Pondering Hell

I have an ambivalent relationship with Christianity. I find liberal/progressive Christianity to be quite agreeable. In fact, I rather like progressive Christians and I even find myself seeing beauty in their theology. I can’t bring myself to believe in the supernatural aspects of their theology, but I generally find their values and moral codes to be quite sensible. As for the rest of Christianity… not so much. To be quite honest, there are many aspects of moderate and conservative Christianity that I simply detest.

A belief in hell is one of the aspects of Christianity that I find to be completely abhorrent. Not all versions of Christianity emphasize or discuss the existence of hell, but you can be sure that the further to the right Christian theology leans, the more integral hell becomes.

As a child, hell was a concept that I lived in constant fear of. You see, I was a gender variant, LGBT child. I realized that I was different from other children sometime in the first or second grade. I kept this realization to myself, knowing that my difference was a sign of a “sick” and “defective” character. I realized that god hated who I was, but in spite of this knowledge,  my best efforts failed to change my defective character.  I suspected that god would most likely punish me for my corrupt nature and consequently, I lived in constant fear of his wrath.

Let me tell you, living under this kind of fear is really destructive to a child’s emotional well-being. I lived in fear that I would suffer in hell for all eternity. I remember spending my idle moments during summer vacation obsessing about death. The thought that I would die someday would enter into my young mind unbidden and would grip me with a single notion: when I leave this earthly plane, god will cast his judgment upon me and banish me into eternal torment. I will be alone, suffering unspeakable, unending torture. My future held only darkness… unending, torturous darkness.

I was just a little kid. I had no emotional defenses against this horror. I lived in terror of my future and I hadn’t even left elementary school. I obsessed over every little fault in my character and mistake in my actions. I confessed any possible wrong doing to my parents in the hope that I could compensate for my incurable “sickness.” Hopefully, if I was an extra good child, god would overlook my corrupt nature and allow me into heaven. I was wracked by guilt and obsessed with walking the straight and narrow. My parents were annoyed by my constant confessions and they had no idea why I was behaving this way. Eventually, the magnitude of their annoyance won out and I ceased my odd behavior.

Just before adolescence,  I stopped attending church and Sunday school.  Thankfully, as time passed, my fear of hell began to subside.  My obsession with death faded into a bad memory.  I made the decision to reject Christianity when I was 17. It took a good twenty years before I could walk into a Christian church and not feel sick to my stomach.

I am going to be blunt: the concept of hell is an abusive, sick belief to teach to a little kid. My childhood experience with the fear of hell is the primary reason I grew to hate all religion with a burning passion, and this hatred lasted for many years. This generalized hatred for religion eventually subsided, but on some level, I still feel a sense of animosity toward more traditional variations of Christianity. The damage that Christianity did to me as a child was simply barbaric. There is no better word to describe the cruelty of a spiritual philosophy that emotionally tortures young children and in the process, damages their psyches. I make no apologies for the bitterness I feel toward traditional Christianity, for that bitterness is well deserved.

When I think of the hell-believing Christians in the world, there’s something that I just don’t understand about these people: why do they even trust their god? Let’s think about the moment of creation. Here we have an entity that is about to create the world and all of the living things on it. This entity, being all knowing, is aware that some of the people it will create are going to do things that will eventually displease it. Nevertheless, it creates the world and its inhabitants anyway, it finds that it is displeased with some of the inhabitants (surprise, surprise), and it then decides to torture those humans for all eternity. And the real clincher is that it knew from the start, that it was creating feeling, aware beings who it would eventually subjected to an eternity of pain and suffering. Oddly, it uses the excuse of, “I’m not the one doing this to you. Because of the flaws I created within you, you ‘freely’ choose to engage in actions that displease me. Hence, you are responsible for the never-ending suffering and pain you will experience in hell.” God also created Satan, fully knowing Satan’s future role in tormenting human souls. Since god created everything that exists, this also means that god created hell. Hence, hell is a god-created torture chamber and Satan was created to serve as the master of those environs.

