concept. This is just one of MANY cases where religious folks (including myself) forget the fact that this is only an illustration and need to be reminded that it is not concrete and absolute reality.

    Christian undermining of education: We completely miss the point when we focus on education in the schools as this issue. The real problem is the growing trend in this country to embrace fundamentalism and the “easy answers” it promises. This is not limited to Christian fundamentalism. We see it in other religions (in particular Judaism and Islam). And, we see it in politics. The liberal fundamentalist is just as alarming to me as the conservative fundamentalist. Both sides are advertising that they have the answer and that the other side is nothing but blathering dolts or, worse, evil facists/socialists (as applies). When fundamentalism kicks in, the mind shuts off, and education is undermined… Yes, I find the invasion of creationism “science” into our schools as on-par with evolutionism very disturbing. But, I find it equally disturbing that my children are being taught that the pilgrims came to the New World to seek a better economic station in life (Montgomery County Public Schools, MD).

    And the best for last…

    The maze analogy of heaven/hell: The God I currently worship is not the same god I worshiped as a child. While I had never heard this maze analogy before, it perfectly captures the first crisis in my faith journey, the one that put me on the path toward my “baptism by unbelief.” And, it all came down the issue of what kind of god would play so capriciously with his unconditional love. At 10-12ish I began asking about those unfortunate kids that by no fault of their own were born into a family of non-Christians? Why should they get to spend their eternity in hell simply because they chose the wrong parents? What type of god would say, “tough s**t, them’s the rules of my ‘unconditional’ love…” ??? The idea that we are all given a map at the beginning of the maze and therefore all is fair (ergo moral) is ludicrous. Not only are we not all given the map, but we are also not all put into the maze at the same starting point!!! Some of us were put onto the easy road. Others of us were condemned to be placed into the thickest thickets of thorns. The God I now worship is the God of Love, universal acceptance, and morality… (the one that the christ came to tell us about). He would not use “the maze” in any shape or form.

    So why am I posting here? I am now 42. I have spent 75% of my life challenging and refining my faith. It has not been easy or comfortable unlearning all that my parents, Sunday school teachers, and pastors taught me in my childhood. There was a time in my life I would have proclaimed myself an atheist because nothing else made sense. I have grown beyond that and have found that it was not that God doesn’t exist, but rather that my limited definition of him was incapable of capturing his essence. I made what I thought was a rather innocuous post earlier in this thread and was subsequently called out as “failing to take a side” and “just trying to get along with everyone.” This is quite far from the truth. I’m posting here because I am just as passionate about my strongly non-fundamentalist and non-atheist point of view and am hoping that others who find themselves caught in the “war” between the extremes of atheism and fundamentalism and don’t associate with either side will know that we are not alone.

    Jeff – a loud cry begins with a single voice!

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    The God I now worship is the God of Love, universal acceptance, and morality… (the one that the christ came to tell us about).

    So, Mike, are you a Christian universalist? If so, any thoughts on why the most exclusive forms of Christianity have all the popularity and power? It doesn’t make sense to me that so many Christians want to believe in something like hell when we live in such a pluralistic society and most of them have non-Christian friends and family members.

    Although I don’t agree with much of anything in Christianity, I would absolutely love to see Christian universalism spread so that it outstrips fundamentalism and evangelicalism. I’m pretty sure the UCC and Quakers have ditched hell for the most part, but those groups are tiny compared to the Catholics and more literal-minded Protestants.

    But, I find it equally disturbing that my children are being taught that the pilgrims came to the New World to seek a better economic station in life (Montgomery County Public Schools, MD).

    Citation? I checked the official site of the school system, but I didn’t see anything remotely resembling that kind of information listed there. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

    (Edit: my links aren’t showing up, so I’ll try adding them in a subsequent post)

    They don’t seem to be teaching anything other than the usual Thanksgiving history. Notice that the last two links explicitly mention that the Pilgrims came to the New World for religious freedom, and the titles mentioned in the booklist support that point of view. I’m familiar with several of those titles, and they are commonly used to supplement elementary school curriculum and do promote a very traditional view of Thanksgiving.

