The paradox of pitchforks, a devilish problem

I want to turn here away from the doctrine of Hell in itself to explore briefly a bit of the folklore that has attached itself to it. Specifically I want to look at the odd notion that Hell exists as a physical location that is also the workplace of hordes of devils and demons. That is, the idea that Hell is a place where such creatures are employed rather than a place where they are punished.

"Capital Sins and Hell," in Florence Cathedral, by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari

I refer to this as folklore because it isn’t actually part of any official dogma or doctrine. It is not, to be clear, something that those I’ve been calling Team Hell believe to be true. Their selectively literalist reading of Matthew 25 differs greatly from my own understanding of what that passage is saying, emphasizing Jesus’ reference there to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and interpreting that as a didactic teaching about the specific reality of such a place, rather than an emphatic allusion intended to stress the main point of the story (feed the hungry, clothe the needy, comfort the sick). But they do not believe any more than I do that it refers to Hell as a place “prepared for the devil and his angels” to help them find gainful employment.

Yet this idea persists, dogging the contentious doctrine of Hell throughout the centuries and inextricably binding itself to it. This is an unavoidably common image conjured up by the word “Hell” — this unshakable idea of a fiery landscape dotted with horned, goat-footed creatures tormenting the damned with pitchforks. No matter how cautious and studiously precise the theologians of Hell try to be in defining that place or state, this idea always lingers close at hand — the connotation to their every denotation.

On the one hand, this is a very strange bit of folklore. Why should these devils and demons escape the punishments being meted out to mortal sinners? “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven,” Milton’s Satan said, but where did either Milton or his Satan get the idea that he would “reign” there? Why has it become common to think of Satan as something like the CEO of Hell, rather than one of its prisoners? Why have so many preachers and artists — dating back many centuries before Milton — seemed so convinced that Satan would be a torment-or in Hell, rather than a torment-ee?

From that angle it doesn’t make much sense. But viewed another way, the idea has a compelling logic to it.

Let’s stipulate that the damned are to be tortured for eternity. OK, then, who exactly will be doing the torturing? It seems unseemly to imagine God directly involved, personally poking the gangrenous flesh of sinners with a heavenly pitchfork. And it’s unimaginable that this eternal duty could be delegated to the angels, who desire nothing more than to spend eternity in the presence of God, singing praises. Nor could this task be delegated to the saints. They’re saints, after all, and thus such an assignment would be for them an eternal punishment nearly rivaling that of the souls they would be assigned to torment.

This job, if it must be done, is clearly devils’ work. Only a fiend could carry out such an assignment. Only a demon — a monstrous, soulless, malevolent and wholly unholy creature — could devote itself to eternal torture, unrestrained by mercy, unhampered by revulsion or repugnance.

And thus we come to the paradox of pitchforks. Any creature capable of eternally wounding another creature with a pitchfork lacks the authority to wield that pitchfork, rightfully belonging at the other end of it. The pointy, business end of it.

What the paradox of pitchforks means, of course, is that this enduring bit of folklore doesn’t really work. It doesn’t solve the problem it sets out to solve. It kicks the can a bit down the road, but doesn’t ultimately address the uncomfortable question it arises to deal with, namely the disturbing thought of God’s culpability in this unholy devils’ work. Here the idea of devilish sub-contractors working on God’s behalf does no more to protect God from complicity than the charade of “extraordinary rendition” does to protect the United States from complicity in the abuse of those we allegedly handed over to be tortured. All those goat-footed devils in the medieval frescoes and illuminated manuscripts, this idea says, are God’s proxies — God’s servants, God’s employees.

And so we’re back at the original problem, putting the pitchfork back into the hand of a fiendish God. That was the very disturbing notion that I believe prompted us to concoct this whole devils-and-pitchforks business to begin with.