Hell-believing Christians can try to portray their god with all the loving, flowery imagery they want. Their god created living, feeling creatures knowing that it would condemn some of them to eternal pain and suffering. Being all powerful, it could choose to create a universe where its inhabitants are not subject to the grisly horror of eternal torment. Rather than unending torture, it could extinguish an offending soul’s existence or it could even choose to correct the flaw that offended it in the first place.  However, this entity chooses not to do so.  Instead, god chooses torture over viable alternatives.

There is no way to avoid the fact that their god is a sadistic, evil entity. Knowing that their deity behaves in a sadistic, evil way, why trust it? So what if god claims it will put people in heaven if they follow its rules. Really? Given the sadistic nature of their god, how do they know it won’t change its mind and toss them onto a bed of sharp stakes repeatedly, for all eternity, simply because it is amused by their pain? Just remember, according to the bible, god drowned most of humanity in a world-wide flood. In the story of Job, god and Satan conspired to make god’s most favored follower suffer through countless torments while he was still alive, just to test Job’s faith.  If torture and suffering is what god imposes upon its least favored, the world at large, and its most faithful, can you really trust god?  At the very least, god doesn’t seem to play nicely with its toys.

If this is the entity that runs the universe, we are all severely and thoroughly fucked: faithful follower and non-believer alike.

The sad thing is, this teaches children and adults that violence, brutal retaliation, and revenge are divine. The highest authority in all creation condones unending pain and suffering as just retribution for anything from incorrect theological beliefs to falling in love with the wrong person.

I know that many traditional Christians see their religion and their god as “loving”, but lying deep within traditional Christianity’s beliefs is a terrible cruelty and violence. Traditional Christians are expected to love, with all their heart, a figure that will hurt and torture them if they do not obey its wishes. They are taught to see brutality as acceptable behavior in a figure who is portrayed as having a loving, caring nature. They are taught to see this relationship as healthy and affirming and they are socialized into this kind of thinking from childhood onward.

Anyone who has survived an abusive relationship with an adult family member or a romantic partner should realize that this kind of theology models the psychology of an abusive relationship and essentially places a stamp of divine morality upon it. Put another way, this theological model teaches children that an abusive relationship is healthy and affirming.  This model teaches children to normalize an association between brutality, love, and authority.

As I implied earlier, I know that there are Christians out there who do not buy into the notion of hell. I don’t have a problem with those particular believers. As for the rest of you: you are teaching barbaric, emotionally damaging beliefs to defenseless young children. You are teaching your kids to love an irrational, sadistic, abusive entity. You are teaching children to associate justice and authority with cruelty and abuse. You are teaching children that this is good and wholesome. Have you really thought this through? You are maiming their psyches.  You are defiling their innocence.  How can you do this and look yourself in the mirror each morning?

This is as disgusting as it is disturbing and it needs to stop.  Not tomorrow and not next year…  It needs to stop now.

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~ by timberwraith on November 29, 2010.

35 Responses to “Pondering Hell”

  1. No surprise, I couldn’t agree more. Some interesting thoughts:
    You briefly mentioned how hell-believing Christians often try to side step the issue by brining up free will, despite the fact that (according to them) you have these fundamental flaws built into you. Essentially it’s like playing a game with loaded dice, and the dice are loaded against you. Nonetheless, you’re still held responsible and punished for the outcome of a game that was rigged against you in the first place.

    Secondly, a good question to ask these people is “Do angels have free will?” Most of them will instinctively say yes, but then that means their god is capable of creating beings that have free will, but choose not to sin. (However that works) So he could have done the same thing with us and avoided the whole grizzly hell bit. (If they say “no” and that you don’t have free will in heaven, then what’s the point?)

    As for more liberal Christians who don’t believe in hell, I agree that they’re much better than their counterparts, and can be useful allies in fighting for good. However, I quietly wonder about them since without hell, Christianity kind of falls apart. (Jesus was the one who introduced hell btw) Without hell, there is no point in Jesus dying to save you. Save you from what? I guess you could say that it’s to grant you access to heaven instead of a limbo like “distance from god,” but there’s no urgency, and if heaven’s where you go to be a robot cheerleader for all eternity, I’d rather not. (But I digress)

    Have you heard of “Hell Houses”?

