They're spreading blankets on the beach

The Economist: “America’s transport infrastructure: Life in the slow lane

America’s dependence on its cars is reinforced by a shortage of alternative forms of transport. Europe’s large economies and Japan routinely spend more than America on rail investments, in absolute not just relative terms, despite much smaller populations and land areas. America spends more building airports than Europe but its underdeveloped rail network shunts more short-haul traffic onto planes, leaving many of its airports perpetually overburdened. Plans to upgrade air-traffic-control technology to a modern satellite-guided system have faced repeated delays. The current plan is now threatened by proposed cuts to the budget of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that America needs to spend $20 billion more a year just to maintain its infrastructure at the present, inadequate, levels. Up to $80 billion a year in additional spending could be spent on projects which would show positive economic returns. Other reports go further. In 2005 Congress established the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. In 2008 the commission reckoned that America needed at least $255 billion per year in transport spending over the next half-century to keep the system in good repair and make the needed upgrades. Current spending falls 60 percent short of that amount.

– – – – – – – – –

A survey of Protestant pastors found 41 percent of them strongly disagreeing with the statement: “I believe global warming is real and manmade.”

That’s up from 27 percent in a similar survey in 2008.

Hmm. Maybe if I showed them this data from Grist’s Jess Zimmerman, pointing out that the last time CO2 levels in the earth’s atmosphere were this high was 3 million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch?

But alas, the same slice of Protestant clergy who don’t believe in climate change also don’t believe there ever was a Pliocene Epoch or a 3 million years ago.

Maybe I’ll take them to see Carbon Nation.

Richard Flory: “This Just In: Gays and Lesbians Attend Evangelical Colleges!

Via Tony Jones, “Douglass Blvd. Christian Church votes for marriage equality and ends practice of signing marriage license.” The Louisville, Ky., church:

“… voted to end the practice of signing marriage licenses because they give legal benefits to heterosexual couples that are not available to homosexual couples. Until the church’s ministers may confer identical legal benefits on homosexual and heterosexual couples, they will perform only religious wedding ceremonies.”

Good advice from Ezra Klein: “I hew to a strict policy of not learning about wine, as I don’t get paid enough to develop a taste for it.”

Consumerist: “McDonald’s Hires 62,000 at Job Event, Turns Down 938,000

So next time you hear some condescending, privileged jerk preaching resentment toward the poor — “Why don’t they just get a job flipping burgers?” — you can remind them that Mickey D’s has 20 applicants for every job opening.

– – – – – – – – –

Church historian Martin Marty tries to make sense of “Why Some Religious Right Champion ‘Atlas Shrugged.'”

Give [Ayn] Rand in her writings credit … She made clear that if anyone would come after her, they had to deny all their impulses toward selflessness, take up their blinders and billfolds, and follow her.

Marty is confused that anyone could profess to be an admirer of Rand’s while also professing to be an adherent of the Christianity that she vilified and the tenets of which she urged her admirers to contradict.

Me too.

– – – – – – – – –

Ross Douthat makes his “Case for Hell.”

Hell is logically necessary, Douthat argues, for reasons of simple fairness. Good people like himself have been working all day in the vineyard. They’ve been working really hard.

Would it be fair if a bunch of Johnny come latelies waltzed in just before quitting time and, without even really breaking a sweat, got paid the same wages as those who have worked all day? Of course not.

What kind of sick and twisted God wouldn’t recognize that those who have worked harder are better people and thus deserve to be more richly rewarded?

And to be perfectly fair, those latecomers who never put in a full day’s work shouldn’t just be paid less — they should be paid nothing and, instead, should be tortured forever and ever and ever without end.

Because that’s only fair.

– – – – – – – – –

And since today marks five years since I met the Slacktivixen, a bit of lovely sappiness from Bright Eyes:

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  • Chunky Style

    “Atlas Shrugged” feels right to many evangelicals because it’s bereft of compassion. American-style Christianity seems to be an attempt to recompile Christianity without the flaw of compassion, with hilarious results.

  • Mobius

    @ Chunky Style

    Hilarious is not the term I would use.

  • We Must Dissent

    When I lived in Japan, one of the great things that I enjoyed was that I could walk maybe a half kilometer to my local bus stop, and from there I could get pretty much anywhere in the country and even to other countries. And I lived in the mountains in the middle of nowhere in a town of about 8,000 people. It was so, so nice.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    JET? Eikaiwa? Where were you? I was in Toyama Prefecture with JET.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    JET? Eikaiwa? Where were you? I was in Toyama Prefecture with JET.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Blotzphoto Louis Doench

    “What kind of sick and twisted God wouldn’t recognize that those who have worked harder are better people and thus deserve to be more richly rewarded?”

    Made me think of this…
    “http://www.leftycartoons.com/if-libertarians-went-to-heaven/”

  • http://mousehole-mouse.blogspot.com/?zx=58ed6a0d2b47d813 Mouse

    I was waiting for you to comment on Ross Douthat’s article and you did not disappoint. Thank you, Fred.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    I think Fred missed the point of the Douthat article. The point wasn’t that we as the older brother find it offensive that prodigal Tony Soprano might be in Heaven. It’s that Tony through his choices has shown that he prefers to Hell to Heaven, and it would be presumptuous of us to say that he has to go there if he doesn’t want to. Douthat’s view of Hell seems to me to be entirely in line with CS Lewis’s Great Divorce: Hell is full of people who think Hell is other people. Douthat’s point is that if we insist that Tony go to Heaven, we’re taking away his free will. We’re taking away his choice to wallow in his misery. More to the point, you cannot take someone to Heaven against their free will, since being in a Heaven full of holy people you don’t care for is Hellish to those who choose to see it that way. For Osama to be in the same Heaven as Gandhi and Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin and the victims of 9/11 would be for him a Hell. Heaven and Hell are just different ways of experiencing the exact same thing.

    As I understand it, this isn’t very different from Bell’s position either. The only difference is that Bell is more hopeful that eventually Tony will come around to the other side. But even if you’re hopeful that Tony will come around, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing weird about a culture in which we refuse to allow even the consideration that some souls have so twisted themselves that they won’t ever come around.

  • Lunch Meat

    “Douthat’s point is that if we insist that Tony go to Heaven, we’re taking away his free will. We’re taking away his choice to wallow in his misery.”

    But the reason that’s illogical is because there’s no independent reason for there to be only two choices: hell or heaven. A hell based on torture and eternal punishment for sins doesn’t have to be the only alternative to heaven. For an atheist who, indeed, might find it hellish to spend eternity with God, but who lived a good, moral life anyway, it’s unjust to send hir to hell because it’s violating hir free will to send hir to heaven. God could send them all to Antarctica, or Mars, or create some other place where they could be left alone.

    Of course, Douthat isn’t just talking about non-Christians–it seems that he’s mainly talking about justice for murderers and the like. But even so, eternal punishment is totally out of proportion for finite sins.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    Douthat is not talking about justice at all. Or if he is talking about justice, he’s talking about how to do right by the murderers, not how to punish them. The question is whether it is doing right by someone to give them something that is good that they don’t want. If God makes everyone go to Heaven, whether they want to or not, it seems like it would require “lobotomizing” the souls of people who genuinely prefer darkness to light. Someone who agrees with Milton’s Satan that it’s better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven can’t be made happy by Heaven until you completely change their personality, which seems like it would be more cruel than just letting them sit eternity out alone.

  • Heart

    Then why create a hell at all? If they don’t want to be in Heaven, why couldn’t God try reincarnation?

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

    “The mind is its own place, and in itself

    Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

    The way I understand Hell, the Hell of [i]The Great Divorce[/i], the darkness outside the feast, it’s created by its own occupants, not by God.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    Well, if they’re the same people, you’ll probably get the same results in the next life.

    There is a serious problem for heaven with free will. If we can choose to sin in heaven, then heaven will become as shitty as life on earth. If we can’t choose to sin in heaven, then we don’t have free will there, so why was it so important that we be given free will on earth?

    “Creating hell” makes it sound too much like God’s the one making hell. Hell is made by people for themselves because they prefer darkness to light.

  • Anonymous

    “Creating hell” makes it sound too much like God’s the one making
    hell. Hell is made by people for themselves because they prefer darkness
    to light.

    This is sort of a cop-out. He created everything, so he’s responsible for everything. An all-knowing, all-powerful god cannot claim credit for the good things and wash his hands of the bad things. If your argument boils down to “he was just too stupid to realize that his creation would fuck things up”, maybe you need to reconsider the definition of omnipotent. If Hell exists, he created it, either directly or indirectly. There are plenty of rationalizations for why he would create Hell or allow others to create it, but you have start from the point that he is responsible for it and then try to justify it from there.

  • Anonymous

    People within the Evangelical culture I grew up in would also insist that God be credited for all things, including those man-made, For example, “God created cars because God created the materials and gave us the ability to make them”. It would be horribly hypocritcal not to give credt to God for Hell as well, even if it could be argued that we create it ourselves.

  • Anonymous

    People within the Evangelical culture I grew up in would also insist that God be credited for all things, including those man-made, For example, “God created cars because God created the materials and gave us the ability to make them”. It would be horribly hypocritcal not to give credt to God for Hell as well, even if it could be argued that we create it ourselves.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    That’s a fair point, but you don’t want to push it too hard or else God is responsible for the Holocaust, etc., etc.

    I guess the Universalist way of approaching the issue (see Marilyn McCord Adams) would be to say God was responsible for the Holocaust, etc. but all of those horrendous evil are balanced out by the joy that the victims will have in heaven, so it works out to be a square deal anyway. Absent universal salvation, however, there would be many people for whom not having been created would have been the better choice.

    Something to think about.

  • Anonymous

    Of course God was responsible for the Holocaust (assuming that he exists). Of course there are ways to try to reconcile that, like the the ones you’ve pointed out, but it still must start from the base argument that he is responsible for bad things as well as good things.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    but it still must start from the base argument that he is responsible for bad things as well as good things.

    Why?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Omnipotence, remember? The buck stops at the Great White Throne.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I don’t think it entirely works like that.

  • Mark Z.

    Omnipotence, remember?

    Refresh my memory. Where does Jesus claim to be omnipotent?

  • Anonymous

    If God is responsible for every person who wins some award, game or contest, he is also responsible for all the losers. If he chose one team to win, then he chose the other team to lose.

    Also, how do you think omnipotence works? I think that we diverge on that definition.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Omnipotence: God can do anything that can be done.

    This, though, is a big wild universe. Some things can’t be done, without the universe breaking.

  • Caravelle

    And that isn’t a useful definition of omnipotence unless you define what can be done. Leaving aside the bit where we don’t actually know what that is, not having solved physics yet, one thing I notice is that what people think can be done will depend on what field of science they’re most ignorant of.

    Can God make a square circle ?

    Can God make a perpetual motion machine ?

    Can God make something appear out of nothing ? How big a something ?

    Can God make a massive or charged object stop attracting/repulsing others ?

    Can God make rocks fall up ?

    Can God affect the trajectory of one chemical in solution ?

    Can God cause transmutation with no big release or absorption of energy ?