Not everyone finds this notion disturbing, however. Some argue that God is not subject to the paradox of pitchforks because God is perfectly holy and perfectly righteous and therefore perfectly capable of tormenting a suffering creature with a pitchfork, eagerly, forever, without any loss of moral authority. I understand the form of this argument, but it seems to be based on several words not meaning what I think they usually mean.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I have no idea what “SAN damage” means.

  • Dea Syria

    so you’re unable to detect irony?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    Damage done to one’s sanity. The term derives from the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, which, being based on the work of Lovecraft, needed a way to track not only physical injury to the characters, but also the mental trauma sustained by exposure to the Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. So seeing horrible or alien things, and learning truths that shatter the fragile framework of reality as your poor investigator character understands it incur SAN damage, which can eventually lead to your character ending up as a gibbering cultist or asylum inmate (in addition to the chance of ending up as Mi-Go food, or simply shot by gangsters, which is how my investigators always tend to go out).

  • Froborr

    The Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games, based (rather loosely, at times) on H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction, use the SAN stat to track the mental health of the player characters. When one takes sufficient SAN damage, one goes mad in any of a variety of ways. Many of the creatures in the game are so monstrous, so at odds with normal everyday human experience, that merely looking at them can cause SAN damage.

    Basically, I was saying that just because it’s impossible to hate something doesn’t mean that thing is good. It could mean that thing is very, very evil and able to override free will.

  • Froborr

    Ah yes, troll defense #47: I was being ironic, you people just can’t take a joke!

  • Anonymous

    Oh, like the Nightmares stat in Echo Bazaar. (If it gets too high, you go to the place dubbed “A state of some confusion”, otherwise known as “stark raving crackers”, and you can’t come back until your Nightmares are at zero.)

  • Dea Syria

    Close reading is a technique of analyzing literature, for its literary merit. It has nothing to do with situating a work in its place within the history of ideas. What Fred is doing is akin to reading the Commentaries of Caesar, saying–look Caesar doesn’t mention the Ptolemaic system, so he must have thought the earth goes around the sun. Even though he doesn’t mention the matter, its almost 100% certain that Caesar held no such belief, because it would have been extraordinary for someone with his background and education, and if he had felt strongly enough about it to dissent form the commonly held view, he would surely have mentioned it. The though world of the gospel authors and Paul is firmly rooted in Jewish apocalyptic. If they were going to deny of change some important part of it, they would mention it. Paul makes a pretty big deal out of identifying the risen Jesus with the angel of the presence for instance–he doesn’t hide his light under a bushel. In fact the bits Slactivist wants to dismiss as metaphors or whatever he says are actually excellent and direct evidence that the Gospel authors accepted hell as part of the apocalyptic world view they embraced. Of course, if the Gospel authors did not believe in Hell, then Slactivists’s problems would just be beginning–how could he then explain the universal and uniform acceptance of the doctrine of hell in the first generation of patristic authors? Since its clear that the post-Gospel church accepts heel unreservedly, does that mean that legitimate authority stops with the Gospels? Why then does Slactivist accept the idea of a church if its doctrine is unsound? The team hell idea is completely incoherent and does not stand the slightest scrutiny.

    What is really going on, is that Slactivist finds the idea of hell morally repugnant (which it certainly is), and he is using sophistry to try to deny it without denying salvation, but the two ideas are intimately linked in their intellectual origins in the world of apocalyptic Judaism. Just turn the argument around (hell is real, and when the authoritative text mentions hell its a metaphor of just a side issue of no significance), and you’ll how desperate it is.

  • Dea Syria

    That’s what I think too. Christianity has tremendous meaning for him and he can’t abandon it, even though it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes I talk as if the ‘pagan’ gods are real, because the world of which they were a part has such meaning for me, but I know they aren’t real.

  • Dea Syria

    I addressed this point just above. But I consider the idea that the bible is meant to be universally applicable as bizarre. It has a specific temporal context, and a specific audience in mind. Of course, I’m a historian, not a literary critic.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Ah, I see.