    I went to college just 10 minutes away from Jerry Falwell’s “Liberty” “University.” Every year for Halloween they did a hell house where people would go, thinking it was just a haunted house, but then before you left they preached at you about how it’s all real and the only way out is fundamentalist Christianity…. really sick stuff.

  2. Yeah, the freewill thing. I seem to recall the notion that angels are so close to god, that they do not truly have freewill, but then again, how did Satan decide to break ranks and do his own thing?

    I recently had a moderate/conservative Christian describe his concept of heaven to me. He described heaven as never ending pleasure in which the intensity of the pleasure experienced only increased with time. I swear, it sounded like a never ending heroin trip in which freewill was largely irrelevant. It was really creepy. It sounded a like a form of hell to me.

    My understanding of liberal Christianity is that they tend to see Jesus serving as a kind of role model that shows what human beings can be when guided by the divine… or at least, that’s the notion that the UCC church that I attended for a while seemed to adhere to. There was no talk of hell and hardly a word focused on sin. They took an entirely positive approach and focused on encouraging their members to embrace the positive traits in humanity and be the best people they could be. Basically, it was Christianity with a heavy dose of humanism, or perhaps humanism with a heavy dose of Christianity. 🙂

    Indeed, I’ve heard of hell houses. Yuck.

    Wow, Liberty University, eh? Have you read In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch? She’s an atheist who pretended to be a Christian and spent time undercover in Falwell’s church. She came to see a positive side to the fundamentalist Christians she spent time with, but I actually found her description of them to be far less than positive. She describes her own experience with a hell house, too. It’s an interesting book.

  3. I’ve heard of that book, but haven’t read it, I’ll check it out. I knew a couple of people who went to “Liberty.” One of them was a gay atheist who later came to my school and is now an adjunct. We had a history conference there and apparently they have a full scale replica of the supreme court. Apparently it’s so their students can get used to arguing for theocracy in that setting.

    That description of heaven does sound pretty creepy. First off I’d like to know what his sources are, secondly “it gets more intense over time”? I thought heaven was timeless? Being aware of time and having to exist for infinity would drive me insane. Lastly, if all you ever feel is pleasure and it only intensifies, it loses it’s value and eventually would become indistinguishable from numbness. Just my two cents. 🙂

  4. Apparently it’s so their students can get used to arguing for theocracy in that setting.

    Oh man, that’s really scary.

    First off I’d like to know what his sources are, secondly “it gets more intense over time”?

    Yeah, me too. For what it’s worth, he’s a theology student. I’m not sure where the increasing intensity notion came from. That’s a new one.

    I thought heaven was timeless? Being aware of time and having to exist for infinity would drive me insane.

    Funny, I think I’d find timelessness to be horrifying… in an unending timeless sort of way. However, for some reason, I don’t mind the whole notion of being immortal and living within normal spacetime.

    Lastly, if all you ever feel is pleasure and it only intensifies, it loses it’s value and eventually would become indistinguishable from numbness.

    According to him, god changes your very nature so that you can appreciate unending pleasure. Again, his notion of heaven reeeeealy creeps me out. I’d rather not be transformed into an eternal heroin addict. I like being me.

  5. You know, I’ve thought about this and the only way heaven would be worth it for me is if I had the ability to move anywhere within existence and travel through time. This way I could shrink down the the size of atoms and watch protons, or watch the sunrise on distant planets, or the primordial earth, or be witness to ever human event in history….. actually…now that I think about it that would be a bad idea. That’d just mean I’d have the ability to watch the entirety of human suffering without being able to intervene. Ok, never mind. :p

  6. Actually, I like your idea a lot. I might choose to hang out on non-populated planets or the non-populated parts of Earth. I love animals and nature, and there was a heck of a lot more nature and animals during the prior centuries. So much more of the Earth must have been stunningly beautiful back then. I remember hearing that the US had a continuous forest from the East Coast to the Midwest. Can you imagine that? What about zooming back in time to a point before humans had evolved? There’s something about that notion that sends happy shivers up my spine.