    Can God break the laws of physics ? Are there even such things ?

    For which of these does a “yes” answer imply the universe breaking ?

    And given God isn’t all-powerful, does this mean we can investigate the mechanisms by which God can do whatever it is God can do ?

    When it comes down to it, making a dichotomy between “things that can be done” and “things that can’t be done (without the universe breaking)” mean accepting that there are natural laws and that God is bound by them. Which, arguably, would imply God is non-supernatural.

    But that would depend on what we understand by “supernatural”. What does the statement “God is supernatural” mean, to those who believe it ?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Caravelle, I really have little-to-no interest in what God can do scientifically. If he wants to break the laws of physics, he’s welcome to.

    I also don’t think he’s entirely bound by “natural laws”.

    What I’m talking about with my thoughts on God’s omnipotence is mostly concerned with God doing things with people, and with life in general.

  • Caravelle

    What I’m talking about with my thoughts on God’s omnipotence is mostly concerned with God doing things with
    people
    , and with life in general.

    Okay, but that doesn’t change my question. What does it mean to say that God can do anything that can be done ? What kind of things do you feel belong in the groups “can be done” and “can’t be done (short of breaking the Universe)” as applies to people and life in general, and why ?

    And I’m still interested in knowing what the supernatural means to you. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out what the word means to me, as someone who doesn’t believe in it, but I haven’t really had an in-depth discussion on the subject with someone who does believe it exists.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Hmm…

    This is going to sound very vague and wishy-washy. Which – apologies. But that’s how I work, to some extent.

    The world is big, and wild, and slightly unfathomable. There’s a lot more that goes on than we can explain, or ever will be able to explain. It’s mysterious, and undefined, and wild.

    Things sometimes work like a science textbook, and sometimes work like a political theory, and always always work like a story – until they don’t. (Occasionally, they break and start working another way entirely. Usually this happens right when you’re sure you’ve figured out how it worked up until a few moments ago.)

    A lot more goes on in this world than I will ever fathom.

    …when I talk about the supernatural, that is what I mean.

    As to your question about what God can and can’t do, I have no idea. I don’t try to define it very often. All I do know is that, in my opinion, saying that God is omnipotent does not mean that he can snap his fingers and instantly have things work in a completely different way. When people say “Ah, but God could change that bit if he wanted to”, it sounds a bit like nonsense.

  • Caravelle

    This is going to sound very vague and wishy-washy. Which – apologies. But that’s how I work, to some extent.

    I think it’s a great explanation actually, and a beautiful one to boot. Or maybe I’m just reading my own understanding into it :)

    Basically you’re saying that the Universe isn’t fundamentally ordered ? Or would you say it isn’t fundamentally understandable, or understandable by us ? (I would say the two first statements mean the same thing and the third one is very different but I could see an argument that the second and third one are the same, in which case I’m not sure where that leaves the first)

    I do have one question though : what do you mean when you say that things always always work like a story ? To me it looks as if things rarely work like a story, let alone always always. It’s not even as if I would be surprised if they did, because I see stories as representations of the world, but they’re imperfect representations with their own rules and limitations.

    As to your question about what
    God can and can’t do, I have no idea. I don’t try to define it very often. All I do know is that, in my opinion, saying that God is omnipotent does not mean that he can snap his fingers and instantly have things work in a completely different way. When people
    say “Ah, but God could change that bit if he wanted to”, it sounds a bit like nonsense.

    That makes perfect sense to me but I don’t think “God can do anything that can be done” is a good way of expressing it. It implies knowledge about
    what God can do that it simply doesn’t contain; it’s either completely ad-hoc and depends on how the speaker thinks the world works, or it’s a camouflaged tautology. I’ve got nothing against tautologies but I don’t like it when they pretend not to be one.
    ITSM you’re saying “I [and most people who believe in God] think God can do great and
    amazing things. I don’t think God can do everything. Beyond that, I don’t know”. It’s not exactly a conversation ender to put it that way (for one thing, it invites a discussion of what great and amazing things you think God can do) but to me it sounds more accurate and honest than “God can do anything that can be done”.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    ITSM you’re saying “I [and most people who believe in God] think God can do great and amazing things. I don’t think God can do everything. Beyond that, I don’t know”.

    I’m more trying to say “I think God can do everything; that doesn’t mean God can do anything. Anything and everything aren’t exactly the same.”

  • Caravelle

    What is the difference in this context ? It seems to me they imply each other.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    What is the difference in this context ? It seems to me they imply each other.

    Hence the confusion. And the reason why I said God can do anything that can be done.

    Not something I’m going to be able to explain to you, I think. I’d suggest leaving it.

  • Caravelle

    We’re just going to leave it at that ? That’s too bad, I enjoyed learning about your point of view, and in this case it seemed to me we were just working off different definitions of “everything” and “anything”. I was even going to make another post working through what I meant by “they imply each other” but I figured I’d wait until you got up, so now what do I do ? :p

    I’m fine with leaving it if that’s what you want, but I do want to make what I think would be my overall point in this discussion : pithy phrases with very deep meanings tend to be that deep because they rest on mountains of assumptions. Sometimes you work through those assumptions and find enlightenment. Sometimes you find contradiction or meaningless tautology*. Sometimes you find gibberish**. And it could be that different people find different things.

    So personally I prefer it when such sentences are accompanied by some explanation or some context so we can at least be on the same page. It’s a bit strange that the bit you wrote I felt I understood best was the one you thought was vague and wishy-washy. But that might just go to show I don’t understand you at all :( <–see how sad that makes me

    *…it could be both.

    **…it could be bo-

    – Don't push it, Senior Wrangler.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    …I request leave of absence. :)

    (Difficult day to get through, but I’ll get back to you eventually.)

  • Caravelle

    lol ! Sorry, don’t worry about it ^^

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Basically you’re saying that the Universe isn’t fundamentally ordered? Or would you say it isn’t fundamentally understandable, or understandable by us? (I would say the two first statements mean the same thing and the third one is very different but I could see an argument that the second and third one are the same, in which case I’m not sure where that leaves the first)

    I do have one question though: what do you mean when you say that things always always work like a story? To me it looks as if things rarely work like a story, let alone always always. It’s not even as if I would be surprised if they did, because I see stories as representations of the world, but they’re imperfect representations with their own rules and limitations.

    These bits I’ll try to get back to once I’ve had sleep…

  • Rikalous

    I have a problem with this idea that God is responsible for everything, good and bad. After all, a whole heckuva lot of things, up to and including the major changes to the weather have been caused by presumably free-willed humans. God essentially handed Man the keys to the planet, gave some tips on how not to screw things up (in the form of [insert holy text here]), and let us have at it. He no doubt expected us to crash it, or at least scrape the paint of the side, but he’s not culpable for our actions. We are.

    The afterlife may be a different story, though. Hard to say without seeing it for ourselves.

  • Anonymous

    If you believe that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then he is responsible for whatever bad things humans do. Either he knew that humans would mess up and let them do it anyway, or he is powerless to stop them. I realize that plenty of people don’t believe in a god or gods that are all-knowing and all-powerful, but the modern description of the Abrahamic God is. So like I said, if your argument is that God was either too stupid to realize what humans would do, or is just not powerful enough to stop them, then you really need to reconsider whether your God is both all-powerful and all-knowing. Of course you can say that he knew it would happen and is powerful enough to stop it, but chooses not to because he values free will, but that still has to start from the point that he is actually responsible for the bad things, just that he has his own reasons for letting those things happen.

  • hapax

    Of course you can say that he knew it would happen and is powerful
    enough to stop it, but chooses not to because he values free will, but
    that still has to start from the point that he is actually responsible
    for the bad things, just that he has his own reasons for letting those
    things happen.

    So, I guess your vote in the classic “Should time-travellers kill baby Hitler” scenario is “Durn right! And infant Stalin, toddler Mao, and potty-training Pol Pot while you’re at it! If that’s not first on your time travel agenda, you are personally responsible for every mass murder that ever has occurred!”

    (If I misunderstood your point of view, please point out how the ethical situations differ.)

  • Anonymous

    I think the idea is closer to you dropping a pebble off a mountain top and ending up with an avalanche. While you never so much as looked at any of the rocks at the bottom, you still are responsible for them being in motion.

    If God created everything in the universe (even indirectly) and is omniscient then it follows that it knew that creating the universe the way it did would lead to all the harm that has, is, and will occur.

    Which leaves us with a few possibilities:

    Either this is the best of all possible universes (raising questions about omnipotence)

    Or God does not care (or, at least, does not care overmuch) about what evil has occurred.

    Either option is troubling.

  • Mark Z.

    Or God does not care (or, at least, does not care overmuch) about what evil has occurred.

    If I may offer an alternate perspective: It’s hard to see why God, envisioned purely as Creator, should want to prevent “evil” from occurring within the creation. It’s no threat to him, or, necessarily, to the inherent goodness of the world. It’s not that he doesn’t care about the creation–he cares as the author cares about the story. He’s intimately connected with the characters but not in community with them and not acting according to their interests. His interest is in the integrity of the story, which often means letting the characters do awful things to each other.

    That said, as a Christian, I believe that God-as-Creator is an incomplete description. But if we’re talking about an omni-omni-whatever Philosophical God, there’s no reason to think that sort of deity would act in a way we’d consider “moral”.

  • Caravelle

    That said, as a Christian, I believe that God-as-Creator is an
    incomplete description. But if we’re talking about an omni-omni-whatever
    Philosophical God, there’s no reason to think that sort of deity would
    act in a way we’d consider “moral”.

    In which case “God is good” isn’t a meaningful statement, is it ?

  • Mark Z.

    In which case “God is good” isn’t a meaningful statement, is it ?

    For omni-omni Philosophical God, no, it’s really not, but Philosophical God isn’t very interesting. For a God who’s interested in relating across the author/story boundary it’s more complicated.

  • hapax

    “Either this is the best of all possible universes (raising questions about omnipotence)

    Or God does not care (or, at least, does not care overmuch) about what evil has occurred.”

    Yes, what Mark Z said pretty much, but I’d also add, “It also depends a lot on what you mean by *caring*.”

    If we are going to have entirely different ethical standards for
    omnipotent beings than we do for us merely potent ones (unless you’re
    going to say I’m unethical and / or uncaring for not immediately selling
    all my possessions and giving the proceeds for anti-diarrheal
    medications and not giving birth to child after child on the chance that
    this NEXT one might grow up to cure cancer), I’m not certain why you
    demand on exactly the same values and emotions.

    Of course, if you truly think we live in the deterministic universe you describe, there is no point to ethical decisions, period. The ONLY ethical decision ever made was the one setting out the rules in the instant of the the Big Bang. The rest of existence is merely playing out our parts, under the illusion that we are making choices.

    Honestly, I’d prefer a malicious, inept Creator to such a horrific possibility. Not that it matters what I prefer, of course.

    Still, for argument’s sake, I’ll opt for the possibility that I don’t know what it means to an omni-omni Entity to “care”. I realize that this can read as a handwaving appeal to ineffy-transcendo-question ducking. It’s also, however, a position of humility and trust.