    Thanks for the explanation.

  • Froborr

    Actually, Jewish apocalyptic literature of the time rarely to never identified a place of eternal punishment for dead humans, which is what Hell means in this context and what Fred is arguing against.

    If the concept truly were as widespread in the intellectual environment that birthed Christianity as you say, you would expect to see it in modern Judaism, which descends from the same intellectual environment. But what little modern Judaism says about an afterlife generally doesn’t include a Hell (Gehenna is closer to Purgatory). That suggests that eternal damnation entered Christianity after it completed its separation from Judaism, and then was back-read into the standard interpretations of Biblical passages, similar to how the “sin of Sodom” changed from inhospitality, murder, and hatred of the poor to homosexuality in the early Middle Ages.

    the two ideas are intimately linked in their intellectual origins in the world of apocalyptic Judaism.

    Even if this is true, so what? Even someone with lots of good ideas can occasionally have a bad one or vice versa.

    Close reading is a technique of analyzing literature, for its literary merit.

    The point of close reading is not to measure merit, that’s far too subjective to be worth anyone’s time.

  • Dea Syria

    Then let me put it this way. Heaven and hell are part of apocalyptic mythology–a view of the world that includes god and magic. If that view of the world is true than you have complete description of it. Since out only knowledge of such a world comes from authoritative scripture, what basis would you have to start picking and choosing, tampering with it. Paul did so, claiming he had special revelation, but that is the sort of thing it would take.

    As for the genocide:

    The is from deut. 20; the speaker is god. He is instructing the Israelites on how to commit genocide:

    10]
    “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it.

    [11] And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.
    [12] But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it;
    [13] and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword,
    [14] but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you.
    [15] Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.
    [16] But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
    [17] but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per’izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb’usites, as the LORD your God has commanded;
    [18] that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God.
    [19]

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    It can also be an inference made in the absence of such personal ineffable glorious nifty encounters.

    For example, an atheist whose referent for an actual God is the structure of cause and effect in the world might, upon fully understanding that structure of cause and effect, find it impossible to hate it simply because it’s not the kind of thing that it makes any sense to hate, even when it results in atrocities.

    Various kinds of theists might make the same kind of inference based on their own referents for God.

  • Froborr

    My favorite similar stat is in the COMPLETELY AWESOME video game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. If your Sanity drops too low, the game starts doing really freaky things: the image on the screen tilts, the background music changes, and you randomly get weird, brief hallucinations followed by your character screaming “THIS ISN’T REALLY HAPPENING!” and a return to normal, my favorites of which are:

    1) You press Save and the game announces it’s deleting all your save files.
    2) You walk into a room and you’re in another time, for example while playing as a monk in a medieval French cathedral you walk into the nave and it’s a World War I field hospital.
    3) Bugs start crawling across the TV screen.
    4) Blue screen of death.
    5) Swarm of enemies and an “Error: Controller not found” message.

  • Anonymous

    That must be fun. Dunno if I’m being sarcastic.

  • Anonymous

    It’s literature. If it weren’t universally applicable in some fashion it wouldn’t be.

  • Froborr

    For example, an atheist whose referent for an actual God is the structure of cause and effect in the world might, upon fully understanding that structure of cause and effect, find it impossible to hate it simply because it’s not the kind of thing that it makes any sense to hate, even when it results in atrocities.

    This atheist finds this paragraph to make zero sense. My referent for “God” is that provided by the most common beliefs in my culture, slightly modified by the traces of Jewish theology in my upbringing. Part of that referent is personhood; God is a conscious entity, a person. None of this is remotely or can be remotely true of “the structure of cause and effect in the world,” which is not a person and therefore not God. Indeed, since I believe there is a structure of cause and effect in the world, if that were my referent for God I would believe in God.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Am I the only one who sighs a bit at the idea of computer games perpetuating all the myths about sanity and mental illness that make it so hard for people to realise when they have a mental illness, or accept that somebody else has a mental illness and isn’t just being a wimp? I mean, I can see how it might add fun to a game and be a way of getting imaginative, and I’m all for fun and imagination, but … sigh.