    Hmmmm. Nature, nature, nature and no people. Maybe I’m just anti-social? o_0

  7. This is a fantastic blog post. It sums up pretty much everything I feel about traditional Christianity.

    I’m sorry that you had to go through all of that. I am a transgender bisexual woman, but even being a supposed Christian early in life, I never bought into the idea of hell. I knew I wasn’t going to hell. When I got older and realized that my and my best friend’s sexuality was a “sin,” I left church with a big “f— you.”

    My best friend passed away when he was 19; he used to have so much trouble being a gay man in our conservative little town.. he still believed in God, and sometimes he would cry while having sex because he thought he was an abomination. He never got to grow up enough to realize that he was great, wonderful, perfect the way that he was. That’s what makes me so angry about it now. If only he hadn’t been raised to believe that gays were evil, that he was going to hell–he would have enjoyed his short time more.

  8. People choose religions that are a reflection of themselves.

  9. Hi greengeekgirl. Thanks for stopping by.

    I’m sorry about your friend. Stories like the one you relate remind me that I’m pretty lucky. I’m really thankful that once I hit 17, Christianity’s spell was broken and I was free… and really, the spell started to fade years before that, when my parents stopped making me go to church.

    There’s so much talk about younger queer people killing themselves of late and the bulling that goes into leading a person to take their lives. I think that there needs to be a very forward, unwavering honesty about religion’s bullying of queer kids, too. I have no doubt that a significant portion of these deaths are facilitated by the traditional church’s barbaric teachings surrounding sexuality and various other concepts such as hell.

  10. Beforewisdom said:

    People choose religions that are a reflection of themselves.

    Well, sometimes that’s true. However, if you are raised in a traditional religion from your youngest years onward, religion can actually shape/warp your life and your ideas to fit its agenda. This is especially true if the religious teachings of your church are supported by and exist within a deeply conservative community.

    To put it another way, sometimes oppression can run deep enough that few people escape its warping influence. To use my own life as an example, I’m the only sibling of two sisters and two brothers and the only child of my age in my family to fully escape the terrible ideas of my childhood community and religion. If I hadn’t been so blatantly queer, I’d probably be just another traditionalist know-nothing.

    You could use my life as proof that personality is the engine of religious change, but I think you would be trying to draw a conclusion about a larger populace based upon a data point that is essentially an outlier. Yes, there was something about my sexuality and my sex/gender identity that was so deeply in conflict with the church and my childhood community, that I left both. However, it took an extreme difference to help break free. Any other more common variations in personality could have been accommodated by the religion and culture I grew up in.

    Furthermore, it took a university education for me to fully break free. Were it not for my time at university, I’d probably still have some fairly oppressive notions about human beings.

    I think individual variations in personality can explain some shifts in religious beliefs in a small number of people (small, relative to the total population in question), but on a macroscopic level, it looses its explanatory power. For instance, there’s a larger pattern of secularization that’s taking place within younger generations in the US and there’s far more going on there than simple variations in personality.

  11. I read this today

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion”

    — Steven Weingberg, Nobel Prize winner & physicist.

  12. I agree that a lot of religion falls into this description. I do want to be clear, however, that there are variations on religion that are humane in both theory and practice. These religions are generally not authoritarian in nature and consequently, can focus upon empathy and caring as central tenets in their philosophies. They aren’t necessarily rational, but they are humane.

    Unfortunately, the traditional, conservative versions of religion are anything but humane. They stubbornly carry with them social codes forged in the barbarism of ancient cultures and they claim that this barbarism is the very core of morality and goodness. They focus upon the notion of divinity as absolute authority, declare their holy texts to be accurate, infallible sources of information, and expect all to worship their god slavishly. They are authoritarian, abusive, and cruel.