    (Heckopete,
    I don’t understand my children half the time; we talk and try to communicate and reach an accord; I place faith in their good judgment, based on our past interactions.

    I think I can allow a possible Creator the same benefit of the doubt. Those whose past experiences of Divine interactions might quite justifiably not be so willing to assume good faith.
    )

    At any rate, different values. I am perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that the human race
    has completely and irretrievably (except for the infinitude of Divine
    Mercy) damned itself in the eyes of God for deliberately and
    triumphantly wiping out the smallpox virus.

    Does this mean that we shouldn’t have eliminated smallpox? Well, join
    the discussion over at the latest thread on the difficulty of deciding
    between a whole slew of bad choices.

    Isn’t that characteristic of a deterministic universe — that there aren’t any (really) hard choices to make? Is this truly the best of alll possible universes?

    I’d … disagree with that. It might be *easier*, I suppose, if we had no capacity
    to choose between good and evil, and could only make meaningless random
    responses.

    Then again, that didn’t work out too well for Variola vera.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    The ancient philosophers argued that God wasn’t responsible for evil because evil wasn’t fully real. Evil is like the holes in Swiss Cheese: is the cheese responsible for it? Sorta, but not really, since the hole isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of a thing. Evil is the absence of good not a thing in itself.

    Anyway, that was the classic theodicy. Nowadays though people tend to see evil as something that exists, so the classic theodicy doesn’t have the resonance that it used to have, but people are still trying to figure out ways to make sure God is not directly responsible for evil.

  • Caravelle

    The ancient philosophers argued that God wasn’t responsible for evil
    because evil wasn’t fully real. Evil is like the holes in Swiss Cheese:
    is the cheese responsible for it? Sorta, but not really, since the hole
    isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of a thing. Evil is the absence of good
    not a thing in itself.

    That’s a nice idea but on its own it’s completely arbitrary. How were the ancients defining good ? Did they have any observations that matched the theory ?

    I mean, instead of Swiss cheese we could make the argument with light vs. darkness. Not knowing about photons it isn’t clear whether they’re both entities, or one is the absence of the other (“darksuckers”, anybody ?).

    Some things we can do is notice that there are definite light sources that light up everything in their line of sight, but there aren’t really dark sources. The way to create dark is to take away a light source, or to create a space that’s out of sight of any light source. So from this it certainly looks as if the two aren’t symmetrical at the very least, and darkness seems to be the absence of light instead of the other way around.

    I don’t see how that can be applied to good and evil. I could see an argument with the impulse to be good, but as far as good and evil acts go it sure seems as if both exist, can coexist even. Whether and in what cases they cancel each other out seems to be something people can’t even agree on between themselves.

    And as far as the impulse to be good goes, as I said I can see more of an argument there : it comes down to saying that evil is humanity’s base state and we have an impulse to be good that takes us away from that state; hence evil is nothing but the absence of good.

    Except of course that the opposite argument has also been made with about as much justification, and when we look at actual people we see mosaics of good and bad impulses and acts.

    Besides taken as a justification of God allowing evil, it comes down to saying God isn’t omnipotent or all-encompassing or the creator of everything (which is fine, but they should make it clear). Because while the Swiss cheese isn’t responsible for the holes in it, the omnipotent maker of the Swiss cheese would be.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    Interesting. I have also worried that the classical theodicy risked making nothingness/evil logically prior to/greater than God, and your further thoughts about how to tell what’s an absence of what further sharpens the criticism.

    Descartes observed in his Meditations that with hot and cold it wasn’t clear if heat was a substance and cold its absence, or vice versa, or if they were both substances. Now we know that they’re both just average kinetic energies for atoms that are bouncing around randomly, so none of the answers were really right. The question of whether good or evil really exist might turn out to be similarly complicated.

  • Lunch Meat

    “If God makes everyone go to Heaven, whether they want to or not, it seems like it would require “lobotomizing” the souls of people who genuinely prefer darkness to light.”

    Okay. Then what about the people who want to go to heaven, but weren’t Christians on earth because they thought Christianity was a reprehensible theology? What about the people who want to go to heaven but didn’t know on earth that you had to believe a certain set of things to get there? What about the people who don’t want to go to heaven because they want to be reincarnated or live in a huge cosmic library learning as much as they can for eternity? What about the people who are misinformed about what heaven is because they think only RTCs are there and all the interesting, good people are in hell?

    Team hell argues that all of these people go to hell. But is it not denying their freedom?

    Why, in short, is it evil to give someone something good that they don’t want, but perfectly okay and admirable to give someone something bad that they don’t want?

    Okay, so Douthat didn’t say that all of these people would go to hell. But by arguing against Rob Bell, against the people who have a different interpretation of hell, he is placing himself on the side of Team Hell, on the side of a God whose choices for eternal destinations are illogical, unnecessary and cruel.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    Those people get to go to heaven. Who’s arguing about RTCs? Yeah, some people who believe in hell are evangelical fundamentalists, but not everyone who does is. “Team hell” is too much short hard. Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and (arguably) Mormons are all on “Team Hell” but they have little in common in their soteriology, eschatology, etc., etc.

  • Lunch Meat


    Those people get to go to heaven. Who’s arguing about RTCs?”

    You may believe that they do, but it’s not at all clear that Douthat does. He’s talking about “damnation”–“damn” is an objective verb; I can’t “damn” myself. In Christian theology “damning” is generally something that God does to us. He also seems to equate “hell” with “the idea of eternal punishment for wrong belief.” “Wrong belief” is NOT the same thing as “willingly wallowing in my own selfishness and misery.” “Wrong belief” generally means “not being a Christian.” If that’s not what he means, he never disabuses the reader of the notion. He raises the question of Gandhi and then sweeps it under the rug, never answering it. He doesn’t ever acknowledge that there is a way to “make God seem more humane” than to do away with hell completely, and since he claims that’s not an option, he seems to be saying that “making God seem more humane” is a wrong-headed goal.

    Essentially, whether Douthat is right or wrong and whatever he believes about who gets to go to heaven, the worst thing I can see about his article is that by not defining his terms and clearly explaining what he means by “the doctrine of hell” (which, as you say, is widely debated among all groups of Christians) he perpetrates that fallacy that not believing in God can put you beyond redemption just like being a miser can; that one can wallow in unbelief just as one can wallow in selfishness and misery; that being an atheist is as destructive to the soul as is murdering another human being.

    If he doesn’t believe that, he ought to say it, because he’s putting himself squarely on the side of the Christians in America that do.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    That’s a good point. I agree that Douthat should have presented his “moderate” view of hell more squarely, so it wouldn’t be confused with the usual view.

  • Anonymous

    It’s that Tony through his choices has shown that he prefers to Hell to Heaven, and it would be presumptuous of us to say that he has to go there if he doesn’t want to.

    It’s presumptuous for us to offer him paradise?

    And what of the mentally ill? The depressed? The bipolar? The schizophrenic? When I’m not on my medications I would feel that not only did I deserve hell, it would sound more pleasant than heaven, yet when I am on them I’d likely choose heaven. Is my ultimate fat determined entirely by a prescription?

    Further, I just don’t buy it. No one, offered a fair and informed choice between heaven and hell would choose hell. The “people” in the Great Divorce aren’t. They’re caricatures, at best, because they have to be. If Lewis wrote actual people into the story then they’d all just go to heaven right off the bat.

    Finally, why is wallowing in misery a crime deserving of damnation? Sociopaths don’t feel guilt, so they’d get to go to heaven, while someone with a conscience that regretted some evil thing they’d done won’t?

    It’s a lovely idea until you stop and think about it, when it becomes almost as horrible as the traditional view of hell. Any afterlife with damnation is innately horrible, and, as an atheist, I’m perfectly happy with the idea of there being no heaven, so long as that means that there’s no hell.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    It’s not presumptuous to offer paradise. It’s presumptuous to insist that everyone accept the offer. Think of the parable of wedding feast. The king couldn’t get enough people to come to the party, so he invited everyone in town to the feast, even the beggars, but some people preferred not to attend and would rather hang around outside the feast weeping and gnashing their teeth–that is, wallowing in self-pity and anger.

    “No one, offered a fair and informed choice between heaven and hell would choose hell.”

    You have made much better choices in your lifetime than I have.

  • Anonymous

    You have made much better choices in your lifetime than I have.

    I doubt it, but you missed a key part of that: “Fair and informed“.

    If you know that you could be eternally happy at no cost, or eternally miserable and you truly understand what both of those mean then even the world’s worst decision-maker would choose heaven*.

    If the decision isn’t fully informed then it’s not fair, just, or loving on God’s part.

    *The few exceptions I can think of are people who truly feel that they
    don’t deserve to be happy, which would be the mentally ill and the
    guilt-wracked, and those are, if I may say so, the people who most need,
    if not necessarily deserve, heaven.

  • Mark Z.

    I don’t know. If we were offered the choice, and I saw everyone else in line before me choose heaven, I might choose hell just to test whether I can. For Science!*

    But the problem with this apparent no-brainer “cake or death” choice is that it’s really “submission or death”, with the promise that submission will be followed by cake. And that’s fine if God is Church of England God and will give you cake, but what if this is Portal and your reward for choosing “cake” is getting thrown into the lake of fire? Submission of that kind means accepting whatever God ends up giving us, and at this point I’m not convinced that God could engineer a world in which anyone would be consistently happy. Does God know that fire hurts? Does he know that fire also comforts?

    * If my wife were here she could tell you all kinds of stupid shit I’ve done For Science.

  • hapax

    at this point I’m not convinced that God
    could
    engineer a world in which anyone would be consistently happy.

    I’ve always kinda visualized “Heaven” for lack of a better name, as a state of being as being as completely, intensely, and utterly me — if you will, a state of perfect integrity with the Platonic Ideal of hapax-ness.

    The further I choose to move away from this state — the less I am in integrity with my true self — the closer to “Hell” I am, except that as I negate my self, I am not suffering, precisely… I just am, well, not.

    Whether this is a process that will occur after my physical death, I have no freakin’ idea. I do know, however, that this is a process that is occurring right now.

    /wondering if I managed to close all my html codes…/

  • hapax

    Oh, I should not forget that the caveat that my worldview requires some external determinator of “ideal hapax-ness”.

    If one’s personal viewpoint neither needs nor allows for such a God, Tao, Wyrd, Karma, or other wielder of the Transcendent Yardstick*, then it obviously won’t work.

    *thwapppp! No more daydreaming in class!

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    No, I am quite well informed about the reasons I shouldn’t do bad things before I choose to do them anyway.

    Seriously, you never just choose to be evil, because fuck it?

  • Anonymous

    It’s that Tony through his choices has shown that he prefers to Hell to Heaven, and it would be presumptuous of us to say that he has to go there if he doesn’t want to.

    It’s presumptuous for us to offer him paradise?

    And what of the mentally ill? The depressed? The bipolar? The schizophrenic? When I’m not on my medications I would feel that not only did I deserve hell, it would sound more pleasant than heaven, yet when I am on them I’d likely choose heaven. Is my ultimate fat determined entirely by a prescription?