  • Froborr

    You don’t get to decide how other people’s religions work.

    Most of the Christians in this thread, Fred included, have already explained that they do not treat the Bible as an inseparable whole. It is a work written over millennia, by many authors, and reflects the biases and attitudes of those authors.

    I mean, think about it. Do we have to choose between quantum mechanics and relativity because Einstein was right about relativity and wrong about quantum mechanics? Of course not, that’s absurd–both are highly useful and viable theories.*

    *Admittedly, as there are occasions where they contradict, one or both is incomplete. That’s human knowledge for you.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I’m sorry I’m not making sense. I can sort of see why, and in retrospect I ought to have expressed myself differently (or perhaps just kept silent in the first place), but I’m unprepared to try again right now.

    In any case, your description of your conceptual frame makes sense to me, and I agree that an atheist whose referent for God is a person who exemplifies the most common beliefs about God in their culture naturally concludes that God doesn’t exist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    It doesn’t bug me too much, I guess mainly because video games also perpetuate the myth that eating an entire turkey that you find bricked up in the wall of a Dracula’s castle will allow you to recover from axe-induced trauma, and that if you swallow a bottle full of pain killers after getting shot eight times you’ll be in great shape to dive through a doorway and smoothly execute the bad guys inside with the twin uzis you’re carrying. Be it physical or mental, video games have always, always delivered highly abstract and unrealistic depictions of illness and trauma.

    Of course, upon reflection, I’ve never had a personal stake in the matter, so my nonchalance about is probably also due to privilege.

  • Anonymous

    …now you mention it I can see how Echo Bazaar is problematic in that respect, yes. *is dolt*

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    You aren’t the only one, though I’ll admit it’s not especially high for me in the sort order of pernicious myths perpetuated by popular culture.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I guess mainly because video games also perpetuate the myth that eating an entire turkey that you find bricked up in the wall of a Dracula’s castle will allow you to recover from axe-induced trauma

    That isn’t a myth, though. Or at least, I’ve never heard of anyone who believed it. I have however heard of many, many people who believe that if you aren’t clawing the walls and shouting about insects under your skin, you aren’t ‘mad’ and should stop whining. :-(

  • Froborr

    I completely understand your point, but honestly never thought much of it before because I identify “sanity” and “madness” as being the very outmoded concepts you’re talking about, as opposed to “mental health” and “mental illness.” Like “rightful king,” they have no place in reality, but I’m not bothered by them as a generic convention.

  • Froborr

    And also probably a healthy dose of privilege. While I’ve dealt with mental health issues most of my life, I’ve never really run across anyone IRL who doesn’t believe my issues (depression/PTSD/AvPD) are real. I know such people exist, but I’ve been privileged enough never to encounter them.

  • McMurphy

    This thread appears to be plugged straight into my love lines, Iain M Banks and Neil Gaiman? ~swoon~

    Anyway, the least adversarial, confrontational novel of the Culture series is ‘Look to Windward’. (btw, that’s from the same line of poetry that ‘Consider Phlebas’ comes from) It seems to me to be a coda for the Culture, a looking back and seeing the mistakes of youth.

    It’s not one of my favourite Culture books, but it does give a different twist to the narrative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    This is indeed true.

  • Madhabmatics

    I used to think those effects were silly until I stayed up several days and hallucinated for real, then they became really terrifying.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    As I understand it, the image of devils specifically-weilding pitchforks came from Dante, where one of the circles of Hell is burning pitch.

    Not everyone finds this notion disturbing, however. Some argue that God is not subject to the paradox of pitchforks because God is perfectly holy and perfectly righteous and therefore perfectly capable of tormenting a suffering creature with a pitchfork, eagerly, forever, without any loss of moral authority.