  • Robert

    Mike I really liked your post. Particularly about the maze. I agree that God didn’t make the maze. That is But if we are to use that analogy for the point of this discussion, the point I would add to that is that God doesn’t only give out maps at the beginning of the maze, he does so all along the path. At any point, regardless of where you start or regardless of how long or hard your road is, the map is available to you.

    I agree with the God you describe. A God of love and acceptance and grace. I believe that we are judged based upon our knowledge. Children and people who have never heard the Gospel and have never been exposed to it cannot and I don’t believe will be judged the same as those who have heard it and have rejected it.

  • Mike

    Citation? I checked the official site of the school system, but I didn’t see anything remotely resembling that kind of information listed there. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

    I’m at least releived to see that it is the official MCPS policy to teach that the Pilgrims came for religious freedom.

    I do, however, know what my children were both taught (by different teachers at different elementary schools in MCPS) on the subject. And I have talked with parents of kids in other MCPS schools who have encountered the same.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna
  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I’m at least releived to see that it is the official MCPS policy to teach that the Pilgrims came for religious freedom. I do, however, know what my children were both taught (by different teachers at different elementary schools in MCPS) on the subject. And I have talked with parents of kids in other MCPS schools who have encountered the same.

    Hmmm, well, that’s certainly odd. It’s not standard elementary school curriculum to teach something like that. There were traders and explorers who came to the New World with the Pilgrims, and those people were looking for economic prosperity, but the Pilgrims themselves were more focused on escaping religious persecution. In any case, I’m not sure why they would downplay the Pilgrims since religious freedom is such a cherished ideal of the United States. It’s certainly not some type of atheist conspiracy to get schools to omit the Pilgrims’ background. I don’t think that’s what you were implying, but having secular government schools does not mean that we can’t teach about religion and its role in history. It just means that we can’t teach religion as fact. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell children that the Pilgrims came to the New World because they wanted religious freedom.

  • Mike

    It’s certainly not some type of atheist conspiracy to get schools to omit the Pilgrims’ background. I don’t think that’s what you were implying

    I am more inclined to believe it is action by misguided individuals. I don’t know at what level these individuals sit in the MCPS heirarchy (teachers, principals, regional superintendents, etc.) I do know that there are severe disciplinary actions taken against teachers that don’t “tow the line” within MCPS. If the origination of these ideas comes from high enough up the ladder, then perhaps it might elevate to the point of conspiracy. I have, however, no evidence as to where it comes from (or from how many distinct sources).

    And yes, I understand the distinction between teaching religion in school and teaching the role of religion in history. I just wish all elements of MCPS did as well.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Well, I certainly hope that teachers are not intentionally misleading students. If they are handing out information to the students that contains misinformation (such as books or worksheets) you should complain to the administration.

    I’m just not totally sure what this has to do with the role of religion in schools, since it seems unlikely that both your children’s teachers are atheists, let alone that they’re atheists teaching about Thanksgiving with an intent to eliminate the Pilgrims’ religion from history. Most teachers (at least in my area) are mindful of the separation of church and state, but this is not a church-state issue, and I can’t think of any teachers I know who would try to change history. A teacher who would do that is just a bad teacher.

    Whatever is going on, it may not have a religious motivation at all, so it seems to be a poor contrast to the topic of creationism in schools, which is absolutely 100% motivated by religion. In addition, it doesn’t make sense to think that this is some type of conspiracy. IMO, it’s beyond extreme to even consider that there’s a cabal of atheists in the Maryland public school system trying to covertly eliminate the Pilgrims’ religious background from history. Like every other segment of the population, one would imagine that the vast majority of teachers, principals, and administrators in Maryland are Christians themselves.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Mike and @Robert,

    My maze analogy is, of course, a critique of those branches of Christianity that believe in hell. It is not a critique of Universalism. I view Universalist belief systems as fairly benign. Of course I would prefer that they take it to the next step and simply not believe in any afterlife at all. Just have “religion” be a mind-set to live a better life while you are alive (kind of like humanism). But with removing the “hell” component from religion, at least most of the motivation to do bad things in the name of religion is also removed.