    These are the variations on religion that I have a problem with and indeed, they lead otherwise decent people to commit horrible, vicious acts.

  13. Hi Timberwraith,
    Here is an interesting viewpoint, Brian MacLaren questioning the doctrine of Hell.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SOUfsX2fbk

    The title of the video puzzles me ..calling what he says an ‘attack’ I wonder if it is because it was posted by a more conservative Christian who does not approve of what MacLaren says.

  14. “I am going to be blunt: the concept of hell is an abusive, sick belief to teach to a little kid. My childhood experience with the fear of hell is the primary reason I grew to hate all religion with a burning passion, and this hatred lasted for many years. This generalized hatred for religion eventually subsided, but on some level, I still feel a sense of animosity toward more traditional variations of Christianity. The damage that Christianity did to me as a child was simply barbaric. There is no better word to describe the cruelty of a spiritual philosophy that emotionally tortures young children and in the process, damages their psyches. I make no apologies for the bitterness I feel toward traditional Christianity, for that bitterness is well deserved.”
    Reading this makes me ache ..I am so upset.It is horrible what you have been through, to live with the fear and doubt of the very beauty of yourself when that ought to have been nourished and built up…when you ought to have heard from Christians that you belong in this life and are the apple of God’s eye. I am so sorry .

  15. Thanks for the kind words jaqueline, and welcome to my blog.

    There’s a part of me that wishes that I’d been raised in a church like Spirit of the Lakes in Minneapolis, or the church that you go to, but that would have also required that I had been born into an entirely different family, a different neighborhood, and a whole host of other changes. I suppose my life would have been the life of someone completely different from the person I am. The notion of being someone completely different from who I am is both intriguing and frightening. In many ways, I’m thankful for my crappy upbringing. At times, it has hurt a whole heck of a lot, but I’ve learned so much from the experience and that’s important to me.

    The folks in the video you linked to seem to have a far more humane approach to the Christian faith. I don’t understand why traditionalists (like the person who hosts that YouTube page) feel so threatened by the idea of ditching the notion of everlasting torment. Why is it so important to them that their notion of a god entail a being that expresses a kind of hateful, vengeful anger?

    One of the things I haven’t talked about here on my blog (to the best of my recollection) is that the notion of hell was something that was present not only in church but also in the culture I grew up in. It was impossible to grow up as a little kid in my community in the 70s and not encounter people’s notion of eternal torment for people who weren’t following “God’s will” (God’s will, as defined by the larger community). The church didn’t have to have sermons on this topic (in fact, I can’t remember specific teachings on the topic—granted, I’m working with childhood memories from 30+ years ago). It was part of the belief system of the Christian culture I grew up in. I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist community, either. It was your average, conservative, working class neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Traditional, yes. Fundamentalist, no.

    I’m wondering if non-traditional Christian churches, who do not embrace the notion of hell, have to protect their children against these beliefs, as they seem to be so prevalent in the culture of many communities beyond the church’s front door. There seems to be so many hurtful notions intertwined with traditional religious beliefs in the wider community—beyond the notion of hell—that one needs to engage in a conscious effort to guide one’s children away from those beliefs.

  16. ..I think maybe the fire imagery in fact is analogous to the fires that were lit getting rid of the rot and the prunings and dross and dead wood that gardeners have done everywhere…and the point of the analogy is not the burning but the elimination, you know, what is not of life etc etc…..I am not sure it was ever meant to grow into this whole gruesome fascination with a whole underworld.

    I am a bit torn about the whole subject, to be honest.. the dark side of being human is not just theory in my experience and while I was deep in negotiating some difficult territory I got to a point, considering what we as humans do to each other, where I wondered if hell was not a mercy to the world and the universe- a place where the very worst of what human beings have concocted would be burned up and spare all that was good and beautiful being destroyed or hurt by it anymore.

    At one point I was so angry I couldn’t even look at the petty selfishness we practice to each other and I thought how could I feel positive about humanity again? How does God look at all that we do to each other and still love us and NOT want to send anyone to hell ??