    Further, I just don’t buy it. No one, offered a fair and informed choice between heaven and hell would choose hell. The “people” in the Great Divorce aren’t. They’re caricatures, at best, because they have to be. If Lewis wrote actual people into the story then they’d all just go to heaven right off the bat.

    Finally, why is wallowing in misery a crime deserving of damnation? Sociopaths don’t feel guilt, so they’d get to go to heaven, while someone with a conscience that regretted some evil thing they’d done won’t?

    It’s a lovely idea until you stop and think about it, when it becomes almost as horrible as the traditional view of hell. Any afterlife with damnation is innately horrible, and, as an atheist, I’m perfectly happy with the idea of there being no heaven, so long as that means that there’s no hell.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    I think Fred missed the point of the Douthat article. The point wasn’t that we as the older brother find it offensive that prodigal Tony Soprano might be in Heaven. It’s that Tony through his choices has shown that he prefers to Hell to Heaven, and it would be presumptuous of us to say that he has to go there if he doesn’t want to. Douthat’s view of Hell seems to me to be entirely in line with CS Lewis’s Great Divorce: Hell is full of people who think Hell is other people. Douthat’s point is that if we insist that Tony go to Heaven, we’re taking away his free will. We’re taking away his choice to wallow in his misery. More to the point, you cannot take someone to Heaven against their free will, since being in a Heaven full of holy people you don’t care for is Hellish to those who choose to see it that way. For Osama to be in the same Heaven as Gandhi and Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin and the victims of 9/11 would be for him a Hell. Heaven and Hell are just different ways of experiencing the exact same thing.

    As I understand it, this isn’t very different from Bell’s position either. The only difference is that Bell is more hopeful that eventually Tony will come around to the other side. But even if you’re hopeful that Tony will come around, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing weird about a culture in which we refuse to allow even the consideration that some souls have so twisted themselves that they won’t ever come around.

    Carl, you appear to be proposing a hell in which only those who are irredeemable are consigned there. This is not what Team Hell are proposing. Their position is that EVERYONE deserves Hell, and that only those who have used the ‘get-out-of-Hell-free’ card that Jesus offers them get out — regardless of what they have done or what kind of person they are.

    There appears to be a great deal of equivocation on the nature of Hell. Some people use Hitler as an argument in favor of Hell (“Don’t you think at least Hitler deserves to go to Hell?”) and when they get agreement on that point, they then use that as a rhetorical jumping-off point to assume the person has not just agreed to a Hell such that Hitler is there, but also agreed to a Hell such that everyone who has not accepted Jesus is there.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    This is not be what Team Hell is proposing, but it very much seems to me to be what Douthat is proposing. He’s not a Calvinist; he’s a Catholic. So, it would be very strange if he accepted the doctrine of “total depravity”.

  • Anonymous

    I think there’s also a stigma attached to public transportation. I live in the DC area, and the metro here is fantastic. It’s so much better than the subway in Philly. It’s clean, well-lit, and just generally pleasant. I take it as often as I can. Why deal with city parking when I want to visit the Smithsonian? Why worry about a designated driver when I can just take the metro home from a bar? But a former coworker joked in that serious way that the metro is just for poor people. So people will continue to circle around for hours to find a parking spot in a city where they have to pay a meter with a pocketful of quarters, or risk scraping up their car in a tiny parking garage, simply because they don’t want to associate with the lowly people who take the metro.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    That’s depressing. I live in the suburbs of D.C. and love, love, love the Metro (except when it’s delayed/broken, of course). But even when it’s being problematic, it’s still so much better than driving. My in-laws insist on driving into D.C. when they visit and I just don’t get it.

  • Lunch Meat

    “If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.”

    Yeah because THE ONLY POSSIBLE THING an OMNISCIENT, OMNIPOTENT, and OMNIBENEVOLENT God could think of to create as an alternative to paradise with him is an eternity of the worst torture imaginable, from which there is no escape. Instead of, y’know, Disneyland or something.

  • Lunch Meat

    “If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.”

    Yeah because THE ONLY POSSIBLE THING an OMNISCIENT, OMNIPOTENT, and OMNIBENEVOLENT God could think of to create as an alternative to paradise with him is an eternity of the worst torture imaginable, from which there is no escape. Instead of, y’know, Disneyland or something.

  • Lunch Meat

    Also:

    “There’s another book about a child’s return from paradise, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” just a little further down the Amazon rankings. But you’ll search the best-seller list in vain for “The Investment Banker Who Came Back From Hell.””

    I’m quite sure “23 Minutes in Hell” was some kind of best-seller.

  • Lunch Meat

    Also:

    “There’s another book about a child’s return from paradise, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” just a little further down the Amazon rankings. But you’ll search the best-seller list in vain for “The Investment Banker Who Came Back From Hell.””

    I’m quite sure “23 Minutes in Hell” was some kind of best-seller.

  • democratic socialist

    Those of us in the bottom 90% aren’t going to be able to travel by air in a few years anyway, so airports don’t really need to be maintained except for the wealthy and their private jets. We won’t be able to afford most of what those long-haul trucks carry, either, so that’s a wash.

  • democratic socialist

    Those of us in the bottom 90% aren’t going to be able to travel by air in a few years anyway, so airports don’t really need to be maintained except for the wealthy and their private jets. We won’t be able to afford most of what those long-haul trucks carry, either, so that’s a wash.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The first point, about the long-term financial benefits of mass public transportation, reminded me of this Scientific American article, “Trains, Nukes, Marriage, and Vaccines (Or Anything Else): Why the Facts Don’t Matter“. The point of the article is that in any sufficiently large society, people will inevitably tend to gather into smaller social tribes, and the more their particular tribe is represented and favored in that larger society, the better they will do compared to the other tribes. They make decisions that might not seem rational from the perspective of the society as a whole, but are rational if viewed from the perspective of promoting their tribe above the others it competes with.

    Unfortunately, when one tribe has dominance, then the other tribes tend to get screwed. You can also see this as part of the “cultural hedgemon” phenomena Fred has described, when the tribe in power sees other tribes ascendent, they see that as a threat. Likewise, opposition to immigration tend to be driven less by rationality, and more by seeing those immigrants with their own ideas about how things should be to be a threat to the local dominant tribes. See this in some politics too. Opposition to gay marriage seems irrational on the surface because if you are not gay then it does not affect you. But it also means that the tribe represented by homosexuals gains legitimacy and strength, which some more traditionalist tribes see as a threat. Or the wealthiest top ten percent fighting hard to prolong the Bush era tax cuts, not because they could not afford it or it would force them to substantially alter their business strategy, but because it would errode the strength of their tribe.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The first point, about the long-term financial benefits of mass public transportation, reminded me of this Scientific American article, “Trains, Nukes, Marriage, and Vaccines (Or Anything Else): Why the Facts Don’t Matter“. The point of the article is that in any sufficiently large society, people will inevitably tend to gather into smaller social tribes, and the more their particular tribe is represented and favored in that larger society, the better they will do compared to the other tribes. They make decisions that might not seem rational from the perspective of the society as a whole, but are rational if viewed from the perspective of promoting their tribe above the others it competes with.

    Unfortunately, when one tribe has dominance, then the other tribes tend to get screwed. You can also see this as part of the “cultural hedgemon” phenomena Fred has described, when the tribe in power sees other tribes ascendent, they see that as a threat. Likewise, opposition to immigration tend to be driven less by rationality, and more by seeing those immigrants with their own ideas about how things should be to be a threat to the local dominant tribes. See this in some politics too. Opposition to gay marriage seems irrational on the surface because if you are not gay then it does not affect you. But it also means that the tribe represented by homosexuals gains legitimacy and strength, which some more traditionalist tribes see as a threat. Or the wealthiest top ten percent fighting hard to prolong the Bush era tax cuts, not because they could not afford it or it would force them to substantially alter their business strategy, but because it would errode the strength of their tribe.

  • democratic socialist

    FearlessSon, I take some small comfort in the knowledge that Mother Nature always bats last, and She doesn’t care about our opinions or dearly held myths, no matter how loudly we proclaim them.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, that’s always been one thing that boggles me, that folks thinks you can hold a Bible in one hand and a copy of Atlas Shrugged in the other. It’s like they want to hurry American Christianity into it’s final resting place as The First Church of Kicking People When They’re Down. They’ve almost got Christ completely removed from their teachings, he’s just the name on the letterhead you keep for tax purposes.

  • Shadsie

    Not sure I can judge, as I haven’t read any of Rand’s works, but from what I hear, I fear that if I tried, I’d wind up screaming and throwing the books across the room. Checked out the Atlas Shrugged trailer, though and it had one thing I could appreciate: Where the guy says he’s not interested in helping people, only in making money. Honesty! If only more people were so honest…

    I think you made me realize why I’ve been writing what I’ve been writing lately. I’ve been writing and posting rough drafts of an experimental (ongoing as I get ideas) story series at my blog. http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ They are all about a fantasy-ish otherworld, a nation/landmass with a static day-to-night and a mix of people ranging from human, to people with deer antlers and stuff. I’ve been playing with different cultures in it and ideas centering on prejudice/ tolerance-intolerance and existiential-perceptions. The largest kingdom in the story-series, the “superpower”-nation has a central religion based upon materialism. It’s a rather spiritually-empty religion, centered upon a creator-goddess who is thought to basically honor strength and bless the already wealthy. I conceived it as one part Deism of a kind and one part “Proesperity Gospel.” There is no Hell with her, though, but there’s also no Heaven – everything’s here and now, but adherents to this way do use her as an excuse to look down upon the disadvantaged.

    And… Yeah… I’m pretty sure I got that idea from the current state of the popular politic-heavy relgious landcape of America.

    Whew, spewed there. Sorry.

  • Anonymous

    And I’ve greatly enjoyed that post, it’s spot on to how I feel stories are sacred even without being religious or believing in god myself.

  • Shadsie

    I invite you to read my stuff. I need commentary. Best to start with the outline/worldsetting that’s down on the blog’s last page if you do, though.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Yeah, that’s always been one thing that boggles me, that folks thinks you can hold a Bible in one hand and a copy of Atlas Shrugged in the other. It’s like they want to hurry American Christianity into it’s final resting place as The First Church of Kicking People When They’re Down. They’ve almost got Christ completely removed from their teachings, he’s just the name on the letterhead you keep for tax purposes.

    I am reminded of Bioshock, which we all know unapologetically draws directly from Atlas Shrugged, to the point of being a deconstruction of the kind of society Galt tried to build. The project director claims he was not trying to take potshots at Objectivsm, but rather at utopian fiction in general, and show what happens when characters with high ideals try to build a society upon those ideals, but fail to live up to them themselves.

    In any case, the “begining of the end” for the undersea city of Rapture in the story came about precisely because of the mandatory athiesm that the society demanded. It was not that they were “smote for lack of faith” but rather the outlawing of religion created a black-market demand for things like Bibles and crucifixes, and where there is demand someone will step up to supply, begining a smuggling operation to get goods from the surface. This violates their isolationist policy (fear that some “big government” would catch wind and try to raid the place) resulting in a heavy-handed crackdown, which in turn inspires civil unrest, and before anyone knows it the city is on its way to a civil war.