    This is how Islamic and Calvinist theology solves the paradox — by placing God literally beyond Good and Evil, only Omnipotent Will. (Sort of a cosmic Triumph of the Will?) In this solution, God can will Evil as well as will Good because “He is the Creator, and We Are The Creatures.” And it all becomes a matter of Power and Power Alone — God just has the Biggest Boot, that’s all. You hear the echoes of this meme from double-predestination Fatalism to the portrayal of God in Left Behind.

  • Anonymous

    JJohnson — I highly recommend Seamus Heaney’s gorgeous verse translation of BEOWULF, with the Anglo-Saxon text on facing pages.

    For what it’s worth, I second this recommendation. I haven’t read it in a while — my folks have the only copy I’ve ever seen.

  • Froborr

    Ah, good ol’ Abraxis.

    You know, it’s been a couple of years, I think it’s time to re-read Demian and Magister Ludi.

  • Froborr

    Having done that once several years prior to the games, I found them terrifying from the start.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    This lends a new perspective to Revelation’s statement that “Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire.” A show on one of the documentary channels made the point that nobody got out of Hades; the dead remained dead. And when Christianity spread, the doctrine of Resurrection meant that upon the return of Christ, “Hades would Die.”

    As for “Hades to the Greeks was actually a pretty cool guy” (personal/family feuds between the Olympian Gods notwithstanding), I’ve always heard of Hades as more Grim and Stern than “cool”. Hades was Death, and Death could not be deterred or bargained with.

    Pet Peeve, having to do with this post’s original subject: Current pop versions of Greek Mythology in movies and TV (I’m talking the recent versions of the Odyssey as well as SyFy Channel movies) always show Hades (the place) as based on the Christian Hell — fire and torment, with Hades not as the grim Lord of the Dead but an Evil (TM) tormentor. All that’s missing is the pitchfork. I would like to see one where the Greek afterlife — shades floating around a grim Land of the Dead — is presented as-is, not filtered through Christian Hell.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    This lends a new perspective to Revelation’s statement that “Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire.” A show on one of the documentary channels made the point that nobody got out of Hades; the dead remained dead. And when Christianity spread, the doctrine of Resurrection meant that upon the return of Christ, “Hades would Die.”

    As for “Hades to the Greeks was actually a pretty cool guy” (personal/family feuds between the Olympian Gods notwithstanding), I’ve always heard of Hades as more Grim and Stern than “cool”. Hades was Death, and Death could not be deterred or bargained with.

    Pet Peeve, having to do with this post’s original subject: Current pop versions of Greek Mythology in movies and TV (I’m talking the recent versions of the Odyssey as well as SyFy Channel movies) always show Hades (the place) as based on the Christian Hell — fire and torment, with Hades not as the grim Lord of the Dead but an Evil (TM) tormentor. All that’s missing is the pitchfork. I would like to see one where the Greek afterlife — shades floating around a grim Land of the Dead — is presented as-is, not filtered through Christian Hell.

  • Anonymous

    In fairness to the argument, I think that this may be close to the actual experience of some theists — at least those who base their theism on personal enounters with Divinity.

    I’m sorry if I’ve given offense.

    I just find the argument that it is psychologically impossible to hate God to be dismissive of anyone’s different experience. Maybe some people have touched the divine and been repulsed by what they experienced. Seems like telling them they just haven’t understood their experiences correctly is patronizing at the least, and pretty much the same as plenty of privileged people have said to marginalized people.

  • Anonymous

    In fairness to the argument, I think that this may be close to the actual experience of some theists — at least those who base their theism on personal enounters with Divinity.

    I’m sorry if I’ve given offense.

    I just find the argument that it is psychologically impossible to hate God to be dismissive of anyone’s different experience. Maybe some people have touched the divine and been repulsed by what they experienced. Seems like telling them they just haven’t understood their experiences correctly is patronizing at the least, and pretty much the same as plenty of privileged people have said to marginalized people.