    For some saying God loves us and hell couldn’t be true and God wants to forgive makes God seem like some sort indulgent, blind, weak willed being who lets humanity literally get away with murder….( and then what gets said about God? That God doesn’t love us because how can God allow evil etc etc ….)

    …but I think focusing on hell and taking it for granted is deeply mistaken…it all has to be interpreted in the light of the defining story of a God who would rather die than any of us be lost.

    However, even if it were true, what the traditionalists say: what sort of religion is it that would rather focus on hell than the love that seeks to give life?? What sort of religion is it that leaves a child with hell as it’s defining story?? What sort of upside down religion is that???

  17. hey TW, great post! happy to see you post another one.

    speaking as a progressive christian, i want to say thanks for the shout out. many of my fellow PC’s don’t believe in hell… but i do. i think we have free will here in this life and that it continues in the here-after. i think we’ll get up to God and be loved and really have an encounter… and we can go into the embrace of love or we can deny it. and don’t we do that in our lives?

    sometimes we feel unworthy of love, that we want to be alone, that we want to deny that we may have something in common with our enemy? i see that with my conservative Christian friends who deny members of their own family who are LGBTQ and who lose a part of themselves… they deny love and purposely enter into hell for what they think the bible says. we choose hell when we make enemies, when we fight and deny our commonalities. when we ignore the plight of the poor, the marginalized, the outcast.

    hell is a very real place in the here and now… you don’t even have to believe if there’s one in the next life or even if there is a next life to get what the doctrine of hell is pointing to, IMHO. i spend most of my pastoral visits getting people to understand that they indeed can get out of hell, that there is a road out of hell. yet this road does indeed lead out of hell but it doesn’t avoid suffering. suffering is part of the path, big difference to make.

    anyway.. rant over. thanks for the post! hope things are well with you and i wish you happy holidays and a great new year!

  18. Zero1ghost: Hmmmmm. Well, I stand by the entirety of my initial post… and well, I’m saddened when I encounter folks who believe in some notion of hell. It’s just not a belief that I can accept in good conscience. I wouldn’t want even my worst enemy to suffer in eternal torment… Not even someone who would take my life or the life of a loved one. That’s very much at the core of my own spirituality, but as folks here might know, my spirituality doesn’t obey the rules of any faith tradition.

    To be quite honest, I have major problems with fostering a belief in hell in others. That’s a deal breaker for me in any faith tradition. You read my original post. You know why.

    Also, I couldn’t possibly love a god that has created such a place. I could hate, fear, and distrust such an entity, but love is the last feeling that would come to mind. I suppose I’ll be hanging out in hell with a lot of other folks… if that particular kind of god exists, that is.

  19. Jaqueline said:

    However, even if it were true, what the traditionalists say: what sort of religion is it that would rather focus on hell than the love that seeks to give life?? What sort of religion is it that leaves a child with hell as it’s defining story?? What sort of upside down religion is that???

    The problem is that my church didn’t have to focus on a belief in hell for someone like me to be strongly effected by it. The traditional notion of hell is widely available in popular culture, literature, and the conversation of many religious people. Suppose you are a child such as I was, and you realize that who you are is seen as abominable by the community at large. It only takes a few short mental calculations to figure out your religion’s response to who you are and what that entails in the afterlife.

    The larger culture is toxic for LGBT children. Part of that toxicity is maintained by simple cultural inertia and prejudice handed down from one generation to the next. Another part of that toxicity is actively fed by the more hateful brands of religion and the influence of those religions doesn’t end at the church door. It is taken out into the community and has an impact even upon those who do not frequent the same pews.

    So, even if a church does not actively speak against LGBT people and chooses the neutrality of silence, it is still part of the problem. The church’s silence can inadvertently support that larger cultural toxicity, because silence is too easily supplemented with the ignorance of the surrounding culture.

    [Edited to change “religion” to “my church” in the first sentence of my reply.]