  • forever young

    I think for the saint, the monk, the buddha it isn’t about preconceived notions but more so an attempt to explain their own experience. Theirs is an experience in which they forsake material attachment so that the mind can be liberated from associating themselves with their physical nature. If I were to attempt to think of a word that expresses the totality of all existence, our relation to this ‘other’ and by extension ourselves. I can call it God, I can call it nature, call it whatever you want.

    Just question your reality, why are you happy or unhappy? Where do your aversions stem from? Where is this job going to take me? Happiness tomorrow… why not today? Do you live in a world of illusions? Conceptions like a game to appease the appetite? That’s for you to answer or at least ponder upon. The divine life in my opinion is a cousin of the artist, just who can express themselves to the ‘highest extent’, pursuit towards perfection. The not-self that streamlines the consciousness, freed by it’s conceptions describes the infinite through finite words/sounds and expressions.

    Of course it isn’t like an entity sitting on his stool, streets paved with gold. (though Aldous Huxley presents an interesting explation in his book Heaven and Hell). Instead of this straw man argument I’d recommend to the atheist Benedict De Spinoza’s Ethics, Plato’s Republic, The yoga sutras of Patanjali, Aldous Huxley’s Perenial Philosophy, Tolstoy’s works, and many more.

  • Cal

    As a Christian myself, I don’t feel it’s necessary for me (or other Christians) to beat atheists, or those from other religious faiths, over the head with my beliefs. If I sense they need some guidance or are receptive to hearing about God and spirituality in general, then I’ll speak up. In some cases people just need more time to come around and ask themselves those life-changing questions which pique their curiosity to search out the answers. The last thing I want to do is come across as some radical Christian because that’s exactly what turned me off before I became one.

    To all atheists and ones still deciding… I put together the following scenario to give you something to think about.

    Let’s just say for a moment, there is no God, no heaven and no afterlife. I go through my entire life with my imaginary friend (Jesus) who makes me happy, provides me with a purpose, enables me to be around others who want only to do good and love one another. And then one day I die. The joke’s on me because I’m dead and there isn’t anything on the other side that I’ve been lead to believe. But if there isn’t anything on the other side and dead is truly dead, then guess what, I’ll never know! But, I had a wonderful fun, happy life filled with joy and purpose all because of my love for God. My life wasn’t wasted because I had faith.

    Now let’s say I’m an atheist, someone who doesn’t believe in God, heaven or the afterlife. I’m a good person, I don’t hurt anyone and I help others when I can, etc. However, I make it known I don’t believe in God, even calling the whole idea of Jesus and his message (as Bill Maher suggests) “a fairy tale”. And then one day I die. But wait, maybe I was wrong. I’m floating above my body, looking down on myself. I tell myself that’s just the pistons in my brain firing/dying off. But then I see a light behind me, drawing me closer to it’s warmth. Before I know it, I’m zooming through a tunnel towards the light. I suddenly realize that I was wrong and I get excited to see what’s waiting for me. Will it be everything I heard all those religious nuts back on earth say it will be?

    In a split second I’m standing before my Creator, God himself. I’m in awe at His appearance and at the beautiful surroundings I find myself in. I look over and see all my friends and relatives waving to me from afar, looking so vibrant, young and alive. Even my pets are there excited to see me again. I realize that it’s a party in my honor to welcome me to the Kingdom of Heaven. How cool is that? Yet, as I try and take a step towards them I’m unable to move. I sense a great disappointment with God as He asks me, “why do you think you deserve an eternity in my home when you denied my existence all of your life?” If you were me, what answer will you give Him? Will you tell Him, “but nobody told me about you,” or, “life was hard, I had so many things on my mind.” That’s when God reveals to you all the times throughout your life someone spoke to you about Him or gave you something to read and you just scoffed at it, even cursing His name. So what will you do, tell Him that science told you there was no God? (Remember, humans are flawed which means science is flawed) Again, God shows you your life and points out every single detail of when you had opportunity to turn to Him but instead you denied His existence and in some cases, even went as far as to preach to others that same message. There’s no way to talk your way out of this, remember He has all the evidence right there in front of you.