    It does make me wonder, how would the Objectivist Christians reconcil those two philosophies if they actually restructured society to operate on such ideals?

  • Froborr

    Strength of Stones by… Greg Bear, possibly? I don’t remember… did the same thing in regards to a religious utopia, and was pretty much a satire of Team Hell.

    Basically, the premise is that after a long period of increasingly violent extremism and warfare by and between Christians and Muslims, all members of Abrahamic faiths are exiled from Earth. (Jews were included because, quote, “When has the world needed a reason to hate Jews?” Yeah, I thought that was a little weak, too–in its defense, I think it was written before Israel proved that, yeah, it was a regular country capable of the same atrocities as every other country.)

    Anyway, they get dumped on a desolate planet, but pool their resources and get this brilliant engineer/architect to build The Cities–giant roving domiciles that roam the planet, digging up raw materials, creating food, manufactured goods, a comfortable environment, even servants and entertainment for the citizens. Against his better judgment, they get him to also program the cities for law enforcement, and every city gets a different variant of Jewish, Christian, or Muslim morality programmed into it.

    The next day after they go online, every city exiles its every inhabitant for failing to live up to the code, and they are forced to eke out a desperate existence on this inhospitable planet. This is where the novel starts, a few generations later.

    It’s… deeply weird, and gets weirder as it goes, but an entertaining read nonetheless.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Huh, I might have to read that then. Of Bear’s works, I have only read a quarter of Darwin’s Radio (I had trouble sympathizing with the plight of humanity in that book) and Halo: Cryptum (which Bear wanted to title Halo: Antediluvian which is a little more meaningful albiet a bit more esoteric.) I have met the man himself on a couple of occasions, I should probably consume a few more of his works considering I am likely to run into him again. I tend to look rather distinctive at events where we run into one another, and I know he remembers me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    @twitter-15487831:disqus

    Darwin’s Radio

    (I had trouble sympathizing with the plight of humanity in that book)

    I don’t think we were supposed to sympathize with humanity — that is, regular, standard Homo sapiens — the sympathy was supposed to be with [spoiler using rot13] gur crbcyr jub jrer orvat vasrpgrq ol n ivehf gung npgvingrq ‘fyrrcvat trarf’ ybpngrq va genafcbfbaf be ‘whax QAN’ naq punatrq gurve puvyqera gb n qvssrerag enpr bs orvatf, nf qvssrerag sebz zbqrea uhznaf nf jr ner sebz arnaqregnyf.[/spoiler]

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    @twitter-15487831:disqus

    Darwin’s Radio

    (I had trouble sympathizing with the plight of humanity in that book)

    I don’t think we were supposed to sympathize with humanity — that is, regular, standard Homo sapiens — the sympathy was supposed to be with [spoiler using rot13] gur crbcyr jub jrer orvat vasrpgrq ol n ivehf gung npgvingrq ‘fyrrcvat trarf’ ybpngrq va genafcbfbaf be ‘whax QAN’ naq punatrq gurve puvyqera gb n qvssrerag enpr bs orvatf, nf qvssrerag sebz zbqrea uhznaf nf jr ner sebz arnaqregnyf.[/spoiler]

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Perhaps I should say that I could not identify with the urgency of the situation. The thought of humanity suddenly turning sterile (which was the major concern early in the book) was something I would have embraced with joy. When characters act as though this is a horrible possibility, I have trouble understanding why.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    You think that the human race should go extinct?

  • http://profiles.google.com/scyllacat Priscilla Parkman

    @facebook-752002772:disqus Have you been reading FearlessSon’s other posts? He makes me so sad.

  • Caravelle

    Well, young people aren’t just useful for perpetuating humanity, they also take care of old people. And, oh, maintain the infrastructure of civilization that old people live in.

    I’ll bet that within a few decades of human sterilization life will become less pleasant for those last generations.

  • Jason

    I’m a few years behind on my gaming (mostly because I only owned a Wii for a while) and am playing Bioshock now. I have not read any Rand and wonder if that would enhance the game experience for me, but I just can’t make myself read her. I know enough of her that I get some of the references.

    …and wow, that game is disturbing. I haven’t encountered any work of fiction that is quite so disturbing in quite the manner that Bioshock is.

    Also as a fan of Big Band music, I’m pretty sure its ruined a few songs for me.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I’m a few years behind on my gaming (mostly because I only owned a Wii for a while) and am playing Bioshock now. I have not read any Rand and wonder if that would enhance the game experience for me, but I just can’t make myself read her. I know enough of her that I get some of the references….and wow, that game is disturbing. I haven’t encountered any work of fiction that is quite so disturbing in quite the manner that Bioshock is.

    I doubt you need to read Atlas Shrugged to enjoy Bioshock. I never read it and I certainly enjoyed Bioshock. However, being aware enough of her work to get the references does not hurt. It is like Galt’s mountain valley, only under the sea, and populated by people who, while they have Objectivist viewpoints, are not themselves paragons of Objectivism. Some of the philosophical explorations in that game are things such as, when does enlightened self-interest outweigh the needs of the group? Is it still “enlightened” if it does? When the head of the state finds himself confronted with the realities of running a small nation based on a specific set of principals, is he justified in suspending those principals to safeguard the whole of the nation in order to preserve it? How much does that self interest justify exploitation? What makes you think you actually have free will?

    I have steered clear of Bioshock 2, mainly because it was made by a different team mandated by the publisher to capitalize on the success of the first one, so I have little interest in it. However, I am looking forward to Bioshock Infinite, which is being made by the original Bioshock team. It takes place even earlier in time, near the beginning of the twentieth century, and has a more “world’s fair” type steampunk setting, rather than Rapture’s “zeetrust” art-deco setting. It focuses on a floating city named Columbia, built as a demonstration of American engineering and optimism. The philosophy there is one of manifest destiny, American exceptionalism, keeping the country safe from immigrant hordes, the ascendency of Christian values, and the revering of the U.S. constitution as though it were sacred gospel. The project director (the same one from the first game) has said he is not trying to make commentary on the Tea Party (much as he has said he was not trying to make commentary on Objectivists with the first game) but the parallels are still pretty clear (again like the first game) and I think that the exploration of the philosophy will be interesting.

    You should check out the trailer.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    It’s better the way you’re doing it. You don’t get anything out of Rand’s work you won’t learn in a far more enjoyable way playing BIOSHOCK.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    It’s better the way you’re doing it. You don’t get anything out of Rand’s work you won’t learn in a far more enjoyable way playing BIOSHOCK.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    It does make me wonder, how would the Objectivist Christians reconcil those two philosophies if they actually restructured society to operate on such ideals?

    Step 1: Worship both God and Mammon.

  • Richard Hershberger

    I’m not sure which is more surprising: that Ross Douthat seems ignorant of even rudimentary Christian doctrine (yet is happy to lecture on the subject nonetheless) or that he thinks that the term “hellmouth” originated in a novel published in 2003. Or perhaps neither is all that surprising…

  • Lori

    Happy anniversary to Fred and Slacktivixen. May you have many more happy years together.

    Ross Douthat makes his “Case for Hell.”

    Hell is logically necessary, Douthat argues, for reasons of simple fairness. Good people like himself have been working all day in the vineyard. They’ve been working really hard.

    I think this is pretty much the last word on the issue. Hell can’t possible be real if Ross Douthat is making a case for it. Douthat is a ridiculous person. Illogical, deeply unserious, not half as smart as he thinks he is and an enormous tool. When in doubt I’ve found that it’s generally safe to assume that whatever he’s for, decent people should be against and vice versa.

  • Rikalous

    “Hell can’t possibly be real if Ross Douthat is making a case for it.” Even a blind squirrel can find a nut sometimes. It’s possible to arrive at a true conclusion through false premises and/or reasoning.

    Incidentally, I just noticed that Ross’s last name looks an awful lot like “Doubt that.” Subtle, oh universe-writer. :P

  • Lori

    Even a blind squirrel can find a nut sometimes. It’s possible to arrive at a true conclusion through false premises and/or reasoning.

    I haven’t noticed any reason to think this applies in Douthat’s case. His wrongness is not random. His horribleness seems to operate like a compass of sorts, always pointing due Wrong.

    There’s a reason his name looks a lot like douche.

  • Richard Hershberger

    “[Douthat’s] wrongness is not random. His horribleness seems to operate like a compass of sorts, always pointing due Wrong.”

    Back when he was with The Atlantic I got the feeling that the magazine was striving to present the best of all points of view: they sought out a sane conservative, and Douthat was the best they could come up with. (Similarly Megan McArdle for the libertarian perspective.)

    Eventually I found myself holding an actual physical magazine with several pages devoted to Douthat’s musings on whether pornography is the same as adultery. This is on my list of reasons I let my subscription drop. I don’t expect to be entranced by every page, but more and more I could look at the table of contents and identify large swaths devoted to teh stoopid.

    Which isn’t to say that Douthat isn’t about as good as they could reasonably expect in the search for a sane conservative, as that word is understood nowadays.

  • Lori

    Back when he was with The Atlantic I got the feeling that the magazine was striving to present the best of all points of view: they sought out a sane conservative, and Douthat was the best they could come up with. (Similarly Megan McArdle for the libertarian perspective.)

    I think in the case of both Douthat & McArdle, The Atlantic wanted the best representation of those points of view that they could get—from people with a certain level of name recognition. There are far better thinkers and writers on both conservative and libertarian perspectives*, but they’re not “names” and therefore don’t sell magazines or draw page views.

    I’m hardily disagree with both conservative and libertarian thought, but even I’m not cynical enough to think that Douthat and McArdle are the best on offer. I do think that the process of getting famous, especially on the Right these days, is geared toward filtering out the people who really have something to say and rewarding those who consistently serve the best interests of the ruling class, even if doing so means saying crap that makes no sense. (And both Douthat and McArdle consistently say stuff that makes no sense.) Cream floats, but so does pond scum, so getting to the top isn’t much of an indicator of quality.

    *I’m totally blanking on their names this morning, but I know they’re out there.

  • Richard Hershberger

    “I think in the case of both Douthat & McArdle,
    The Atlantic

    wanted the best representation of those points of view that they could
    get—from people with a certain level of name recognition. There are
    far better thinkers and writers on both conservative and libertarian
    perspectives*, but they’re not “names” and therefore don’t sell
    magazines or draw page views.”

    Were they “names”? Honest question. I had not heard of either before The Atlantic hired them, but I don’t exactly run in the same circles as they do. I have heard that McArdle wrote for The Economist earlier on, but my impression was that it wasn’t in a prominent capacity.

  • Lori

    Were they “names”? Honest question. I had not heard of either
    before The Atlantic hired them, but I don’t exactly run in the same
    circles as they do. I have heard that McArdle wrote for The Economist
    earlier on, but my impression was that it wasn’t in a prominent
    capacity.

    Yeah, I think they were. Certainly more so than the smarter people who are still slaving away on obscure blogs.