  • Anonymous

    I apologize for belittling/invalidating people’s experience.

    I must admit, though, I don’t understand the experience I belittled/invalidated. Perhaps that’s just because my own experience doesn’t include the sort of knowledge of God for which hate makes any sense at all.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to explain or justify their reaction. My lack of understanding is my problem.

    Oh, I was responding to your quote from Smullyan, not to you. I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel ashamed.

    I haven’t experienced anything that was recognizably Divine. For all I know people have experienced it and come away with something different.

    Please see my response to hapax above, because I don’t want to repeat myself here.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    When I was 13, my then-best-friend joined a pentacostal church. He told me that one of the doctrines of his church (something they had purportedly learned through “research”) was that when judgement day came, God would instruct his special chosen followers who’d been taken up in the rapture to judge everyone who’d been left behind. … So sinners aren’t just judged and tortured for eternity by God; they’re judged and tortured for eternity with the active assistance of God’s loving followers (in their capacity as His holy bureaucracy, I suppose).

    I first heard of that from some real fire-and-brimstone radio preachers back in the Seventies when I was mixed up in one of those cult-like splinter churches. I think it’s a corollary of a cryptic statement from St Paul that “we will judge the angels.” Since then, I have heard the idea occasionally, but not often; it seems to be mostly confined to independent splinter churches (such as the Pentecostal one you mentioned).

    With one possible exception: James Dobson, Focus on the Family. About a year or two ago, I heard second-hand that Dobson or someone associated with him was claiming that Christians should start training now for the jobs God will have us doing in Eternity. Put this together with the above idea (those same Seventies radio preachers waxing ecstatic about how in the Millenium “Christ will rule with a ROD of IRON! No SIN will be Tolerated!”) and things start to sound REAL Ugly. (As in Resurrected Christians as God’s Einsatzkommandos and Thought Police through all Eternity. And you know, there ARE RTCs who DO get off on that idea!)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    That idea actually makes a lot of sense. It’s like a pecking order in a prison, where the most brutal and nasty rise to the top and take it out on those beneath them.

  • Anonymous

    Because they don’t attempt to police everybody else’s moral choices enough as it is.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    Dave: Though I understand others’ issues with it, thank you for the Smullyan quote. You have reminded me that I really need to re-read The Tao Is Silent one of these days.
    :-)

  • Anonymous

    10]
    “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it.

    [11] And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.
    [12] But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it;
    [13] and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword,
    [14] but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you.
    [15] Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.
    [16] But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
    [17] but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per’izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb’usites, as the LORD your God has commanded;
    [18] that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God.
    [19]

    In order to argue that these verses are prescriptive, that they are actually God’s actual orders to the Israelites, you’d need to disprove that they were actually handed down by the Israelite’s leaders, that they were handed down after the smiting of each of the groups mentioned therein, and that there weren’t any pre-existing grudges between the Israelites and those groups.

    In short, please disprove to me that these verses are in the Bible because the Israelites got a mad-on against the Amorites, the Canaanites, etc., and not because they were handed down by YHWH.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > I just find the argument that it is psychologically impossible to hate God to be dismissive of anyone’s different experience.

    Sure. And the argument that it is psychologically impossible for someone who knows God for what it really is to hate God (which is what Smullyan actually said) is similarly dismissive of anyone’s actual experience of knowing God for what it really is and hating it.

    Absolutely agreed, as far as that goes.

    I can’t speak for Smullyan, but I admit that I wasn’t seriously considering that there were any such people in the world, so I guess it’s true that I was dismissing their experience.

    But… well, to be honest, I still don’t see how there can be any such people. I’m not trying to defend my dismissal here, I just don’t get it.