    So what will your excuse be as you stand before God? Are you willing to risk an eternity without Him and your loved ones just because science doesn’t have a logical explanation for Him? What do you have to lose by having faith in God? We agreed, that when you die and if there’s nothing there, you’ll never know. However, the alternative of not having faith in God and getting it wrong after you die will be an eternity of loneliness beyond human comprehension. Are you willing to take that chance?

    As C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/steven.rowlinson Steven Rowlinson

      A nice shot at Pascal’s wager there. But if I do all the things that would make me a ‘good person’ and your god would judge, condemn and tourture me etnernally anyway because I did not bow and scrape to it, and found the evidence for its existance lacking, then your god is simply a narcisistic monster and deserves nothing but my contempt.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1199783929 Jonathan Duran

      Pascal’s wager is impotent to convince most atheists. Even putting aside the fact that it portrays “God” in a very bad light as someone undeserving of worship in the first place, think about this: Even if there is some god who will reward or punish us for our subservience, how do you know you’ve picked the correct god? The faith claims of Christianity are no more valid or verifiable that the faith claims of any other theistic system. Maybe Zeus is the real god and you’re actually pissing him off even more by worshipping Yahweh instead of the “true God”.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Cal, Pascal’s Wager? Really?

  • Lizzie (13 years)

    I’m a young chhristian and i don’t think that we do know wevrything. Those ‘christian answers’ are not necessarily what we all think. How did the universe begin? Maybe God ccreated the big bang, the big bang isnt even how all scientists think the world began. Does anything happen when we die? yes our physical bodies rot (assuming your buried) but what happens to our sprits,I believe that we will enter heaven if we accept jesus and hell if we reject him, others wiill disgree, i don;t know what happens to people who never found out about god because they never actually rejected jesus. Does god exisst? I believe that he does i respect that other people may not agree, I have felt gods presence in me but ive never had a proper converstaion with him, i find prayer very hard, i have no proof that god exists this is just what i believe. You are being very stereitypical aabout christians, we dont all the same thoughts and views about christianity.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Lizzie, the consensus of scientific opinion is that the universe began with the Big Bang event (which was neither big nor very bangy at the beginning), our world didn’t form for about 10 billion years though. On the question of what happens to our “spirits” I have to ask, what makes you think that such a thing even exists?

    i don;t know what happens to people who never found out about god because they never actually rejected jesus.

    Some Christian teachings say that these people burn in hell forever. Condemned to eternal torture for no greater crime than ignorance. That doesn’t seem very loving does it? For the record I have never rejected Jesus either. I simply don’t believe he ever existed and even if a man named Jesus did then I don’t believe he was a divine being. I don’t believe in divine beings.

    What purpose does your prayer serve? Does it relax and calm you after a stressful day or prepare you to greet a new day? Does it actually cause you stress as your worry that you aren’t making contact with your deity? If you seek answers to questions then prayer won’t help. Reason and research might be a preferable alternative.

  • Another Steve

    The evidence for the Big Bang is very conclusive. Mostly in the continuing expansion of the universe (that is the expansion of spacetime itself) and the discovery and mapping of the cosmic microwave background radiation (see COBE mission). It all points to the universe being concentrated at one point a long time ago and having once been very hot and dense. Things just get more fuzzy the farther back in time you go.

    It’s disingenuous to say that these facts are disputed in the scientific community. The expansion of the universe still isn’t entirely understood and there may be yet undiscovered physical forces and principles at work (e.g. dark energy and dark matter), but that doesn’t invalidate the model itself.


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