  20. Just a note about my own sense of spirituality. I suppose it can be summarized by a simple statement: everything is connected. Some part of myself, on the deepest level, sees myself in the life and being of another person (or even animal). In a way I can’t even put into words, I see myself staring out of the eyes of another person, regardless of who she or he might be. It’s not logical. It’s not rational, but I can’t argue with it because it is written upon the deepest levels of my being. Consequently, to put another living, feeling creature through hell is to put myself through hell. I can’t accept that and I won’t.

    This is beyond faith for me, because this sense of the world is hard coded into how my emotions and intuition work. I can’t argue with it. It’s like arguing with gravity. It simply is.

  21. You explained the effect of the undercurrent of what you experienced very effectively…thanks for that, though not for LGBT reasons I understand how the culture itself makes a child feel terrible without perhaps any words at all.

    “I wouldn’t want even my worst enemy to suffer in eternal torment… Not even someone who would take my life or the life of a loved one.”

    I think your sentiment here is possibly closer to the heart of God as any Christian has come up with..I think the idea of Hell satisfies OUR sense of justice, not God’s.

    “everything is connected.”
    there is this book ” Everything Belongs” by Richard Rohr…I have not read it, but I have heard good things and I could not help but think of it when I read your words…and in fact smiled when I read them.

  22. I think your sentiment here is possibly closer to the heart of God as any Christian has come up with..

    I feel strange reading this as a person who is a mix of agnostic and atheist, but thanks. I understand the sentiment behind your words and I appreciate it.

    I think the idea of Hell satisfies OUR sense of justice, not God’s.

    Yup. I can get on board with that idea. It makes one wonder if some of the folks who penned the bible took a few liberties when they introduced the concept.

    there is this book ” Everything Belongs” by Richard Rohr…I have not read it, but I have heard good things and I could not help but think of it when I read your words…

    Hmmmm. I went to Amazon to try to figure out what the book is about, but people’s reviews don’t seem to pin it down all that well. It seems to be about combining eastern contemplative/meditative practices with Christian prayer in an effort to create a kind of Christian based mindfulness? I could be misunderstanding what people are saying.

  23. though not for LGBT reasons I understand how the culture itself makes a child feel terrible without perhaps any words at all.

    Oh dear. I’m guessing that there is a story behind that statement.

  24. ” wouldn’t want even my worst enemy to suffer in eternal torment… Not even someone who would take my life or the life of a loved one. That’s very much at the core of my own spirituality, but as folks here might know, my spirituality doesn’t obey the rules of any faith tradition.”

    agreed, solely. that’s why i plan to go where i think Jesus would be, with those self-ostracized peeps in hell and help them to see that they are loved. apocatastasis times infinity.

  25. Zero1ghost, I think I was confused by your previous post. Am I correct in understanding that you see hell as something that occurs on an earthly plane, rather than after death?

  26. the after death part is speculation. i can only guess at that. the earthly plane part is a definite reality. some are self-imposed hell, some are put there by others and my social factors such as the -isms, but however they got there, it is my hope and call to help free the captives.

  27. ” an effort to create a kind of Christian based mindfulness? I could be misunderstanding what people are saying.”

    Don’t know if you caught my comment on the other blog where I mentioned Joseph Campbell’s story about monks of different religions recognising the similarities of their experiences.
    Mindfulness has been part of Christian practice for a while but fell out of favour or rather was seen as exclusive to contemplative orders and is now going through a revival with lay people. Richard Rohr is one of it’s proponents. That it is similar tot what we are familiar with from the east is not so much a conscious ‘adaption’ as much as a recognition of similarities and value of the eastern tradition.

  28. Jaqueline, I think I did see that comment, but it didn’t stick in my brain. The concept sounds pretty nifty.

  29. […] from being condemned by an angry, hateful Christian deity for being LGBT, relief from the fear of suffering in hell, and relief from a set of social codes that were far too restrictive and didn’t make sense. […]

  30. listened to this today:
    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/encounter/stories/2010/3076096.htm

    I thought it was really good and seemed to tie in with a lot of what we have been talking about over the last couple of weeks….