    I don’t remember what Douthat did before the Atlanitic, but it was
    something I’d heard of and the gig at The Economist was enough to raise
    McArdle’s profile. So many people consider The Economist one of those things you need to read, that even a small place their gets your a fair amount of attention.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    I never read the Atlantic, but realized I had no desire to after reading a few of Caitlin Flanagan’s articles. The unfortunate thing, and I have suspicion this is true of more than a few of their writers, is that it’s clear she’s talented with words. Which makes it even more unfortunate that the underlying ideas are so ignorant and wrong.

  • walden

    the (now not-so) new owner, David Bradley, turned the Atlantic from a magazine of ideas and explorations of ideas and communities into just another magazine of politics. He moved it from Boston to DC, began hosting salons for influential politicos, and pretty much wrecked the franchise. But he’s making friends and influencing people.

  • Lori

    the (now not-so) new owner, David Bradley, turned the Atlantic from a
    magazine of ideas and explorations of ideas and communities into just
    another magazine of politics.

    This is sadly true. There’s still good stuff in it, but you have to filter a lot more dreck to find it and in some issues the good only amounts to one or two articles. I read it at the library, but I wouldn’t subscribe any more even if I could afford to.

  • Richard Hershberger

    “the (now not-so) new owner, David Bradley, turned the Atlantic from a
    magazine of ideas and explorations of ideas and communities into just
    another magazine of politics. He moved it from Boston to DC, began
    hosting salons for influential politicos, and pretty much wrecked the
    franchise. But he’s making friends and influencing people.”

    That explains a great deal. When did he buy it? I started reading it about ten years ago. It was terrific. I eagerly awaited each issue, and read it cover to cover: even the articles on topics which did not ordinarily interest me. In fact, that is what hooked me in the first place. I randomly picked up an issue. There was a long-form profile of that famous wine critic whose name is escaping me right now. I usually don’t care for the profile genre, and wine discussions make me wander out of the room in search of televised sports: any sort will do, even the ones I don’t like. I found the article fascinating. It is easy to interest someone in a topic they find interesting. Interesting them in something they aren’t interested in requires real writing chops.

    I few years ago I noticed that I wasn’t reading the whole thing anymore. The amount I was skipping steadily grew, and there were large parts which I knew I was going to skip every month. When it reached the point where the hard part was finding stuff I wanted to read in it, I let it drop.

    They still pester me with pleas to resubscribe. I think they are down to twenty bucks for a year. If they come down to ten I might consider it, if only for James Fallows.

  • walden

    the (now not-so) new owner, David Bradley, turned the Atlantic from a magazine of ideas and explorations of ideas and communities into just another magazine of politics. He moved it from Boston to DC, began hosting salons for influential politicos, and pretty much wrecked the franchise. But he’s making friends and influencing people.

  • http://profiles.google.com/porlockjunior Dan Drake

    Sweet video. And congratulations on the anniversary.

    Also, ZOMG! That Ampex suitcase-mounted reel-to-reel player! That, with its matching amp and speaker, was the real thing in its time, 50 years ago. So thanks for the surprise nostalgia hit.

    PS: Wish I knew what name Google would decide to attach to my posts. Must remember not to let it try.

  • Guest-again

    ‘Why worry about a designated driver when I can just take the metro home from a bar?’
    Assuming you like to go to bed early – Metro operating hours are a pretty poor joke, actually. Not that DC provides much of interest at 3am, admittedly. (Though the various monuments can look really nice then.)

    As for trains – the U.S. hasn’t done a thing, and won’t do a thing in this area. As I have just heard on the news here, U.S. trains were to be a target of Osama and his band of thugs (no concrete plans, actually, but TRAINS=TERRORIST TARGET is easily reduced to a headline).

    In Spain, the high speed trains are pulling people off aircraft – which considering how Spanish oil imports from Libya have taken a hit, seems to be a strategically smart move on the part of the Spanish government. But then, Spain still has functioning city centers with mass transit so taking a train from one city to another 4 or 5 hours away (by plane or train – the times are generally the same with HSR rail and flying when total travel time is considered, and one travels from something other than one city’s suburb to another city’s suburb) is quite practical.

  • nirrti

    Isn’t heaven supposed to be sort of a cosmic version of Disney World…only a million times better? It’s disquieting that their idea of the “happiest place in the universe” is watching everyone they don’t like get tortured for eternity.

    And what’s so terrifying is that they not only want those “other” people to suffer in the afterlife, they’re gonna make sure they experience as much hell on Earth as possible before cheering on there deity while he tosses people into a burning pit.

    These people truly frighten me.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve heard some people claim that part of Heaven is forgetting about the suffering of everyone in Hell, because anyone with the tiniest shred of empathy wouldn’t be able to enjoy Heaven while thinking about Hell. However, there is a certain subgroup of people where I think their ideal version of Heaven would have a nice view of Hell, so they can spend eternity judging, hating, and feeling superior. In any other context, these people would be labeled sociopaths.

  • Rowen

    I can’t remember where I first saw this, but a while back, I came across this “map” of Heaven. I’m sure there’s people out there who don’t think it’s a joke.

    http://jarednoel.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/2608112341_419c60aa76_o.jpg

    (Also, has anyone read the prequels for the Left Behind Books? There’s that really odd part in the third one where Raymie and Irene are in Heaven, playing a celestial version of Pretty Pretty Princess, and then Raymie gets a big mansion with a magic globe that let’s him see anything anywhere.)

  • Rikalous

    It seems to me that if your perfect, holy deity has to mindwipe decent people to prevent them from being horrified by his cruelty, you are doing it wrong.

  • Anonymous

    banancat: However, there is a certain subgroup of people where I think their
    ideal version of Heaven would have a nice view of Hell, so they can
    spend eternity judging, hating, and feeling superior. In any other
    context, these people would be labeled sociopaths.

    Indeed, there’s an old Christian idea that one of the pleasures of heaven is being able to watch the suffering of the damned in hell. It’s called the “abominable fancy”, a term coined by 19th century theologian Frederic William Farrar.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t heaven supposed to be sort of a cosmic version of Disney World…only a million times better?

    Boy, have I got a song for you!

  • Alex

    Douthat is one of those people who takes a thesis I agree with (if we have free will in this life, our choices must also matter AFTER this life, or it’s not really free will) and piles loads and loads of ignorance and insanity on top of it, like hearing a senile parent supporting a political candidate you favor “because (s)he’s [minority]”.

    I also think he’s grasping at the right idea that “hell” is less Eternal Fire and more being consumed by your negative emotions and choosing to turn away from love, which makes me wonder why he’s arguing against Rob Bell in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    My reverend (great guy) once said that hell is sitting terrified alone on your thrown made of your own pride while trying to keep everything for yourself for eternity.

  • Anonymous

    [Without hell, our choices are] like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

    In other words, if the game isn’t being used as a means to determine winners and losers, Douthat can’t see the point in playing. Interesting philosophy.

    Wait, “interesting” wasn’t the word I was looking for. I was thinking of “reprehensible”. Yeah, that’s the one. I’m always mixing those two up.

  • eyelessgame

    I tend to see things in political terms. The reason Christian conservatives and Objectivists are allied (and merging, in some horrifying chthonic way) is that they were deliberately knit together by, primarily, Reagan (though others in the Republican Party have contributed). The Republican Party consists of Money, Military, Libertarians, Religious, and Racists (use the five fingers on your hand as a mnemonic, thumb to pinkie). They have to find some way to live together, as they are all, in one way or another, opposed to the idea of a peaceful, tolerant social democracy/hybrid economy, which is what they imagine the Democratic Party to represent (and which in its ideal it might represent).

    They stick together because it is only by cobbling all of that together that they manage to get a majority or close to it.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    The Republican Party consists of Money, Military, Libertarians, Religious, and Racists (use the five fingers on your hand as a mnemonic, thumb to pinkie)

    Sound about right, but isn’t “Libertarians” a subset of “Money”? They certainly seem to be OK with ignoring all the actual “liberty” part of their beliefs (which the Religious, Racist, and Military parts of the party HATE), as long as they get Tax Cuts. As long as corporations can do anything they want, they don’t seem to care that humans can’t.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Depends on the libertarians. There are ones who come to that philosophy, in part, out of a desire for the government not to dictate what people do in their private lives. However, as eylessgame pointed out, they also form a small part of a much larger platform that has to agree to vote together on issues, so some bleedover tends to occur.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Depends on the libertarians. There are ones who come to that philosophy, in part, out of a desire for the government not to dictate what people do in their private lives. However, as eylessgame pointed out, they also form a small part of a much larger platform that has to agree to vote together on issues, so some bleedover tends to occur.

  • Jenny Islander

    Re evidence for global warming: There are Alaskans who are witnessing this firsthand.

    Animals and plants native to regions so much further south that they have no names in the local language are colonizing the North. The permafrost is beginning to melt. Rising waves are chewing away the foundations of coastal communities. Weather patterns that were predictable for many centuries have gone wacky–the elders can’t predict the weather anymore, and some people have died trying to rely on the old knowledge, going out when the ice was supposed to be solid and so on.

    But, you know, they’re not real heartland Americans. Or whatever the thinly veiled racist language is these days. Rush Limbaugh only mentioned the situation in Alaska in order to sneer at it, and we all know what that means!

  • Lori

    But, you know, they’re not real heartland Americans. Or whatever
    the thinly veiled racist language is these days. Rush Limbaugh only
    mentioned the situation in Alaska in order to sneer at it, and we all
    know what that means!

    The “real heartland Americans” are soon going to have climate change troubles of their own, so they might want to stop the sneering. Among other problems, malaria is migrating north.

  • P J Evans

    Not just malaria migrating north – armadillos are moving north, too (Lori, I’ve heard they’ve been found in southern Illinois!), and they carry at least one disease (leprosy) which can be transmitted to people.

    The ‘real heartland Americans’ are about to discover that they aren’t going to be spared.

  • Lori

    Not just malaria migrating north – armadillos are moving north, too
    (Lori, I’ve heard they’ve been found in southern Illinois!), and they
    carry at least one disease (leprosy) which can be transmitted to people.

    I heard about that. I swear, the day I see an armadillo here in Indiana, leprosy or not I’m going to freak right the heck out.

  • P J Evans

    Well, armadillos are certainly strange looking critters. (If I saw one, I’d be doing more than freaking out – I’d be calling for someone with a camera. Because I’m in California, and there’s enough armadillo-unfriendly territory east of us to guarantee that someone brought it in.)

    Best armadillo story I’ve heard: a couple of friends of my mother were checking into a hotel in Tennessee for a conference, and the people (college age) in front of them in line were talking about how their drive across country was OK until they got to ‘Armadillo’. Whereupon one of the women tapped the speaker on the shoulder and said ‘That’s Amarillo, not Armadillo.’

  • Lori

    Well, armadillos are certainly strange looking critters.