    The people I’ve met who consider themselves to know God for what it really is mostly fall into two buckets: most atheists, who consider themselves to know God for a character in a story with no physical referent at all, and a few theists, who seem to imagine God as a very simple entity. (Most theists I know don’t consider themselves to know more than the smallest fraction of what God really is.)

    The former group don’t consider God any more worthy of love or hate than Santa Claus or Darth Vader… it’s just a character in a story. The latter group don’t generally hate it, although I’ll admit their emotional stance with respect to it puzzles me.

    That said, I acknowledge that my ignorance is not a constraint on the world, and if there are any people out there who both consider themselves to know God for what it truly is and hate it, I would find it potentially enlightening to hear from them… especially to hear how they first became aware that they fell into that class… should they choose to discuss it.

  • Anonymous

    @Froborr re: Eternal Darkness –

    Yes, that’s a perfect game.

    Once my wife was playing that in the middle of the day when the power went out. She thought for a split second that the black screen of the TV was another trick of the game’s!

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Yes, but the thing is the Bible is 3 things rolled into one, which makes it a very complicated text.

    It is a History book (accounting the life and times of the people of the day, in the same way most very very old texts do that – by stories.)

    It is also a piece of Literature, again telling us stories, some of which are elaborated from real events, but others are probably wholly fictional; think the Parables that Christ tells, or even some of the more bizarre stuff which was likely allegorical even then. This is where I see a lot of non-Christians make a mistake when attacking Christianity through the Bible.*

    Namely: Not everyone, especially not everyone throughout history, most especially in the early days of the church, thought like a modern day fundamentalist preacher. Allegory as you’ll remember, was *extremely* common at the time; and most early Christians are either converted Jews or Romans, both of which had a good chance of being well-educated for the day.

    My point here being: Fundamentalism, that is “Every passage and every page and every idea must be 100% True and Taken As Such; or else the whole thing is False”, is not the only way to look at the Bible. In fact it is, in the grand scheme of things, the minority way. It’s a grossly oversimplified solution to an enormously complex text.

    Finally it is, of course, also a religious text laying out belief both on how you treat other people and how you interact with the divine – and the many-many-many different traditions of Christianity that have come since the days of the early Church interpret it in very, very different ways. This is the part where universal applicability comes in, as a holy book has to remain relevant throughout history.

    Now it’s not my call to judge whether or not it has in fact done so; but I think Fred does a pretty good job looking at things through a modern lens and bringing applicability from the Bible to the modern world.

    *Full disclosure – former-Christian atheist here. Also – I’m not saying “You can’t question the passages and their meaning” – not by a longshot. My point is that you also cannot attack an entire faith by using the Very Literal Interpretation Of It’s Holy Book; when the very people who follow it very often do not. Even Fundamentalists, who claim to, clearly do not in a lot of areas. (The old Leviticus hypocrisy for instance: No to gay sex, but shrimp is awesome.)

  • Heart

    I’m kind of reminded of Desus from Exalted here. The guy is completely horrific, but is hailed as one of the world’s greatest heroes in part because he has enchanted himself so anyone who sees him automatically ascribes the best to him…himself included.

    The result is the Joker, except him and everyone else think that he is Superman.

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I don’t think so.

    I think this is as much art imitates the period in which it is produced as much as anything. After all, books, while not capable of the whole controller-screwy type stuff, also bring out the same tropes, as to TV series and movies.

    Basically media at-large tends to have some iffy ideas; or, in some cases, it’s not so much that the idea is iffy but rather that there’s an artistic concept going on and they don’t know another way to justify it.

    Least that’s how I see it >.>

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I shall have to keep this in mind (^_^)b

  • http://horriblefoodogre.blogspot.com Samantha C

    no idea if it’s your thing, but the Hades in the recent animated Wonder Woman movie was pretty interesting – Hades is in many ways more of a trickster and hedonist than anything else identifiable. It certainly struck me as Greek and not Christian, at any rate.


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