  31. Thanks for the link, jaqueline.

    As someone who looks at human beings through a sociological lens, I’ve always felt like an outsider in the debate between atheists and theists over the foundations of ethics and morality. The current atheist position usually boils down to “our biology, as evolved across the eons, gives us certain emotional drives and cognitive patterns that bring about a common system of ethics.” The theist position usually boils down to “the god that I believe in places the potential to be moral beings within our hearts and if we turn to that being for guidance, we can live as loving, caring, moral people.”

    I find both positions to be terribly incomplete.

    OK, so our biology contains a set of parameters that gives a very basic overlay for how human interactions can take place but this gives us only the vaguest notion of what those interactions might be like. What about the finer details? Where do they come from? What is moral and proper in one culture is offensive and boorish in another. It’s perfectly fine for men to treat women like domestic property in one culture while women might be seen (theoretically, at least) as men’s equal in another culture. In fact, within the same culture, one can witness a shift in women’s social status from property to people within the course of one to two centuries. That represents a huge difference in moral codes, particularly if you are female. Evolutionary theories do little to explain this kind of conflict in moral/ethical codes.

    People can turn to their theology and their spirituality for a sense of moral guidance, but the world has at least forty religions, each containing innumerable variations in philosophy. Personalized spirituality that follows no religion adds even more variations. Put in other words, believing in a god or gods does not guarantee that people’s moral codes will agree. They might agree if two people are of the same religion, geographic region, subculture, denomination, and church, but beyond that lies a lot of conflict.

    I think what both perspectives miss is that morality and ethics are specific to the host culture they have evolved within. One can not discuss the origins of current moral and ethical codes without examining hundreds of years of history that underlie the culture in question. One can not understand the nature of these social rules unless one understands the patterns of conflict and social ferment that have taken place between many subcultures that have in turn forged what people now understand as “proper behavior.”

    Even now, what people see as “proper behavior” is in flux and changes from generation to generation. Morality and ethics are not static. They shift and reconfigure as the host culture changes across time.

    Simply stated, morality and ethics are a product of the social processes that undergird human history.

    I realize that this isn’t satisfying for those who are looking for stability in a sea of change. The best I can offer is to remind you that you are an agent in this sea of change. Act according to your heart, intellect, and experience. It’s the best you can do.

  32. It seems to me Timberwraith, that any of these explanations on their own is incomplete ( including the sociological one ) and we won’t even begin to get at the heart of it until we are listening to each other’s observations and appreciative of each other’s approach.
    Personally I agreed with the critique of the religious insistence that we cannot have morality without a belief in a God, I think that is baloney…

    firstly- because of all the immoral things people have done despite their belief in a God.

    two- because of the very moral things people do despite their lack of belief in God and

    three ( as a Christian), Paul one of the big guns of Bible theology tell us so. He says that even if we do not believe in God it is through nature and the knowledge in our hearts that we can understand and are left with no excuse as to our capacity to know the right thing.

  33. (1) I have an 8 and 10 year-old and they are atheists — but they have gone through phases of obsessing about death. I think most kids do. But giving them hell to add to it, as you say, would be absolutely abusive. Now I do joke with them about the monster in the basement, though. Ooooops.

    (2) When I lived in India and Japan I picked up some great religious comic books that are very pictoral about the hells little Hindu and Buddhist kids would suffer if they were bad. Just wanted to share that stupidity is universal!

  34. sorry, re-reading my post it is a bit muddled…I was trying to say that having a sense of morality is not dependent on believing in a god. We may find out that that might be where it comes from..and it might be how we are made…but that does not preclude other explanations…that’s all I am sayin’ 🙂

  35. Sabio, I wasn’t aware that the concept of hell exists in Hindu and Buddhist culture. Oy. That’s really unfortunate.

    Jaqueline, thanks for the clarification. I don’t think I fully got that when I read your last comment.

    Maybe this is over simplifying things, but if god exists and god created the universe, then everything that exists within the universe comes from god. By default, morality, regardless of what form it takes or what process underlies it’s existence, comes from god.

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