    I’m not really worried about the way the odd little things look. My concern would be that they do not belong in Indiana.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    An armadillo this morning,A deer in San Antone.Every critter that I’ve hit,I’ve had my headlights on.When the moon is high in that Texas sky,The varmints just don’t seem to care.An armadillo this morning,Last night I hit a bear.I killed a puppy in HoustonAnd a cat in Santa Fe.I mauled a snake and a possumSomewhere along the way.If a cow roams late here on highway 8,It better hope that curve ain’t blind.An armadillo this morning,Last year I plastered nine.Armadillos take warning,and you deer in San Antone.Don’t jump out at my pick-up,No animal has won!Stoppin’ on a dime with this truck of mineIs not my ability.Armadillos take warning,Or road kill you will be.

  • hapax

    “Somebody’s moggy, by the side of the road,

    Somebody’s pussy, who forgot his highway code,

    Someone’s fav’rit feline, who ran clean out of luck

    When he ran onto the road and tried to argue with a truck….”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jess-Goodwin/28602067 Jess Goodwin

    “Hell is logically necessary, Douthat argues, for reasons of simple fairness. Good people like himself have been working all day in the vineyard. They’ve been working really hard.
    Would it be fair if a bunch of Johnny come latelies waltzed in just before quitting time and, without even really breaking a sweat, got paid the same wages as those who have worked all day? Of course not.”

    So he and the rest of Team Hell are preaching works righteousness now?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jess-Goodwin/28602067 Jess Goodwin

    Except that Catholicism doesn’t emphasize damnation that much anymore. One Cardinal put it thusly: “We are required to believe that Hell exists, because Holy Scripture declares it does. But so great is the mercy of God, my children, that I doubt whether there is any soul there.”

    And that still doesn’t explain why hardcore salvation-by-grace Protestants would buy into it.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    In terms of hell, I have the theology (formed partly from participating in Slacktivist) that heaven and hell are both the same place, but it depends on how you react to the presence of God. God, as all-loving and all-healing, helps people see themselves and their actions for what they truly are and then sets about healing them. The healing process includes fully understanding the pain we have caused others in life and then coming to a place of self-forgiveness and love for others and God. For those who choose love in full free will (which means not influenced by the twisting of mental disease, etc.), they will see what they have done, both good and bad, and accept the healing process. For those who have caused great pain (aka Hitler, etc.), having this understanding alone will be incredibly difficult and painful. Their hearts will be so dark that the very healing presence of God will hurt. But because it is eternity, even they will go through this process eventually, bringing everyone into full reconciliation with God, themselves, and others.

    Not perfect – what theology is? – but it makes sense to me.

  • Daughter

    Interesting response. I like it.

  • http://twitter.com/gndwyn Michael Straight

    I can’t believe I’m typing anything resembling a defense of Douthat, but I think Fred’s use of that wonderful parable fails to address his article. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who gave a full day’s wage to everyone who showed up, no matter how late in the day. But Douthat is asking, What of those who never show up at all? The ones who say, “Forget it. I don’t care how generous your offer, I’m not working in that field for five seconds”?

    A much better rejoinder would be Ezekiel 37, in which the Lord asks, “Can these bones live?” Tony Soprano may seem very far from the new life he might receive if he repented of his crimes, sought forgiveness, and tried to make amends, but surely not as far from it as a dry, bleached skeleton. If Douthat believes God’s love is so great as to give life to the dead, how can he be so sure that any choice, no matter how bad, could irretrievably cut someone off from that love?

    No matter how dark and evil my heart, no matter how much I want to hate and destroy the whole world, I can’t snuff out the sun. Does that mean my actions and choices have no consequences? No. But there are limits. The range of consequences I can effect with my choices are not infinite.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Others have taken apart Douthat’s article far better than I have, but let me point something out. As an atheist, I have no objection to someone trying to make their point about Heaven and/or Hell using ficitonal characters, but that’s because I don’t have any skin in the game. It does hurt your arguments for the actual existence of Hell if you have to resort to imaginary figures to make your case, though.

    Douthat’s position is pretty reprehensible all around. He says we need Hell to seperate the winners from the losers. His theology reduces God from a being of infinite love, aboslute forgiveness, and limitless patience and tolerance all the way down to a striped-shirt referee, calling fouls based on a rulebook with no capacity for exceptions.

    The question of whether Tony Soprano goes to Heaven or whether Ghandi goes to Hell isn’t just a question about the ‘character’ of Tony Soprano or the works of Ghandi. It’s also a question about the nature of God! And in Douthat’s mind, God’s nature is fixed, finite, and lacks the capacity to forgive unconditionally.

    If Charles Manson never sought forgiveness, never wanted forgiveness, and would never genuinely ask for forgiveness, then in Douhat’s mind, God could never forgive him either. And that limits God’s capacity for mercy rather severely.

  • Brent White

    Fred has missed or badly misrepresented the point that Douthat was making. His point is not fairness but freedom, which is actually the best case for hell’s existence. Why would God force himself on someone who doesn’t want God?

    Douthat writes: “In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

    The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that weare the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.”
    Why is that not a point worthy of consideration? As for irredeemability, C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright make similar points, and they’re no dummies. And there is the “unforgivable sin” that Jesus mentions. I find many of Fred’s words on the subject of hell, and the common proof-texts that people use to “prove” hell, compelling. But people aren’t complete idiots for believing in the possibility of hell.I don’t care who Douthat is as a person, or what kind of a thinker he is (as if that would matter), it’s a perfectly good column.

  • Caravelle

    Fred has missed or badly misrepresented the point that Douthat was
    making. His point is not fairness but freedom, which is actually the
    best case for hell’s existence. Why would God force himself on someone
    who doesn’t want God?

    It’s the most terrible case for hell’s existence, especially the way Douthat formulates it. And by that I don’t mean “stupid”, particularly, I mean “nasty”. Without the possibility of choosing hell no other choice had meaning ? What is that even supposed to mean ? And it’s telling how the worst thing Douthat can imagine is a sports game where nobody keeps score.

    The fact of the matter is, either God infuses every single one of us right now, in which case he’s already forcing himself on everyone, or there are people on Earth right now who live without God. People such as atheists. Or a real-life Tony Soprano, say.

    These people are not undergoing horrible and eternal suffering right now. They might be undergoing ordinary, human suffering. Or they might not. Anti-Heaven and anti-Hell atheists aren’t asking God to force himself on us, or to torture us for eternity after we die. That thing we’ve got going right now would be quite satisfactory, thank you.

    The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that weare the choices that we make.

    See, what does that mean ? What kind of a real choice is everlasting torment vs everlasting happiness ? It’s true that if we assume everlasting life after this one, our mortal lives become rather irrelevant in the long run. I imagine that’s why Douthat wants a hell : that way even after billions of years of eternity, what you will have done in life will have mattered because it would determine whether you are in Heaven or Hell.

    To which, two things : reducing the complexity of our mortal lives to a binary Heaven/Hell outcome is hardly better than reducing it to a unitary Heaven outcome. Our choices would be even MORE meaningful if there was a bit more variety in the possible afterlives. Or put another way, it assumes that there is no variety in Heaven or Hell, everyone will be identical. Because if choices that make you who you are matter only insofar as they send you to Heaven or Hell that implies that who you are matters less than your postmortem address.

    And the other thing : seriously, Heaven vs Hell is like the most important decision we will ever make in existence, and it’s a decision we’re supposed to make during our mortal life ? The one where we see everything through a glass darkly ? Where children are born into poor, war-torn or abusive environments ? The one where God’s existence isn’t even that apparent to a lot of people ?

    That’s not called “making choices meaningful”, it’s called “rigging the game”. What, are informed consent forms a tool of the Devil ?

  • nirrti

    My father was a Jehovah’s Witness who believed that everyone who wasn’t was evil and a bad influence. I was raised as a mainline Christian since I lived with my mother, however.

    The one time he let me live in his precious household, he kept putting up absurd conditions on whether I could remain there or not, once even requiring me to prove the theology behind my minister’s Sunday sermons each week to be able to remain in his home the rest of the week.

    Of course, he finally kicked me out after five months when he gave me the ultimatum, either my mother and church or him and his Kindom hall. What the heck kind of choice was that?

    What you’re saying is that God gives us the same impossible choice, either we believe exactly what he wants or he will reject us. If that kind of thinking is wrong when my father did it, why would it be considered anything but cruel and petty for God to be the same way? I’m not a Christian anymore (now a agnostic). You mean I survived getting disowned by my father just to get disowned by the “heavenly father”? Just….just no.

  • nirrti

    My father was a Jehovah’s Witness who believed that everyone who wasn’t was evil and a bad influence. I was raised as a mainline Christian since I lived with my mother, however.

    The one time he let me live in his precious household, he kept putting up absurd conditions on whether I could remain there or not, once even requiring me to prove the theology behind my minister’s Sunday sermons each week to be able to remain in his home the rest of the week.

    Of course, he finally kicked me out after five months when he gave me the ultimatum, either my mother and church or him and his Kindom hall. What the heck kind of choice was that?

    What you’re saying is that God gives us the same impossible choice, either we believe exactly what he wants or he will reject us. If that kind of thinking is wrong when my father did it, why would it be considered anything but cruel and petty for God to be the same way? I’m not a Christian anymore (now a agnostic). You mean I survived getting disowned by my father just to get disowned by the “heavenly father”? Just….just no.

  • Lunch Meat

    “If God makes everyone go to Heaven, whether they want to or not, it seems like it would require “lobotomizing” the souls of people who genuinely prefer darkness to light.”

    Okay. Then what about the people who want to go to heaven, but weren’t Christians on earth because they thought Christianity was a reprehensible theology? What about the people who want to go to heaven but didn’t know on earth that you had to believe a certain set of things to get there? What about the people who don’t want to go to heaven because they want to be reincarnated or live in a huge cosmic library learning as much as they can for eternity? What about the people who are misinformed about what heaven is because they think only RTCs are there and all the interesting, good people are in hell?

    Team hell argues that all of these people go to hell. But is it not denying their freedom?

    Why, in short, is it evil to give someone something good that they don’t want, but perfectly okay and admirable to give someone something bad that they don’t want?

    Okay, so Douthat didn’t say that all of these people would go to hell. But by arguing against Rob Bell, against the people who have a different interpretation of hell, he is placing himself on the side of Team Hell, on the side of a God whose choices for eternal destinations are illogical, unnecessary and cruel.

  • Lunch Meat

    Sorry for the double-post earlier; I was at work and in a hurry and Disqus hates me.

    A reply from the first page (although Caravelle already touched on what I’m going to say):

    “In other words, if the game isn’t being used as a means to determinewinners and losers, Douthat can’t see the point in playing. Interestingphilosophy.”And his analogy completely ignores the fact that even games without winnershave effects outside the game–like children becoming stronger, betterteam-players, having fun, making friends. He says that for free will to havemeaning, life must have an effect outside life, but he can’t imagine anypossible effect other than heaven and hell.

  • Lunch Meat

    Eugh, and that formatting is awful. :-( Sorry again.

  • hf

    nirrti: You don’t understand. Yes, the fundamental nature of reality acts like a human relationship, but you have to ignore all you know about human relationships in order to understand reality.

    carl: Well, if they’re the same people, you’ll probably get the same results in the next life.

    And this is worse than Hell how?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jess-Goodwin/28602067 Jess Goodwin

    Hm. I’m now reminded of an X-Files fanfic which postulates that everybody goes to heaven — imagined as a fluffy cloud, harp-playing, halo-wearing heaven, mostly for laughs — but truly evil people hate it there and WISH they were in hell. Their punishment is to be surrounded by people they cannot harm or control and things they cannot destroy or hoard. And everyone is happy about it, except them. Worst of all, they’re constantly plagued by visits from well-intentioned fellow spirits: “they come with their little notebooks, and they read to us.” At this point, the wicked are indeed gnashing their teeth.

    If we’re talking about justice, I’m thinking that eternity with the Philosophical Dead Guys Poetry Collective might be a far more suitable fate for poor old Tony Soprano. After a few visits, he’d be thinking longingly of lakes of fire and ice.

    …or am I a crueler person than Ross Douthat?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jess-Goodwin/28602067 Jess Goodwin

    Hm. I’m now reminded of an X-Files fanfic which postulates that everybody goes to heaven — imagined as a fluffy cloud, harp-playing, halo-wearing heaven, mostly for laughs — but truly evil people hate it there and WISH they were in hell. Their punishment is to be surrounded by people they cannot harm or control and things they cannot destroy or hoard. And everyone is happy about it, except them. Worst of all, they’re constantly plagued by visits from well-intentioned fellow spirits: “they come with their little notebooks, and they read to us.” At this point, the wicked are indeed gnashing their teeth.

    If we’re talking about justice, I’m thinking that eternity with the Philosophical Dead Guys Poetry Collective might be a far more suitable fate for poor old Tony Soprano. After a few visits, he’d be thinking longingly of lakes of fire and ice.

    …or am I a crueler person than Ross Douthat?

  • Anonymous

    I’ve heard plenty of arguments like this, that Hell is just bad people not being able to enjoy Heaven. But if we’re talking about Christianity’s views on Heaven and Hell, it really doesn’t follow logically. Because in most denominations of modern Christianity, the belief is that you get to Heaven by saying the magic words, and not by performing good acts. So control freaks, wealth hoarders, and cruel people who hurt others just to watch them suffer can get into Heaven, while the most loving, caring, helpful, generous person can be excluded from Heaven if they aren’t “saved”. So it really wouldn’t follow that bad people create their own Hell by not liking Heaven, at least in the Christian narrative.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    But if we’re talking about Christianity’s views on Heaven and Hell, it
    really doesn’t follow logically. Because in most denominations of
    modern Christianity, the belief is that you get to Heaven by saying the
    magic words, and not by performing good acts. So control freaks, wealth
    hoarders, and cruel people who hurt others just to watch them suffer
    can get into Heaven, while the most loving, caring, helpful, generous
    person can be excluded from Heaven if they aren’t “saved”. So it really
    wouldn’t follow that bad people create their own Hell by not liking
    Heaven, at least in the Christian narrative.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re saying:
    1) A portion of Christians believe this thing about heaven.
    2) Therefore this other thing about heaven doesn’t fit into Christianity.

    There are actually a whole lot of people who wouldn’t agree with what you say “most denominations of modern Christianity” believe. Are they not allowed to have their beliefs classified as Christian either?

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I didn’t really explain clearly. Most of the denominations that I experienced growing up have believed that being “saved” is based on saying the magic words, and has nothing to do with your works. I know that this isn’t universal, nor is it necessarily the historic view of Christianity. However, when I hear the argument about how bad people make Hell for themselves by having a bad attitude in Heaven, it has always come from the very same people that insist that salvation is not based on whether or not you’re a good person. I’m not trying to define other groups of people or to deny people the right to label themselves. My only point is that those two ideas should not becoming from the same people.

  • Amaryllis

    FearlessSon:

    The thought of humanity suddenly turning sterile (which was the major
    concern early in the book) was something I would have embraced with joy.
    When characters act as though this is a horrible possibility, I have
    trouble understanding
    why
    .

    A Bas Ben Adhem?

    To make the matter more succint:
    Suppose my fellow man extinct.
    Why, who would not approve the plan
    Save possibly my fellow man?

    I think it would be a pity, myself; even in my misanthropic moments, I’m still curious about what we might achieve, as a species, if we manage to avoid poisoning ourselves or drowning ourselves or blowing ourselves up.

  • Anonymous

    It seems to me that the most reasonable way around the problem of free will in heaven is to incorporate some version of purgatory. In purgatory, people would be transformed by God into beings fit to enjoy heaven, able to keep heaven heavenly for everyone esle there. Those who rejected such transformation would probably stay apart from God, although I don’t think they’d be in a torture chamber.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and about gay and lesbian students at evangelical colleges: I’ve heard people be unsympathetic to those students because “they could have gone to college somewhere else”, but not enough people realize that students in the U.S. can’t actually choose their college freely. The U.S. student financial aid system expects a substantial financial contribution from the student’s parents. It does not make provisions for students whose parents refuse to contribute the expected amount or to provide their financial information. A student cannot be considered financially independent from their parents until age 25. If the parents do not contribute the expected amount, the student will not get aid to replace it and must come up with the money out of pocket or through private loans.

    Therefore, QUILTBAG students may have no choice but to go to the Christian college their parents want unless they’re okay with waiting seven years to start their postsecondary education. These aren’t students who chose to go to a college even though they knew they didn’t like the rules–these may, in many cases, be students who were forced into a repressive environment by their parents, despite ostensibly being adults in the eyes of the law and certainly being old enough to make their own choices. I believe student financial aid should be uncoupled from parental contributions, with parental contributions simply replacing what would otherwise be loans, for this reason. Legal adults should be able to choose where they go to school and not be forced into financial dependency on their parents.

  • Lori

    Oh, and about gay and lesbian students at evangelical colleges: I’ve
    heard people be unsympathetic to those students because “they could have
    gone to college somewhere else”

    Another problem with this lack of sympathy is that it assumes that the student knew s/he was QUILTBAG when s/he chose a college. Obviously that often isn’t the case and transferring to another school is a non-trivial decision on several levels.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I apologize if my posts contributed to the unbalancing of emotional equilibrium. I need to practice better mindfulness in my postings. I always mention something in an offhand manner which catches someone’s attention, then that person asks for more information and I feel obliged to provide an answer, and I end up saying something that disturbs others.

  • KevinC

    Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.

    –James 4:17

    Why does this not apply to God?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OPDTGMVEFDYDKHEXSNNWOFNWY Jim

    KevinC, I’m away from my resources right now, but I’d assume for now that the “him” in your verse refers to people. God, not being people, isn’t in that category.

  • Rikalous

    God may not be people, but why wouldn’t he be held to the same moral standard?

  • http://profiles.google.com/scyllacat Priscilla Parkman

    God may not be people, but why wouldn’t he be held to the same moral standard?

    I think someone else has already answered this, but it’s specifically because God doesn’t live here… at least in one world view. One of the bits of Jewish mythology I picked up is that the religion (again, at least in the student’s view I was talking to) worships Life. Life extends from the individual to reproduction to energy transmission, organization, and self-perpetuating systems of all kinds. Life is Good. Death is Bad. God is eternal. God also needs, in the World, to keep things circulating, so things die, get eaten by other living things, etc. What is good for the chicken is evil for the june bug. So to people who live in THAT world, the answer to why God wouldn’t be held to the same moral principle as humans is as obvious as why you don’t try to make a bicycle go by pouring gasoline on it.

  • hapax

    Wow, I apologize for the funky formatting.

    I have no idea how that happened.

  • Anonymous

    Determinism* in no way implies a lack of moral responsibility. Quite the opposite, all determinism claims is that who I am is the determinant of what I do. To be honest, the compatibilist view of free will is the only one I can even understand, everything else seems incoherent (In the sense that, as hapax might put it: there’s no story if who I am doesn’t determine what I do, there’s just one damn thing after another.)

    I’d argue that it’s perfectly reasonable to hold and Omnibenevolent God to a higher moral standard than myself**. This is after all God who has, according to the Bible, the capacity to both feed the hungry (loaves and fishes), and cure the sick (at least leprosy, blindness and paralysis).

    * In the philosophical sense. Modern physics seems to be pretty clear on randomness being a fundamental component of the universe at small scales. But I’m of the opinion that the decisions I make are still direct consequences of the physical state of my brain.
    ** Especially as an Omniscient God knows either all the consequences of his actions (or all the probabilities of the possible consequences if true foreknowledge is impossible) and can thus genuinely choose the best possible action to take as the action with the best result (or the best result times probability of success after ruling out all actions with unacceptably bad failure states).

  • hapax

    Determinism* in no way implies a lack of moral responsibility

    I’d agree with that in general. I was responding to a specific subset of determinism, as posited by GDwarf:

    The state of the universe one instant from now is based entirely on the
    state of the universe in this instant. Change this instant and the next
    one changes. If you could change a previous one then this one would
    change.

    These linked instances go back to the first instant, and
    will continue to the last. So by creating that first instant God created
    an exact causal chain to the present. If you could reset the universe
    back to that first point and then play it forwards everything would
    occur exactly the same way as it has this time.

    If I was mischaracterizing zir position, I apologize.

    As for holding an Omnibenevolent Deity to a higher standard because there is testimony that God can feed the hungry and heal the sick — well, heckopete, so can I. The price of the laptop I’m typing on right now could underwrite the cost of feeding the Tibetan exile community for almost two weeks. The amount I spent on prom photographs of my daughter this weekend could have saved two dozen Third World infants from dying of gastrointestinal disease.

    Of course, I’m not particular benevolent. But neither do I approach omniscience. I don’t know how even to approach “the best possible result.” I don’t even know what the “best possible result” would be.

    Indeed, I’m not even sure what “best” means in this context. Least suffering? Most potential? Greatest diversity? Tastiest when served with garlic butter?

  • Anonymous

    I’m really not sure of exactly what my view of, uh, “destiny”, I suppose, ends up implying, but I think it both keeps and removes different aspects of moral responsibility. By changing the past one can change the actions of people in the present, then obviously people have less than absolute responsibility for their actions.

    However, it’s also clear that people make choices. What they choose is based on who they are in this instant (which is, in turn, shaped by who they were in the previous instant and what else occurred in that instant).

    So it’s a mix. One is responsible for one’s decisions since one is still making those decisions. It’s just that the decisions have, essentially, already been made. If nothing else, getting others to consider themselves responsible for their own actions, even if they truly are not, leads to more people being happy than if you did not do so, so it’s still the moral thing to do, even if it’s not necessarily the truthful one. (As I said, my mind doesn’t like dealing with this stuff, and I have a hard time sorting out just what everything being decided at the first instant actually means in both abstract and practical terms).

    I admit it’s not a particularly happy philosophy, and I’d love some way to have true free will in it, but short of something being uninfluenced by causality I just don’t see how that’s possible.

    Anyways

  • Anonymous

    I suppose I just can’t see the point of claiming God is “Omnibenevolent” if its meaning is so diluted that God is unwilling to use its powers to say numb the pain of people dying of cancer who specifically pray to it to do just that. I’d do it if I could, and I’m not even multibenevolent.


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